During the summer and autumn, cruise ships visit Maine. They are like gleaming skyscrapers that arrive suddenly into our cities. This week, a 110,000 ton Carnival Cruise ship called Glory is docked in Portland, its capacity full. It carried nearly 3,000 guests and over 1,100 crew members to our port.
Several months ago, I contacted Carnival, asking to learn about the people who called these floating towns home. After background check and thorough screening, they granted me a tour of the ship and introduced me to Jacques and Holly.
Jacques, the ship’s Cruise Director, is originally from South Africa, but has lived on board cruise ships for over a decade. Holly, is from Scotland and has recently been promoted to be the ship’s Dance Director.
Their home is vacation. A spectacle. A dizzying and disorienting array of attractions. There is a comedy club, a teens-only room, piano bar, candy shop, water slide, taco bar, casino, serenity retreat, beauty salon, Guy Fieri burger joint, gaming arcade, several pools, and a smoking room. Among all that, Holly and Jacques find normalcy. And towns like Portland have become accustomed to the cruise ships intermittent, mysterious presence and the business they bring.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR JOB.
Jacques- First of all, it’s to keep everybody happy. To be the Cruise Director, in old tradition, is to be the face of the ship. Yesterday, I did a travel talk, where I talk about the travel itinerary, where we are going, the shore excursions, ports of call, where the gangways are located. I make sure the guests get all the information they need to make their trip easy. I write the daily newsletter with all the information about the spa, the shore excursions, the bars, the shows. Everything. I do all the announcements. This morning, my announcement was about the weather, asking guests to have their sailing cards ready, and what they can do on board. Meeting and greeting guests, making sure everything goes properly, and I’m the one who decides entertainment. Is the nigh club busy? Do I change the movies that are being shown? I also do all the marketing. I make sure everyone makes money at the end of the day.
Holly- I’m a Dance Captain. I was a dancer and I just recently became captain in my last contract. As a dancer, we are just performers who are doing our job. We get to entertain the guests, and hopefully they will love it as much as we do. It’s all styles of dance, the Playlist Production we are doing has contemporary and commercial style. I’ve done Vegas style shows on some ships. A lot of shows have themes but the style is open. As a Dance Captain, I’m still a dancer, but I am in charge of the others. If they have queries or questions, they come to me. I deal with the office and with upper management. I do my paperwork. I go to the meetings. Reports. Expenses. Things like that. Normal office-style work on top of the dancing.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE CRUISE INDUSTRY?
Jacques- I got a degree in psychology. And then, when I finished, I thought I’d come to cruise ships out of university. I thought it would be a quick little job. I started at the bottom as entertainment staff. And then I just came back all the time. I moved up to Assistant Cruise Director where I learned everything. The shows, lights, the sounds, the marketing, everything. I’ve been a Cruise Director for about two years.
Holly- I trained at Northern Ballet School. When I graduated, Carnival came to my school in Manchester, England. They did a class where they auditioned us. Out of my class, they picked four boys and six girls. I was one of them, and they offered me a contract on the Carnival Inspiration. And I took it.
WHAT IS YOUR SCHEDULE LIKE?
Jacques- We work late. We entertain the guests. Mornings are not normally when I’m up. Around ten o’clock I make my first announcement to tell the guests what is going on. I might do a few informational talks. I do entertainment during the day on the Lido Deck; I host the Hairy Chest Competition, stuff like that. Then, normally, I host the Hasbro game shows in the theater in the afternoon. Break time for me is 4:00 to 6:00. Then we have the evening shows. I am the host of the dancers and singers. I introduce the show. That finishes at 11:00, and then I go out with the guests and make sure my bands are playing. I usually finish around 1:00 or so in the morning. General rule of thumb, I work like this for six months, and then I take about six weeks off, depending on the ships and depending on the schedule. There’s only one position like mine, so I have to wait for someone to relieve me. Then, I go home to South Africa.
Holly- Contracts are about six months, with a month rehearsal. In total, about seven months, That can vary. This one, we joined in June and we just finished rehearsal, now we are in the normal production, and I finish December 15. You sign your contract, from start date to end date, with rehearsal. And you can make choices, but they put you where they need you. You can take a few weeks or a few months at home. It depends on what you have going on at home. Some people have weddings, some people have siblings having babies. With my contracts, I keep short vacations because I like to keep working. It’s also nice to go home, to see my family and friends and my niece and nephews.
HOW HAS THIS JOB CHANGED YOUR CONCEPT OF HOME?
Jacques- People working on ships like myself, we are not the daily routine type of person. I won’t be able to be a person who goes from the same house to the same coffee shop to the same job. Home for me is now vacation. I’ve got my house back home, and when I go home I relax.
Holly- I think, without sounding awful, I go home and people seem a little narrow-minded. I’ve only noticed it in the last few years. Not only narrow-minded, but less fortunate. I’m very lucky to have this job and to travel and to see all the places I do. And while doing what I love. When I go home, they are always saying how luck I am. But not all of them are narrow-minded. It’s an unfortunate thing that their jobs keep them where they are.
HAS THIS JOB MADE YOU SACRIFICE ANYTHING?
Jacques- Oh, definitely. I’ve had to sacrifice getting settled down, getting married. Now these days, a lot of people do it on the ships. There are a lot of married couples on the ship. If you meet someone who wants to also work on ships. Of course, when it comes to kids and all that, that’s a different situation. This ship is mostly couples on board. I dated a girl for six years who worked on the ship as well. One vacation, we’d go to South Africa, another vacation we’d go to her country. You work together, you move together. If you have a wife or something on the ship, there’s no getting away from each other for a few hours.
Holly- I miss a lot of things when it comes to family. My niece. Christenings, weddings. I’m 26, it’s the age where they start engagements. But it’s not like I’m away forever. We always stay in touch. I have an American cell phone. I have an email account. Facebook. We make a point to stay in touch. They send me pictures. That would be the main sacrifice is family, especially when something bad is going on. If there is something going on with my mom and her situation and I can’t be there to help her.
DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE THERE IS A SENSE OF SUSPENDED REALITY ON THE SHIP?
Jacques- It’s a different world. It’s people who want to be on the go. We are not the people who want to be on cell phones all the time. It’s safe and secure, everything is taken care of. You don’t make your bed. You don’t make your food. It’s addictive.
Holly- It’s like a bubble. I don’t feel it anymore; I’m used to it. I think I’ve spent more time on board than I have off. It is my reality, my home life. At the beginning, it was really a bubble. I wouldn’t know the day, because we work by cruises, not by weeks. You don’t always do a seven-day cruise. Soon, we are going on a two-day cruise to nowhere. We leave New York, we sail out and come back. The time, I’m okay with that, but the days of the week; it’s not like at home. But I think I’ve gotten used to it.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF THE PLACES YOU PORT AT? WHAT IS IT LIKE TO STOP IN A CITY LIKE PORTLAND?
Jacques- It’s nice. I think it’s good for the guests, it’s good for us. This is only this ship’s second time stopping in Portland. But there’s a new itinerary for the guests to see Portland and have lobster. We are doing a lot of shore excursions, like to Mount Washington. Ten or eleven shore excursions. In a U.S. port like Portland, not a lot of guests get out. It’s a different clientele. It’s not like the Caribbean, where people get off the lie on the beach. They are here for the culture, for the different things here.
Holly- Portland is beautiful. I came here four years ago on the Triumph, we did this same voyage: Portland, Halifax, St. John. I always try to make a point to see different things. Because my job is at night, and because we don’t do classes or daytime shows when we are in port, we can go out. Four years ago, I went to the beach in Portland. Another time, I went to this amazing place and had lobster. I try to do normal things. If the weather is bad, I like to go to the cinema because then I feel like I’m home.
WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU’VE DONE TO MAKE A SHIP FEEL LIKE A HOME?
Jacques- Everybody has got their routines. To make it a home for me, I know a lot of people on here. I’ve worked in this company for a while. We have out own cabins we relax in. It’s never really home, no. It’s work like everything else. We get to certain ports where I will go to the same internet place, bar, coffee shop. But the ship is not home.
Holly- Mainly, I make my cabin cozy and homey. I try and also be friendly with other departments, so it’s more of a town feeling. If the cast, one evening have a night off, we try to do a movie night. We go down to the mess for dinner. You try to get on a routine-ish.
THE CRUISE INDUSTRY HAS HAD SOME RECENT BAD PRESS. WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU WOULD TELL SOMEONE IF THEY HAD NEVER BEEN ON A CRUISE, BUT HAD READ THOSE NEWS STORIES?
Jacques- Come and have fun! It’s probably one of the safest ways to travel. Things like that do happen. But if you look at Carnival and its history, people always come back. It’s a great value. If you’ve never been on a cruise before, it’s a lifetime experience. People never forget it.
Holly- I think everything was exaggerated, and I hope people realize that. We have so many repeat guests, and clearly that shows that they love it. And that their experience is positive. Nothing in life is always positive, things happen. Things are going to go wrong, and they don’t happen often. It’s just that there were a few things in a row. But everyone is loyal. All the crew we have are so loyal, and all the repeat guests. I hope they understand that things happen.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Jacques- Happiness. I’m one of those people who see the positive side in life. I want to enjoy life. I don’t like negativity. It’s why I like this occupation. Everyone is happy, they are on vacation. Enjoy life, have fun with it. You can’t be negative.
Holly- A few things, really. My dancing. My relationship. He’s here on the ship. We’ve been together for three years, and we’ve had our ups and downs. He’s in a different department and his contracts only last four months. It’s been difficult, but we’ve been lucky. And we’ve had our past four ships together. My dancing has been a passion since I was three. And my parents, they sacrificed a lot, and it cost them a lot of money.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR LIFE OR ARE LEARNING NOW.
Jacques- Oh, probably to stand on your own two feet. To do what you believe in and go with it. We travel a lot, but at the end of the day you stand on your own to feet. You can do anything. That’s what I believe.
Holly- Really, to live life to the full. My mom and dad are going through a divorce, and that’s made me learn. Not being home for it, that’s a sacrifice. I said to my mom before I left, “I can stay.” And she was getting mad; she said, “No, you’ve got to have a job, you’ve got to live your life.” That’s the lesson I’ve learned, to live life to the full. And I think I am. Because I’m traveling and doing what I love. Not many people can say they are.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
Jacques- Sleep. When the day is finished, it’s nice to relax after a long day. When I go out to work, I go out fully. It mentally works on you. When the day is finished, I can go have a drink. When the day is done, it’s the most exciting part of the day.
Holly- The shows. Performing. Because we perform mostly everyday, that’s my average day. When I am getting ready for the show and warming with the cast, and being in the dressing room with the girls. Especially these girls, who are so fun. And then the minute I step on stage, that’s when I go into my bubble. My happy place.
Jacques- Retire. I’m a happy-go-lucky person. I want to enjoy everything in life. To enjoy every culture. And the end of the day, of course, I want family. I want to settle down probably. I still want to settle down eventually. You never know what could happen.
Holly- I’m not sure. Because right now, I’m very happy with what I am doing. So, I don’t like to plan. You never know what’s around the corner. But I want to be happy. And I want to continue doing this for as long as they’ll have me do this.