Who wouldn’t want to be a cruise lecturer? It can be a daunting prospect, but being asked is a great privilege and, in the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to go to some great places and meet some lovely people. I was more than happy to drop everything and put my life on hold for a month when the agency rang and asked if I’d like to go on a 20 day ‘Mystery Cruise’ leaving in just over a week’s time.
On earlier cruises, I had mostly run writing workshops so the next nine days were spent feverishly preparing seven suitable ‘mystery’ presentations. The hard part was timing them to an exact 45 minutes. Although most WI, Rotary and U3A groups etc. like their speakers to talk for three quarters of an hour, it is always followed by questions so the timing is never critical. Rearranging our diaries for the rest of April, finding someone to take over the groups we lead and my Tai Chi classes also had to be done, plus all the packing for what could be three chilly weeks up in Norway and Iceland or sailing in warm waters around The Canaries or down the African coast. Like all the other passengers, all we knew was that we would leave from Southampton and return to Dover.
The ship was superb, we had a wonderful cabin, the food was fantastic (I put on half a stone!), the ports were splendid (we’d only visited 2 of the 10 previously) and the tours fascinating, and the sun shone the whole time. The excursions on Port Days generally lasted half a day so we always went to explore the town after the tours. We had great fun exploring the souk in Casablanca and my calves still ache from climbing all those steps in Monte Carlo, Ibiza, Gibraltar and Oporto where we walked our socks off! The ‘At Sea’ days were packed with great things to do that kept us busy from line dancing at 9am until we fell into bed after the evening ‘Show Time’ entertainment. We joined the passenger choir, learnt the foxtrot and the tango at the beginners Ballroom dancing classes, went to all the lectures and joined the fitness classes which left no time to learn how to play bridge, go to the craft classes, play deck games or take part in the quizzes and we never did get to use the pool, go down to the sauna or watch the afternoon film in the cinema. I also volunteered to run writing workshops although we only managed to squeeze three in in the end. So much for checking the proofed copy of one of my novels plus all the other stuff I’d taken to do in my spare time!
Because it was a mystery cruise, we did not know from one day to the next where we might be or whether we would be at sea or in port. We lecturers found the time of our talk only when the next day’s programme was put into the cabin last thing in the evening. With five lecturers on board and such a full programme of activities for the at sea days, attendance at lectures inevitably dropped off. It didn’t help that we all had problems with our laptops linking up with the digital projector system. It proved very tricky trying to concentrate on what you were saying with the system refusing to move on to the next slide. In the end, I transferred my presentation onto a ship’s laptop, but even that didn’t always work without having to repeatedly press the key.
There is a great camaraderie among cruise lecturers and instructors and it was an added bonus to me as a crime writer that one of my fellow lecturers was a Finger Print Expert. Expect more fingerprint clues in my next novels!
Lecturers are expected to help ‘escort’ the tours. In theory this means being tail end Charlie making sure no one gets lost, counting everyone back onto the coach, carrying the backpack with the phone, clip-board and first-aid kit and, most importantly, handing out sweeties and wet towels in the coach on the way back to the boat. It didn’t always work out that way. I was bringing up the rear as my group went up the short escalator up to the Top Car museum in Monte Carlo. A gentleman at the top toppled backwards and there was a domino effect as people fell backwards. I rushed forward and managed to press the stop button, but it took some time before I could extricate the two trapped at the bottom. My guide had rushed back down the steps and we agreed that she would take the rest of the group into the museum while I saw to the woman who had been trapped and had several small cuts on the backs of her legs and her husband. He appeared to be unhurt but after a couple of minutes I was more worried about his breathing and asked the museum officials to ring for an ambulance. My next problem was that the phone in my backpack wouldn’t ring through to the ship. The paramedics arrived within minutes but they didn’t speak English and I’ve long forgotten all my school French. Luckily the guide had phoned her manager and once he arrived he was able to deal with everything. He promised to go with the couple to hospital leaving me to look after the rest of the party. When we eventually arrived back at the ship a couple of hours later half an hour before the boat was due to sail, he met me off the coach to let me know that the couple were already on board. No harm done! Anyone who has escorted tour groups can regale you with stories – that was only one of several adventures. Luckily there were no serious mishaps, but there is always a great sense of relief returning to the ship.
Being a cruise lecturer definitely has its moments and it can be nerve-wracking, but we had a truly marvellous time and I can’t wait to be asked to do it again.