Today, anyone who has the desire to take a cruise can find something that suits their tastes and price range. From mammoth "floating cities" with all the bells and whistles, medium-sized vessels in all price ranges and very small ships, usually costing a little more but including more in the cruise fare, there is something for everyone. But for most of cruising history, an ocean voyage was the exclusive domain of the very wealthy. Most evenings were formal. As the cruise industry has evolved, there is an increasingly casual ambiance about the experience. This has carried over to the interaction between passenger and crew members. Particularly on the very small ships, friendships are made between passengers and crew that carry over year to year.
For the past few years, I have taken Sea Dream Yacht Club's Sea Dream 2 out of St. Thomas in early December. On my first voyage, I noticed a waiter, Werner Roy, who stood out from his peers. He was considerably older, and unlike many of the other waiters, he was Caucasian. Much of Sea Dream's crew is Asian. He struck me as very formal, and I, incorrectly, took this as a lack of warmth. As time passed, our group sat in his station and we began to talk with Werner. He turned out to be our favorite, and on our last cruise in December, 2012, we had the Matre reserve a front table with Werner for the entire cruise. The more I learned about his extensive history at sea, the more I understood his demeanor was a reflection of his years aboard the premier luxury liners of their day. He is doting, yet reserved and unobtrusive. His bearing is formal and respectful. The more I drew him out, the more I wanted to hear his story. He agreed to be interviewed for this piece, and seemed happy to do so.
Werner Roy comes from the Black Forest region of Germany, which is bordered by France to the West and Switzerland to the South. He attended Hotel school in Switzerland, and upon graduation, went on to work at prestigious hotels in England, Switzerland and Paris. But he was feeling the ocean beckoning him, and his first contract at sea was on a freighter. He suggested trying a freighter cruise as a passenger would be a rewarding experience, and I'm looking into doing that.
Deciding that his hotel and hospitality experience would be better served on a passenger ship than a freighter, Werner landed a waiter position with the Royal Viking line. Royal Viking was the premier cruise line of that time, counting among its passengers Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and Vincent Price among numerous other celebrities. Royal Viking operated from 1972 to 1994 when financial difficulties necessitated its sale to the Cunard line. In 1998, Cunard was taken over by Carnival. The Royal Viking Star holds a fond place in my heart for two reasons. First, they had the gumption to throw the lovely and congenial Leona Helmsley off the ship after she had thoroughly annoyed both crew and fellow passengers. You have to love that. I guess money can't buy everything. Secondly, I had the chance to sail on the Star after it had been sold to Norwegian Cruise lines. I just wanted to see the ship. We didn't have much money, and took an inside cabin on the lowest deck, but the ship was gorgeous. That stateroom was the largest I've had on any of my cruises.
While with Cunard, Werner served on both the Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II, 220 passenger ultra-luxury ships that were the epitome of upscale small ship cruising. Today, they are the Sea Dream 1 and 2. His Sea Goddess passengers included Princess Caroline of Monaco and Prince Albert. I had to practically pry the names from Werner. Even now, all these years later, he places a high value on the guest's privacy. He is clearly not comfortable speaking about past passengers. His discretion is most admirable.
While Werner was taking contract after contract at sea, he had a fiancee at home who had expected him to come home and take a land-based job. He kept saying this next contract would be the last, but finally his Lady had had enough. He was sorry about it, but he'd found his calling at sea. He does not regret it. He has loved life at sea.
At 63 years young, Werner plans to retire in a couple years. He has a lady friend waiting for him in Germany, and claims to be looking forward to retiring. He is considering spending half of each year in Asia, and has a keen interest in gardening. When we were getting ready to disembark last December, Werner was preparing to fly home for Christmas to celebrate with friends and family. He was looking forward to all the traditional German foods served at Christmas, including the "weiswurst", a veal and bacon sausage, and gluhwein, the spicy mulled red wine made with cloves, cinnamon, and sugar and served hot. Adding nutmeg and brandy is optional. After his two month vacation, he was looking forward to coming back aboard Sea Dream 2. He loves working with and teaching the younger waiters and introducing passengers to new foods. You can see from how Werner is treated by his co-workers that he is both respected and loved. He says he will have no trouble retiring, but I have to wonder. He will miss the sea.
When next December rolls around, Werner and Sea Dream 2 will be in Asia rather than their usual Caribbean itinerary. This will be great for many of the crew, as they will be close to home and family. My Wife Susie and I will be sailing on another ship, and we will dearly miss both Werner and the whole Sea Dream 2 family. It is my fervent hope to have a chance to sail with them again before Werner retires. I will miss his droll humor, the sparkle in his eye and his love of people. He has become my friend.