When Renaissance Cruises ceased operations on September 25, 2001,
Rich naturally made the transition to Princess Cruises where he's
been at home and welcoming passengers ever since.
But I'm mistaken about that quarter of a century at sea, right?
Everyone does a double take at that figure. More than thirty years?
You do the math. That's right... Rich began his career afloat at the
tender age of 15.
Grab your favorite umbrella drink, pull up a chair, and let's
find out how Rich became the youngest-ever Cruise Director in the
Linda: Growing up with a travel journalist
father, your travel experiences were rich and varied. What
attracted you to cruise ships? And how did you get your
first job as a blackjack dealer at the tender age of fifteen?
That intrigues everyone!
Rich: I believe my love
of ships is in my blood! Early in my father's writing career he
was the Ocean Liner specialist for the New York City paper he was
writing for at the time. He covered all the big news of the liners
dating back to the Normandy fiasco, QE1, Queen Mary, America, and
United States delivery and subsequent winning of the Blue Ribband.
His work would later evolve into being Travel Editor of
Esquire Magazine, and having a weekly newspaper syndicated article
in over 130 newspapers in the U.S. He also authored many travel
Whenever his writing assignments included reviewing a new or
existing ship, I would travel with him on the assignment, as my
Mom has never been a huge fan of ocean travel; so this became a
great father and son bonding experience for us. My first cruise
was age 7 aboard P & O's Arcadia, age 8 aboard P & O's
Canberra, age 9 aboard P & O's Oriana. Needless to say I
was hooked. Also being a New Yorker, as a kid I would tag along
with my Dad to the West Side of NYC when he would visit the great
When I was 15, my dad was contacted by Carnival Cruise Lines P.R.
man (Max Wolkoff, who met my dad and me on a previous assignment
and knew of my love for ships), who was looking for some press. He
suggested that I take a summer position aboard Carnival's one and
only ship, the TSS Mardi Gras. The summer before another Travel
Writer's son, Roger Blum (Ethel Blum's son) also had a
similar job. (Roger became a senior executive with Carnival.)
Anyway, at the tender age of 15 off I went to work first as a bar
waiter then a blackjack dealer on the Mardi Gras and loved it.
What a summer! At age 16 I joined Holland America as a kid's
counselor aboard the SS Rotterdam. Continued with Holland-America
until I was 19 aboard the Statendam, Veendam & Volendam.
Joined Home Lines at 19 as Asst. Cruise Director and Disc Jockey
aboard the Oceanic, Doric and Atlantic.
Linda: Your first
Cruise Director position was on the Chandris Fantasy Cruises'
Amerikanis when you were only twenty-one. How has the role of
Cruise Director evolved during the course of your career?
Rich: I was one of the
first Cruise Directors that Chandris hired. Previously the
position had been called Entertainment Officer. Originally the job
entailed little more than emceeing the shows, hosting activities,
and socializing with the guests. The position has evolved into the
Cruise Director being in charge of the creation and execution of
the on board entertainment product and full management of the
department. Today's Cruise Director must have many skills. You
have to be a talented emcee, and strong communication and
public speaking skills are a must to present informative port of
call briefings for the guests. You have to be an excellent manager
and motivator to handle some very strong personalities of
entertainers within your department. You have to socialize and
make sure that the guests aboard are having a great cruise
experience. A good Cruise Director and Entertainment Team
set the overall mood of the ship. In addition to all this, the CD
must liaise with both the onboard (Captain, Hotel Manager and all
department heads) and shore side (Director of Entertainment, Hotel
Operations, etc.) management teams. The best Cruise Directors must
be multi talented. (Public Relations Specialists, Mediators,
Managers, Entertainers, Problem Solvers, Guidance Counselors and
more) all within an 18 hour work day!
Linda: Along those lines, how has
extensive computerization made the day-to-day duties of Cruise
Director more efficient? (I'm assuming that it has!)
any office, the computer has streamlined the day to day operation
of the department. But it's not just the computer that has made a
big difference. It's the computer along with incorporated
satellite communications that has made a huge difference. Daily
Programs are now created by the cruise staff in a fraction of the
time as pre-computer days. Aboard Renaissance Cruises, the
entertainment team even handled the physical printing of the
program as well. The communication between the office and the ship
has been greatly improved via satellite email. If I need immediate
clarification on an issue I simply pick up the phone on my desk
dial a four digit code and within seconds I am connected to the
office. A simple phone call five years ago could take an hour to
get through. The Renaissance ships were mostly
"paperless" thanks to computers. So in answer to
the question, most definitely the computer has made our lives much
Linda: Your responsibilities include keeping a
diverse mix of guests entertained and happy. How much of a hand do
you as Cruise Director have in selecting the entertainers and
types of shows presented on board the ships you've worked on?
the most part the entertainment is hired by the shore based
Entertainment Director. Once aboard the Cruise Director evaluates
the act and helps the Entertainment Director evaluate whether the
individual fits the product needs of the ship, something that
varies dramatically from Cruise Line to Cruise Line.
Linda: As Cruise
Director, you've entertained passengers yourself with a comedy and
magic act co-starring your golden retriever Liberty. That
had to have been a hit, but what about outside entertainers?
What criteria is used in their selection? If an act bombs, how do
you handle it when a guest entertainer just doesn't "go over"
with your passengers?
a guest entertainer "bombs," it does not necessarily
mean that he or she is not a good entertainer. It only means that
they are not right for your particular product. I have worked with
acts that I have seen get standing ovations on one cruise line and
get tepid responses or worse on others. This is where a good
Entertainment Director is vital. He or she must understand the
product and audition the acts to make sure they fit the bill. Even
from ship to ship, itinerary to itinerary within the same fleet,
the product may differ as does the clientele, which makes it all
trickier as not only do you have to understand the specific
product needs but the particular vessel needs as well. On the rare
occasions that an entertainer does "slip through the
cracks" and is just not suitable in any way shape or form for
the ship, the contracts are written so changes can be made.
Linda: Can you give us a
peek at shipboard life off-stage? When you have some time off, how
do you and your cruise staff members spend your leisure hours?
ships have special crew lounges and dining rooms, designed so when
you have a moment to yourself you can go into "the other
world" aboard and relax for a few moments. The crewmembers are very happy for the most part, so
the atmosphere in these lounges and mess rooms is great. There is
usually much laughter and light hearted moments. When in port a walk around
the city or trip to the beach is wonderful for unwinding and
relaxing. Yes, sometimes you do have to just get away for a quick
attitude readjustment. A meal off the ship in port is also very
popular. The crew of the ship becomes your family, and I have made
some of my best friends at sea. It is not unusual when signing off
the ship at the end of a contract to travel for a few days with
the members of your team to relax and ease back into land life.
The crew member goes through an unusual phenomena I have named
"shipboard decompression" when ending the contact. You
sign off the ship and suddenly it's all too quiet. No constant hum
of the engines and a/c systems, you don't have to be anywhere
within minutes as you always do aboard, so you go through this
"shipboard decompression" which is usually manifested
with not being able to sit still and relax. The longer the
contract, the longer the period of "decompression". My
worst one lasted three weeks! This is why a short trip
immediately upon sign-off is needed.
cyber-cruisers surf the 'net looking for cruise ship employment
information. Could you give them some advice about how to prepare
for and then obtain a job at sea?
be certain that the shipboard life is for you. Long hours and
little privacy are the norm. This is just the reality of being
part of a shipboard crew. EVERYONE knows your business. But the
rewards are great. The travel is awesome. The camaraderie you will
build with fellow crew members and friends that you will make is
incredible. Being someone that can make the difference in a
guests' vacation is incredibly satisfying. If you are American,
the opportunities are somewhat limited as the majority of the
services staff are not from the U.S. Positions available to
Americans include: Social Staff, Stage Manager, Broadcast Manager,
Youth Counselor, Receptionist, Port Lecturer, Disc Jockey, Sports
Director, Medical Staff, Shore Excursion Staff, Computer System
Specialists and a few others. Day cruises are one of the
best ways to "get your foot in the door," as most cruise
lines want experienced shipboard personnel. Be persistent and also
be ready to go on a minute's notice. Sometimes emergencies pop up
and the jobs go to whoever is available soonest. If you really
want to work on a ship, set your mind on it, and make it happen!
There are also a number of outside crewing agencies that can
assist you. You may also want to take a day cruise as a passenger
to see who does what aboard, so you know exactly which job to
apply for and better understand the day to day operations of a
ship. Also check out the cruise line's web site as many now
have shipboard employment information right on their site, and you
can even apply online.