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Cruise Feature Article
Life Aboard the Viking Serenade

. . .as a Cruise Staffer

by Steve Garrod

February 19, 1999

Good Morning Everyone and Happy Friday!

Well, here we are back in Los Angeles preparing to set sail for another 3-Night adventure. This past Monday morning we had a large seminar on board with the president of Royal Caribbean International. It is all a part of our "Anchored in Excellence" program. We have been preparing little-by-little for it and memorizing our seven credos of being Anchored in Excellence. We had a presentation by Mr. Jack Williams, the president of Royal Caribbean International among some others. There were several video presentations and PowerPoint accompaniments. It was very impressive and much of the data compared our success to that of Carnival Corporation - our largest competitor.

BUT ... the seminar ended with one of the most impressive pieces of news. The M/S Viking Serenade is Royal Caribbean's 1999 Ship of the Year! We will now be proudly flying an "Anchored in Excellence" flag from our mast.

Last Tuesday in San Diego (February 9th) was wonderful! I left the ship by 9:00 a.m. and walked to the Hyatt Regency San Diego, made some phone calls, and explored a little bit of Seaport Village. The day started off a bit cloudy but it cleared up as the day progressed. I caught a shuttle van from the Hyatt to downtown La Jolla Village. I have always loved La Jolla and have been meaning to get out there and make a day of it but hadn't found adequate transportation. After being dropped off downtown I got my usual Starbucks coffee and then walked to Seal Rock. That was breathtaking as one can literally stand two feet from nearly thirty seals sleeping on the beach. Some tourists petted the seals and the seals rolled on their backs and flapped their flippers. I didn't bring my camera, unfortunately, but I plan to get back out there soon sometime before my contract is over. I then shopped around the downtown area and had lunch at a sushi bar.

After catching the shuttle back to downtown San Diego I took an elevator up to the fortieth floor of the hotel which hosts an observation deck. I saw the most spectacular view of the city, harbour, Port of San Diego, and the Viking Serenade. I will definitely get a picture of that next time as well.

That Tuesday evening was the formal Captain's Cocktail Party and I had some great conversations with some world travelers and very friendly people. I actually met up with a couple who had been trying to find me on the ship for over 24 hours!! They boarded the ship on Monday and immediately asked Nicole where I was. They had found my home page on Prodigy and had been following my progress. They are a wonderful couple and their next cruise will be on the Song of America - on her final sailing to Miami. I asked if they could please send me a copy of their cruise in review and I'll definitely post that on my site!

While having breakfast on Wednesday morning I noticed that it was bright and sunny at Catalina Island but also that we were circling around in the harbour and, eventually, turning away. The water was very choppy so we wound up missing Catalina Island this week. I got together with Rizz quickly and we talked about what to add for the morning activities. We added about seven more activities - including some that we had never done before and/or had not done in a long time. All of the activities were very enjoyable even though not everyone was please about missing Catalina Island. In fact, while I was working at the Shore Excursion Desk around 8:30 a.m. one guest was screaming at the pursers that he needed to get off of the ship and that we had completely ruined his vacation. Talk about ruining your vacation happiness from circumstance!

The day was a little bit chilly but everyone was pleased with our activities and enjoyed themselves. Bingo was a huge success that afternoon and it has been incredible the entire four days!

Thursday in Ensenada was, well ... another day in Ensenada. The weather turned out to be gorgeous which made poolside activities a pleasure. The M/S Holiday from Carnival Cruise Lines arrived around 11:30 a.m. and docked perpendicular to us.

Friday I was on duty for embarkation gangway. We had a lot of new staff join the ship as well! Our disk jockey Dave left and he headed back to Calgary, Canada. We now have a new DJ named Sid. He is primarily a club DJ so he is now getting used to a cruise ship environment. I have been up in the Viking Crown Lounge the past several nights to help host Karakoke and prepare all of the equipment. Other than getting used to shipboard policies and the movement of the ship, Sid is fitting in well and we all get along with him great so far!! We also had about three new youth staff members join the ship. Two have come from different ships in the fleet and one girl came from P & O Line sailing the world ... so this is a bit different for her as well.

Saturday in Ensenada was not too bad. I stayed on board the majority of the day just resting and preparing for the formal night to come. Nicole and I worked pool games and the sailaway party from Ensenada. After setting sail we had a gorgeous sunset as we were lining guests up for the Captain's Cocktail Party. Adding to the beautiful sunset were whales surfacing between us and the M/S Holiday which was passing us very quickly and was very near! Saturday evening we had a hallway party outside my cabin among my roomate and I, the cruise staff, and youth staff - as well as some of the revue cast. We then headed down to the provision deck where the crew Valentine's Day party was taking place. As always, we had a great time, enjoyed food, drinks, and partying with the crew.

Monday evening after Nicole and I spent the day at Park Plaza, I found out that a couple of gentlemen were looking for me around the ship. They were flight attendants on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany on which my parents were traveling. They happened to mention - in passing - that they were going on a cruise and my parents asked them which one. They then discovered that I was working on THEIR ship and my mom showed them my shipboard photos. So I met up with all of them in the Viking Crown Lounge and we had a -blast-!! I also discovered that they live in the Chicago area near me, so I've made plans to stay in touch and meet up when I return in April.

Thursday in Ensenada we had a crew photo taken on deck ten at the Windjammer Cafe after a crew boat drill. I then attended a flag raising ceremony - to which I was recommended for the cruise staff - of our Ship of the Year flag on the Compass Deck! With my interest in ships and Royal Caribbean, I definitely enjoyed that opportunity! After those morning events, Rizz and the cruise staff went out to lunch to celebrate and close out the past six weeks that Rizz has worked here aboard the Viking Serenade.

Well, Spring is just around the corner now. Two months from today I will be well settled back home in Chicago. Unfortunately, Rizz our cruise director leaves today for her transfer to the Rhapsody of the Seas. She is very good to work for and professional as well. I had my evaluation by Rizz this past week and that went very well, also! She will do a wonderful job on the Rhapsody - I am sure - as she will now overlap one week with Kirk. I hope that everything is going great for all of you!

All of My Best from Ship to Shore,

Steve


February 26, 1999

Hello Everyone!!

I hope that everyone has had an excellent past week and that, of course, you're ready for a terrific weekend! Things here have been going well and I hope that that is the same for all of you!

Our new staff members are fitting in very well. Tim Seivert, the latest cruise director here, is all settled in and we are considering new programs to start onboard. We have had some new youth staff and a new disc jockey - all of whom are doing very well at this point.

Monday in Los Angeles I just made phone calls and then worked ship's tour and partial embarkation gangway as well. This cruise we have had a hotel process quality review which seems to have gone quite well. We have been evaluated in many departments including mine, the cruise director's division. A representative from headquarters has been meandering around the ship taking notes and evaluating us in our jobs.

Tuesday in San Diego was absolutely gorgeous as far as weather went! We had a crew lifeboat drill in the morning but it went quickly enough and I was off the ship by 11:00 a.m. I headed to the Hyatt downtown San Diego for a morning coffee and to make some phone calls as well. I walked along the beautiful waterfront and then headed to Horton Plaza for lunch and to check on some more of my photos. Strolling around downtown San Diego, I found an internet cafe so I played around on America Online and chatted for a bit before heading back to the ship for the afternoon's activities. Formal night went very well and I had the chance to talk to some very enlightening guests at the Captain's Cocktail Party.

Wednesday at Catalina Island was spectacular as well! I planned to just walk along the beach with my music, coffee, etc. but I spotted a parasailing stand. I had always wanted to do parasailing and the last opportunity that I had was in Coco Cay on board the Sovereign of the Seas last December but we never wound up calling there. I decided to check it out to make a plan for some day before I leave in April. The attendant said, "we have an opening right now and they are waiting in the boat." So, I did it!! It was absolutely breathtaking. I gave a guy in the boat my camera and he took nearly 18 photos of me! He said that he got some fabulous shots of me approaching the boat with the Viking Serenade right in the background. The ship looked stunning from five hundred feet in the air! I could spot the steel band "Hott Sands" by the pool and the cruise staff preparing for horse racing!! If I could have only shouted down to them! I figure that I will do it one more time before I head home but that time I will bring my camera up with me.

When I arrived back to the ship and got ready for Bingo at around 4:00, I learned that a staff member from the casino jumped overboard from deck 11. I saw him ashore and he was extremely intoxicated. He wound up jumping into the water and swimming up to the deck 3 tender loading platform. He was pulled up into the ship and was in confinement for the rest of the evening until he could disembark the following day in Ensenada. We were never really sure what prompted it but it sounded as if he wanted to be "sent home".

Thursday in Ensenada was a pleasant day as well. We had a hotel quality meeting by the representative from Royal Caribbean and then had shore leave. I went with one of the new purser members to lunch at el Pueblo and then to an internet cafe. It was pretty useless for me because I could check neither my cwix mail nor my AOL mail as they had neither. OH well. It was so inexpensive, though, that we could hardly believe it - we spent nearly an hour there and it cost only $2.00. The rest of the day on Thursday went great with the usual line-up of farewell evening activities consisting of the Final Bingorama, the Debarkation Talk, and the Farewell shows.

That, in a nutshell, is pretty much all that is going on.

All of My Best from Ship to Shore!

Steve

Line

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!

At the time of this writing I have not yet heard where I am scheduled to sail next with Royal Caribbean. 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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