Around the World in Cunard Days

February 15, 2009 -

John Heald

1. Alastair, for those of us who have note can you tell us about you. Where are you from and how has your journey taken you to your current position

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I was born and raised on his parents’ farm in Cornwall, in the South West of England, so it’s been quite a journey. I first got the travel bug when I traveled throughout Europe as a student before deciding to start a three-year Hotel Management course. Once I graduated, and a few years in the sales and marketing industry, I started to realize his dream to perform when I was chosen to present and host major sales conferences and trainings. I then started acting, initially as a hobby, but after training at workshops and working with a personal tutor, this soon became a new career following my first successful audition. Within three years I had become a full member of Equity (The British Actors Union), and had played many diverse characters in Theatre from pantomime to Shakespeare. I have been on UK television in a number of programmes and was cast in the Warner Brothers classic film Black Beauty, as well as featuring in many commercials for products from paint to cough medicine! My career at sea began as a member of the Cruise Staff Team, with the British line, Sun Cruises. Within two years he had risen through the ranks to become an Assistant Cruise Director also covering as Cruise Director. I joined Princess Cruises in 1997, initially as Cruise Staff but was soon promoted to an Assistant Cruise Director. In 1999 I had my first shot at Cruise Director on the Sea Princess and have since served on eight ships within the Princess fleet. It was also great to be part of the inaugural teams on four ships including the Golden, Sapphire and Island Princess’s. In 2005 I was honoured to be offered the position of Cruise Director with Cunard Line, and have been proud to be a part of the historic Cunard tradition on Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth 2 and now to be the first Entertainment Director on the Queen Victoria. During my time on board ships I have been a presenter for training videos for Princess Cruises, P&O and Cunard’s famous White Star Service and was delighted to represent “Cruise Lines International Association” (C.L.I.A. – the organization representing all the major cruise lines), as a spokesperson on different media tours along the east coast of the United States, appearing on network television and radio, promoting the cruise industry. I am also the host of Queen Victoria’s Virtual Tour on the Cunard website – So I reckon that’s quite a journey for a farmer’s son!

2. The job of Cunard Entertainment Director is one of the most important on board. So, what are the responsibilities of the position?

As you know John, the wonderful part of being an Entertainment Director is that no two days are the same and there is so much variety in the job. It’s fun because we wear so many different hats in the role, everything from being an entertainer, master of ceremonies, manager, public relations officer to being a diplomat! People ask me at home “What exactly do you do?” I equate it to being the host of a large party and it is my job to ensure everyone enjoys themselves, whether it is watching the very latest award winning stage productions, enjoying a lecture, dancing in one of the only ballrooms at sea, listening to a wide range of music, playing games or just finding them a quiet spot to read a book and enjoy the scenery floating by. The wonderful part of the job these days, is that I know we can offer so much choice in all daytime activities and evening entertainment that there is always something for every guest to enjoy whatever their interests. Maintaining a high profile amoungst our guests, is very important to me as that is how you get the “feel of a voyage” as well as getting to know them. A formal part of the job is being the main master of ceremonies and hosting the morning TV programme, but I also have a department to look after of over 100 people including Entertainers, Musicians, Social Staff, Lecturers and Production Staff. Fortunately I have five key managers who do an amazing job to help me maintain the day to day functions of the department

3. To get a feel for just what a stunning liner the Queen Victoria is I thought it might be fun for you to take us through some of the ways a passenger would spend a day at sea. So, from breakfast until bedtime can you highlight a Cunard day at sea?

There are a few Cunard hallmarks that make a day at sea on Queen Victoria. For example on voyages like the one we are on at the moment with a lot of sea days guests can begin their day with RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), graduate company and one of their acting classes. I passed by today to hear them reciting Shakespeare. We also offer fencing classes with our trained teacher, and lots of dance classes from line dancing to ballroom with our professional ballroom teachers. We have the second largest library at sea in our two deck library (only Queen Mary 2 has more), with permanent librarians on hand to assist guests. Cunard Insights is a comprehensive programme of lectures on subjects including destination and maritime history, the arts, sports, politics and literature. We also offer bridge classes, arts and crafts classes as well as numerous get together’s offering guests an opportunity to meet others with similar interests. We shouldn’t forget our youngsters either. Although we don’t get the numbers some of our sister companies may have, we still offer a fantastic programme for children from 1 year old to 17 year olds, having British trained nannies looking after our very youngest guests. We also have all the traditional activities from quizzes to bingo to movies and of course all the deck sports including shuffleboard, quoits and paddle tennis. A very popular event is the matinee concert from superb classical artistes which is followed by one of the ultimate Cunard traditions; white gloved afternoon tea in the elegant surroundings of the Queens Room. In the evening the Queens Room plays host to our signature themed balls where our dedicated orchestra are joined by our resident vocalist and the gentlemen hosts to provide the perfect setting for our guests to dance the night away. The stunning Royal Court Theatre with its private boxes was inspired by London’s West End’s Victorian theatres. It’s a venue that everyone is talking about in the industry and our entertainers love it almost as much as our guests. We offer a broad variety of production shows with our resident cast including our signature show “Victoriana” paying tribute to the era of our name sake with traditional and contemporary choreography. Another show called “A Stroke of Genius” sees world famous art literally come to life with complimentary music and dance. The Commodore Club is a perfect venue for a piano bar with a resident entertainer providing the music in a club atmosphere with views overlooking the bow of the ship. There are lots of other bars and venues around the ship offering different styles of music from classical to the late night venue Hemispheres with a resident band and DJ. As we like to say the day can be as busy or relaxing as guests like. I like to provide an a la carte menu of activities and then leave it to our guests to enjoy what they choose.

4. Lets talk about a world cruise which for many of us is just a dream. Can you tell us about the route the ship will be taking and tell us the exciting places your passengers will visit.

A world cruise is without doubt an amazing experience for guests and crew alike and it’s something Cunard has being offering since the Laconia undertook the first world cruise in 1922. The World Cruise is offered as a whole or in 6 sections and this year we have over 750 guests doing the whole circumnavigation. We started in Southampton and then headed west (much nicer way as you gain hours rather than losing them!), to New York, then through the Panama Canal.

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The voyage continues across the Pacific via Los Angeles, Hawaii and Tonga. We cross the equator and the international dateline (meaning we miss a day!), before arriving in New Zealand and Sydney. From there we head north to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and ending that leg in Singapore. Then it’s west to Dubai via India before going through the Suez Canal and the ports in Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain before arriving back in Southampton 107 days, 25 countries and 38 ports later! The variety of ports is incredible, from island paradises like Tonga and Samoa to the cosmopolitan cities of Hong Kong and Sydney. It really is nothing short of a trip of a lifetime, so much so that we have many guests who come back for the whole world cruise year after year and it’ always great to get to know new friends and be reunited with returning ones each year.

5. How many of the passengers are staying for the entire voyage and can you tell us their demographics…………are they International or mostly British.

It always varies but this year we have 750 guests with us for the whole World Cruise but others who will do one or more legs. This does mean the demographics change, for example we have more Australians (about 300 at the moment) on board when we begin or end a leg in Sydney. Although Cunard is a very British brand we enjoy welcoming international guests from all over the world and this voyage we have many German, French, Spanish and Japanese guests on board. However the majority of our guests are normally British and American.

6. When traveling to all these exotic destinations who provides all the port information and can you please tell us three of the most exciting shore excursions your passengers take part in.

We have destination lecturers most of the way round and our Tour Office have an amazingly experienced team to look after guests on their Shore Excursions. Guests have an enormous amount of choice when booking a tour on itineraries like this, and excursions can vary from simple trips to show the history and culture of a port, to taking a helicopter ride over Hong Kong followed by tea at the world famous Peninsular Hotel, to climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’m hoping this year I may get the time to go to Petra from Aqaba in Jordan which would be a first for me and I reckon a “must do” like going to the Great Pyramids in Egypt which guests can also do this year from Suez. One of the great opportunities for guests on these long voyages is to go on overland trips where they leave the ship in one port, go on a trip for two or three days then return to the ship in the next port. There are so many of these to choose from ,and although I haven’t been lucky enough to go on one, I have heard they are fantastic and examples are going to the Taj Mahal or in Australia travelling to the Outback and Ayre’s Rock , and from Shanghai travelling to the Great Wall of China.

7. And is there one port that you are really looking forward to visiting and why?

It’s hard to limit it to one. You cannot beat coming in to Sydney or the shopping in Singapore and Hong Kong. I love the unspoiled beauty of many of the small islands and the culture of India. It’s always exciting to go to new ports as well – I’ve been lucky enough to have gone to so many places during my time at sea, and this year I’m looking forward to going to Papua New Guinea for the first time. It will also be lovely to go back to Nagasaki in Japan. I spent a month there when I was involved with the start up team of Sapphire Princess and I loved the culture and the people not to mention being a fan of Japanese food. They are so welcoming I know it will be an amazing visit again.

8.Can you tell us about some of the entertainment highlights during the world cruise. What are some of the shows and performances that guests will be enjoying and do you use entertainment from any of the ports you will be visiting.

Entertaining guests for 107 days with new activities and shows every day does present challenges so we do have a lot of extra events and activities as well as the stalwarts such as the traditional “Crossing the Line (Equator) Ceremony”.

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We also do a lot of events which help us raise money for our annual World Cruise Charities which are chosen by the crew and last year this added up to over $55,000. These activities included a Tug of War competition, pancake racing and a photo competition. We will also have a huge variety of entertainers throughout the voyage including west end vocalists, magicians, variety acts, opera singers, multi-instrumentalists, comedians and specialty entertainers. We do bring on extra entertainment in ports as well to bring the culture of a country to the ship and look forward to seeing shows this year from the Maoris in New Zealand to Chinese acrobats in Shanghai. Over the course of the voyage we’ll have two separate casts of singers and dancers to present completely different shows as well as extra themed balls such as the “South Pacific Ball” and the “Cherry Blossom Ball” as we approach Japan. We will also celebrate all the various events along the way such as Burns Night, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day as well as the national days of New Zealand and Australia.

9. Congratulations on your blog which is superb. We all enjoy your writing and I know that it is not always easy to know what to write. Anyway, I wondered if you could refer this question to you executive chef. Chef……do you collect produce from all the ports you call at and how do you make sure they are of the quality you demand. And if we only had one day on the ship and one dinner, what would the Chef choose to highlight the incomparable food that can be found on a Cunard liner

I have passed this on to our Executive Chef Nicholas Ollroyd from Yorkshire, England who has an incredible culinary background who along with his twin brother Mark (who is his Executive Sous Chef), joined Cunard over 10 years ago.

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He says that they do collect fresh produce from many ports of call especially now on our 2nd Queen Victoria legendary world cruise where fresh quality fish and produce is of great demand from our well travelled educated Cunard culinary guests who have travelled with us for many years. Quality is a major concern but many of our suppliers know the Cunard name and know that we except nothing but the best, so quality is not much of a issue but sometimes can be challenging especially in some ports of call. Rigorous checks are made from refrigeration to packaging, smell, taste and appearance. We only select the ports with reputable suppliers and have our specially selected port agents working with us to make sure that the quality produce is delivered to our Cunard vessels. We only except the greenest of greens the sweetest of treats and the morning Catch ! Every fresh produce item which is served to our guests, whether it be a Tongan suckling pig or a Fanny Bay Tasmanian oyster, must pass our Cunard stamp of approval as our guests would expect nothing less.

This is a selection of the most popular dishes from the Cunard Line menus

Trilogy of Aylesbury Duck, Port Glazed Figs & Cumberland Sauce
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West Sussex Pheasant & Wild Mushroom Consomme with Truffle Quenelles
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The most requested beef dish is Angus Beef Wellingon, Pommes Dauphin with Perigourdine Sauce
Or
The most requested fish dish which is prepared at your table is Whole Dover Sole Meuniere, Whipped Creamed Potatoes, Sauteed Baby Spinach with Roasted Garlic
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And for desert the most popular is the White Chocolate Fallen Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Raspberry Sauce

The culinary team are particularly creative with their menus on a world cruise to continually delight our guests’ palate. Their talents were shown off particularly well the other day as they presented their “Salon Culinaire”, where guests had the opportunity to vote for their favourite dishes – not an easy task!

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10. We are Cunard is a tag line that many in the industry are jealous of. What is it that makes Cunard so special and for those thinking of experiencing a Cunard voyage for the first time please tell us why this would be an incomparable experience.

The word experience probably sums it up really. We are Cunard really stems from being a family which we all feel proud to be a part of and our guests feel very much part of that family as well. We recently had a large crew turnaround and it was great to see, that out of nearly 100 crew, only 3 were brand new to Cunard, so our well travelled guests enjoy seeing familiar faces. Cunard is particularly proud of its legendary “White Star Service” which is practiced by every crew member every day offering our guests unparalleled levels of service. From the moment our guests come on board they are aware of the friendliness and professionalism of the crew and a unique environment only found on a Cunard Liner. There is a richness to the décor and wherever you go you are able to enjoy a sense tradition and heritage. Although we now have the youngest fleet with the most modern of amenities, guests are still able to enjoy Cunard’s history. The atmosphere is one of comfortable formality and as a guest told me the other day; “Travelling with Cunard is an elegant experience, and every time I sail on one of the Queens it’s like coming home”. I think that sums it up really.

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.