Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 4)
Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?
Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.
Welcome to the fourth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story.
Part 4: My fondest small-ship cruise memory
By Elise Lentz.
After 15 years working on small ships, people often say, “I bet you have some great stories.” When you take into consideration that a typical cruise is 7 days, we realistically have spent a significant amount of time with thousands of people. So the response is “yes,” we definitely have some stories to tell. This is normally when my eyeballs roll into the back of my head as I think about some of the real winners…
In the service industry, there is something referred to as the 20/80 rule. In any group, there will be 20% of the people that take up 80% of your time. Those 20% are the ones who you will never forget. Unfortunately, it is typically for all the wrong reasons.
However, there are a few stories that still make me smile and will stick with me forever. Here is one of them.
Tim and I were working as crew onboard Windstar Cruises’ MSY Wind Surf during a Christmas cruise out of Barbados. The Barbados itinerary is one of the most logistically complicated for the embarkation and disembarkation of passengers, because of the airlines’ flight schedules. Disembarking passengers would start to leave the ship as early at 3:00am. That was not a typo, I did mean 3 in the morning. Embarking passengers would arrive throughout the day and continue to arrive after midnight. For Tim and me, this schedule required us to work around the clock for almost two days.
A passenger sitting alone by the pool
The evening of embarkation, those passengers that arrived earlier were starting to make their way to dinner. Tim was walking on the outside decks and noticed one guest sitting alone by the swimming pool. He wandered over to make sure everything was fine and struck up a conversation. The guest mentioned that he traveled a lot with his business. He said he only took this cruise because his wife was excited about getting away with him and she insisted that he needed a vacation. As it turned out, the guest lived (part-time) in Florida, same as Tim and me, and they started to talk about some of the places they were both familiar with. When the guest mentioned some Florida blues bands he knew, Tim commented, “Sounds like you are in the music industry.” The guest replied: “Yes, I’m Brian Johnson.” Now Tim grew up listening to a lot of music and it didn’t take long before he put 2 and 2 together. Brian Johnson = lead singer for AC/DC.
While we do get a passenger manifest containing everyone’s name, Johnson is about as familiar a surname as Smith, so we didn’t have any “red flags” to clue us into the fact that we had a world-renowned rock and roll star sailing with us. Tim immediately notified the hotel manager that we had a major celebrity on board and we are all given strict orders to let Mr. Johnson have a peaceful vacation with his wife.
That worked fine for all of us, with the exception of the dining room manager. He was a wonderful man from Croatia, who happened to be a huge fan of AC/DC. The entire trip his face was frozen with a permanent smile and the familiar songs of AC/DC blasted in a steady stream from his office. He could hardly contain himself and at one point, in passing, I mentioned to him to “keep his pants on.” The dining room manager asked Tim, “Why is your wife telling me to keep my pants on?” It was at that time I realized that some of my “common” phrases and slang were not universally recognized to other nationalities. On the ship, the Indonesian and Pilipino crew would also have some slang sayings. For example, when a big cleaning needed to be done it was known as “soapy soapy.” If there was an abundance of something, they would say “plentong, like rice.” If something wasn’t fully understood, or seemed illogical, you would hear “why like that?” We were definitely a cultural mix and full of our own phraseology.
Ok so… “keep your pants on”
I’m getting to the good part of the story.
As I mentioned, this was a holiday cruise and for much of the crew, it was a difficult and emotional time. Many of us were thousands of miles away from family and friends and while we were spreading the “holiday cheer” to the passengers, our hearts were heavy. That’s when Santa Clause delivered us all a special message. Brian Johnson offered to give the crew a private concert on Christmas Eve. We worked with the ship’s house band to learn a few of AC/DC’s biggest hits. We did a major “soapy soapy” in the crew lounge and we even built a small dance floor.
Christmas Eve arrived and after a night of singing carols and drinking egg nog, the passengers went to their cabins with dreams of sugar plums and sandy beaches dancing in their heads. That’s when the crew came out to play. Our guest of honor was escorted into a place passengers never see — crew space. But that night we were proud of our little retreat, as we had transformed it from a smoke-filled, stale-beer-soaked, carpet-stained hang out into a classy looking night club lounge. We filled the room with stage lighting and a sound system we stripped (a.k.a. borrowed) from the passenger bars and lounges. The female crew excitedly ditched their crew uniforms in exchange for party dresses, heels and lipstick.
Officer rank & order went over board
For the next hour, the crew onboard the MSY Wind Surf was joined together by the magic of music. Officer rank and order were set aside as we became one big family away from home and we had our gracious guest to thank for this special gift. While he could have easily spent his evening relaxing, he paid it forward by doing what he knew how to do best — perform.
In the early hours, we stealthily replaced the “borrowed” equipment to the passenger bars and lounges and grabbed a few hours of sleep before facing the passengers awaking to Christmas morning. They were singing carols and we were humming Back in Black.
While I have never traveled with a known celebrity again, there have been other passengers who have touched my life.
I’ll share a few. Come back next month to find out who….
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