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The christening of AmaMagna in July 2019 (Photo: AmaWaterways)

Return To The Sea: Cruise Line Executives Share Memories -- and What They're Looking Forward To

The christening of AmaMagna in July 2019 (Photo: AmaWaterways)

May 04, 2020

Chris Gray Faust
Executive Editor, U.S.

The Cruise Critic message boards have been awash with memories, with cruisers sharing stories of the places they've been, the people they've met, the memories they cherish. As we dream of the sea (and rivers) from shore, we reached out to cruise line presidents and top brass to hear some of their tales -- and find out what they are looking forward to when ships return.

Richard Sasso cruising with his family (Photo: MSC Cruises)

Nearly 50 years ago, I embarked on one of my first-ever cruises and experienced something that showed me how special cruising is. I was standing near the gangway on a sunny afternoon in Cartagena, Colombia. Buses began rolling in, carrying guests returning from their shore excursions, and I curiously watched the hundreds of cruisers step back on board. Then, it struck me. I kept hearing guests whisper, "It's so good to be back home," referring to the beautiful ship and crew they were about to rejoin.

In that moment, I realized that cruising is something extraordinary. Guests can explore the farthest and most exotic corners of the world and still have a familiar comfort of home, returning to the same place with the same people. It's a subtle reward that happens to every guest on each cruise, no matter the itinerary. Their sense of gratitude that day showed me how incredibly unique a cruise vacation experience is, and one that most people don't realize.

I'm excited for cruises to get back out to sea and to bring our guests around the world again while offering them a sense of home on MSC Cruises' ships, with a crew there to welcome them like family.

-- Rick Sasso, Chairman, MSC Cruises USA

Orlando Ashford with Oprah Winfrey on the "Girls’ Getaway" cruise on Nieuw Statendam (Photo: Holland America)

My favorite cruise memory was the "Girls' Getaway" on Nieuw Statendam with O, The Oprah Magazine, and the christening events featuring the ship's godmother, Oprah Winfrey. The cruise sold out in a day and I was one of fewer than100 male guests on the ship.

The energy, excitement and camaraderie among the women was like nothing I've ever experienced. I'll never forget our pajama party with Oprah handing out shots of tequila! The christening ceremony was so special -- Oprah was magical as always, and I gave one of my favorite speeches ever, on travel having the power to change the world.

In it I said, "Our fundamental belief has always been that these ships are only the beginning, and the impact they have on the world is so much bigger than the sum of their parts." That quote is very poignant today as our society is experiencing losing the freedom to travel and communities are hurting because we are not visiting.

So what am I looking forward to the most? Getting out there again as soon as we can, connecting our guests with other cultures and supporting the jobs that our industry creates. Oh, and a good Dive-In burger, which I'll have in hand on our first sailing back.

-- Orlando Ashford, President, Holland America Line

My family loves to travel, and some of our favorite vacation memories have been on Carnival cruises. My most memorable cruise was my first Carnival cruise, which was on Carnival Breeze. I had just been announced as President of Carnival Cruise Line and took my family for a cruise over New Year's Eve, which was very special. What a great way to ring in the New Year and to celebrate my new position with my husband, son, daughter and their significant others with me on my first Carnival cruise.

Once we start service again, I am really looking forward to resuming my fleetwide ship visits and seeing all of our amazing crew members and thanking them for all they’ve done during this unprecedented pause in our operations. Our team is the best in the business and they can’t wait to get back to doing what they do best – creating incredible vacation memories for our guests.

-- Christine Duffy, President, Carnival Cruise Line

Biking in Wachau (Photo: Pam Hoffee/Avalon Waterways)

My favorite cruise memories have been on Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery cruises. Every day presents a new array of excursions bringing each destination to life in an engaging way. From hiking, biking, canoeing, hands-on art and cooking classes, wine tasting to walking tours, the problem is how to choose between them!

In July 2019, I cruised the Danube on Avalon Impression. After returning to the ship from a fantastic wine excursion I had taken in Winzer Krems, I was sharing my experience with Captain Rolin. I'll admit, I also lamented that by enjoying the wine outing, I had to miss one of my favorite excursions in the world: A guided bicycle ride through the beautiful Wachau Valley. He didn't miss a beat, telling me he would get me one of the ship's bicycles so I could make the ride! I asked for reassurance that I could make it to Spitz before the ship … His response was, "race me." So, I raced Impression, biking through the Wachau, stopping to admire vineyards, take photos in Durnstein and wave at my new friends relaxing on deck.

I won the competition and arrived back at the ship in Spitz just in time for lunch -- with wine -- at the Sky Grill … I earned it!

-- Pam Hoffee, Managing Director, Avalon Waterways

What I most look forward to is seeing our ships sailing again. Our product is made for creating amazing memories for our guests; it is disappointing to see them in port without passengers. Travelers are in a certain sense like sharks: They need to keep swimming to stay alive, and it is this same sense of needing to get up and go that is making us all very antsy now.

Personally, I have been flying at least once per week for as long I can recall, and not being able to travel really makes me feel a deep loss. I am sure our guests feel exactly the same way. We are not made to stand still. I feel grateful that most of our friends, guests and colleagues are healthy and know that they keep dreaming of traveling as we do. I look forward to flying again, I actually miss the airport action and even miss the very comforting security procedures and the routine every traveler has developed.

I miss working with my team, which is very spread out in the world. Our industry is made of people, and not being able to see them in person is taking away a lot of the creativity and energy that we experience every day at work.

But mostly I miss seeing the ships sailing and creating amazing memories for our guests every day. The only way to be a traveler is to keep traveling.

-- Barbara Muckermann, Chief Marketing Officer, Silversea Cruises

Most memorable moment: The christening of AmaMagna in July 2019. AmaMagna was a labor of love for me that took more than 10 years to bring to fruition. Everything about her was new and innovative, but with that came a lot of anticipation as to the final result and whether our guests would appreciate what we had chosen to do with the extra space that her double width afforded. I must admit, a very special time for me was sitting back and watching as our guests embarked at the beginning of the christening cruise. I was so happy to see the look of wonderment on their faces and to hear firsthand the exclamations of "wow" as they gazed around the reception area.

The actual daytime christening events were wonderful, but what really stands out in my memory was the after-dinner sundeck entertainment and dance party that was capped off with spectacular fireworks. I was so happy and proud standing beside Kristin and seeing all our guests -- our travel and shipbuilding partners and representatives from the local community -- enjoying themselves under the stars.

-- Rudi Schreiner, Co-Founder, Co-Owner and President , AmaWaterways

Kristin Karst with the crew on AmaWaterways (Photo: AmaWaterways)

I know that when we start sailing again there will be such an abundance of joy from the human interaction and sharing of experiences among the guests and crew. Each week there will be an extra dose of sparkle at the Welcome Cocktail as we come together for a long awaited AmaFamily reunion and raise our glasses to toast to the marvels of the world around us! Top of my list for onboard visits will have to be AmaDara on the Mekong and AmaKristina on the Rhone. I have a special place in my heart for people of Vietnam and Cambodia as I always find our Mekong cruises bring me an inner calm and a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. We are also moving AmaKristina over to the Rhone in 2021 and as her Godmother, I am really looking forward to joining her as she sets off to cruise this new itinerary!

-- Kristin Karst, Co-Founder, Co-Owner and Executive Vice President, AmaWaterways

My favorite cruise memories are from many cherished moments in Alaska. I've traveled there most seasons since I started at Princess, for both work and pleasure. Every time I step foot in Alaska, I wonder at the vast majesty of its natural beauty. I'm amazed by the strength, resilience and passion of its people, who never tire in sharing why "The Great Land" is so unique in the United States and the world.

Over the years, I've observed my daughters' experience expand each time they visit. Alaska. As young girls, I remember the pure joy my husband and I felt, watching their eyes grow bigger and their smiles grow in amazement when they saw their first humpback whale breach out of the water. Years later, as young women, I was so proud to see them connect with locals and ask inquisitive questions to learn more about the state's history and culture.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all about what is most important in life: our family, friends and communities. Life is richer for the experiences we share together. I hope, when it's safe to travel again, there will be a renewed desire to create memories with the people we love by experiencing new places, people and cultures. We all know a vacation offers so many opportunities to bond with loved ones by exploring incredible destinations, embarking on new adventures, and sharing breathtaking views often only available on a cruise.

-- Jan Swartz, President, Princess Cruises

For nearly a decade, it has become a tradition at Viking that we celebrate the launch of our new river ships in Europe each spring. So right now, in particular I am missing our annual springtime river cruise.

My favorite routine is taking a brisk, early morning walk into the center of town -- or along the riverbank -- followed by a cup of coffee on the Aquavit Terrace of our Longships. I'm very much looking forward to those quiet morning moments you can have on a cruise -- taking time to enjoy your surroundings and prepare for the day's activity.

-- Richard Marnell, EVP Marketing, Viking

Steve Simao on a speed boat to photograph Wind Surf (Photo: Steve Simao/Windstar Cruises)

Two years ago, I was sailing aboard the Wind Surf in the Caribbean. As both a ship enthusiast and a photographer, one of my bucket list items was to photograph one of the Windstar sailing ships under full sail. I've made many attempts while on board to find the right place and the right angle to capture the sails, but clearly, unless I was on land, it would be difficult to capture an image of the entire ship with the sails out. To complicate matters, when the ships are anchored in port, sails are typically not unfurled.

It was the day of the classic Windstar beach BBQ, and we were in Virgin Gorda. A few days prior I had explained to the captain about my bucket list photo opportunity. To my surprise, when I arrived on the beach, I was immediately greeted by the hotel general manager who said he had been looking for me, and that I should grab my camera, because the captain had arranged a special surprise for me!

The wind was just right and the captain could safely open the sails while at anchor so I could finally have my photo opportunity. To my dismay, I had left my camera back in my stateroom as I did not want it to ruin in with sand while I was swimming; all I had was my iPhone, and with the distance between the beach and the ship, a quality photograph was not going to happen.

This is where, in typical Windstar fashion, the Wind Surf team sprang into action and connected me with one of the sports coordinators, named BJ. BJ whisked me aboard one of our speed boats and we zipped right out to the ship, just as the captain was opening the sails for my photography pleasure! I got a number of amazing photographs that day. And on top of that, I had a really fun time zipping through the harbor aboard one of our speed boats!

-- Steve Simao, Vice President of Sales, Windstar Cruises

Every year, I have the opportunity to host a President's Cruise aboard one of our ships, and it is always a highlight for me. Of course, there are special receptions and occasions on board for our guests to ask questions, and even wonderful shoreside excursions and celebrations. But what I really look forward to most are the personal conversations and connections I have with the guests during the voyage. It's a privilege to share their vacation time with them and experience the voyage together.

I am equally looking forward to reconnecting with our onboard Crystal Family, the officers and crew. Just like our guests, they always make me feel welcomed home each time I step aboard. Talking and catching up with them is always a treat; hearing their insights is helpful as they are at the heart of our guests' experience.

-- Tom Wolber, President & CEO, Crystal Cruises

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