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Have you ever wondered about guest lecturers aboard your cruise? Are they cruising for free? Where do they sleep and eat? Can they bring a guest? And--most importantly--how can you get that gig too? We decided to go behind the scenes with a major cruise line entertainment company to find some answers.

The first thing we found is that there are no set rules for the way onboard entertainment works. Cruise lines and booking companies have different policies when it comes to applications, fees, airfare, accommodations, and requirements once onboard. Generally, performers in Broadway-style shows and regular musicians are in a separate category and weren’t included in our research. All other jobs -- traditional speakers, dance hosts, instructors, and caricature artists-- provide ways for skilled people to set sail on a low-cost cruise.

What’s an Edu-Tainer?

Our second discovery was that this category goes way beyond a cruise ship speaker talking about the next port of call. “Many people think that only professional speakers can apply to be guest lecturers or that only professional dancers need apply to be dance hosts,” says Doug Jones, president of Sixth Star Entertainment & Marketing, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that specializes in providing cruise lines, resorts, and special events with top-quality entertainment. “That’s not the case. Our enrichment staff come from varied backgrounds and shares a common enthusiasm for socializing and travel.”

With clients such as Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Orient Lines, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, the Yachts of Seabourn, and Silversea Cruises, Sixth Star coined the phrase "edu-tainment" for the cruise industry. “Early on, we embraced the phrase 'edu-tainment,'" Jones says. "We look for programs that are educational, but more importantly, ones that are entertaining.”

"My partnership with Sixth Star greatly expands the breadth of topics and individuals we are able to place on ships," says Sheri Tousey-Baker, enrichment program manager at Celebrity. "Sixth Star brings a very high level of professionalism and talent to the field of edu-tainment within the cruise industry."

Edu-tainers include destination speakers (who give original presentations illustrating the culture and history of ports of call), special interest speakers (covering subjects ranging from art history to zoology), distinguished gents (as dance and social hosts), dance instructors, bridge directors (for lessons and play); Texas 42 instructors (a popular domino game that is currently aboard only a few ships); computer instructors, arts and craft instructors, caricature artists, and clergy.

How It Generally Works

The way it works varies according to the type of edu-tainment, the cruise line or ship, the level of demand, and other factors. During a standard cruise week, Sixth Star destination and special-interest speakers typically deliver three or four 35-minute presentations with 10 minutes at the end of each lecture designated for questions. They receive all the benefits of a typical passenger (cabin categories and availability vary) and usually pay Sixth Star a small administrative fee of $50 per day for each day of the cruise (airfare is not included). The lecturer is welcome to bring a guest to sail in the same cabin for no additional charge. On certain lines, such as Silversea and Regent, the daily charge may be $100, which typically includes upscale extras and daily gratuities.

The rates are generally the same for instructors (from bridge to computers), while caricature artists (and other art and craft instructors) currently pay Sixth Star a $30 per day placement fee. For men participating in Sixth Star’s Distinguished Gents Dance Program, the typical rate is $25 per day. Catholic priests pay $25 per day, while Protestant and Jewish clergy typically pay $50 per day. Again, guests in the same cabin are free of charge (except in the case of distinguished gents, the nature of whose work requires them to be more focused on passengers.

Sixth Star and its cruise line clients have a rigorous set of standards and application processes that must be met and completed before placing people aboard cruise ships. Much of this can now be accomplished online, including applications, submissions of samples, pictures, videos, and--ultimately--confirmation. Once confirmed as a Sixth Star edu-tainer, the company provides their comprehensive Manual for Success, a 23-page document that provides a wealth of knowledge gleaned from the experiences of Sixth Star staff and hundreds of edu-tainers.

Going Behind the Scenes

Cruisers enjoy speakers with firsthand experience, such as Luke Yankee, who talks about Broadway and Hollywood. The actor, director, producer, playwright, and author is the son of the late Eileen Heckart, a Theatre Hall of Fame member who won an Academy Award, a Tony, two Emmys, and a Golden Globe.

Yankee, who recently published a book called Just Outside the Spotlight, enthralls audiences with tales about growing up as a showbiz kid (like when Ethel Merman taught him how to make a martini at age 10 and Paul Newman gave him living room acting lessons at 14).

“My presentations are full of inside showbiz anecdotes, but they are primarily a son’s loving tribute to his mother,” says Yankee. “Very often, parents who are missing their children will come up to me with tears in their eyes or want to give me a big hug after one of my programs. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Bridge experts have always been in high demand by cruise lines, and the North Carolina team of Ray and Nancy Fiorillo provide a perfect example of how to take a talent to the high seas. We caught up with them aboard Crown Princess, which was their first cruise with Sixth Star.

Typically, the Fiorillos provide lessons during the mornings when the ship is at sea and conduct games on those afternoons. All games are sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League, which allows the winners to be credited with Masterpoints.

“We both love cruising and can’t think of a better way to combine a hobby we love with a fantastic vacation to exotic places,” says Ray. "We find that we’re always making new friends through our bridge events.”

Computer instructors are also in high demand. Candy Zulkosky, also aboard Crown Princess, says, “Nothing I’ve ever done has been as rewarding as teaching computer classes at sea.”

Zulkosky, who had never been to sea before her first cruise through Sixth Star in 2004, now estimates she’s been on close to 90 cruises and has worked with students ranging in age from seven to 92. “The rewards of teaching at sea are huge," she says. You have to love teaching, love traveling, and love people. Fortunately, I fit all three categories.”

Of course, male “dance hosts” are a traditional addition to many cruises (especially longer voyages). Ron Szczypkowski from Rye, New York, provided insight into the life of a dance host (often called “social hosts”, "gentleman hosts" and “distinguished gents”).

“My first assignment was on QE2,” recalls Szczypkowski, adding that there were four dance hosts on board and as many as 30 to 35 women who wanted partners during every dance session. “We could not stop to rest!"

Szczypkowski has been working with Sixth Star for five years and went on six cruises last year. “Our services depend on the interest and needs of passengers aboard a particular ship,” he says.

Caricature artists are a recent addition to Sixth Star’s offerings, and Illinois-based Marlene Goodman is enjoying the opportunity. “I am one of the first artists to begin doing this,” says Goodman. “My first cruise was aboard Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas.”

Goodman reports that people lined up immediately. Sometimes, to keep the lines from getting too long, she did quick sketches of people, got their name, and completed them later in her cabin.

“I had a great, economical vacation,” continues Goodman. “I drew longer than was expected of me, which was only two hours per session, four days at sea, but I didn't mind. Doing caricatures and interacting with people is what I love to do. That, and I get to visit the ports of call, see shows nightly, enjoy great food. What’s not to love?”

Pursuing what they love aboard a cruise makes edu-tainers and Sixth Star a winning proposition for cruise lines. “I encourage anyone with a special talent to visit our website (www.sixthstar.com) to learn more about the positions that are currently in demand aboard cruise ships," says Jones. "We encourage anyone who is interested in cruising to complete our application.”

Now, that’s edu-tainment!