Cruise ships Meet the Officer

Officer Q&A: Behind the scenes of a cruise ship Shore Excursions team

Some of you may already know this, but I spent three years working on board P&O Cruises ships in the Shore Excursions Department (2009-2012). In my opinion it was one of the best jobs on board, partly because you got to go ashore and experience the ports on a daily basis. I’ve made some good friends in Shore Excursions teams over the years – during my time working in the department and since cruising with my husband.

Many of you will be keeping up to date with P&O Cruises Port Presenter Sam Whiteside’s guest posts on this blog. Sam and Arcadia’s Shore Excursions Manager Marian (Maz) Weldon, have kindly taken part in my latest officer interview. Maz is a friend, my former manager and someone I have known since I sailed on the P&O Cruises ship Victoria when I was a teenager. Seasoned P&O Cruises passengers are likely to have come across Maz before – she has been working at sea for more than 20 years.

Sam Whiteside in St Lucia
Sam Whiteside in St Lucia

How long have you worked in the Shore Excursions department?

Sam: I have worked for P&O Cruises in Shore Excursions for five years now, joining my first P&O Cruises ship Ventura in 2013. Prior to joining P&O Cruises I worked in Shore Excursions for the cruise company Voyages to Antiquity on board their single ship Aegean Odyssey from 2011-2012, so I have been involved in excursions at sea for just under 7 years.

Marian: 24 years in June. I started as Shore Excursions Manager and am still in the same fantastic job.

I often hear that it’s one of the best departments to work in on board. Can you tell me why?

Sam: I have always been taught that if you enjoy your job you will never work a day in your life, and that is what it is like for me in Shore Excursions. It is like I am on a permanent holiday. Travelling to amazing places and getting to escort the excursions we sell really makes the time on board enjoyable, all the while meeting new people and earning a living in the process. It’s also a great community spirit on board and as an officer I am fortunate enough to be able to go to shows in the evening, or grab dinner and a drink in one of our fabulous restaurants or bars on board our fleet. So it is like I live a normal life, just with the benefit of travelling to different countries daily.

Marian: I honestly believe that I have the best job in the world, certainly the best job on the ship. After all, we do get to go ashore at every port of call and over the years I have visited so many wonderful places, including escorting exciting overland tours to the likes of Macchu Picchu, Japan, Angkor and Niagara Falls. The lifestyle suits me.

Marian (Maz) Weldon
Marian (Maz) Weldon

What does a typical port day involve for you as a team and do you work closely with other departments on board?

Sam: Port days are what all the work we do on board are for – getting out and exploring along with our guests and organising them on to their various excursions (whether that be coach tours, walking tours or an exciting boat trip). If I cannot escort a tour for whatever reason, I will try to get out and explore independently, always carrying my Nikon D7200 with me to capture as many photos as possible. Sometimes it is nice to chill out with friends and team mates, like recently over Christmas where we as a team did a sunset catamaran trip in Antigua as part of our guest tour. It was Boxing Day and it was great to just unwind a little bit, enjoy the fantastic Caribbean weather and watch an amazing sunset to the sounds of relaxed reggae with a tropical drink in hand.

Marian: A port day usually starts quite early. If the ship is due in at 8.00am then I am usually in the office around 7.15am so that I can check my emails, and look in the drop box see if there are any late bookings for that day. Dependent upon how many guests we have on tours, we may be asking the guests to muster in one of the lounges onboard or directly ashore. Either way we have to be there ahead of the advertised meeting time to check that the buses and guides are in place and ready to receive guests. Getting people ashore and managing the queues on the gangways is quite a big job, so we do rely on our colleagues in the Hotel and Future Cruise and Loyalty departments to help us.

Being in port for me is the best part of the job, getting out and about and experiencing new things each day. I will usually try to get out on a different tour each day to increase my knowledge of the excursions, as well as independent exploration of the ports of call so that we have the knowledge and ability to answer guests’ questions. Sometimes if visiting a port for the first time I will maybe take two tours to see as much as possible. I always have my camera with me so make sure that I capture on film these amazing places.

Sam exploring ashore
Sam exploring ashore

What have been your favourite ports to visit so far?

Sam: It’s the toughest question to be asked and we get it a lot. I always say there is nowhere I have visited on ships that I have not appreciated. These places have varied from tropical destinations like Roatan in Honduras, to big cities like New York or Barcelona, to lesser travelled destinations along the lines of Sarande in Albania or Beirut in Lebanon.

But if I had to be put on the spot I always go with St. Petersburg in Russia, New Orleans in the USA and Istanbul in Turkey; quite simply St. Petersburg for the history and the fantastic architecture, New Orleans for the food and atmosphere of the French Quarter and Istanbul for the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Marian: I have three firm favourites: New York, I feel I know even better than my home city of Manchester these days. It is just so easy to get around and I can always find something new and different on every visit – a city I never get bored with – it is just so exciting. Hong Kong is so exotic and full of hustle and bustle. My favourite place to visit here is the Temple Street Night Market, where I always pick up some great bargains and eat the most delicious fresh cooked street food. And, my third favourite city is Istanbul. The sights and the smells are just truly amazing, especially in the Grand Bazaar, where you see the spices piled up, all different colours, and aromas. I just can’t resist the bargaining; sitting down to over a cup of mint tea to haggle the price of an intricately woven carpet – I have three of them at home.

Marian with team members
Marian with team members

What is the benefit of going on a ship excursion over independent exploration?

Sam: You can really learn a lot on an excursion from your guide, whether they are fully trained or not. Sometimes when you visit lesser travelled areas, what guides lack in historical ‘book’ knowledge they make up for in enthusiasm and their passion for their country. You don’t get that first hand emotive detail and connection from a guidebook.

Marian: If you are visiting a place for the first time, going alone you can waste so much time and wander around getting nowhere. Whereas, if you take an organised tour, you have the benefit of the knowledge of a local guide, who will show you the important sights worth seeing, and share their own tips and suggestions on how to make the most of your time ashore later in the afternoon. It takes the hard work out of sightseeing, you just sit back relax and enjoy.

Sam on tour
Sam on tour

Some guests have the misconception that the Shore Excursions Department are just there to sell tours. Can you tell me what other services you offer guests?

Sam: As destination experts between us we all have a passion for travel that extends beyond selling tours. People can ask us hints and tips for things from shopping to dining, transport to museums and galleries. If we don’t know the answer, we can easily find out for people, as we want people to get the most out of their cruise with us.

Marian: Many of us in the tours team have lots of experience of the ports of call as we have been there many times, so we are more than happy to share our knowledge of the destinations with our guests who may prefer to undertake independent exploration, or perhaps to visit somewhere specific that isn’t included on one of the organised tours. We have access to the internet so are always happy to look up details to help our guests. We are happy to help with maps and to show people where places are located, and we can make bookings for private tour, restaurant reservations, arrange golf etc.

Marian's on board portrait
Marian’s on board portrait

What is your favourite part of the role?

Sam: As the port presenter, I enjoy helping the guests make the most out of their port days and encouraging them to get out and explore. It makes me feel great if I know the advice I have given allows people to really enjoy their time ashore.

Marian: My favourite part of the role is exploring new destinations, ticking them off my list, and tasting local foods. It is always great when at the end of the cruise the guests come back and say how much they have enjoyed the tours, especially when I have made specific recommendations for them.

Can you tell me about your most memorable excursion experience so far?

Sam: There are so many it is really hard to pinpoint one. I have been in a helicopter over and active volcano in the Caribbean, watched the Northern Lights at minus 20 degrees in Norway, seen the birthplace of Jesus is Bethlehem and simply taken a walk around Southampton on a Titanic Trail tour. Pinpointing one experience that I will always remember, it would have to be riding a horse into Petra, the Rose Red City in Jordan. Growing up I would watch the Indiana Jones movies and want to be an archaeologist and explorer, so to finally visit Petra, which he does in the movie The Last Crusade, and to ride an Arabian horse down to the Siq, was just awesome.

Marian: My most memorable excursions have to be some of the overlands I have taken; Macchu Picchu and Angkor Wat in particular. Also my first helicopter ride over Jerusalem, snorkelling in the Red Sea, climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge, visiting a Tea Plantation in Sri Lanka and the moving experience of visiting Hiroshima; too many to list really.

Sam on a wet day on Aurora
Sam on a wet day on Aurora

What advice would you offer guests visiting a port for the first time? Is it worth researching it pre-cruise? Should excursions be pre-booked?

Sam: I would definitely recommend a bit of independent research really to orientate yourself to the destination. Knowing where the port is in relation to key sights and attractions can really make a difference in understanding whether a tour is necessary or not, as in some case like with Rome or Florence in Italy, the ports we dock at are over an hour away by road; however they can be reached by many forms of transport. For specific places of interest pre-booking can be advantageous to guarantee a place on the excursion, and then you can relax knowing that your cruise line will take care of all the arrangements for you on the day.

Marian: I think it is always wise to do some research before you travel, or even before you book your cruise. It is useful to know things such as what the weather is going to be like. I have seen people visiting the fjords and glaciers of South America in shorts and t-shirts because they have not brought the right clothing with them, not knowing what the weather will be like.

I would also suggest that it is also worth having an idea of important sites that can be visited. If a particular sight or place is important for the guests then booking in advance is definitely recommended to avoid disappointment. Tours that include boats, trains, planes, helicopters etc often get booked up very quickly and once they are full it is often not possible to get any additional capacity, as it is not as easy as adding another bus and guide. Also some venues restrict the number of visitors and therefore these options may also reach maximum very quickly.

Sam's on board portrait
Sam’s on board portrait

What background do you need to have in order to work within the Shore Excursions team?

Sam: I would say a passion for travel and destinations is the only real background you need, everything else can be learnt on the job (such as the office admin and the systems we use). If you can talk passionately about places and are keen to learn more about them to give advice to people, that goes a long way to making someone’s holiday extra special.

Marian: You would need some experience in the travel industry, and/or independent travel experience. Also sales experience and experience working with the public are a must. You need to possess computer skills with knowledge of the Microsoft Office suite, and be confident speaking with people.

What advice do you have anyone wanting to apply for a role in an on board tours team?

Sam: I would say be positive and fun when it comes to travelling. Like I said before passion for the job goes a long way. If you don’t like travelling then this isn’t the job for you, because whilst it is a sales job and people always think that you just need sales experience, I believe that the destinations sell themselves and it is up to us to bring them to life for people so that they continue to travel with us and continue to book more excursions. If you don’t have that passion, you cannot hope to sell the excursions to people.

Marian: Go for it. It really is an amazing way of life. It isn’t just a job, you have to be fully immersed into the travel experience and being with people. Don’t look upon this as a short term job, as it really is a full on career at sea.

You can read more officer interviews on the Meet the Officer section of my website.

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2 comments

  1. I was on Arcadia last September, on a cruise to Norway, as a guest relative of my son Matt. Marian is very professional and friendly and she went above and beyond to ensure everyone had a place on the Flåm railway. Meeting her around the ship, she was always smiling and greeting passengers asking about their day. Lovely lady and an invaluable asset to P&O.

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