We contacted Holland America to find out the real story behind the rumors and were told event staff members are not getting the axe. However, Holland America is currently in the process of restructuring the responsibilities and titles of its onboard entertainment staff -- the folks who work with the Cruise Director to lead the beloved bingo, trivia and golf putting competitions, and generally plan and run onboard activities.
Back in the old days, company spokesman Erik Elvejord tells us, the Cruise Director had a staff consisting of an Assistant Cruise Director and seven or eight general staff members. The Cruise Director took care of the administrative, behind-the-scenes tasks, and his crew ran the daily events.
Under the new system, the Cruise Director is taking a more visible role, spending much of his time out in public, interacting with passengers. His staff will consist of the Explorations Team -- cruise staff with specific skills and roles, and general staff who will run onboard activities (like bingo) and do the administrative tasks the Cruise Director no longer handles. Plus, there will always be one Club HAL counselor for every 30 children onboard to run youth activities.
The Explorations Team features the following team members:
A party planner, who will run Culinary Arts Center demos, wine tastings, flower arranging and other "lifestyle" classes
A travel guide, who will give lectures and presentations on a destination's history and culture, provide port information, and answer passenger questions
A "techspert," who is trained to lead Microsoft Digital Workshops and other classes on computers and digital photography
A dance director, who will run dance lessons and plan dance activities
A book club leader, who will facilitate literary discussions (only on cruises of 12 days or longer)
Currently the new Explorations Team is only completely rolled out onboard one ship: Westerdam, though other ships have some team members in place already. The program is expected to go fleetwide by April 2009.
As for cutbacks, Elvejord dismisses rumors that Holland America is eliminating some staffers and that volunteer passengers will be running onboard events (as some were mentioning on the HAL forum). The goal of the shift is to enhance passenger experience, not diminish it, by having trained specialists leading the most popular onboard events.
"Guests may be seeing different people running events and not the person they're used to," says Elvejord. "We have not reduced staff numbers."
--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor