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1. You are the face and voice of the cruise ship.
If you think of a cruise ship like a big party, the director is kind of like the host: It's my responsibility to keep the guests entertained and having fun, manage all of the logistics, and also handle any issues that may arise. This means often giving up some of my personal time and losing sleep once in awhile to make sure everyone else is having a good time. When there is a problem, like a medical emergency or if we miss a port, I'm the one who has to make those difficult announcements. I'm representing my company, Carnival Cruise Line, during those moments, so I have to act calm, assuring, and professional to show the guests that we have their best interest in mind.
2. The job is 24/7 for months on end.
On a sea day, I typically work 11 to 14 hours; on a port day, about six to eight hours, since guests are off the ship and I have some time to myself. I manage the activity schedule and host shows, drink-making contests, dance classes, and after-parties. I also manage unexpected situations, like if a team member is sick, or if there's bad weather and we need to reschedule an outdoor event. I spend six months on the ship with zero vacation days and then I have about six weeks off on land. (We do get sick days though, and time off for emergencies or medical issues.) And there's no time to rest between trips — one voyage ends and 30 minutes later, the next group of guests are coming on board for their vacation. Sometimes I'm literally running around the cruise ship in heels. It's chaotic, but I love being busy and juggling all these responsibilities. It's exhilarating.
3. Finding a work/life balance is really hard.
Since I'm working on the ship for six months straight, it's very hard for me to keep in touch with my friends and family. Even though we have Wi-Fi on board and cell service some days, my preference is to prioritize spending time with the guests and my shipboard family rather than connecting with my friends and family back home. I'm very lucky to have friends and family who understand that and support me, because when I get back on land, we can pick up right where we left off as if no time has passed.
4. You'll miss out on a lot of special events.
I've been working on cruise ships for nine years and during that time, I've missed friends' birthdays, engagements, weddings, babies being born, and more. I love my job, but it can be difficult to spend so much time away from the people I love and miss out on big events in their lives.
5. It's useful to have a background in hospitality or entertainment.
Working on a ship is like working at a hotel, a restaurant, an airplane, and a nightclub, all rolled into one. So much of what we do is making sure our guests are comfortable. I worked at summer camps for 10 years before I came to ships, and that experience has been very beneficial: I'm planning games and events, keeping everyone entertained, and relaying information from the captain and our main office to make sure everyone is safe. When I first started with Carnival in 2007, I was a member of the entertainment staff, which involved hosting activities like trivia and bingo. That kind of experience allowed me to work my way up to become a cruise director.
6. You need to be "on" all the time.
We live in a microcosm where every day needs to be a great day. People are paying a lot of money to be on a fun, relaxing vacation, so no matter how stressed or tired you are, you have to make the choice to be happy. This is true for everyone on the crew, but especially for the cruise director, because you're the leader and you set the tone for everyone else. If the cruise director looks miserable, everyone's going to be miserable. I make an effort to smile whenever I'm not in my cabin, no matter what. If I'm really stressed or having a bad day, there are a few people on board I will confide in, then I try to move on.
7. You'll get to travel all around the world but not see a ton of it.
Some cruise ship companies only travel to one part of the world, but I've been very fortunate with my Carnival career to experience a huge variety of itineraries, so I'm not repeating the same six-month stint over and over. I've led cruises to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Baltic, Mediterranean, Australia, and now Alaska. We don't stay on shore for very long, but you do get to see so much of the world in short bursts.
8. For six months, your crew will become your ride-or-die.
Being away from your real family can be challenging, so your fellow crewmembers become like a substitute family. You get to know people really well after spending so much time with them in such close quarters. It's weird though, because the majority of our crewmembers will spend six months on one ship, go on vacation, and then go to a different ship with a different itinerary and different features. You become intensely close to people for half a year and then you might never work with them again.
9. When you come back on land, you'll have missed so much pop culture.
After six months at sea, I have no idea what the latest music or movies are. I have no clue how to do the Whip/Nae Nae or what's happening with the Kardashians. We do get CNN and some other national channels on board, and if there's a big story in the news that affects our travel destination, the company keeps us informed about how to advise our guests. The Wi-Fi connection isn't great and I'd rather spend my time on other things than waiting for the latest viral video to load.
10. Most people can't be a cruise director forever.
I know some cruise directors who have been with the company 20 years, and others who decide they don't like it after one year. It may get frustrating to some to be disconnected from family and miss out on so many experiences. As a woman, I want to have kids, and I won't be able to do this job and have a husband and children at the same time — in my experience, many cruise directors are single. Currently, I'm working on getting my master's degree in hospitality administration (online, so I can do it while at sea) and I wouldn't mind working at a hotel, which would incorporate similar aspects of this job.
11. Vacations will never be the same.
When you work in the hospitality industry, your perspective on vacation changes. That said, I've met so many people from so many different countries through this job that I always have someone to visit when I travel. I recent saw friends I met on the cruise ship in Australia, I have plans to visit my former assistant cruise ship director in Scotland and other former coworkers in South Africa. I still love to travel — but when I do, I prefer to be on land.
Jaime Dee is a cruise director for Carnival Cruise Line.
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