BOB BONE'S TravelPieces

Three Important Shipmates

© By Robert W. Bone

There are three souls on board a modern cruise ship you should get to know since they have more to do with everyone’s enjoyment than anyone else. They are (1) the Captain, (2) the Cruise Director, and (3) the Hotel Director. 

Crystal Serenity sails into Venice

The Captain

No surprise here. He is the head man of the crew, and father figure to everyone on board, passengers and staff alike. Adept at jovial social repartee, he not too incidentally also has the ultimate responsibility for navigating the vessel. 

There seems to be the spirit of an explorer just under the surface of the captain’s public personality. Indeed, everyone quietly knows than in an unlikely set of circumstances… well… he would be called upon to go down with the ship.

The Cruise Director

The most visible figure on any cruise, he has a perpetual smile and unflagging good humor no matter what the circumstances. If the captain is the master of the ship, the cruise director is quite literally the master of ceremonies. 

A combination of professional entertainer and indefatigable cheerleader. he also functions as a manager of virtually every passenger activity on board, from the time the guest leaves the cabin in the morning until heading for bed at night. He is also usually the easiest of the three for a passenger to buttonhole as he bounces his way around the ship.

The Hotel Manager

In days of old, the hotel manager, or hotel director, was called the purser, and he was known mostly as the boss of the front desk. Today most passengers seem to think of the hotel director only when something in their stateroom needs changing or fixing. He manages a large staff ranging from room stewards and butlers to plumbers and carpenters. If you don’t like something in your cabin, he’s the chap who can make things right. 

It is also the hotel director who has to see that the ship picks up the groceries at every port. He orders the delicious lobsters and juicy strawberries and then supervises the chefs who perform wonders with these products. If you need something special done with your accommodations or your meals, the hotel director can see that it is done. Many come to the job after a career in the hotel field and/or the food and beverage business. 

In interviews on board the new Crystal Serenity, a ship which began plowing the seas for the first time in the summer of 2003, these three officers all said they consider themselves at the top of their professions.

Captain Reidulf Maalen, a well-known master at Crystal Cruises, now captains Crystal Serenity

Reidulf Maalen, a 56-year-old Norwegian, served as captain of the other two ships in the company, the Crystal Harmony and the Crystal Symphony, before taking on the same job on the new Serenity. He said he especially enjoys mixing with the passengers and the crew. When not at sea, he lives in Las Vegas with his wife, whom he met when she worked on his ship. 

“It takes a particular personality to enjoy being the captain of a cruise ship,” he said in an interview. “I know there are cruise ship captains who hate the social aspects of the job, and my advice to them is to go and drive a tanker or a container ship.” 

“It has also been important for me to break down the traditional barriers between the officers and the crew, and I’ve been doing that for over 40 years,” he said. “At the end of the day, a happy crew makes a happy ship.” 

Maalen indicated that in this age of automation, uniformity, and strict scheduling, there is still an element of adventure in a modern passage. He said his most memorable cruise was the one which included Crystal’s initial port call to Myanmar last year.

“That port is not much visited,” he said. “It took some tremendous preparation before we could go there. But the passengers came back on board just raving about the experience. So the Serenity is going there again on our World Cruise in 2004.” 

Pressed for an example of a time that something didn’t go as planned, the captain recalled that a call at the Pacific Island of Ponape had to be cancelled one year because of some kind of blockage in the harbor. 

“We always laugh about being on a cruise to nowhere,” but then suddenly that’s just what it seemed to be – a cruise to nowhere! Anyway, we felt we had to give the passengers come kind of an experience, and also in order to keep to our schedule later on, we decided to make a port call at Chuuk, an island we had never visited before. 

“As usual, we took a local pilot on board, came through the barrier reef without incident, and then we asked him where we should dock. But to our surprise he shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea. So we just chose someplace and it worked out okay. But later we learned that the guy isn’t really a pilot; he’s a taxi driver!”

Gary Hunter, Cruise director on Crystal Serenity, started out as a ventriloquist

The cruise director of the Crystal Serenity is Gary Hunter, a Floridian who has been sailing with Crystal ships for 12 years, principally in his role as ventriloquist. 

"I felt really good that they would introduce me to the cruise director job on the new ship,” he said. He had had some experience in the field, having been a cruise director for the Carnival Lines for a few years before he joined Crystal. 

“A cruise director needs to have some type of stage experience. But besides being able to stand up in front of an audience, he also must be an office manager, and one who can stroke the egos of performers and lecturers. Really, you have to be some sort of a natural psychologist,” he said. 

“Generally it’s a fairly easy task,” he said. “After all, the ship is set up to please people.” 

Hunter is occasionally challenged by passengers who feel the ship’s activities schedules should be changed in some way. 

“But I find that when you explain why the golf lessons simply can’t start at 9 o’clock, they usually understand,” he said. “You have to give people reasons. You can’t just say, ‘That’s the way it is.’ ”

Hotel director of Crystal Serenity is Austrian, Herbert Jaeger

The Crystal Serenity's hotel director, Herbert Jaeger, is an Austrian. Like many who now work for Crystal, he is a veteran of the defunct Royal Viking Line, considered the top of the cruise ship lines in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He eventually becoming executive chef for the Royal Viking Sun. In contrast to the captain and the cruise director, most of his work is behind the scenes. 

Occasionally, passengers manage to seek him out to ask to arrange something different in their cabin or at their tables in the dining room. He said in these cases he is almost always able to make amends. 

“They pay a lot of money for their cruise,” he said. “So they expect whatever it is to be taken care of. And so we do it—whatever it is.”


Story & Photographs Copyright © Robert W. Bone

Travel writer Robert W. Bone has been traveling on passenger ships, off and on, since 1957.