On the surface, being a cruise ship lecturer seems like the sweetest gig in the world. Having done it a dozen times, you probably think I’m going to tell you that lecturing is really a tough job.
Well, you’re wrong. It is the sweetest gig in the world. No question about it. You cruise for free. You rarely have to work on port days, which means that you can enjoy the places you visit just like the other guests. You get a nice cabin, usually a regular passenger cabin, and always an outside cabin. When you’re “working,” you’re talking to an appreciative audience about your favorite subjects. After a couple of days at sea, you’re one of the most famous people on board. People invite you to lunch, and ask how to buy your books. Usually, the crew treats you like royalty.
What could possibly go wrong with such a great job? Actually, rather a lot. These are the top fears of my fellow on-board lecturers.
7. Australia: To lecture on a cruise ship traveling in or out of Australia is to enter a bizarre never-never land in which the immigration authorities insist that you’re a working crew member, while the cruise line insists that you are a guest like any other paying customer. As a practical matter, this means that you have to apply for a “Maritime Crew (Temporary) Visa (Subclass 988).” You are told to keep this with you at all times. (I never once had anyone ask me for it.) It also means you must settle your on-board expenses in cash. And that means carrying hundreds of dollars halfway around the world, or depending on the ship’s ATMs, which can be emptied in minutes by a slots tournament. At least 769 times, you will be asked, “Are you a member of the crew?” and realize that there’s no really good answer to that question.
6. A Skeptical Cruise Director: With on-board lecturers now a part of almost every cruise line’s entertainment package, you’d think someone would have told the Cruise Directors by now to expect us. On more than one occasion, I’ve dealt with Cruise Directors who don’t know what to do with me. They schedule time reluctantly, avoid advertising the lecture programs, and generally wonder why I’m taking up time that could be given to dance lessons, art auctions, cooking demonstrations, or bridge tournaments. Awkward.
5. Bridge Tournaments: Well, I probably shouldn’t single these out, although I don’t know how many times I’ve had people ask me, “When is your lecture?” and when I answered, asked their companion, “That’s not the same time as the bridge tournament, is it?” The fear is too stiff competition from other activities on board. Before my very first lecture, I saw from the Daily Program that The Empire Strikes Back was playing on one cabin TV channel, and The Fugitive on another. I had to compete, in other words, with two Harrison Ford movies. On a cruise through the New Zealand Sounds, I had to compete with both the scenery and the Super Bowl. On a recent cruise, one of my lectures was opposite a presentation by the Captain himself. I didn’t know if I should wish for a packed house or not. (I got one.)
4. Sympathy Questions: Of course, the worst fears come from doing a poor job of pleasing your audience. If you’re in the large theatre, it’s very difficult to make eye contact, and thus difficult to know how you’re doing (unless people get up and leave, which has never happened to me). But almost as bad is when you get to the end of the lecture, and they turn the house lights up for the Q and A. Ideally, hands shoot up the moment you ask for questions. Sometimes, there’s a long, awkward silence, usually followed by one passenger, almost always an elderly lady, who will try to do you a “favor” by asking a question incorporating the title of your presentation. For example, if, at the end of the lecture on the sinking of the Titanic, your first question is, “What happened to the Titanic?” you’re in bigger trouble than the doomed ship’s passengers.
3. Complaints Disguised as Questions: For many passengers, the on-board lecturer is simply another crew member. As such, they think that you’re the proper person to whom they should direct their complaints about the ship, the ports, the sea, this cruise line, some other cruise line, etc. On-board lecturers love to tell the story of a naturalist, who gave a fascinating presentation on Alaskan wildlife. At the end, he asked for questions, and a lady in the front row shot her hand into the air. When called on, she said, “There’s a good two inches of water in my cabin shower.” That lady may exist only in legend, but we still fear her.
2. Having to Actually Work as a “Tour Escort”: One of the perks of being an on-board lecturer, for some cruise lines, is the chance to go along on Shore Excursions for free. In return, lecturers agree to serve as “Tour Escort,” which, 99 percent of the time, means nothing more than holding up a numbered sign and counting people as they reboard the bus. In theory, however, you share responsibility if someone gets lost, gets sick, gets robbed, or simply gets obnoxious. It’s when you consider these possibilities that you also realize how utterly unable to cope with them you probably are.
And then there’s the biggest, most haunting fear of all. This is the one that we think about even when there’s no chance of it occurring, and the one that needs no explanation:
1. That there will be a whale sighting announced while you’re lecturing.