For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. – Robert Louis Stevenson
On our recent cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mega-Ship, Oasis of the Seas, I got a chance to sit down and chat with the Cruise Director, Tim Connor. This was my first interview since my high school newspaper staff days, and I must say, I was more than a bit nervous. Tim made me feel at ease from the first moment that I met him at the Starbucks on the Promenade Deck. It did help that he was dressed for his Christmas activities in snowman pants, a unicorn sweater, and a Santa hat, although he normally dresses in a suit and tie. Who could be nervous with a Cruise Director dressed in an outfit like that?
Being a Cruise Director is not the easy job that Tim makes it seem. He tirelessly and cheerfully goes through each day of his many duties, always fresh and funny. But there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone knows.
You might say that Tim Connor was born to cruise..literally. His father and his mother both worked on cruise ships, meeting on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2. His father spent 35 years at sea in the ship’s band, and his mother spent 27 years at sea as a dancer. Eventually they started an entertainment company putting together production numbers for cruise ships in the UK. Tim was born into this, and grew up on ships that were anywhere from 400 to 1500 guests in size. He left school at age 18, didn’t attend university or college, and worked freelance in sound technology and as a DJ.
However, as luck would have it, one day a man, who had worked for his mother as a singer and was now operating a company out of the UK with just one ship, called with a need for someone to fill in as production manager on that ship for just a couple of weeks. Those weeks turned into eleven years, and Tim is still at sea. He has worked for three different shipping companies, working his way up, and now he’s Cruise Manager on the biggest ship ever When asked if he’d do it again if he had to start over, his answer was “Of course, it’s a fun job”, but it’s also not just a job, but a way of life as well. “It’s an adjustment. Again, I was brought up with it so this is what I’ve known all my life”
Tim says the Cruise Directing is not for everyone. “If you like your own personal space and quiet time there’s none of that.” It’s a demanding, 24/7, no days off job. The longest that you can be aboard the ship is ten months, most people do seven to nine months, and his contract calls for four months aboard and two months off. Most crewmembers are away from family for long stretches at a time. Tim is married and has a two year old son. They live in Orlando, which makes it easier for his family to join him one week a month or so on the ship. They also manage to see each other every Sunday when the ship is in Port Canaveral.
As the youngest Cruise Director in the Royal Caribbean fleet, Tim has learned his trade by on-the-job experience. If you’re thinking of getting into the Cruise Director field, Tim recommends a background in theater, dancing, or performing in general. You’d need to start out on the Cruise Entertainment staff, then onto Activities Manager. Only then will you be able to think about becoming a Cruise Director. A Cruise Director is expected by the passengers to stay happy and know everything about the ship. He is the person that they come to with questions and concerns. For instance, on our recent cruise on Oasis of the Seas, the first few days of our cruise the weather was wet and windy. For that reason, the first few nighttime high dive Aqua Shows, Oasis of Dreams, were cancelled. They were then rescheduled for the final two nights of the cruise. Problem was, they substituted the shorter version show called Splish Splash, instead of the full version of Oasis of Dreams. People did not understand why they did not re-schedule the original dive show or why they couldn’t do it in inclement weather. What they did not realize was that the same performers that did the high dives and acrobatics on Oasis of Dreams were the same people that were in the Come Fly With Me production scheduled in the Opal Theater for the same night, and could not be in two places at once. And also, the Aqua Theater is outside, and it would have been dangerous for the divers to high dive in windy conditions. The pool is not that large, although it is the deepest pool at sea, and if the ship moved and the divers ended up hitting the wrong place after they dove, it could have been deadly for them. Oasis is a wide and stable ship, and instead of riding the waves, it crashes through them, creating a shuddering effect, but it still moves. Smaller ships would rock back and forth in the waves instead. The Captain will work hard to avoid storms, but Tim says “If you are ever on a cruise and the Captain decides to change itinerary and deviate course, and you don’t end up where you intended to go because of weather, say thank you, because if you go through those storms it can be bad.” Royal Caribbean has their own Meteorologist in Miami who spends all day every day tracking storms all around the world, and understands how they will affect the ships. The safety of the performers and of the passengers is of the utmost importance, and Tim wishes that people could understand these behind the scenes things.
Another quality that is needed of a Cruise Director is the ability to think on your feet. When Tim was Cruise Director on Brilliance of the Seas out of England, auditions were going on for the Love and Marriage Game Show. In the middle of the auditions, his crew staff disappeared. Finally they told him that the third couple auditioning did not speak English. He sent for the International Ambassador on the ship, and he discovered that the couple only spoke Hebrew, which the International Ambassador did not speak. Tim asked the audience if anyone spoke Hebrew, and they found only one lady, who nervously agreed to translate the entire game show. Another time he was walking on the deck of the ship, heard a yell on the pier, and looked down just in time to see a woman on a mobility scooter drive right over the side of the pier and into the water. She ended up floating in the water, unable to assist herself, and Tim was the only person who saw it happen. Tim started climbing over the railing, thinking he’d have to jump overboard to help her when the Security Staff finally realized something was wrong. Tim yelled “In the water!” and the Rescue Team finally realized what had happened and managed to eventually get her out of the water. She was checked out by the medical team, and miraculously was fine. Then we had a medical emergency of a passenger our first couple of hours into our cruise, and it was announced by the Captain that the ship would be turning around and going back to Port Canaveral. The question that I heard from others, and that I confess that I was thinking, was why didn’t they make use of the helipad on the front deck of the ship instead of going all the way back to Port Canaveral? Tim’s answer to this was that although they do have the ability to do a helicopter rescue, since it was dark at the time, it would have been very dangerous to attempt an airlift, and would have been a last resort. By turning around and going back to port to drop off the ailing passenger, then heading back out to sea, the Oasis of the Seas burned an extra 38 tons of fuel. But…we got to St. Thomas as scheduled. The passenger had surgery that night, and last Tim heard, was doing well. According to the Captain, the medical crew saved his life. But it’s things like these that make a Cruise Director’s life memorable.
And since this blog is marketed towards first time cruisers, I asked Tim what advice he’d have to someone who had never cruised before. His first piece of advice…..”and I mean this in the nicest possible way…..is to get lost!” Normally cruisers get on the ship and use the ship’s map to get from A to B, but “for the first day or so on board, ignore the maps, wander, get lost. You’re going to find all these venues that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.” You’ll miss the little things if you just concentrate on just getting around the ship from one place to the other. Look around and enjoy. On Oasis of the Seas there are a myriad of little surprises if you just look for them. Also, go to the First Time Cruisers orientation offered in the first 24 hours of your cruise on Royal Caribbean ships, and be sure to do research about your ship and itineraries online before you leave.
So, there you have it. The next time that you see a Cruise Director, remember that he or she is working hard to make your cruise memorable, and it’s not as easy as he makes it seem. But he’s a pro, and will work hard to make your cruise a fun and memorable one because that’s his job…and he loves every minute of it!