Being a Cruise Ship speaker is one of the most desirable assignments an adventure traveler can get. It’s a popular niche that is a favorite of active and retired professionals, so the competition is intense. I’d like to share a bit about the opportunities, benefits, and process to get help you get onboard.
The Cruise Industry
Worldwide, there are approximately 50 cruise companies that focus on vacation travel. Some fleets comprise a dozen ships; others sail with just a few. Many of the lines are household words, thanks to mass market media advertising. Some of the more popular ones include: Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Carnival, Holland America, Celebrity, Oceania, Regent, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Most travel to familiar designations such as the Caribbean, Mexican Rivera, the Mediterranean, the Baltic and Alaska. Others offer trips to exotic destinations such as the Orient, Antarctic, Hawaii and Australasia. A few host annual world circumnavigations. You can cruise the globe for free by being a Cruise Ship lecturer. Departures can be from familiar US ports such as Ft Lauderdale, Long Beach, Seattle, New York, etc. or from overseas ports.
Generally, the lines can be classified as Luxury (high amenities, high price), Premium (larger ships, ala carte pricing) or Contemporary (low price, high passenger count and many onboard activities). As a speaker, you can choose the line and trip you’d like to apply for to suit your style of travel. Not all lines host speakers. For example, Disney requires that presentations be made by Disney staff.
The Luxury lines tend to attract more affluent and educated guests who appreciate interesting presentations. Consequently, you may share duties with former government officials, scientists or sports figures. Luxury ships are all inclusive with alcohol provided as well as free five star specialty restaurants. Most offer suites with balconies and no inside cabins. Rooms are spacious with some featuring walk-in closets, well stocked complimentary refrigerators and many boast bathtubs in all price levels.
Premium lines are very elegant as well. Be prepared for a larger passenger count along with more children. Often punch and tea are served at meals with sodas and alcohol charged. A fee is asked for at non-cafeteria restaurants. The ships are large with good service.
Contemporary lines can carry over 2,000 passengers. Rooms are smaller but are well outfitted. Bowling alleys, movies, climbing walls and discos abound. They are very economical and cater to a more active segment. Discos and a party atmosphere permeate the ship. Items such as sodas and towels may be billed to cabins. Shops resembling a mini-mall and amusements are geared to families.
The standard arrangement is for the speaker and a guest to travel on the cruise with passage for free. Each cruise line has unique rules and you need to review their contract carefully to make sure it meets your expectations. With luxury cruises sold at several thousand dollars per person, the opportunity is very attractive. Speakers are treated well and while you cannot expect a top deck penthouse suite with a butler, your cabin will be very nice. Regardless of the line you sail with, a good time is guaranteed.
There is no direct monetary compensation other than the cruise itself. You are not an “employee” and are not given a W-9 tax form. (Please consult your tax advisor for treatment of the cruise.) Speakers are afforded some crew-level privileges, but for insurance reasons, you are not allowed in crew areas or the bridge. A large discount on liquor and on-board purchases is common. In port, the speaker and guest can go on land tours at crew rates or go for free by escorting other passengers on excursions. This can be worth hundreds of dollars over a two week cruise. On a recent cruise from Greece to Rome, even my wife was able to escort tours. Imagine seeing the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey for free!
You can also sell your book, CD, DVD or other product with ship approval. Typically, the line will take a percentage. You cannot send the products in advance, so you’ll need to pack them in your luggage. Your product will be on display in the gift shop and that helps promote you. Sales of several hundred dollars is possible.
Airfare and transfers might be included as each line has different policies and needs. Some include it for one person. Incidental costs such as your passport, visas, shots, gratuities, etc. are often born by the speaker. Many elements are negotiable depending on the needs of the line, your expertise and the time before departure. If the line likes you and they have not secured a speaker close to sailing date, they may be very accommodating. Cancellations occur and you might be able to fill in with short notice if you are flexible. Good speakers know the art of negotiation.
There are two types of cruise speakers: Destination and Enrichment. The former requires that you are knowledgeable about the ports of call and are able to give pre-arrival lectures to passengers to energize them as to the history, culture, sights and attractions they will experience. Destination talks are hard to give since they require an intimate knowledge of all the ports the ship will be visiting. Audiences want more information than they can read in Travel Guides. Sharing insider information and tips will endear you to the passengers. If you’ve lived in a geography or have extensive travel experience, giving these talks might interest you. Destination speakers are in high demand.
Enrichment talks can be on a variety of topics of your choosing. You are usually required to come on-board with your laptop loaded with four different 45-minute talks in one genre. They want “Edu-tainment” topics – not college level in-depth subjects. Passengers are on vacation but appreciate fun learning. Favorites are naturalists, historians, political analysts, fashion experts or a topic of your choice. Many cruises have themes. A website or catalog search will provide you with useful information. For example, one line hosts a “Mind, Body, Spirit” theme cruise. I normally focus on outdoor adventure and was the “Body” speaker on several voyages. As another example, if you want to be on an Alaskan cruise and you know the state, your four suggested talks could be: 1) The History of Alaska; 2) The Wildlife; 3) The Iditarod; and 4) How People Cope with the Cold. Enrichment talks that relate to places the cruise stops play really well. With some thought, your speaking expertise can be crafted into topics of interest. To be accepted, you’ll need to provide your talk titles and short summaries. You can wait to write the actual presentation until you are approved. There are usually a few months of lead time.
PowerPoint is the standard for presentations and you need to rehearse as you would for any polished presentation. Allow 40 minutes for the core presentation and five for questions. Regardless of your presentation area, you need to be the “expert” and well versed to address questions. You represent the cruise line and must deliver quality. Once on board, you’ll be working under the Cruise Director as your point of contact.
All the passengers on board will rate the Entertainment staff, even if they didn’t hear your talk, so be “on” at all times. Many will only see your delayed video in their cabins, so talk as if the presentation room is full. Most ratings are a 1-10 system and you should strive to get above an 8.
How to get onboard
The competition is keen for speaking slots on cruise ships. To get assignments you can apply directly to the ship or apply to an agency. Either will work.
The Direct route is very difficult. You will be competing with literally dozens of retired executives, college professors and subject matter experts. The Entertainment Department is the group that assigns speakers. The Department Manager is under pressure to sift through emails, letters and phone calls to screen and evaluate candidates. He or she may also be assigned other duties and unable to focus on you. Another negative is that with all of your time investment, if selected, you will be limited to that one cruise line.
For many years, the direct route was the way ships secured speakers. With reduced staff and budgets, many ships now outsource the recruitment of speakers to a cottage industry of agencies. Staffed by former Cruise Directors and travel industry experts, the agencies vet candidates to take the burden off the ships. If you link up with an agency, they can propose your expertise to a large number of lines. This expands your reach and can increase your odds of landing assignments.
In either case, you will need to provide your credentials, references and most important, a video of you in action; preferably giving your subject matter presentation. It will all be worth the effort you put into it. Enjoy the trip and network for follow-on business. Bon Voyage. For more info, see CruisetheWorldforfree.com
Author and wife escorting at Petra, Jordan