More than 25 years after the TV show’s last episode, we learn the painful truth: Julie McCoy, the leggy sprite of the high seas, was a fraud. And who better to dispel the fantasy than Ricky Matthews, a real cruise director aboard a real ship (Oasis of the Seas) with a real following (see the Cruise Critic message board).
“My job is to provide the best entertainment and to keep everyone busy,” said the 39-year-old Jamaican of his position with Royal Caribbean. “I need to be able to make the people move even if they’re sleepy.”
Most cruise ship jobs are self-explanatory: captain, head chef, steward, waiter, comedian. The cruise director, however, requires some extra lines of description. Often seen flitting about the ship like a social butterfly juiced up on nectar, cruise directors oversee the boat’s nearly-round-the-clock activities and diversions. Sports, live performances, parades, deejays and dance parties all fall under their purview. In short, they’re like the tequila in the margarita. Without them, you have one very boring cocktail.
“Doctors, captains, bartenders — you know what they do,” said Ricky. “Cruise directors don’t translate anyplace else.”
For a peek behind the show curtain, I spent four days watching Ricky move the entertainment levers and push the party buttons on a seven-night cruise in the western Caribbean. I followed him from the early stretch of the day to the closing eyelids of the night. I tailed him from office desk to dance floor, from Deck 3 to Deck 16 to the helipad. On the world’s largest cruise ship, we spent an inordinate amount of time in elevators. But no matter the time or location, the Ricky Matthews Show was always on.
Meet and greet
Slight of height and hair, with a pro athlete’s physique, Ricky stood out from the throngs boarding in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. For one thing, he didn’t look dressed for a luau but rather for a day of yachting (fitted white polo, snug black pants, dazzling white teeth). For another, he was neither lost nor confused, despite frequent jokes about his ongoing search for his stateroom, even after eight weeks as cruise director on the ship.
When I met him at guest services, he was fully composed and wearing his meet-and-greet face: impish eyes that twinkled and a broad smile that could power the whole vessel.
“Hello, sir,” he called out to a man who appeared overwhelmed. “All’s well?” It wasn’t: The passenger needed help booking shore excursions. Ricky directed him to the appropriate desk but also informed him of the in-cabin reservation system on the TV.
“In the first 48 hours, it’s all about giving directions, guiding and showing people how to use the technology,” he said. “There’s so much going on. There’s not enough downtime.”