Cruise ships are a movable feast -- and there's food for the eyes and ears as well as the palate. A voyage on a luxury liner has more to recomment than a succession of waist-stretching meals and foot-tiring ports of call. It's also an entertaining, social experience, and the major responsibility for turning it into a fun trip falls to the cruise director.
Dave Van Depas, 37, cruise director of the Norwegian Caribbean Line's S.S. Norway, is interviewed by Morris D. Rosenberg.
Q. Dave, what is your background?
A. Well, I've been an entertainer all my life, and my wife is an entertainer as well. We're both from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I've worked on all the other ships of the Norwegian Caribbean Line. The Sunward, Skyward, Starward, Southward. I've been with NCL 10 years.
Q. A cruise director has been described as a combination of show producer, director, actor, comedian, master of ceremonies, psychologist and social catalyst -- does that leave anything out?
A. Yes. In my case it's administrator. I've got 91 people on my staff, including 36 musicians, 26 people who work in the theater -- actors, dancers, singers, stagemanagers, technicians. My wife is a social hostess. We also have a comprehensive fitness program. I have four instructors who do exercise programs, aerobics classes, swimming. We have a complete gymnasium on board. I'm in charge of all the movies, all the shore tours. We even run a carnival one night on the aft deck.
Q. That doesn't mean you don't have direct contact with passengers?
A. No, that's my favorite part of the whole job.
Q. It's a generally accepted fact that on many cruise liners one unwritten duty of officers is to brighten the lives of lonely widows and single women. Single women -- and men for that matter -- sometimes take cruises in search of romance. What about the "Love Boat" image?
A. Well, the Love Boat has probably been the greatest boon to the cruise industry that has ever happened. Of course, you know we couldn't get advertising like that for any amount of money. As far as the officers and the shipboard romance, you'd have to talk to them individually. I know that we do have a lot of single people that travel, younger people especially. The Norway is almost ideally equipped for this kind of thing. We have a fantastic disco that goes until 3, 4, 5 o'clock in the morning, and this is actually the congregating place. It's the most we do -- and I think the most we can do. There's one singles get-together the first part of the weekend and then we just sort of suggest where people in that category can meet. We don't do a lot of "Miss Johnson, this is Mr. Adams" type of thing. We don't match'em up or pair'em up.
Q. Don't women always outnumber men on cruise ships?
A. Yes they do.
Q. Are there specific types of passengers you see on all cruises? Do you have a plan of action to cope with each type? What kind of problems do you run into most often?
A. We do have different types of people who come at different times of the year. The summertime is a time when we have a younger crowd -- the teachers, nurses, young executives traveling with their friends. In the winter things are a little more sedate. We don't have the same types of parties and activities. Maybe more of the classical music routine a couple times a week, tea in the afternoon, that king of thing.
Q. Do you book the entertainers?
A. No, but I'm responsible for their programs. For telling them when to work, how much time, organizing rehearsals with my musicians.
Q. Do they present special problems? I'm talking about personalities. Do you have any anecdotes?
A. I'll tell you something. We have worked with a name entertainer every week. People like Jack Jones, Phyllis Diller, Robert Goulet. I don't have any anecdotes as far as problems go because these people have been so nice. Honestly, I mean that. One thing that pops into mind is the way they get ready to perform. Some of them want to be in the theater backstage a half hour before the show starts. Others -- one comes to mind particularly. Pat Boone doesn't want to leave his cabin -- he's got a suite; if the show's at nine, he wants to leave at 8:58.
Q. Do you deal with individual passengers, aren't there any stories that come to mind -- humorous, what-have-you?
A. Oh my, yes. The most common question we get from passengers is, "What time is the midnight buffet?" One crew member has written a book of poems with that as the title. Another question is "Does the crew live on board?"
Q. The Norway has had its share of bad luck. The engines at times have broken down and left you sitting in mid-ocean. NCL has spent millions of dollars to refurbish and to make sure there won't be any similar problems in the future. Do these unexpected emergencies become special challenges for your staff?
A. Sure. But basically people become very understanding. You really don't have to do too much for them, and they really appreciate it. We have put on impromptu shows with passengers and crewmembers out on the back deck with no props or microphones or anything. Guys would come up and tell jokes, people would sing.
Q. Isn't there a new emphasis on physical fitness with exercise facilities aboard ships, including jogging?
A. It's really something. We've got professionals . . . they're young but well trained. Our leader has a master's degree in cardiac rehabilitation and he's got three assistants.
Q. What do people ask for in the way of exercise?
A. A lot of it is aerobics -- it's very big right now. We run two classes a day for seven days with 60 to 100 people in each session. We've got the jogging track for enthusiasts. We have to ask them now not to run before 8:30 in the morning. Other people are sleeping down below the jogging track and they get a little perturbed. We've had some of them screaming on deck in their bathrobes trying to block the way of the Joggers.
Q. You also handle the shore excursions?
A. I go on all of them.
Q. Do passengers sometimes get stranded in port and have to fly to meet the ship at the next port?
A. It happens. People start having a good time and they forget. We suggest to all passengers when we tell them the ship is going to sail at a certain time, that if they have any idea they may be a little late they should have their cameras with them. Because the ship makes a beautiful picture when it's sailing off into the distance. But in 10 years I can remember only two or three incidents.
Q. Are you partial to any particular port of call?
A. I like San Juan. I enjoy the variety of things to do. The shopping is good there, though the prices may not be as good as in St. Thomas. I love the old city, also the new part with the nightclubs, big hotels, casinos.
Q. Is there any serious misconception that first-timers have about cruising?
A. The most serious one I think that people have concerns the size of their cabin. We call seeing your cabin for the first time a religious experience because the passenger opens the door and says "Oh, my Gol!"
Q. What do they expect?
A. Well, if you've watched the Love Boat you have never seen a typical cabin on a cruise ship. That's a Hollywood set. And it's fun for us to tease the passengers a little bit about this when they come aboard. Shipboard cabins -- depending of course on the price you're willing to pay -- can get a little small, so to speak. Hopefully, these people are not going to spend that much time in their cabins anyway.
Any other comments?
A. Just one other misconception due to Love Boat. You will very seldom see the captain in shorts. CAPTION: Picture, Aerobics on deck, Copyright (c) Barry M. Winiker, New York, from the Cruise Ship Project