Rising Expectations

Cruise Industry News spoke to cruise directors at several cruise lines about the cruise experience, about what is important to the passengers, about how the passengers are changing, and about the daily issues and challenges of the job.

John Heald cruise director Carnival

What do you think is the most important element(s) of the passengers’ cruise experience?

John Heald, cruise director, Car­nival Cruise Lines: “Fun, food, sun, food, meeting new friends, food, having someone else clean and make the beds, food, seeing new places, food, great entertainment, food, romance, food, shopping, food, sleeping in, food, exotic cocktails, and maybe for some – food.”

Jim Cannon, cruise director, Ce­lebrity Cruises: “Food. Seriously, that is a very important element, but it is actu­ally the crew that makes the ship. No matter how nice or expensive the ship is, you must have excellent people to make it a truly magical experience.”

Clem Cimini, cruise director, Costa Crociere: “A cruise should be remembered as a dream come true. Many aspects combine to form a perfect cruise – a mar­velous ship, excellent service, good food; however, I believe what really makes each passenger’s cruise experience unforget­table is the friendly atmosphere and the feeling of being a Very Important Person to all of us.”

Paul McFarland, cruise director, Crystal Cruises: “Choices: We give our guests choices, but it is important that we offer ‘quality’ choices. We also want to re­spond to their academic needs and to stimulate their minds. Guest lecturers have included Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters. We also make entertainment a focal point, and when we put on a produc­tion every single act and every single prop is quality through and through. It is atten­tion to detail. In addition, our service level is by far superior to anything you find ashore. We focus on a small upscale mar­ket segment and we never compromise our standards.”

Clem Cimini cruise director Costa

Colin Parker, cruise director, Cunard Line: “That depends on the pas­sengers. For many repeat passengers one of the most important elements is to see staff they know. We always refer to the ‘Cunard Family,’ and for many this is true. Other passengers truly enjoy the dining ex­perience. Others enjoy lecture series or our theme cruises.”

Ronnie Finch, cruise director, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines: “Ensuring that the combined efforts of all the departments work collectively as one, so passengers have their holiday expectations fulfilled.”

Eric Dowis, cruise director, Hol­land America Line (HAL): “The single greatest quality of a cruise vacation is free­dom. Onboard guests are free to care about nothing at all. Their vacation can be as active or relaxed as they wish.”

Paul Baya, cruise director, Norwe­gian Cruise Line (NCL): “Freedom of choice. The whole benefit of Freestyle Cruising is giving our guests as many choices as possible.”

Paul Thomas O’Laughlin, cruise director, Princess Cruises: “Food would be up there! The shows, activities, the ports, and most of all the friendliness of the officers and crew.”

Barry Hopkins, cruise director, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises: “I would like to think entertainment is the most im­portant part, but in all honesty, it really isn’t. I guess the itinerary scores very high together with the food and the accommo­dations. Mind you, if you were to take the activities and the entertainment away, what would be left? The lifeboat drill?”

Colin Parker cruise directorCunard Line

Ken Rush, cruise director, Royal Caribbean International (RCI): “Friendly service. Going the extra step in making sure the guests are happy in every aspect of the cruise from the service to en­tertainment, the food and everything else.”

Elizabeth Rafferty De Castro, cruise director, Royal Olympic Cruises (ROC): “That we reach and surpass pas­sengers’ expectations.”

Leslie Jon, cruise director, Silversea Cruises: “Silversea offers an all-inclusive experience. It does not get better than this. But it starts with our guests being comfortable. If they were not com­fortable they would not enjoy the food or the entertainment. And making them com­fortable starts with paying attention to the details. We also offer more enrichment programs; people today want to know more. They want to be mentally nour­ished.”

Cheri Tomeny, cruise director, Windstar Cruises: “Cruising is like go­ing to a buffet dinner, you see places for a short time and learn which places you would like to revisit for a ‘sit-down din­ner.’ We have many repeat guests and they all say that the genuinely friendly atmo­sphere onboard and the casually elegant attire policy allow them to make a nice break from the coat-and-tie work world while enjoying five-star service and cui­sine.”

Have the passengers changed and if so, how?

Ronnie Finch cruise director Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Heald (Carnival): “One of the best experiences about working at Carnival is the diversity of our passengers. You may be speaking to a man who looks like an extra from the Dukes of Hazzard only to find he is a multi-millionaire. Guests will always be demanding and they have a right to be so. Most of the time we can meet and exceed their demands. However, ev­ery now and then you wish you could pro­vide a ridiculously demanding guest with a complimentary tour of the propellers.”

Cannon (Celebrity): “We are get­ting a much broader spectrum of guests than before. They are younger. More de­manding? Yes, but so am I. We live in an ‘instant gratification’ world, where you can get most things or information so much faster, which makes it much more chal­lenging to serve guests. However, we also have better tools… so to me, it balances out.”

Cimini (Costa): “Young people have discovered that cruising can be fun and exciting. Parents have discovered that cruising is a perfect, safe family vacation. Cruising is no longer a trip of a lifetime but a fun experience that can be repeated regularly.”

Eric Dowis cruise director Holland America LineMcFarland (Crystal): “The passen­gers are slightly younger in age, but much younger at heart. They like adventure and go on overnight safaris or balloon flights.”

Parker (Cunard): “We are getting more young couples. The romance of the great ocean liner is an obvious attraction, and the movie Titanic did us no harm at all! Irrespective of cabin grade, everyone aboard the QE2 is a VIP. Many of our pas­sengers are affluent and well-travelled. With our experience we are usually able to exceed their expectations and achieve high satisfaction ratings and a high level of repeat passengers.”

Eric Dowis cruise director Holland America Line

Finch (Fred. Olsen): “Passengers have higher expectations than before, but our role is to meet those expectations whenever possible. Many people now seem to retire earlier, or enjoy more lei­sure time than in the past, and it seems that we tend to attract an age group who have both the time and money to cruise regu­larly.”

Dowis (HAL): ‘‘Guests now board the ships with the excitement that comes from knowing that during this vacation their every wish will be greeted with a smile. More families have discovered the value of a cruise vacation. We also have more single guests on the ships. Through creative thinking when designing ships and the programs our guests take part in we are able to offer a product, which is ap­pealing to a variety of age groups and backgrounds.

Baya (NCL): “We are opening the doors to many first-time cruisers including families and couples of all ages.”O’Laughlin (Princess): “Passengers now expect more and are more interactive. They expect more choices in shows and activities. At Princess, we now offer up to three shows a night as well as a host of other activities and passengers can ad­just their dining to see all of it if they wish.”

Hopkins (Radisson Seven Seas): “Our clientele has become younger but is not so demanding. I am truly proud work­ing for a company such as Radisson that still takes pride in offering a high standard of service. I do feel that our guests for the most part are very happy with the product we offer.”

Paul Baya cruise director Norwegian Cruise Line

Rush (RCI): “I think we have a great mix of ages aboard our ships now. Some itineraries will normally drive a certain age group but for the most part, guests come from all over the world and are of all ages, which simply means we must have every­thing from a diverse staff to varied activi­ties.”

Rafferty De Castro (ROC): “There is now a much greater mix of ages and many more families. Today’s passengers are also much more assertive. Our passen­ger nationality mix has also changed. Pick a country and it won’t be hard to find it represented.”

Jon (Silversea): “Our guests have all traveled extensively. Many have been with Silversea since the very beginning. I have only been with the company for two years but already I have sailed with some of the same guests two or three times. I do not think our guests are more demanding, but they are used to good things, which makes them more interesting. We also do a mid­cruise questionnaire. We work hard to in­volve our guests, without banging on a drum, whether they stay on the ship or go ashore. Our guests are venturesome, not trepid. I just came back from the Silver Whisper and we called at Al-Aqabah be­tween Israel and Jordan and we visited Petra.”

Tomeny (Windstar): “The average age seems to be a little older, perhaps around 45 to 55-plus. Itinerary dictates the age of those interested. Younger passen­gers go to the Caribbean or Tahiti for wa­ter sports; the adventurers, animal lovers and bird watchers come to Costa Rica; while someone with more sophisticated taste tends to go to Europe.”

What are the day-to-day issues and challenges you may face and how do you deal with them?

Paul Thomas OLaughlin cruise director Princess Cruises

Heald (Carnival): “Constipation is a problem for me personally and prunes for breakfast usually help. (Oh, sorry, I thought you wanted to know my personal challenges.) I think the biggest challenge recently has been the immediate weeks following September’s day of horror. I felt very guilty trying to make people laugh and have fun. David Letterman and 

Jay Leno had the comfort of cancelling their shows. We did not. I soon realized that laughter is one the greatest form of ‘FREE EXPRESSION’ and therefore I was not going to change but, in fact, tried even harder, if only for a brief time, to use laugh­ter as a medicine to help heel the sorrow we all felt.”

Cannon (Celebrity): “Simply keep up with all the details and drama of a team of 65 to 70 creative types. Managing my department can sometimes be like herd­ing cats! But most of the time it is a fun and exciting challenge for which 1 receive a great deal of positive feedback, and that feels good! I overcome obstacles several ways, sometimes by remembering favor­ite sayings, such as ‘Never Give Up,’ ‘A Day Without Laughter Is A Day Wasted,’ ‘Change is Constant,’ and ‘Bring Me My Coffee.’”

Cimini (Costa): “As a group leader I encounter daily management issues con­cerning the motivation of staff, compliance with rules and regulations, training, safety and welfare. Our staff consists of people from many countries and cultures. We pay a lot of attention to the integration and har­mony onboard. We also face a difficult task offering a product that will please all our international guests who speak different languages and whose cultures and tastes can be dramatically different from each other.”

 Barry Hopkins cruise director Radisson Seven Seas CruisesMcFarland (Crystal): “We do not have many problems.The cruise director meets with the hotel director every morn­ing to review the previous day and to plan the new day in order to anticipate any needs and to be proactive. If there should be a problem, we make sure we address it immediately. There is always a bad apple in the barrel and people come to the ship with different expectations. Some just want some personal time. We try to take care of these individual visions and make the guests happy one at a time.”

Barry Hopkins cruise director Radisson Seven Seas Cruises

Parker (Cunard): “Our product is well tried and tested, and over my years aboard the QE2 we have adapted the enter­tainment program to suit the needs of the various groups of pas­sengers. My main challenge is usually getting the schedule as balanced as possible and making sure that the passengers are able to have as many choices as possible.”

Finch (Fred. Olsen): “There can be interesting challenges to address during the day, but not only from passengers. There are many working in the entertainment department on today’s ships and it is extremely important that they are happy and con­tent performing whatever role they undertake. My door is al­ways open to any of the team if they need time to talk.”

Baya (NCL): “Providing the many age groups and diver­sified cultures with enjoyable activities can be challenging. We are constantly reviewing and modifying our programs to satisfy all the guests.”

O’Laughlin (Princess): “Every cruise is different and pre­sents different challenges. They could be: a large group with public room requirements; injuries in the cast which would ne­cessitate rehearsing and rebooking a show (bad weather could also cause a show to be cancelled); rescheduling an entertainer at the last minute for whatever reason; and missing a port due to weather.”

Hopkins (Radisson Seven Seas): “Keeping your team happy can be challenging especially when you have a group of young performers leaving their families and loved ones for the first time. Many join a ship for the wrong reasons and many are not aware of what is involved once onboard. Creating a family­like atmosphere is my biggest challenge.”

Ken Rush cruise director Royal Caribbean International

Rush (RCI): “Because every person has an opinion, it is difficult to please all the guests all the time, but we try to make everyone as happy as possible. If for in­stance I run into a guest who has a prob­lem, I don’t run away from it, I try to solve it the best way I know.”

Rafferty De Castro (ROC): “I just brought out a new vessel, the Olympia Explorer. Starting up always presents chal­lenges such as training staff and person­nel with ‘fine tuning’ and attention to de­tail. Another challenge is the integration of the different nationalities onboard. Our staff (myself included) speak several lan­guages and all information is provided in seven core languages.”

Jon (Silversea): “The challenge is for all of us to pay attention to the details every day. I plan all the activities and work very closely with the hotel department and food & beverage. Silversea is an intelli­gent place to work; it is a good place to work; everyone is so nice. The ship is my home eight to nine months out of the year. In my department, we work as a team; we are all in this together. We run a very com­fortable ship for both the guests and the crew.”

Tomeny (Windstar): “On these small ships, we are the guest relations staff, the shore excursion department, the port lecturers, the embarkation and disembar­kation coordinators, the mood setters, as well as taking care of many more details. You can try to please everyone all the time, but a 100 percent success rate is not real­istic, so you just do the best you can all the time.”

What are the “keys ” to being a good cruise director?

Elizabeth Rafferty De Castro cruise director Royal Olympic Cruises

Heald (Carnival): “I guess every cruise director has their own opinion. For me, be yourself – all a microphone does is to make your voice louder. It does not and should not change your personality. Also, check that your fly is done up before walk­ing on stage. I know how important this can be.”

Cannon (Celebrity): “You cannot have a bad day. If you have one, remem­ber my sayings (especially the one about coffee). You must love being around people, and you won’t make it if you try to fake it. You must be patient, yet deci­sive. Office skills are a must for the larger ships. The days are gone forever where cruise directors let their assistants do ev­erything and they just went on stage and told jokes.”

Cimini (Costa): “He or she must be communicative, sociable and charismatic with a pleasant stage presence and a wide knowledge of different groups’ cultures and expectations. He or she must also en­joy interacting with passengers as much as possible as well as being aware and ready to catch any possible sign of dissat­isfaction at the first moment it occurs.”

McFarland (Crystal): “I imagine I am the conductor of an orchestra with mu­sicians that are very talented in different ways. Each day I must call upon them to perform for audiences with different needs. It has to do with going back to the little things – taking care of the details. On a world cruise, it is important to remember that every day is just as important.”

Leslie Jon cruise director Silversea CruisesParker (Cunard): “A good cruise director must be a good listener and adapt the program to passengers’ needs and sug­gestions. The old adage that ‘no idea is a bad idea’ is paramount. Even if an activ­ity attracts four people then that is four people who are probably very happy. It is also important for a cruise director to be approachable. I spend a lot of my time with my staff. A cruise director also has to be au fait with world events. With the intelli­gent passengers traveling on the QE21 find it is very important to be able to converse sensibly about current issues.”

Leslie Jon cruise director Silversea Cruises

Finch (Fred. Olsen): “To possess an outgoing and friendly personality; to have a natural fondness of being with and among people; and to clearly communi­cate with both passengers and staff. As any manager, you may have to address any quick changing situation and to remain controlled, calm and decisive when under pressure.”

Dowis (HAL): “Being in touch with your guests. No two cruises are the same. The only way you effectively meet the needs of your guests is to get to know them. You must also be well versed in ship operations. You must have an understand­ing of the resources available to you and be creative in the ways you use them.”

Baya (NCL): “Having a dynamic and genuine personality, good sense of hu­mor, strong stage presence, and great or­ganizational and leadership skills.”

O’Laughlin (Princess): “Go to ev­ery length to give our passengers the va­cation of a lifetime. The keys are person­ality, warmth and being a great host. As the passengers walk down the gangway at the end of their cruise, they should all know their cruise director. Having a rea­sonable golf handicap does not do any harm either.”

Hopkins (Radisson Seven Seas): “You have to like people, have bags of energy and a huge smile that lights up the room.”

Cheri Tomeny cruise director Windstar Cruises

Rush (RCI): “You have to love people therefore you will love the job. If you are enthusiastic about the show and activities, it is contagious, and the guests will notice and join you.”

Rafferty De Castro (ROC): “Per­sonality is a key. You need to be a ‘people’ person, enjoying mixing and talking to people. And you need to be level headed so you do not lose your control in difficult situations. And you must be a good team player.”

Jon (Silversea): “Our itineraries are always changing. That gives us an oppor­tunity to be creative. All the cruise direc­tors at Silversea are different. We were all hired for different reasons. I have been at sea for 32 years and was a headline enter­tainer on cruise ships for 29 years. I know all the pitfalls of being a traveling enter­tainer. Thus, I welcome our entertainers as I would want them to welcome me. I have also seen some of the best and some of the worst cruise directors. The good ones realize that it is all about the guests and not about themselves. They have to enjoy people and they have to enjoy trav­eling. When someone comes to your house, you want to make sure that they have a great time. Other lines call them passengers; we call them guests.”

Tomeny (Windstar): “Patience, pa­tience and more patience, compassion, em­pathy and a good sense of humor, plus a sincere desire to make people happy on their vacation.” – Oivind Mathisen

Cruise Industry News Email Alerts

Cruise Industry News Email Alerts



Get the latest breaking cruise newsSign up.


54 Ships | 122,002 Berths | $36 Billion | View

New 2024 Drydock REPORT


  • Mkt. Overview
  • Record Year
  • Refit Schedule
  • 120 Pages
  • PDF Download
  • Order Today
New 2024 Annual Report


  • 2033 Industry Outlook 
  • All Operators
  • Easy to Use
  • Pre-Order Offer
  • Order Today