Former Cruise Ship Employee Tells Tales Of A Life At Sea

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Some years ago, during one of my periods of trying to retire, I decided that since I like passenger ships, I would see if there were a position on a cruise ship that I could fit.

Soon, I saw an ad in a magazine looking for people to be trained to be port lecturers on cruise ships.

I applied and was hired. I closed my apartment in the Los Angeles area, flew to Miami and began the necessary training, in order for me to go to sea.

My employer was not a cruise line, but an advertising agency specializing in supplying port lecturers to the various contracted cruise lines. In this position, I would brief the passengers on what to do and what not to do during a ship's visit to a foreign port.

The catch here is that a port lecturer was actually a pitchman for the shops that paid to be talked about before the ship's arrival in their port.

The ad agency secured the clients and wrote the script, which would be changed every week. Standing on the stage of the main lounge, the seats would be full and passengers waiting for me to give each lecture.

I would briefly tell them the do's and don'ts of each port and then say "many of you want to do some shopping while ashore and since I have just been in the port last week, here are some of the specials I found in the shops." They were not aware that this all had been scripted and given to me before the ship left the United States.

I was assigned to the Holland America Line and their beautiful ship, Noordam.

I signed a contract for the ship's Caribbean season in 1990/91, which lasted for seven and a half months; 33 weeks at sea.

The Noordam was based in Fort Lauderdale doing seven-day cruises to Puerto Rico, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and Nassau in the Bahamas.

We sailed on Saturday evenings and returned the following Saturday morning.

I wore a Holland America cruise staff uniform while on board and since I was the guy who was doing the port lectures in the main lounge, many people mistook me for the cruise director. The cruise director was only seen by passengers in the evenings, when he would introduce the various stage shows. His was a very demanding position, having under him, the entire cruise staff of some 36 people.

The Noordam was built in 1983, carried 1,200 passengers, was 704 feet long, 33,930 gross tons in size and a crew of 559. Very nice. I was assigned to a junior officer's cabin, which was fine for me.

Along with doing four port lectures, each cruise I was also assigned to host a table in the dining room on the two formal nights.

My assignment was a table for eight in the first sitting and I was to arrive ten minutes after the sitting was announced and would be escorted to the table and introduced to the passengers by the dining room captain. Dressed in a tuxedo, I would make small talk during the dinner and answer questions about the ship, our cruise itinerary and encourage them to talk about themselves.

I remember one evening, the table had Koreans who spoke very little English. One gentleman kept taking video pictures of me while I ate dinner.

I found out later they thought I was the owner of the cruise line!

During my seven-and-a-half months at sea, there were many interesting and funny experiences. I'll try to recall a few.

One day I was standing briefly near the main stairway, in the center of the ship on the main public deck.

A dear middle-aged lady looked at the stairs and inquired of me if the stairs were up or down stairs. I thought she was kidding and was waiting for a grin.

There was none.

I realized she was serious, so I asked if she wanted to go up or down. She said, "up."

I looked at my watch and said she could walk up the stairs for the next 30 seconds. She did. That happened twice with different people. Often when the ship was in port, I would be asked, "What island is this?"

I usually took breakfast in the lido buffet area. I would stand in line with the passengers with my tray to make my selections. On one first morning at sea after leaving Fort Lauderdale, a couple asked me, "How does the ship get its power? I responded with "See the Bahamas Islands out there? The ship runs a power cable to the nearest island and stays connected until the night, then reels it in." They said, "Oh, thank you."

The Noordam began the boarding process at noon the day of U.S. departure, although we didn't sail until 5:00 p.m. A lady had boarded early, unpacked in her cabin and sat on the couch, staring out at the dock below for several hours. She stopped me in the passageway just outside her cabin and said she wanted to get her cabin changed.

I asked what was wrong with the one she had. She said she was tired of looking at the dock and didn't wish to do so for the entire week aboard.

One late afternoon at sea, I was standing aft on one of the swimming pool decks and a waterspout quickly developed about a quarter of a mile away.

A waterspout is a tornado at sea.

Several passengers came up to me and asked what it was. I told them and said that waterspouts didn't hit ships.

They were relieved and walked away.

I was amazed at how much passengers would purchase during the ports of call on the cruise. On the ship I worked, St. Thomas was shopped the most. Not just inexpensive gift items, but $30,000 strands of pearls were not uncommon.

This was a most interesting experience for me. Life at sea is very different from that on land. You become a man without a country after awhile, living in a non-real situation and I was glad to get off after my contract expired. It was, in many ways, an experience of a lifetime.

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