One of the most fascinating and enriching things about being a blogger on a cruise is having the privilege to get to know the crew and find out more about their lives and their work.
Yesterday on Sea Princess we chatted to the friendly Customer Services Director, Angus Wilkinson who told us about his life on the ocean wave, some of the challenges he faces, and some of the crazy things that have happened during his 26 years at sea.
A Life on The Ocean Wave
On this Sea Princess world cruise there are around 2,000 passengers on board comprising 19 different nationalities amongst the passengers and 45 different nationalities amongst the crew, so being sensitive to different cultures is very important.
It must be a huge task for Angus and his team to fulfill all the various guest and crew expectations, and we asked him about some of the biggest challenges he faces.
“First and foremost it’s very important to be sensitive to different cultures. You have to be very respectful because there are so many different needs to be met, he told us.
“A lot of requests can be subjective of course, for instance whether the public areas are too hot or too cold for people’s various likes. In this case trying to find a comfortable medium that’s acceptable to everyone can be a bit of a challenge. Most of all it’s important to communicate with guests and try to resolve any problems they might have quickly. Every morning we have a staff meeting to make sure we find resolutions to get closure on any problems guests might have, to keep as many people as happy as possible – and the majority of people are happy.”
For those of you who are following our Round The World Adventure, you’ll know that we enountered some stormy weather and strong winds at the beginning of the cruise around the southern part of Australia. For Angus this must have presented some problems too.
“Yes, the rocky-ness made some people feel a bit uncomfortable, so to did the various creaking noises of the ship and the elevated sound of the sea at the time. It was my job to assure guests at the time that it wasn’t going to be like this for the entire cruise.”
When we asked Angus about some of the more unusual requests he’s had during his years at sea, he told us that on one cruise he’d had to organise 200 personal pieces of luggage for one family of 8 to be boarded on ship. “It was just the way the family travelled,” he said with a smile, “but quite extraordinary.”
Another time he was asked to arrrange a rock-n-roll wedding. “This was quite unusual! But I had to make a plan. I asked the cruise director if we could borrow costumes and props from the rock and roll production show and we put it all together in the chapel and we pulled off a rock and roll wedding with the Captain acting as the Celebrant.”
Tip: If you choose to get married on a Princesss Ccruise, the Captain officiates the ceremony, so you can conveniently combine your wedding and honeymon all in one!
“We’ve had members of the Saudi Royal family on Princess Cruises, and we’ve hosted Sophia Lauren, the Monaco Royal Family, Margaret Thatcher, George and Barbara Bush, Stevie Nicks, Joan Fontaine, and Martha Stewart to name a few.”
To Slough or to Sea! The Decision to work at sea.
I’m always intrigued to find out how people come to arrive at careers they love, and how Angus came to spend half his life working at sea is fascinating.
“I was working in a hotel when I was invited to apply for an interview as a Footman at Buckingham Palace. I was interviewed by the Master of The Royal Household which was, at the time, amazing because in those days Buckingham Palace wasn’t open to members of the public. Then I went to Commonwealth Holiday Inns of Canada, working as an auditor and was offered a promotion to work in Slough, but around this time a colleague showed me an advertisement in a trade press magazine.
It said: Due to the expansion of our luxury fleet and the launching of Star Princess, we require the following; male receptionists.
I applied for the job, and within 3 weeks I was assigned a ship!
So I packed up my flat in Newcastle and flew out to join the Fair Princess in Los Angeles. I walked up the gangway, and within 30 minutes I knew this was the career for me. I LOVED it. People said, oh you’ll only do it for 2 or 3 years before you get fed up, but here I am 26 years later, still loving it. It was a case of to Slough or to sea! As it turned out my colleague didn’t apply for the job!”
“My favourite cities are historical, Venice, which has a magic that can’t be matched, Istanbul, former capital of three different empires spanning 16 centuries and Petra, which was already a thousand years old when the Romans conquered it. Iconic sail-ins have to be Sydney and New York.
The Suez canal transit is absolutely magical – essentially you’re sailing in the desert because all you can see is sand, but then you’ll see an oasis, then a town, then minarets and mosques and then sad burnt out debris left over from the wars.
When it comes to itineraries I love the sailing around Tahiti and the islands. I’ve sailed through the Panama more times than I’ve had hot dinners, and I was also part of the first wave of the cruising entry into the Japanese market. After all these years at sea I thought I’d pretty much seen and done everything and suddenly realised that I hadn’t. Everything changed – we had cultural lessons, there was lots of formal protocol and etiquette to learn, such as learning how to bow correctly among other things.
Any destination you haven’t been to? “I haven’t done the South American itinerary. It’s on my bucket list.”
“That’s a difficult one. I try to get to Puerto Vallarta, whenever I can, coincidentally it was the very first port I went to when I came to sea and seemed so exotic, with the Banderas bay, the back-drop of the Sierra Madre and palapas on golden beaches. The film “Night of the Iguana” and the sizzling Burton-Taylor affair, brought an interested paparazzi from all over the world, and changed Puerto Vallarta forever from a quiet fishing village of a few thousand residents to a tourist destination that today draws well over three million visitors a year. Later Richard Burton bought “Casa Kimberly”, a nine-bedroom villa in Gringo Gulch as a gift to Liz for her 32nd Birthday and the rest is history.”
“My Mum lives in the Lake District, near Windermere, which is where I grew up, as does my brother and his family. Strangely I’m not quite sure where home is as your life can be quite transient and I still regularly go between England, Vancouver and Puerto Vallarta. The great thing about Facebook is that it has brought me back in touch with people from previous periods of your life that I had lost touch with coming to sea.”
What would you tell your 18 year old self about a life at sea?
“Why didn’t you go when you were 17! Just go. Do it!”
“If I think about all the opportunities this life has given me it’s overwhelming and I still can’t believe how incredible life has been and the things I have seen and experienced. In conversation people, who say they are going to a certain place and you automatically reply, you must go there, or see that and eat this, it’s a bit like being a global rolodex. I literally know where to buy everything on a global scale, from the everyday to the unique.”
Funniest thing that’s happened to you?
“I once had a marriage proposal. I was on a shore party doing the tendering at Kuna in the San Blas Island, and the Chief of Tupile wanted me to marry his daughter and take her back to England. As my intended was just over 4ft and myself 6ft 7in, I did not think it was going to bode well. On being invited to his house, there was an awkward moment trying to get in it, as the only place I could stand up was through the smoke hole in the roof of his house. I didn’t marry his daughter (who only came up to my waist) but as a consolation I was gifted a Mola …. an intricate piece of stitched fabric.”
Do you have any advice for someone who’s never cruised before, but who’s thinking about it?
- Cruising provides such a comfortable and convenient environment from which to explore the world, and return to afterwards to relax with our warm graciuos international crew.”
- Perhaps there are places in the world you might not want to travel to independently or which might be difficult to get to, but a cruise makes everything easier.”
- Lots of people use cruises to do ‘sampler’ trips – then if they like a destination they fly back at a later date for longer.
- Cruise itineraries are so varied – it’s such a great way to see places in a short time.
- Cruising is convenient, you don’t have to pack and unpack or plan routes.
“Cruises are also enriching – Princess Cruises focus on providing experiences for the ‘meaningful traveller’ – helping people to have an enriching and meaningful experience, both on board and from a travel and cultural perspective. We believe in destination immersion and our onboard entertainment incorporating “Festivals of the World” and comprehensive tour program allow you to do this. Cruising allows you to immerse yourself quickly in different cultures.”
“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton
Thank you Angus for giving us such a wonderful insight into your life and work!