Travel Maestro’s August Travel Professional interview is with Rick Spath, Cruise Director on the Crystal Serenity. Rick has been at sea for over 32 years and thrives on constantly meeting new guests while traveling the world. Last year, he completed his 11th World Cruise and as much as he enjoys the travel, he will be the first to tell you that it is the Crystal ‘family’ of guests and crew which make any Grand Voyage so rewarding.
1) Cruise Director of a luxury cruise ship is a high ranking status. What career path brought you to this important position on the Crystal Serenity?
While in college, I was asked by a friend if I’d be interested in working on a cruise ship for two days (New York to Ft. Lauderdale) putting up Christmas decorations and then rejoin the ship after its holiday cruise to take down the decorations while traveling back up to New York. After doing this for two consecutive years during holiday time, I was approached by the Cruise Director of the ship (QE2) and asked if I’d be interested in working full-time for the Company in a Cruise Staff capacity. The rest is history…
2) It seems that a ship’s Cruise Director is everywhere and constantly on duty. What exactly are your shipboard responsibilities?
I try to make myself available to the guests throughout the entire day and will always ‘be an ear’ for inquiry, even if the questions aren’t relevant to the entertainment department. The world revolves around communication, hence, if someone has a comment or question about another department, then I will contact the respective department head immediately and they will in turn get in touch with the guest. I am responsible for coordinating all of the ship’s entertainment, music, Creative Leaning Institute classes, Crystal Visions Enrichment lecture program, the junior cruiser activity program (seasonal) and basically everything that goes into the daily program for guests.
3) What planned activities are available on the Crystal Serenity on a typical day at sea? Which are the most popular for our upscale travelers?
It’s all about options for the guests. I believe in offering too much, as opposed to, too little. I sincerely believe a day at sea on a Crystal ship is unlike any other line. Aside from activities pertaining to sports, exercise, cooking, language and computer classes, games, jewelry seminars, galley tours, buffets, dance classes etc., etc., we have an enrichment offering like no other line in the world. We average three very diverse lectures per day which often will include world renowned presenters from the top of their respective fields—these presentations are probably our most popular. A day at sea aboard a Crystal ship is more than just an experience. It’s an education!
4) What’s the most unusual passenger request you have fulfilled?
Other than the ‘usual’ request from a single woman to ‘find her a husband,’ I once encountered a very upset gentleman who was panicking because his family (including an infant) never received their luggage. The ship had already sailed and he was standing outside the elevator speaking with another gentleman about the missing luggage, but he was most upset because he didn’t have enough baby wipes and diapers for his infant child, and we had a couple days at sea before reaching our first port. Well, my family had been aboard during the previous cruise, and I happened to have a supply of extra diapers AND baby wipes in my room. I said to him, “stay right here….and don’t move,” I came back two minutes later with wipes and diapers for him and he gave me a hug that could have cracked my ribs!
5) Working on a cruise ship typically involves contracts of service for weeks or months at a time. Where do you call home and how do you balance family time with extended periods of work onboard?
Believe it or not, this is the most challenging part of the job for me, despite having a very good rotation schedule. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina with my wife Patty and four children (Steven 16, Nick 14, Anne-Marie 11 and Michael 9). I work three months and then have three months off, then on for two more and off for two, and so on. As much as I hate being away from family, my time at home is pure quality time, and I actually spend more time with the family than most families we know where the husbands are out of town for work on a weekly basis. I also bring the family out for a cruise at least once or twice per year which they thoroughly enjoy. They can find the ice cream bar even if blindfolded!
6) You have circumnavigated the world multiple times in your career, an enviable achievement. What is your favorite cruise port or region and why?
The 2012 World Cruise aboard Crystal Serenity was my 11th, and my favorite region to visit is still the South Pacific. The tranquility of the water and islands from Hawaii to Australia and New Zealand are pure paradise to me. I love the tropical offering of the islands and the friendliness of the Aussies and New Zealanders.
7) How many of Crystal’s passengers are past guests? Do they tend to repeat on the same ship or itinerary, or do they just prefer Crystal’s ambiance and style wherever you may go?
On average, we travel with over 50% Crystal Society members (repeat guests) on most itineraries and over 90% Society members on World Cruises. Many of our guests don’t even go ashore in the ports as they believe Crystal Serenity is the destination and enjoy the warm and genuine service of our outstanding crew. We have one guest currently aboard who sold her home a few years ago, and hence, LIVES ON THE SHIP! She tells everyone she’s “homeless”!
8) People do the darnedest things and you must see a lot of it. What was your funniest moment onboard?
Towards the end of cruise one time, I asked a ten year old boy if he wanted to emcee the show that night and informed him that he wouldn’t have to speak, but only had to stand on stage and move his lips. He agreed. All the guests were already accustomed to my voice, so, when the boy walked onstage in an officers uniform to take off the show (while I did the speaking from the back sound booth), the entire audience began laughing…but it got louder and louder because, much to my surprise, the boy was impersonating my onstage mannerisms (hand movements etc…), and the more I talked, the more he exaggerated my movements. The audience laughed solidly for a good two minutes until I finally signed off!
9) It always makes cruise guests feel special to mingle with the ship’s senior officers. Since you interact with hundreds of people each cruise, do you have a trick for remembering names and factoids about people?
No tricks in this area. Our guests sail for a good duration of time, hence, enabling all of our officers and crew to better know them. The important thing is: I thoroughly enjoy socializing with guests and never get tired of it. It’s because of our crew that guests return, time and time again.
Thanks, Rick, for sharing your job and lifestyle aboard the Crystal Serenity. Readers, if you’ve met Rick during his long sea-faring career, give him a shout out in the comments below.