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Cruise Feature Article
Life Aboard the Viking Serenade

. . .as a Cruise Staffer

by Steve Garrod

March 19, 1999

It has been quite a while since I have sent out a report, but I sure have been keeping busy both aboard and ashore! Time is passing so quickly that it is hard to believe! My good friend Nicole (cruise staff) is already leaving today for her home in Sweden. She is quite ready to go home, though, and I am very happy for her! She arrived on board the Viking Serenade a few weeks before I did so it is natural, then, that I will be on my way soon, as well. I leave the ship on Monday, April 12th. I'll be spending one night in Los Angeles before flying back home to Chicago. The Viking Serenade goes into drydock for that week and resumes sailings the following week. Many of my co-workers will be signing off and enjoying San Diego or the L.A. area.

I found out that I will be taking over for Richard as assistant cruise director for one cruise - the last cruise of this contract. My family will be sailing on my last four-night cruise on April 5th and then I will have one cruise left to work as a.c.d. That is a wonderful experience for me and I am looking forward to it. I have already been working on the scheduling and procedures for what I will directly control on that cruise. I feel that it will be good experience for me and it will be a great way to end my contract.

This month has been great in terms of passenger participation, in that it has been Spring Break weeks for many schools and universities around the country. The past four-night cruises have even proven to be quite exciting! We have been quite fortunate to have great weather for the past several weeks as well. A couple of weeks ago, in fact, on Catalina Island I went parasailing for the very first time. I had spectacular views of the island, the ocean, and the Viking Serenade anchored in the harbour. I had one of our guests in the boat take photos of me in the air and approaching the water and the boat. I have the photos back already and they are quite interesting!

I have spent my past few days off in Los Angeles with a friend from back home whom I met on board the Viking Serenade nearly a month ago. I met the passenger through my parents, actually, who were flying to Germany and met a flight attendant and told him to look for me on board. One Monday in Los Angeles we went to Long Beach for the day and then last Friday I got a guest pass to visit the ship. This coming Monday I'll be taking a shuttle to Costa Mesa where we'll meet up and I'll meet some of the flight crew from the airline! It has been quite enjoyable, as it has been something different to do rather than going to some of the same places!

This current four-day cruise has been very nice! San Diego was a pleasant day even though I did not have as much time as I usually find myself with. I worked the Shore Excursion Desk until 10:00 a.m. and then had an individual lifeboat drill until about 11:00. We were docked with two other ships - the Crown Princess (Princess Cruises) and the Vistafjord (Cunard Line). I made my usual round to get my coffee and make phone calls at the Hyatt Regency San Diego along the waterfront. I basically ran errands to Horton Plaza and then had a pleasant walk along the waterfront back to the ship. From the 40th floor of the Hyatt, I made sure to get a photo of the Viking Serenade with the two other ships in port. That night, formal night, went well and I had some great conversations with some guests at the Captain's Cocktail Party . . . including some guests whom I had met a few months ago and who have cruised on Royal Caribbean 87 times!!

The rest of the cruise has gone well, and it included some news that I have been awaiting! This past cruise (in Catalina on Wednesday) we received an e-mail from headquarters indicating which ship I will be transferring to after vacation. On May 29th, I will be flying to Barcelona, Spain to join the M/S Splendour of the Seas to sail Europe!! I am extremely pleased about this as I have been so eager to use my foreign languages and I will have a fantastic opportunity to do so now, this summer! To round out my six months on the Splendour of the Seas, we will be following a "Route of the Vikings" Transatlantic cruise covering the Shetland Islands, Iceland, and ending in Boston. We'll then sail four 10-night Fall Foliage cruises and then to the Caribbean!

The itineraries that I will be sailing are the following:

  • 12-Night Best of Europe
  • 12-Night Scandinavia/Russia
  • 12-Night Norwegian Fjord/North Cape
  • 12-Night British Isles/Norwegian Fjords
  • 14-Night Route of the Vikings
  • 10-Night Fall Foliage
  • 10/11-Night Circle the Caribbean

This will definitely be a fabulous experience and I'm looking forward to it! From what I've seen and heard, the Splendour is a beautiful ship and magnificent in every way.

Today I work embarkation gangway, so that is good as I'll have the evening off after that. This should be a great 3-Night cruise with a younger, vacation crowd.


March 26, 1999

Well, I am now down to my final two plus weeks aboard ship. Things have been going very well and I can hardly believe that the time is flying by so quickly! I am just making preparations now to send some things home, have my family aboard for a cruise on the 5th of April, and - of course - plan for my cruise as assistant cruise director. I have also made some plans to stay in Los Angeles (Costa Mesa) one night after I disembark with a friend of mine.

One week ago after I sent the last report, we started a very good 3-Night cruise. The last several cruises, in fact, have had great participation and enthusiasm! Saturday in Ensenada, Mexico was ... well ... another Saturday in Ensenada - heh heh. I was on duty for that day, so I had the night off, which I very much appreciate as always. I do my usual workout routine and then get odds and ends done in crew areas. I did spend some time up on deck during sunset, however, and got some great photos - especially of the M/S Holiday passing us with the sunset behind her.

Around 6:00 p.m. we started to roll and pitch significantly and I couldn't figure out why. I was in the crew gym on the bow of the ship and noticed that we were sailing much faster than usual, as well. During dinner, I discovered that we needed to get to San Diego for a medical disembarkation. That explained our need to sail at nearly 19+ knots. None of us had ever seen this ship sail that quickly! Around 11:00 - 11:30 p.m. we approached the coast of San Diego and U.S. Coast Guard boats were there to meet us and pick up the guest.

Sunday at sea was much calmer even though those sea days are always the busiest for the cruise staff. The final bingo, however, was the -busiest- that I had ever seen on this ship. We had guests sitting on the stage in the Hello Dolly Lounge as all of the seating (580) was occupied! To say the least, it was quite an exciting money giveaway. Yasmin and I do a routine, as well, during final bingo. At the 52nd number in the coverall game, we scream "BINGO!" from the back of the lounge. Once all of the excitement has died down, we finish with "IS OUR FAVOURITE GAME!" The crowd then goes nuts. At least it breaks the tension in the room! heh heh heh

Monday in Los Angeles, I took a shuttle out to Costa Mesa and met up with a friend from back home in Chicago whom I'll also be visiting after I disembark the ship on the 12th of April. It was a great day, but it ended so quickly since we set sail at 5:00 p.m., which makes lifeboat drill begin at 4:15 p.m. I hosted the sailaway party and it was fantastic - a great young, party-going crowd, for sure. I was on duty again, so I pretty much stayed on board all day, worked the on-board activities, and then had the night off again! I was a bit tired from the day so I just worked out, watched two of my favourite shows, "Just Shoot Me" and "Will & Grace." After that, I wound up going to sleep.

Wednesday on Catalina Island brought us fantastic weather and I worked pier duty in the morning loading up the tours. We had to shuttle to a different pier that day on the other side of town which was a bit of an inconvenience, but it seemed to work out o.k. That night I had a few activities including hosting "The Quest," where I literally had my own belt torn off of me and used as a quest!! We then went into Rock & Roll Night. Four of us cruise staffers dressed up in our 70's outfits and went up to the Viking Crown Lounge disco for 70's Disco Fever. It was a blast seeing ourselves all dressed up in our crazy outfits!!

Things are going very well overall and I am certainly making the best of my last moments on board ship. I have seen many other staff really lose vigor and motivation just when the last month arrives, but I really want to end my contract as I started it ... with a fun and easy-going mentality. I will be working hard with the a.c.d. position and I have been working on scheduling, hand-outs, etc. for that cruise already. I definitely want to make the most of my time left as the staff, crew, and overall Viking Serenade experience have all treated me very well these past six months. It has been a great experience for me that lets me look forward to my next ship.

April 2, 1999

It is a crisp but sunny morning here at the Port of Los Angeles and things are going very well aboard the Viking Serenade, and I am now just down to a bit over a week before I head back to Chicago. There are a lot of mixed feelings, that is for sure! I am very excited to get home to see my family, my Cocker Spaniel, and my friends but - then again - there is a lot of importance aboard the ship that I have associated with these past six months. I have met a lot of wonderful people, learned a lot about life, and have spent some wonderful days ashore and at sea. But, of course, it is time to move on to bigger and better things.

This past week, as a whole, has brought us more of the "Spring Break" partiers and has definitely kept us on our toes. The last three-day cruise showed me probably the worst muster to lifeboat drill that I have ever had to experience. Guests were just walking away to the handrails to watch the M/S Holiday pass us, drinking beverages, taking photos, and shouting right over Captain Pedercini's briefing. I had never been so relieved to hear the captain state, "The drill is now concluded." Another tiring day was the sea day on Sunday. This ship - being a 3/4 night itinerary - packs so many activities in each day and it is especially noticeable on the sea days. I had the early morning shift as well, so I was up at the classes by 7:30 a.m. I cannot complain too much, though, because the scenery is always beautiful when it is sunny and I nearly always see dolphins trailing the ship.

On Monday, March 29th, one of the guest entertainers - Mickey O'Connor - brought Yasmin and me to Hollywood for the day. It was an excellent day! He has been wanting to bring us to a manicure shop for a long time. I was trying to figure out just how different it was from the place that we always go to in Park Plaza but this place was something else. Many celebrities have gone here before and they give a thorough manicure, pedicure, hand/foot massage, back/neck/arm/leg massage so it was a wonderful experience. We then spent some time around West Hollywood checking out a bookstore of the performing arts and other places. We also found a classy, cultural eatery that we all had our photo taken next to - "Mo Better Meaty Meat Burgers."

Tuesday in San Diego was another charming day. We docked with the M/S Silver Wind and missed the M/S Statendam by one day (unfortunately). I nailed out two fitness classes in the morning and then headed off the ship by 10:15 a.m. I took a bike shuttle to the Hyatt Regency San Diego and had my usual coffee and made my phone calls. I then spent some time at Seaport Village. Out of my six months visiting here, this was my first proper day in S.V. I shopped for some miscellaneous items, bought a new silver ring, and enjoyed the flawless weather that the day provided. I think that I have seriously decided one thing - if I ever decide to leave the Chicagoland area, I will move to San Diego. I have already talked to my friend John Iglehart about it and we would have no objections to getting an apartment there once either of us decided to depart from the life of ships.

For the first time in four formal evenings, I worked the captain's cocktail parties and the events that go along with it. The seas were quite rough that night and many were complaining about the rolling. I found myself retrieving carbonated beverages for guests during the parties, as well.

We just barely made it into Catalina Island on Wednesday. The water was choppy and the tender rides from ship to shore were - well ... adventurous! It was quite chilly and windy, but the sun was out, at least. If it had been -any- worse than that, we would not have been able to drop anchor. I really did nothing that day but get some lunch with Yasmin ashore, make a phone call, and then nap briefly before hosting the International Bellyflop Competition poolside. I thought that there would be no competition but we did have three young guys volunteer to participate and naturally take home 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. That evening I had some usual 50's and 60's night events to work and then - once again - we hung out with entertainer Mickey O'Connor in his stateroom. He invited the cast members, cruise staff, and several others for wine, paté, snacks, and more wine. Yasmin and I dashed out to work Rock and Roll evening and then went back to his place to enjoy the growing party.

Thursday was an uneventful day in Ensenada. I napped most of the day and was excused from the crew muster to lifeboat as I had to work some events. There is only one crew lifeboat drill left before I leave and I will be excused from that one as well as I will be on duty in Ensenada that day - excellent! I am already planning for my family's arrival on Monday, April 5th by having gotten permission to dine in the dining room with them on formal night. I will be meeting them at their hotel by morning and having breakfast with them before heading back to the ship. My last day off in Los Angeles will be April 9th, but it will be partial as I will have taken over as assistant cruise director. I pretty much have the staff schedules finished and am also compiling some other resources to hand out at our staff meeting that night.

Well, today I worked debarkation and I'll also have ship's tours this afternoon. I will attempt to get one more report out before I fly back to Chicago. It may be after I sign off of the ship, but I will do my best one way or another. I look forward to hitting the clubs when I get home so I'll see some of you out there - for sure!

All of My Best from Ship to Shore!



Steve GarrodI have had a great passion for cruising and working aboard cruise ships since the age of twelve. In 1987, when I was in the fifth grade, I took my first cruise with my family on the Song of Norway. I immediately realized how exciting shipboard life was and already started thinking of a profession on board. The following year, we sailed during the inaugural season of the Sovereign of the Seas. After cruising on such a big and beautiful ship, my love for cruise ships was then hopeless - I was addicted! By May of 1998 I had taken thirteen cruises, mostly on Royal Caribbean, but also with Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Lines.

During high school I began to research the processes and contacts to get a job on a cruise ship. On each of my cruises throughout those years, I interviewed many cruise director and purser staff members. I desired a position in the purser's office, but I was willing to discover what the other jobs had to offer.

Throughout my years in high school and attending Northern Illinois University, I studied intensely three foreign languages - Spanish, French, and German, which led me to also research the possibility of working as an international host aboard ships.

By the fall of my senior year in college, I had a complete database of cruise lines, addresses, and contact names that I would need. On my last couple of cruises before graduation, I verified the names of hiring partners and their respective phone numbers, etc. I sent out my resumes with photos and cover letters to Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. I received some letters back with no availability, and a few phone calls indicating that I needed to wait until I was closer to graduation. This was very reassuring to me but I also wanted to hear something a bit more concrete. It was frustrating waiting through the final months of my schooling not knowing how quickly I would be able to get a shipboard job after graduation. I kept calling, sending, and following up with my contacts.

A few weeks before graduation, I discovered that a friend of mine, John Iglehart, had applied to Holland America Line. The more that I read about Holland America Line, the more that I developed an interest in the company and its ships. A few days before my graduation I sent a resume to a contact at Holland America and got an immediate response. I quickly faxed some references and I WAS HIRED just two days before I graduated on May 9th, 1998. I was absolutely ecstatic even though I had only a week to get ready to fly to Vancouver to board the Maasdam to sail the Inside Passage to Alaska for a four month contract.

I could hardly believe that I made it! I had a wonderful staff to work with and I enjoyed the challenges as well as the social life aboard the Maasdam. I found the ships of Holland America Line to be extremely well designed and very tasteful in decor and presentation. My friend John also worked for Holland America that very summer aboard the Ryndam. We were able to meet up when the Maasdam and Ryndam docked together in Juneau, Alaska. We shared and compared our experiences aboard the ships and also our enthusiasm for finally working at sea.

I thoroughly enjoyed Holland America Line, but became nostalgic when we docked with or passed by a Royal Caribbean ship. I had always aspired to work for Royal Caribbean and wondered if there was still something there that I would prefer. I continued for the next several months fine-tuning my shipboard skills on the Maasdam, but also kept my contacts with Royal Caribbean. I kept in touch via email with a top cruise director from Royal Caribbean. I made temporary plans to continue on another Holland America ship, but did not rule out the possibility of switching cruise lines. During one of my last cruises on the Maasdam, I met a passenger who had a direct link to a hiring partner with Royal Caribbean.

After I returned home to Chicago in September of 1998, I was undecided about signing another cruise ship contract, as my life was working out very well back home. I still sent all of my information to Royal Caribbean with the hope that I would get an offer at some point. In the meantime, I was working in retail sales and spending time with good friends back home.

In early October of 1998 I received a preliminary phone call for employment with Royal Caribbean. I was interviewed in both English and Spanish, and literally hours after that interview, I was offered the position of 'Shipshape Coordinator' on board the Viking Serenade. I had applied for the position of purser, and I was a bit skeptical of taking a cruise staff position, especially on an older ship of the fleet. After some encouragement from friends and family, I decided to take the opportunity with Royal Caribbean.

Early on the morning of October 14th, I was on a flight to Los Angeles. I spent a couple of days in San Pedro preparing myself for my new endeavour. I was a bit concerned that I was heading into a six-month contract versus the four-month contracts with Holland America Line, but I watched eagerly from my hotel room's balcony as the Viking Serenade slowly sailed into the Port of Los Angeles on the morning of October 16th. I then became more excited about the whole experience and shortly was on my way to the ship.

Ironically that morning, I quickly discovered that my ship was docked with Holland America Line's Statendam - a sister ship of the Maasdam. I met up with the cruise director whom I worked with all summer and he was beside himself discovering that I was actually boarding the "other" ship.

Moments later I boarded the Viking Serenade and my adventure with Royal Caribbean International began! I started my contract in October with a wonderful staff and one of the best cruise directors in the fleet - Ms. Laurie Rizzo. Rizz, as most guests know her, is very efficient and demanding and I think that that was the very best way for me to start. This contract was full of "firsts", including working aboard ship over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. My family and a good friend came to cruise with me over the New Year's and January 5th sailings. I also had the chance to meet many guests who had been following my web site and reading my updates from America Online or other sources.

The Viking Serenade's itinerary is not the most popular in the fleet to work but I must say that I have met some of the most influential and best co-workers ever. The times that I have shared with my friends on the Serenade will not be forgotten!

One year ago I could never have imagined my being here now! I feel that I have a lot of future opportunities in the cruise industry due to my knowledge of foreign languages and great experience on Holland America and Royal Caribbean. I always look forward to sharing my experiences and advice with those who are interested in the field or just interested in the ships that I have worked on.

Steve Garrod can be reached via email at: sgarrod@cwix.com. You can view his photos and complete "travelogues" on Steve's web site at: http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Shores/3190.

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