“What do you do on board?”

I’ve just returned from the CARIBBEAN PRINCESS doing an Atlantic Crossing from Ft Lauderdale [Puerto Delgado, Dublin, Cork, Greenock for Glasgow and Edinburgh, Southampton], a Grand Mediterranean [Barcelona, Corsica, Civitavecchia for Rome, Livorno for Florence and Pisa, Genoa for Milan, Marseille, Gibraltar, Southampton] and a Scandinavian cruise [Zeebrugge for Bruges and Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo and Southampton].  So a lot of travel in little over a month traipsing across the Atlantic and all over Europe.

Flying from Panama to Florida isn’t bad aside from being forced to pay for an overnight in Panama City at Riande Airport which has turned into a very nice, modern hotel.  I took the new Copa flight from David to Tocumen so I was able to avoid the $30-40 taxi ride from Albrook to Tocumen, BUT Copa has a long way to go working out the logistics of this flight in Panama City.  It took as long to offload people off the plane into one tiny coaster-type bus making repeat trips as it took to fly from David to Panama City!  Just as confused when I got back where we went packed into the same miserable, little bus, with tons of carry on luggage on a scavenger hunt around Tocumen airport to find the plane, which actually was parked at a gate.  Go figure!  I love flying Copa but this local flight is very … how do I put it … old-school Panamanian.  Actually Princess flew me to Miami and had a STRETCH limo waiting to take me to the ship in Ft Lauderdale.  First time I’ve every been in a stretch limo.  Nice.  Thanks Princess!

Flying back Southampton, Paris, Mexico City, Panama City, David was a 31-hour grueling ordeal, the highlight or low-light if you will was finding myself in the aisle on the floor midway across the Atlantic coming to surrounded by folks speaking Spanish since it was an Aeromexico flight.  I don’t sleep on planes and by that time I just wanted them to let me lie stretched out on the floor and sleep.  But they got me into a seat sucking pure oxygen … Good stuff!  I’m tempted to get a tank to keep around the house and inhale, but, ah, like Bill Clinton I don’t inhale.  Anyway a nice doc three rows back who had done his residency in New York checked my heart and blood pressure.  Assumption was I was just tired and got up too fast from the seat and my blood pressure dropped so I fainted.  Although it was a full flight, the good folks from Aeromexico cleared out three seats, got a whole pile of pillows and insisted I stretch out, continue to suck oxygen, and relax.  Memo to self: next time you are on a crowded, long-haul flight remember the fainting in the aisle strategy.

I love to travel, but I love to come home.  People always ask two questions.  First, “What’s the best place you’ve been in the world?”  That’s easy to answer.

“Where I live in Boquete!”

And the other question folks ask, aside from “How do you get a job like yours?” is, “What do you do on board?”

I used to be the “Port Lecturer” or PORT LECT since everything is abbreviated on board ship making it like living in a bowl of alphabet soup.  Now the folks at Princess HQ in Santa Clarita have decided that the position should be called “Destination Expert”, which I guess will be DEX or, if we’re lucky, DEST EXP.  The name change is a bit of a challenge for me, not that I mind being called an expert at anything.  I try to record a welcome onboard TV talk called “Let The Adventure Begin” to tease my port talks and the shore excursions.  And in that script I’ve always told people that I’m NOT an expert … “Do you know what an ‘expert’ is?   A drip under pressure or someone 500 miles from home.”  Obviously, Princess feels that I now qualify on both counts.

So my main job is to be sure that folks have a fantastic cruise as well as a happy, healthy, fun and interesting time ashore.  My main task toward that goal is giving port lectures covering the history, culture, food, things to do and things not to do, what happens when we dock and how to get around, and things to see … all that distilled into a 45-55 minute talk which hopefully is interesting and fun.  Usually on a big ship with 3,000 passengers, like CARIBBEAN PRINCESS, the first few lectures will be standing room only in a theater that seats 700, often with folks sitting on the steps.  Once people discover that the lectures are taped and run endlessly on their cabin TVs, and with everything else going on [Zumba, Bingo, Art Auctions, Trivia, sunny days on deck] attendance drops off a bit and people just watch on TV.  Additionally I have “desk hours,” usually one to two hours a day on sea days, and I help dispatch ship tours, and go on the tours to evaluate them and be familiar with the tours.  Sometimes, as in the three video clips here, I get to provide some narration for the “Reflections” DVDs about the cruise that are sold on board.  These are really good and were done by a videographer named Jacobus from South Africa.

One of the things I enjoy most about being on the ships is working with folks from all over the world.  The Shore Ex team on this ship were from Brazil, South Africa, Peru, and Mexico, my room steward was from the Philippines, the cruise director was from England, and the deputy cruise director was from New Zealand.