Sign Up to Be a Cruise Ship Speaker and Cruise for Less

Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Cunard offer inexpensive vacations to educators who agree to share their knowledge while onboard.

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by NEA Member Benefits

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Do you want to join the ranks of the 22 million people that will go on a cruise this year? Sign up now to be an onboard lecturer or instructor and you could experience breathtaking views in exotic ports of call before you know it—and you’ll sail for next to nothing. Whether you teach preK or postgraduate, if you have knowledge about a desirable topic you could be well on your way.

Topics in demand

Photo courtesy of Cunard

 Destination speakers—who may talk about a port’s history, politics, shopping, geography or food and wine—are in high demand. Others speak about or give lessons in belly dancing, astronomy, bridge, balloon twisting, face painting or other arts and crafts. 

Paul DiFilippi, Director of Cruise Ship Enrichment Programs for Sixth Star, a cruise booking agency, says there’s even a demand for grill masters during the summer. Allan Jordan, a noted historian and author who specializes in the history of 20th-century cruise ships and ocean liners, is a sought-after onboard speaker. Naturalists who can talk about the flora and fauna of Alaska, Hawaii or the Panama Canal region and members of the clergy, particularly rabbis and priests, are in high demand. Men who are proficient in ballroom dancing and who are interested in cutting a rug with women passengers are, too. Berlitz language instructors teach basic Spanish while cruising the Americas.

World affairs are always good subjects, just not the bad news. Laurie Wickwire, GIA-certified diamond grader, for example, lectures about the Crown Jewels and other shiny objects. But she doesn’t talk about conflict diamonds. “Too gruesome,” she says.

 “Anyone who knows about Cuba is in hot demand,” says DiFilippi. Cruise lines he’s talked to are looking for lecturers for 100 Cuba cruise itineraries. If you know about the history, culture, art or music of Cuba, you may be an ideal cruise ship presenter. Another in-demand topic is forensics, spurred by the popularity of such TV shows as “Law and Order,” “CSI” and “Bones,” so anyone involved in the field or in a famous court case will be of interest as a speaker.

What’s the catch?

Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Only a few A-list people are paid for these speaking gigs. The rest generally pay a fee of $50 to $65 a night for the length of the cruise. The fee and perks are negotiable due to subject demand, length of cruise (e.g., a naturalist on the ship for a full Alaska summer season) and other factors. Each speaker usually can bring a spouse or friend to share the cabin. Depending on the ship, the speaker is in a passenger cabin, although on some ships it may be on a deck where crew quarters are located. Meals, most beverages, all guest-related activities and onboard entertainment are included. Sometimes gratuities are included. Although transportation between home and the ship is not usually covered, when it is, it’s generally just for the speaker. 

Lecturers usually talk during sea days (days when the ship doesn’t call on a port and passengers are relegated to onboard activities). This leaves you free to tour the ports of call, sunbathe, read or do whatever you want to on port days. For a relatively small fee, you can travel the world, meet interesting people and enjoy fine food and great service.

What do I have to do?

Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Generally, speakers and instructors are booked through an agency. Tim Castle, who books speakers, says, “The audience is different from a school audience. Primarily, the average passenger is in their 50s and 60s. They need to be entertained and educated. They have choices for their activities, so a speaker needs to be dynamic, with great visuals and few words on slides. The presentation should appear to be extemporaneous, without reading notes.”

If you’re interested in becoming a speaker or instructor, you should contact the agency and be ready to provide a DVD of a presentation you’ve made, with visuals, or a link to one or more YouTube clips. Also, provide a resume of your expertise. Once accepted, the booking company distributes a list of open ships, dates, topics and itineraries to its speakers. You indicate what you want. After your first gig, if you like the teaching and cruising life and the cruise line likes you, then you can request back-to-back cruises.

Bookings are done nine to 18 months out, or as little as a week. Agencies represent opportunities onboard Crystal, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Disney, MSC, Norwegian, Viking Ocean Cruises and Cunard.

If you’re interested in speaking or teaching aboard a cruise ship, register with Compass Speakers and Entertainment, Inc. (info@compassspeakers.com; 954-568-3801), Sixth Star Entertainment and Marketing (info@sixthstar.com; 954-462-6760) and Tim Castle (trac@nyc.rr.com; 212-832-9617).

5 things you should know about being a cruise line speaker

  • You must have a passport valid for at least six months from your original date of departure, even if you don’t plan to get off the ship. It’s up to you to determine if you need a visa or any vaccinations for any port on your itinerary.
  • Most likely you will be asked to avoid table games in the casino and you might not be able to sit at the bar or carry a drink when walking in public.
  • You may or may not have a badge identifying you as a speaker (technically a crew member) and you’ll be expected to mingle with the other guests.
  • Be prepared to accept a cruise that may not be your first choice in dates (within reason, considering the school year), cruise line or itinerary. Saying no the first time could mean not being called again, unless you have expertise in a really desirable topic.
  •  You may sell items related to your lecture, including books or CDs. The ship may take a percentage of your sales.