Barter on the High Seas
How to swap a skill for a stateroom
By Judy Colbert
If you’re among the millions of people who cruise every year, you may have heard “Dr. Dave” Roberts speak about the Panama Canal, listened to Steve Friedman discuss the history of Broadway musicals, “waltzed” around the floor with Paul Jones during afternoon tea and post-dinner dancing, or heard Mary Jane Cryan lecture about Italy.
As these and other experts entertained or educated you, maybe you thought, “I could do that. I know just about everything about XYZ” or you’re so extremely proficient in a topic that you’re the go-to person for everyone who knows you.
If so, you could join the multitude of people who receive a whole or partial ticket aboard numerous cruises in exchange for their knowledge. Roberts, a retired field anthropologist from San Diego, lectures about the Canal, San Diego history, the Maya, and other topics aboard such upscale cruise lines as Viking, Cunard, Windstar, and Azamara. Friedman, an accountant from Bethesda, Maryland, is a gifted tenor with a passion for Broadway musicals who has lectured on Crystal, Sea Dream Yacht Club, Celebrity Cruise Lines, and Princess Cruises. Jones, an insurance salesman in Orlando, has, for 20 years, combined his two loves: cruising and dancing. He dances with cruise passengers for about six hours a day. Cryan, an ex-pat, lives in and talks about all things Italy.
It is a very straightforward process: contact an agency, fill out some information, get interviewed, and if you have the skills, away you go.
“I get questions on every voyage,” Dr. Dave says, “about how a person can start lecturing on ships. It is a very straightforward process: contact an agency, fill out some information, get interviewed, and if you have the skills, away you go.” He started in 2013, booking through Compass Speakers and Entertainment and SixthStar Entertainment, two of the major companies booking people onto cruises. Prior to cruise ships, Dr. Dave says, he was on a “high-tech lecture circuit for the federal government.”
Other instructors teach passengers how to play or perfect their bridge game or golf strokes, or create watercolors. Some may paint faces or lead religious services (rabbis, ministers, priests).
Paul DiFilippi, Cruise Ship Enrichment, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is with Sixth Star Entertainment, says there have been changes after this past year of no cruising. “The biggest changes,” he says, “will be the Covid-19 vaccine and testing requirements and providing the proof in order to embark. Also, we expect that social distancing, masking, temperature checks, and hand sanitizing, will be required on board. So far, we have been receiving requests for arts & crafts instructors, bridge directors, guest speakers (regional historian and cultural experts), naturalists, and watercolor instructors. We’re hoping to have opportunities for the other positions we place as the situation improves.”
The instructors eat with the other passengers, usually have regular passenger accommodations, see the shows, and enjoy the benefits regular passengers do.
Gabby McNamara, of Cunard, says, “Our event cruises include special guest speakers and experiences expertly tailored to offer an insight into the world of fashion, history, art, flowers, wine, music or science as they strive to ‘Engage, Enlighten and Entertain.’”
These are different positions than the ship’s dancers, singers, magicians, photographers, and other talent, who sign on as crew members. The instructors eat with the other passengers, usually have regular passenger accommodations, see the shows, and enjoy the benefits regular passengers do. Often, however, they are asked to sit at the back of the showroom, not to sit at the bar, and not to walk around the ship with a drink in their hand. Almost all bookings allow an instructor to bring a guest (plus one) on the cruise. However, sometimes a “gentleman host” (a guy, single, 40+ who’s proficient in numerous ballroom and popular dances who has impeccable manners and a charming personality) does not include a plus one. Other times, there’s a demand for a male/female couple to teach dance classes. In other words, there are some hard and fast rules that are neither hard nor fast.
So, what’s the catch? When you go through a booking company, you pay a fee plus gratuities for cruise ship staff ($15-20 a day per person).
Depending on your specialty and the length of the cruise, you’re expected to give three to five lectures with a question and answer session or teach a few classes, or possibly go on shore excursions as the cruise ship’s representative.
So, what’s the catch? When you go through a booking company, you pay a fee plus gratuities for cruise ship staff ($15-20 a day per person). You may pay for some or all of your shore excursions. If you’re a craft teacher and bring your own supplies, your booking fee will be less than other teachers. The more upscale the cruise ship, the more you pay and the more benefits you’ll receive (possibly alcoholic beverages, transportation to/from the cruise, shore excursions, and specialty dining). Your fee may range from $30 to $65 a day, but that’s for two people (not per person) on cruises that may cost $500 or more a day per person. If the ship has a last-minute need, the fee may be less. A-listers tend to be booked by the entertainment department and may receive payment and air transportation.
Dr. Dave says, beyond the presentations, he and his wife “engage the guests, adding a little extra to our engagements such as dancing to dawn, dinner with new friends, and even visits to our home after the cruise.”
To find out more about possible opportunities, visit the websites and see what’s in demand. The companies may require a DVD or a link to a video clip of you doing your specialty. Sometimes, if you’re really good or well-known, they may come looking for you. Or, someone may recommend you if you have a talent the ships want. Once you’ve been booked a few times and decide you like this life, look for organizations or groups of cruise speakers. Facebook has such a group; bridge teachers have their own website (www.teachbridge.com). You’ll keep up on industry news, who’s hiring, who to contact, and other insider information.
Good luck and Bon Voyage!
About the Writer
Judy Colbert is an award-winning writer and photographer, based in Maryland. She’s been covering travel and human interest stories for more than three decades. Her most recent books are 100 Things to Do in Baltimore Before You Die and Virginia Off the Beaten Path: Discover Your Fun (12th edition).
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