How to be a cruise ship lecturer


On each cruise, there is a lecturer. I am one of those speakers. It might seem easy, but the selection process to be on the ship is interesting as well as discerning. First, I had to think about my topic. I have had a life-long interest in comedy, earning income in the 1980s from writing jokes for both radio and commercial television, but eventually conceded that I was not good enough to make it my full-time job. My series of cruise talks was to be on the theme of ‘They Made Us Laugh’. Pam and I have been on many P&O cruises, so it was natural to apply to them first.

They have forms to complete online, but so they eliminate many I had to provide not only two references from speaker secretaries who had previously booked me, but also a video of me on stage. This cost me £150 from a local professional company who recorded me at my Royal Hippodrome for an hour or so, editing down to five minutes.

Ten people were called to Carnival’s Southampton HQ to audition. I was the only one not talking about my career, there were three photographers, two ex-policemen, one lady whose 1850s ancestor had written an Indian recipe book, two military gentlemen, and a lady who verified quiz questions for major television shows such as Mastermind and Pointless. We each had a thirty-minute slot, half for a segment of our talk, the rest preparation and questions and answers. The audience comprised bookers for Cunard and P&O ships, as well as fellow would-be lecturers.

Carnival provided the laptop, we had to have a Slideshow presentation to accompany, as this is a company requirement for all lectures on board. At the end of my brief slice, I was the only one to sing. Tommy Cooper had a record in 1961 that made number 40 in the charts, so I serenaded them with ‘Don’t Jump Off The Roof, Dad,’ in my flat attempt at entertainment. It was pleasantly suggested that instead of giving the full talk, leave them wanting more. Also, some potential speaker topics would be more interesting to different parts of the Carnival company, so people would be coming and going throughout the day, just like an audience in a ship’s theatre.

When all had given their pitches, Cunard and P&O bookers explained what might be asked of us. We would initially be tried out on a short trip to ensure that we were compatible. If the cruise was a long one, such as 28 days to and from the Caribbean, then we would be flown to meet the ship, only staying for a few days. Only scheduled airlines, no budget, as difficult refunds from them if any scheduling problems.

Partners welcome to accompany to share cabins without charge, but their flight had to be paid for. Passengers status, but crew rate of 50% for all drinks. An unexpected perk.

My audition, including singing, must have worked, because within five days I had two cruise offers.

Three months later, Pam and I were on the Oriana. We flew from Heathrow to Madrid, then a flight to Gran Canaria. It would have been cheaper and more direct to fly budget, but we adhered to their schedule, otherwise they would not have paid. A private transfer to the ship was laid on, but we were not allowed to board until we had surrendered our passports. Even though we were joining the ship for six days towards the end of her cruise, we still had to go through the safety procedure, and something extra for crew members – water tight doors.

Passenger decks stop at level five, we were on four, so as theoretically crew members we had to be aware of safety procedures, which involved operating the lower level water tight doors that passengers never see. Pam and I were instructed on how to press the button. After twenty minutes, we’re now fully-trained operatives.

The next day was a port day in Lanzarote, somewhere we had previously visited for a day on a cruise, so it was free time. I reported late afternoon to the theatre’s technical director so I was aware of what to expect on my maiden lecture. Six nights on Oriana, three days at sea with a lecture on each, returning to Southampton. Our cabin was a basic inside twin-bedded one, where we only stayed to sleep. We were separate from the crew, being in the quarters for entertainment staff. Our cabin cards were identical to those used by passengers, until it was time to present for payment for drinks, when each bill clearly showed the half price due.

There is the main theatre, where I appeared for my first Tommy Cooper talk, and a revue-style auditorium where I gave those on Norman Wisdom and Max Miller. The first two were well received, not so Max, I suspect because he is not so recent in the memory. I was introduced by one of the entertainment staff, who immediately left and I had to close myself.

Three months later we were on our second lecturing cruise. This was on the sister ship Oceana.

In late Summer her cruises were mainly week-long out of Valetta, Malta’s harbour. This time we flew from Gatwick, on Air Malta. A lot of the people on the flight were also joining the ship. Again a private transfer for entertainers, we were getting used to be treated in a very special way. The Oceana cabin for lecturers is again on deck four, but this time we shared the same crew access, so at the beginning were frequently stopped and asked if we were lost passengers. There is a crew office where any queries are answered, and I was able to obtain two lanyards in dark blue, denoting crew. When you access the passenger area in deck five there is a sign on the rear of the door telling crew that they must speak English when on the other side.

We reported for our water tight doors training, this time as we had already been instructed we were absolved. We mingled with the other joining passengers for the safety drill. This time I had four lectures to give, two days at sea, four in port. All four talks were in the main 600 seater theatre, I reported early, it was a fantastic sensation seeing the theatre fill, knowing I was on my own for 45 minutes to entertain. One of the staff introduced me, then I was telling them all about Tommy Cooper. The lecture went really fast for me, listening to the laughter, revelling in the warmth they had for my subject. I was told by the technical director that it was unusual to have the theatre two thirds full.

In order, our ports of call were Zadar, Venice, Split, and Dubrovnik. These were all new to us, and I will be writing further articles about each destination. The Croatian coast was an unspoilt delight, but what surprised us was the currency, the Croatian Kuna. We had assumed as they are in the EU, then the euro would be commonly accepted. Yes, it is, but the exchange rate varies greatly from café to café, let alone resort. Somewhere might offer nine to the euro, elsewhere seven.

Back on the Oceana, we dined in the main restaurant, but the entertainment staff had a separate table. As they often travel on their own, they would be in the self-service cafeteria, so Pam and I frequently had the table to ourselves. P&O does not now add gratuities to the cabin bill, so we were spared this frequent dilemma. The attitude of the service staff seems to us to be just as normal, so maybe the cruise company has compensated them in some other way, which seems unlikely.

It is somewhat pleasant to peruse the wine list knowing you will only be paying half the price. But as part of the staff, and also a passenger, sobriety is normal behaviour, so it was easy to resist temptation to indulge.

There was no attempt at any time to ask us to perform any extra tasks, such as escorting passengers on day trips. We had occasion to ask reception questions, just like passengers; these were answered as if we were.

The drawback for us was because we were on a scheduled flight from Valetta to Gatwick, there was only one, leaving at 21.00, so we didn’t get into home terminal until very late. Fortunately we had already organised airport parking, which was waiting for us.

If you are considering applying to be a cruise ship lecturer, let me mention the potential downside. Because we were in the crew areas, the cabin size is very small. We have yet to be on a Cunard ship, but understand that their cabins are much larger for the lecturers, not in the crew area. The speaker requirements are the same, but tend to be more educational in theme, with doctors, professors, and publicly recognised personalities.


Comments (13)

  1. Marie says:

    Hello,

    I was wondering if this was a paid gig, or do you and your partner just get to enjoy the cruise for free?

    Thanks,

    Marie

    • Harry Pope says:

      If you are fortunate to be paid, it is only a nominal sum for every day on board. For example, under the Carnival banner P&O do, but Cunard do not. However, the standard of Cunard lecturer cabin is far superior.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Strikes me as a little mean not to pay all lecturers given the vast sums these cruise companies make. Carnival Corporation & plc made a profit of $3.2 billion in 2018. Did they at least cover your travel expenses to go and see them in Southampton? I fear I know what the answer’s going to be, but I’m hoping I might be wrong!

    • Harry Pope says:

      People travel from all over UK for Southampton audition, I am only in Eastbourne so did not request expenses. They were not offered!

    • Paul Johnson says:

      That’s still a 4-5 hour return trip, Harry! To my mind, if they’re not paying people, the very least they should be doing is covering expenses. I guess they must be in the privileged position that a sufficient number of people want to do this despite the apparent lack of remuneration.

    • Harry Pope says:

      Quite right, there is no shortage of people thinking they can pass an audition. I suspect that the failure rate is quite high, so no reason to make it any easier by paying expenses. Mind you, when you do pass, then confidence is high.

  2. Pete says:

    This is great timing. One of my friends who had been on a cruise told me just how many guest lecturers there had been on his voyage. He is just back from a month cruising around the Caribbean and for him the quality of the lectures was one of the highlights of his trip. In fact, he and his wife mainly went to different lectures. They have very different interests and mainly just spent breakfast and lunch together.

    Now that I’m retired and finally have the freedom to think about new adventures lecturing on a cruise ship really appeals to me. I expect that “lecturing” is the wrong word as I think the last thing that cruisers would want is a dry lecturer. After all they are supposed to be having fun on their holiday.

  3. Julie Humphries says:

    Very, very interesting but just a couple of practical questions.

    £150 on a demo video seems a lot to spend when there’s no guarantee of success. The video on my phone now is of such high quality that I wonder if I could just use that? Also the editing software available is now so sophisticated that surely you could produce a new professional product without spending that sort of money. Also you talk about using a Tommy Cooper song. I would expect that quite a few of the speakers use songs, photos and film clips. Even though you are not being paid it could be argued that you are using them for commercial gain of a sort. What is the company’s policy on copyright, licensing and payments etc?

    • Harry Pope says:

      First the £150. This was my choice as my phone skills are limited. I am sure that you could produce a high quality this way.
      Songs. Very few speakers sing to their audience, but I regard my talks as entertainment. I may be not much of a singer, so make a joke out of it.
      Film clips are problematic technically on the ships. As a performer you want all to go smoothly so keep it simple.
      I use images that are in the public domain and free of copyright.

  4. John says:

    Who does the briefings on the Ports of Call? Is that something the lecturers could cover if they had the expertise? I’ve just been on a European river cruise and the intellectual level of the information given out wouldn’t have satisfied a junior school class and some of it was blatantly incorrect too.

    • Harry Pope says:

      This depends on the cruise company. You could certainly approach, but usually it is the entertainment staff, or from the sales team. I have known passengers to be lecturers, but your knowledge has to be pretty good to be accepted

  5. Jen Scott says:

    I’ve never been on a cruise so I have to admit complete ignorance here in not knowing there were even lecturers on cruise ships! You’ve had a fascinating path with writing jokes in the 80s, it’s a shame you weren’t able to do it full time but I imagine it’s a tough gig to get on a full time basis, not a case of you not being good enough. What an amazing thing to be able to experience, going from place to place to do this, to go through all the training, meet new people, being able to entertain and know you’re brightening up the experience for all on board.

    It’s a shame you don’t get paid much, if at all, that seems rather unfair. I know you get the cruise experience (I assume totally for free?) but still, you’d imagine you’d get some kind of half decent payment for all the time you’re having to give up. If ever I’m fortunate enough to go on a cruise, I’d like you to be heading up the entertainment, Harry!

    • Harry Pope says:

      Thanks Jen, all the cruise companies have so many people wanting to be lecturers, there is no incentive to pay for this role. Thanks also for the lovely comment, I gain much pleasure from entertaining.

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