While sailing in Europe, cruise columnist Robert W. Bone tracked down the three people on board that are definitely worth getting to know. (Hint: It’s not the bartender.) Find out why how these people can help you out on your next cruise, and what they had to say about their travel careers.
There are three souls on board a modern cruise ship that are good folks to get to know. They have more to do with everyone’s enjoyment than anyone else afloat. These are: the captain, the cruise director and the hotel manager.
No surprise here. He is the head man of the crew, and father figure to everyone on board, passengers and staff alike. Always adept at jovial social repartee, he not too incidentally also has the ultimate responsibility for navigating the vessel.
There’s usually the spirit of an explorer just under the surface of the captain’s public persona. Indeed, everyone quietly knows than in a highly unlikely set of circumstances … well … (gulp) he just could be called upon to go down with the ship.
The Cruise Director
The most visible figure on any cruise, he has a perpetual smile and unflagging good humor no matter what the circumstances. If the captain is the master of the ship, the peripatetic cruise director is quite literally the master of ceremonies.
A combination of professional entertainer and indefatigable cheerleader, he also functions as a manager of virtually every passenger activity on board, from the time the guest leaves the cabin in the morning until heading for bed at night. He is also usually the easiest of the three for a passenger to buttonhole as he bounces his way around the ship.
The Hotel Manager
In days of old, the hotel manager, or hotel director, was called the “purser,” and he was known mostly as the big boss at the front desk. Today most passengers seem to think of the hotel manager only when something in their stateroom needs changing or fixing, or when they have some kind of difficulty in the dining room. He manages a large staff ranging from room stewards and butlers to plumbers and carpenters. If you don’t like something in your cabin, he’s the chap who can make things right.
It is also the hotel director who has to see that the ship picks up the groceries at every port. He orders the delicious lobsters and juicy strawberries and then supervises the chefs who perform wonders with these products. If you need something special done with your accommodations or your meals, the hotel director can see that it is done. Many come to the job after a distinguished career in the hotel field and/or the food and beverage business.
Not long ago, I interviewed three sterling examples of these officers aboard the Crystal Serenity, the flagship of Crystal Cruise Lines. If typical in the business, they may or may not still be with that specific ship. But all three of them said they consider themselves at the top of their professions.
Reidulf Maalen, a Norwegian seafarer in his early 60s, has served as captain of several other Crystal cruise ships before taking on the same job on the Serenity. He said he especially enjoys mixing with the passengers and the crew. When not at sea, he lives in Las Vegas with his wife, whom he met when she worked on his ship.
“It takes a particular personality to enjoy being the captain of a cruise ship,” he said in an interview. “I know there are captains who hate the social aspects of the job, and my advice to them is to go and drive a tanker or a container ship.”
“It has also been important for me to break down the traditional barriers between the officers and the crew, and I’ve been doing that for over 40 years,” he said. “At the end of the day, a happy crew makes a happy ship.”
Maalen indicated that in this age of automation, uniformity and strict scheduling, there is still an element of adventure in a modern passage.
He said his most memorable cruise was the one which included Crystal’s initial port call to Myanmar.
“That port is not much visited,” he said. “It took some tremendous preparation before we could go there. But the passengers came back on board just raving about the experience.” As a result of that visit, Crystal began scheduling port calls there on their world cruises.
Pressed for an example of a time that something didn’t go as planned, the captain recalled that one year a call at the Pacific Island of Ponape had to be canceled because of some kind of blockage in the harbor.
“We always laugh about being on a cruise to nowhere, but then suddenly that’s just what it seemed to be— a cruise to nowhere! Anyway, we felt we had to give the passengers some kind of an experience, and also in order to keep to our schedule later on, we decided to make a port call at Chuuk, a small Pacific island we had never visited before.
“As usual, we took a local pilot on board, came through the barrier reef without incident, and then we asked him where we should dock. But to our surprise he shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea. So we just chose someplace and it worked out okay. But later we learned that the guy isn’t really a pilot; he’s a taxi driver!”
The cruise director I met aboard the Crystal Serenity was Gary Hunter, a cheerful Floridian who has been sailing with Crystal ships for more than a dozen years, the first of which principally in his role entertaining as ventriloquist. Soon enough, he demonstrated that he’s no dummy.
“I felt really good that they would promote me to the cruise director job on this ship,” he said. Actually, Hunter already had had some experience in the field, having been a cruise director for the Carnival Lines for a few years before he joined Crystal.
“A cruise director needs to have some type of stage experience. But besides being able to stand up in front of an audience, he also must be an office manager, and one who can stroke the egos of performers and lecturers. Really, you have to be some sort of a natural psychologist,” he said.
“Generally it’s a fairly easy task,” he said. “After all, the ship is set up to please people.”
Hunter is occasionally challenged by passengers who feel the ship’s activities schedules should be changed in some way.
“But I find that when you explain why the golf lessons simply can’t start at 9 o’clock, they usually understand,” he said. “You have to give people reasons. You can’t just say, ‘That’s the way it is.’ ”
The Crystal Serenity‘s hotel director, Herbert Jaeger, is a proud Austrian. Like many who work for Crystal and some other companies, he is a veteran of the defunct Royal Viking Line, which was considered top of the line back in the 1970s and 1980s. Jaeger eventually became the executive chef for the Royal Viking Sun before joining Crystal. In contrast to the captain and the cruise director, of course, most of his work is behind the scenes.
Occasionally, passengers manage to seek him out to ask to arrange something different in their cabin or at their tables in the dining room. He said in these cases he is almost always able to make some arrangement to please them.
“They pay good money for their cruise,” he said. “So they expect their needs to be taken care of. And so we do it—whatever it is.”
For more information, check out our Cruises section:
- A Cruise Veteran’s 12 Tips for Cruising Couples
- Cruising 101: How to Choose, Book and Enjoy Your Perfect Cruise
- Barging Through Europe
- Taking the Slow Boat: Freight Travel
- River Cruising
By Robert W. Bone for PeterGreenberg.com. When not at sea, cruise columnist Robert W. Bone lives on dry land in Walnut Creek, California. He first traveled by ship in 1957 and has written several books and many articles on travel subjects. See him on the Web at www.travelpieces.com and www.robertbone.com.