“Cruising? Isn’t that for old people?” You don’t know how many times over the years I have heard this statement, and it always makes me laugh to myself. But, before I became involved in this part of the travel industry, I admit that I thought the same thing to myself. I never believed that I would ever find myself on board one of these luxurious ships, sipping cocktails by the pool or surfing the buffet lines with the best of them.
The year I was formally introduced to the cruising had been a particularly hard one for me. I had been working for an airline, and due to restructuring, was forced to leave my job and move back to Seattle. Fortunately, I had friends looking out for me, and was able to land an interview with a start-up travel agency here….as a cruise consultant. “Cruising? Isn’t that for old people?” I had no idea what was involved in a cruise vacation, much less how to sell one to the public. I did have the mind to go to my local bookseller to pick up a few books on the subject so I didn’t sound like I knew as little as I actually did! And seeing that I was as driven as I was, the company hired me on the spot!
A perk of the job: ship inspections! Since the new job was in Seattle, I didn’t have to go far to see the luxury of the floating resorts I had been selling for two months. And the first ship I was able to inspect? The brand new Star Princess! And was she beautiful! But what made the lasting impression of this experience? The passenger service staff! They were very kind and courteous, directing yet another confused travel representative to the correct waiting area for the inspection. Nothing like I had experienced from airline service members in various airports throughout the world. I would come to learn why the following year.
My office was buzzing about the new Alaska season. Princess announced they would bring the Diamond Princess to Seattle for the summer, but the excitement was over something else. The second ship in Seattle, a first for Princess, was to be the Sapphire Princess. And they were going to christen her right here in my home town! I had to figure out how to be a part of the festivities and excitement! On a particularly slow day at my office, I found myself daydreaming about cruising and maybe looking for another job with a cruise line. After a few internet searches, I found www.princesjobs.com and learned that Princess was looking for Passenger Service Representatives for the Alaska season. I thought to myself, “What the heck? I have nothing to do on the weekends anyway, why not make some money?” So I applied! To my shock, the very same day, I received a phone call from the recruiter asking when I would be able to come in for an interview. WOW! Nothing had ever worked that quickly for me!
The day of the interview was nerve wracking. I had to go to work prior to that, and not being very good with directions, I was LATE! I knew this would never be accepted in this industry, but I knew that I had to make an appearance just to say that I had at least tried to get the position. Susan and Sandra met me in the lobby, and after profusely apologizing for being late and promising to NEVER be late again, they offered me the position! YES! I was going to be one of the people with the kicky uniforms and great smiles standing behind the counter!
I had no idea what to expect on my first day of the job. Sure, I thought it would be fun and exciting, but I had no idea what the job entailed other than standing behind the podiums and speaking with passengers about their cruise. And the early mornings! WHAT WAS I DOING TO MYSELF? But arriving at the pier and seeing the sleek beauty of the Diamond Princess cruising smoothly up to the gangway was spectacular, and I knew that I was going to have a lot of fun. After the morning meeting, it was time to get started. I had been assigned to the INS hall. I know…Immigration? We’re in the United States…we don’t need immigration! I came to learn that the Diamond had been in Vancouver the night before, so everyone needed to be cleared, and done in 4 hours. WHAT? Everyone on the ship had to pass through this hall and speak with an immigration officer in the next 4 hours? How was this to be done?
I was amazed. The operation was smooth and ran like a well oiled machine. Twelve immigration officers were quick witted and warm toward our passengers, and they were able to clear TWO ships in the span of just under 4 hours. WOW! I had always told my clients that they would need either a birth certificate with photo identification or a passport to get on a cruise, but I had no idea that they would need one to come off of one too! It was great to be able to speak with the passengers and find out what they liked and disliked about the cruise! Some of them even shared some of the pictures they took from their balconies and on shore excursions!
The afternoon was shaping up to be an exciting one! Now was the time to shine….CHECK IN! This is what it was all about! After a brief run through of the check-in process, I was shown to a podium and left to the masses. The first few guests were a little rocky, but with more and more practiced, I became confident in my abilities! And it helped a lot that there were other team members always somewhere around that were more than happy to help the new guy out. Time just seemed to fly, and before I knew it, the ship was sailing and it was time to leave.
One thing I always remember about my first day was the feeling of family around the pier. Sure, it was just a little weekend job, but these people were genuinely interested in your wellbeing and ability to perform your job function to the top of your ability. I had inadvertently been adopted by the Princess family, and it was an awesome feeling.
Then Sunday came, and the Sapphire was in town. Reality set in like a ton of bricks. I signed myself up for 5 months of getting up early on the weekends and missing all the fun night time actives my friends had planned? WOW! I must seriously be deranged or something! But a deals a deal! So down to the pier I went to go through the whole process again!
The weeks began to blur together, and before I knew it, the season was over and it was time to say goodbye to my Princess family. It was a bittersweet ending to a very long season, but I came away from the experience with some great memories, great friends, and a whole new understanding of cruising experience that I took with me back to the “real” job.