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Old May 14th, 2009, 02:55 PM
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Default Wednesday, May 13

We made our first port of the cruise yesterday, after six days at sea. The good news is that it didn’t feel like six days at sea, the onboard enrichment is more than enough to keep you entertained. The bad news is that our port of call in Costa Rica turned out to be far less exciting than I had hoped.

I have been to Puerto Caldera before on a princess cruise. On my Princess shore excursion I saw mccaw parrots nearly five feet tall, sloths, and a to-die-for-cute pack of a dozen cappucine monkeys navigating through the rainforest canopy. They jumped from tree to tree with wild abandon, sometimes catching a limb too small to hold them and falling 50 feet to the ground as a result. They would just roll over and shake it off, scramble to the nearest tree trunk and ascend it foot over hand to catch up with their brood once again.

I went to the shore excursion desk the day before yesterday and grilled the shorex manager thoroughly to try to get myself on a tour that would give my wife the same great experience I had myself in this same port years ago.

We ended up on a “sky-tour” of the rain forest canopy which sounded very promising in its description. I hoped we would see at least some of the birds, small mammals, maybe even a snake, like I had seen on my previous visit, but we didn’t. Our guide was a botanist who spent his entire time talking about the trees. We discussed ants for quite awhile as well. Sadly, everything he said was in a booming voice bound to scare away any wildlife within 100 yards.

I can’t fault a tour guide for doing his job. I was told by the shore excursion manager that seeing any wildlife was a bonus, and the guide told us the same thing. But I can tell you that when I was in this port before the guide only spoke to us in a whisper and he kept his eyes open for wildlife the entire time. When we didn’t see any he put us back on the bus and took us to a different location where he knew wildlife had been sighted. That is what good shore tour guides do – they communicate with their network of sighters during your tour and they take you to the action.

I was bored on this tour, and so were the other guests. Plus, I felt as if I had spent six days sailing to Costa Rica hoping to repeat a lifelong memory I had of monkeys in the wild, and it just didn’t work out that way. Just so you know, that is a consequence and difference between taking a cruise ship that sails to a new destination every day, such as this Cystal ship does, and taking a ship on a cruise line that visits the same port on a regular basis. The truth is the cruise line that has ships in a particular port several times a year is more likely to give you a better tour than the cruise line with a ship that only visits once every few years. The things Crystal does on a regular basis it does extremely well, but on this one-time chance to deliver what I hoped to see it didn’t work out. Unfortunately, I talked to another couple who took a different tour and they did see mccaw parrots and at least one or two monkeys in the wild. That was all I wanted am I made it clear to the shore excursion manager. I realize nothing is guaranteed, but I have a feeling that with six days to prepare for this one port of call they could have done a little more research.

I have been catching up on my movies. Onboard they are showing all of the recent Emmy nominees. We have seen Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader and Milk. I also just found out there are four different speakers onboard just from the National Footbal League. I have never seen a ship with more guest speakers.

We ate dinner with cruise director Rick Spath last night. Rick has been with Crystal for five years now, but I met Rick when I was working for Holland America in the early 1990s. He was cruise director on the inaugural year of the Statendam in Europe.

Rick has had quite a career, also including Celebrity and Disney before Crystal Cruises. There may be more but that is all we discussed. Of all the lines I am sure Crystal suits Rick the best, but his experience with Disney Cruises has to qualify as the most interesting.

Rick was the first cruise director on the first Disney ship, Disney Magic. Now, you know that is a decision Disney did not make lightly. When Disney Cruise Lines first started they planned to do things differently. For example, they chose not to have the usual cruise ship staff structure of a cruise director at the top, hostesses, assistant cruise directors, hotel managers, etc. As the cruise director, Rick was in charge of many jobs onboard a cruise director usually wouldn’t touch.

As Rick describes it, Disney has a way of working that involves a lot of “tweaking,” or improving the product as they go. I already knew that, but I didn’t know that when Disney needs to refer to an intangible element a product may need it is called adding a little “pixie dust” to the situation.

I also didn’t know this….

WARNING: if you didn’t know Mickey Mouse is an actor in costume read no further!

Every new employee of Disney, including captains of their cruise ships (!), were required (they still may be, I do not know) to experience being inside a Disney character costume. Now, Disney wouldn’t say it that way, they would call it having a “character experience.”

Disney Cruise Lines begged Rick to be their first cruise director, persuading him to drop a commitment to do a world cruise on the brand new flagship for Holland America. But before he got the job, Rick had to get Goofy at Disney World, wearing the costume at the park and interacting wth the guests. Why Goofy? According to Rick the character experience you get is based on what costume fits you best.

Now, it sounds a bit silly, so I don’t want to make too much light of it. Rick says it was actually a very satisfying experience and a great illuminationon on how to do his job. As cruise director he knew how to change any child’s day just by arranging a special visit from Peter Pan, for example. But what would you say if you were asked to be Goofy for a day before you could the captain of a cruise ship?
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