Between 2007 - 2019 I was a guest speaker on 10 cruise ships visiting in particular the Indian Ocean and South Asia as well as the Baltic and west coast of Africa. (“Never say you are a lecturer; it sounds boring” said an Entertainment Director). I gave joint presentations with my wife Margret Percy, a former BBC speaker, and we compiled beautiful power points on history subjects related to the voyage, 5-6 per 14 day cruise. For example, cruising up the east coast of Australia we presented two talks on the convict settlements.
Now I have retired I may evaluate for you the cruise ship experience.
We would never be passengers on a ship that carried more than 1,500 passengers, and many cram in 3,000 - 4,000. Fancy travelling to exotic parts of the world surrounded by a large crowd from home. Yet that is increasingly the case for economic reasons. The ships look monstrous and the crowds are claustrophobic.
Secondly, we never liked cruises with many ‘sea days’, like crossing the Atlantic or Pacific: boring. The advantage of a smallish ship is that you can travel to places that other forms of travel cannot reach. For example, the Norwegian fjords or approaching St `Petersburg from the sea which is not to be missed. In fact, a Baltic cruise ticks most of the boxes with every other day in port.
Another limitation is that 80% or so of passengers are retired, quite a number geriatric. This is understandable and means that there are many life experiences to draw on conversationally across the table, but after a while the lack of youth is depressing. Perhaps that’s why the Ships Company singers and dancers are so attractive.
As for the ‘guest speaker’ experience, it is quite a challenge. The audiences are very big, perhaps 250 - 300,
but that is because there is only one lounge and many passengers go there for a comfortable seat without knowing who the speaker is or why he/she is there. To the speaker they are a sea of expressionless faces. However, after a while you build up a following and it is some of these passengers who become drinking/ eating companions for the rest of the tour.
In my experience the guest speaker experience has been down graded over the years. We used to be called ‘enrichment speakers’ but now ‘enrichment speakers’ tend to be commercial speakers on subjects like ‘Faberge Eggs’ (this is our last tour to St Petersburg) whose aim is to lure audience to the boutique afterwards We have shared platforms with excellent wildlife photographers or a Cambridge academic talking about world religions, yet as often as not the relevance of the speaker is hard to understand; a retired policeman from Bermuda? A home security expert? The only requirement given by the Director of Entertainment is to “be entertaining”.
The cruise lines we have travelled with, mostly Fred Olsen, are generous, friendly and efficient. The guest speaker is not paid but the 14 days cruise is free for him and his partner, more or less. Bu why is it that every cruise experience ends up being much the same? In future we will go as paying guests in small groups on more adventurous holidays.