Name: Sharon Waugh
Nationality: South African
Cruise Line worked for: Carnival Cruise Lines
Cruise ships worked on: Carnival Fantasy and the Carnival Legend
Length of service: 8 months in 2009 (May to December) and 8 months in 2010 (February to September)
Department worked in:
Position: Guest Services Coordinator
Pre-cruise ship background: Worked as an actress and writer, as well as a conference host for an events company.
See: Part II of this interview.
Tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m from Johannesburg, South Africa. I have a degree in Drama and Film from Wits University and worked as an actress and a writer before working on cruise ships.
What made you want to work in the cruise industry?
I really wanted to travel and auditioned as a singer for both Costa Cruises and Royal Caribbean but was unsuccessful due to a lack of experience. I also cruised the Mediterranean as a guest on the Superstar Virgo in 2006. It was my first time overseas and I was enthralled by the idea of “ship life.” I decided that I had to work onboard and started applying for “social host” / “cruise staff” positions as soon as I got back.
What related experience did you have prior to being hired?
I desperately wanted to be a social host so I flew myself to Cape Town at my own expense for an interview. The interview was successful but my application was added to a long waiting list and nothing came of it. I applied to another recruitment company in Pretoria who did not recruit “social hosts’ and then finally I applied to “Palatino Recruiting.” They also did not recruit social hosts but suggested that I go onboard as a “Group Services Coordinator” and change position after my first contract. The related experience had with regards to this job was that of a Conference Hostess as well as some freelance work that I had done for an events company.
What’s your job title?
Group Services Coordinator. It falls under Guest Services and involves taking care of large groups of people and coordinating events.
Where did you first hear about this job?
The recruitment company suggested that I would be good at it looking at my CV and told me about it.
Did you apply for this job specifically or for several different opportunities all at once?
I applied many times for “Social Host’ or “Cruise Staff’ but from what I understand they very rarely recruit people from South Africa for these positions. Then I applied specifically for Groups Services Coordinator and got the job.
What were the job requirements set forth by the employer?
You had to be over the age of 21 and have at least 2 years of experience in a related field.
Did you receive any special training or preparation for this job? If so, how long did it take and what specifically did that involve?
In Guest Services people usually start out as Guest Services Associates and receive one month training at an onboard college but because there is only one Groups Coordinator per ship, we receive on the job training from the people we are taking over from. I received 2 weeks of training onboard but most people receive more than this.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
As a Groups Coordinator you are there to liaise between the group leader or travel agent, the land-based personnel and the different departments onboard to make sure that the guests get what they want for their groups and events, and that everything goes smoothly. When things don’t go well or when there is miscommunication, it is directed at you to resolve and this can be quite challenging.
Describe your work schedule?
My work schedule differed depending on how many groups I had onboard and how many events they had. Most days I worked about 7 hours, except on the last sea day and embarkation day which were about 10 hours.
What are your day to day responsibilities?
At the beginning of the cruise I would contact all my Group Leaders and Travel Agents to go through the schedule of events and make sure our details were correct. I would have to be at all the events about an hour before they started to make sure that they went as planned. I would also arrange more events on board if guests requested, such as Renewal of Marriage Vows, which were very popular.
In the office there was also a fair amount of office work to do to plan for future cruises and report back from the previous cruise.
Since I was in Guest Services I was also expected to help with side duties in the office. I usually spent at least 2 hours a day (sometimes 6 – 8 hours on Embarkation day) assisting with phone duties. Then I would have to attend certain social events on each cruise such as the Captain’s Celebration and the Repeaters Party.
What are the terms of your employment?
Each contract is about 6-8 months. I had to work 7 days a week with no days off.
When your contract is up, how do you line up more work?
Once you complete a contract they automatically inform you of your next ship and buy you a flight to that ship from your home country. You get about a 2 month vacation between contracts.
Do you have a career path that can be followed?
It is very much a career and not a job. As a Groups Coordinator you can’t really be promoted but you can change positions and work your way up in the company if that’s what you want to do. I’ve seen many friends get promoted up the ranks and there are great benefits for people who choose to do this long term.
Would you mind giving us a good idea of the typical pay you can expect to earn in this position? Is it a basic salary plus commission/tips?
I earn $1,500 per month basic salary.
Is it possible to land this type of job without any direct experience?
Well, in this position I think “direct experience’ would be event planning. I don’t have much event-planning experience but I did have a fair amount of “related experience.”
Besides actual “on the job” experience, are there any personal qualities you would need in order to get into this department?
You absolutely need to be positive. In Guest Services a lot of complaints are directed to you and if you cannot maintain a positive disposition you will not go far. Secondly you have to have a very strong work ethic. You do not get a day off and so you have to be able to keep going 7 days a week for over 6 months without stopping. It is quite grueling if you’re not used to it.