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How to Take a Cruise for Nearly Free

If you have expertise or a talent, a cruise line might want you aboard

By Judy Colbert

If you’re an expert in some field, there’s a chance you and your plus one (if you have one) could take a cruise vacation for pennies on the dollar. This is particularly true if you know a cruise port destination inside and out.

Credit: Adobe Stock

These are temporary positions that might last a week or two, or sometimes a little longer — the length of your vacation.

“There is a need for those who know the general history, art history, geography, geology, oceanography, social economics, culture, wildlife and nature” of where the cruise is going, says a spokesperson at Compass Speakers and Entertainment. That’s one of the major companies in the cruise booking field, engaging speakers and entertainers for Azamara, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea  and Windstar lines.

And the need for expert speakers applies for such diverse geographic areas as the Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, the Caribbean, South America, Australia,, Alaska, New England and Canada.

Also in demand, but not to the same extent, are people who can lecture to fellow cruise passengers about art, film, health, music, science, theater and world affairs.

Artists Wanted for Cruises

If your specialty is more creative, such as watercolors, pastels or drawing and sketching, some cruise lines might like to have you, too. The same goes for face painting, balloon twisting and other talents to entertain children during school breaks.

Paul DiFilippi, director of cruise ship enrichment programs for Sixth Star, another major booking company (for MSC, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Azamara, Celebrity, Cunard, Norwegian, Seabourn, Silversea and Disney), says during the summer, there’s even a call for grill masters.

For those with a more spiritual bent, cruise lines also can use members of the clergy (more for Catholic priests and rabbis than other denominations).

Upscale cruise lines including Crystal, Cunard and Silverseas also employ what are known as “gentlemen hosts.” These are men, usually single and over 40, hired to dance with women passengers and sometimes teaches dance classes. Besides knowing most ballroom dances, they’re expected to be outgoing and able to talk about many topics. There’s a year-round demand and the longer the cruise, the more hosts are brought onboard.

Paul Jones, of Orlando, has been a host on Crystal ships and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. He says, “I spend about six hours a day, every day of a cruise — not just at-sea days — doing what I love almost better than anything else in the world: dancing.”

The Small Catch

What’s the catch?

Well, for the most part (unless you are in high demand), you have to pay a little for one of these jobs.

That may be $30 a day or as much as $65 a day. Art instructors are expected to provide supplies, so they pay less than those who don’t.

But keep in mind that the cruise might ordinarily run $500 or so a day, per person, so it’s quite a bargain. (You may be responsible for transportation to and from the ship.)

What You Need to Do on the Cruise

So, what do you have to do to get on a cruise this way?

Lecturers and instructors usually give three 45-minute presentations a week (on at-sea days when the ship isn’t in port) with a 15-minute Q and A following.

Occasionally, speakers may work as the cruise line’s representative on a shore excursion; in that case, the excursion is free to the speaker.


Otherwise, in exchange for your work on the ship, you receive accommodations, meals, beverages (on some ships) and access to amenities like the fitness center and pools. Sometimes, gratuities are included.

You can bring a plus one unless you’ll be a gentlemen host.

Allan Jordan and Bill Miller, noted ship historians, each speak on as many as 10 cruise lines a year, talking about the history of cruise ships and ocean liners. Richard Morgan, who worked for the Panama Canal Company for 25 years, lectures on numerous cruise lines as they transit the canal. Steve Friedman, a classically trained lyric tenor from North Bethesda, Md. and author of The Ultimate Broadway Musical List Book lectures on Crystal and Celebrity cruise lines about musicals, which entertains passengers.

Cruises With Experts on James Bond and Rum

Matt Sherman and Robert Burr do things a little differently. Sherman’s a James Bond expert and Burr is a rum aficionado. They organize their own cruises, book the ships, set the itineraries and promote the events.

For 20+ years, Sherman has been “bonding fans together” on cruises through his company, Bond Fan Events. His last cruise went to Jamaica and included seminars, themed games, scavenger hunts and tours of locales with a Bond connection from Goldfinger, Thunderball, Live and Let Die, Dr. No, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Casino Royale. He chooses the cruise line according to the itinerary.

Burr, author of Rob’s Rum Guide, will lead an 11-day Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise though the Eastern Caribbean starting on November 11, 2019, departing from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on the Holland America Konigsdam. Guests will savor the best rums of the region with private seminars, tasting events, rum shopping and excursions to rum distilleries and visitor centers.

How to Get Started as a Cruise Speaker or Instructor

If you’re interested in becoming a speaker or instructor, contact one of these agencies: Compass Speakers and Entertainment and Sixth Star Entertainment and Marketing.

Be ready to provide a DVD of a presentation you’ve made or a link to one or more YouTube clips. Also, provide a resumé demonstrating your expertise. There may be an in-person or Skype/FaceTime interview.

If you’re accepted, the booking company will give you a list of open ships, dates, topics and itineraries and you then indicate your preference. After your first gig, if you like the teaching and cruising life and the cruise line is happy with your job, you can request back-to-back cruises if you wish.

A few tips:

  • Be prepared to accept a cruise that may not be your first choice in dates, cruise line or itinerary. Saying no the first time could mean not being called again.
  • You can sell items related to your lecture, including books or CDs, but the ship may take a percentage of your sales.
  • You must have a passport valid for at least six months from your original date of departure, even if you don’t plan to get off the ship. It’s up to you to determine if you need a visa or any vaccinations for any port on your itinerary.
  • Most likely, you will be asked to not play at any table games in the casino and may be asked to not sit on bar stools or carry a drink when walking in public.
  • You may have to wear a badge identifying you as a speaker (technically a crew member). You will be expected to mingle with the other guests.
Judy Colbert, the author of 36 books, writes about travel and the business of travel. Read More
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