- Kimberly Wells started working on cruises as a performer in 1987 when she was 20 and fell in love.
- After a hiatus on Broadway and the Home Shopping Network, Wells returned to cruise work in 2020.
- She shares the pros of working on cruises: the people, the places, and the cons: no days off.
This as-told-to essay is from an interview with Kimberly Wells about working as a 57-year-old cruise director. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I sang and danced my way into my first job on a cruise ship at age 20, working as part of the entertainment team in 1987. I fell in love during that first voyage, with a man and with a way of life. After that contract ended, I knew I had to figure out a way to stay aboard. I became a fitness director, then a social hostess.
My biggest passion is the stage, and I couldn’t say no when I received the call from Broadway. I worked in New York City for 10 years, before becoming a host on the Home Shopping Network.
My job with HSN ended a couple years ago, and I wasn’t ready to retire.
I’d stayed in contact with friends and my former bosses in the cruise industry and made some calls. I was quickly connected with Holland America, who flew me out to audition for a cruise director role in April 2020. I got the job but, due to COVID, had to sit through a two-year waiting period before returning to the seas.
Now, as of 2022, I’m the cruise director for Holland America, working aboard several ships, including most recently on Zuiderdam.
A day in my life as a cruise director
As the cruise director, I’m the first and last face that any guest sees on any sailing. They serve as the main connection point between ship crew and guests, keeping all passengers up to speed on all available entertainment and goings-on as well as the nuts and bolts of days at port.
My day starts at 6 a.m. I hit the ship’s gym, then I’m out on the floor at 8 a.m., grabbing a coffee and chatting with guests before my first meeting at 8:30 a.m. Then I host a coffee chat to meet guests, make my first announcement of the day to all the passengers, and then the day just keeps on – boom, boom, boom – from there.
My superpower is that I can go from zero to full glam makeup in 30 minutes. I do this most nights, hitting the floor right before an event, and greeting guests.
Every night, I give what’s called the “today, tonight, tomorrow” talk that recaps the day and let the guests know what to expect for the night and the next day.
Then I introduce the show, be it a comedian, magician, or dance show. Then I take down the show. I’ll repeat that with every evening performance. Then it’s back to my cabin by midnight.
What most people don’t realize is that cruise ship workers don’t ever have a day off during their contract. We only have hours off. The hardest part of this job is learning to power nap. You also get great at arranging your schedule so that you have downtime.
Every day no matter how tired I am, I work out, meditate and practice yoga because those things give me strength internally. If I want to recharge further I’ll get facials and massages in the ship’s spa where the treatments aren’t free but are heavily discounted for staff.
I love traveling to new places
My last three contracts have taken me to Alaska, the Caribbean, and New England.
On my first cruise this season in Alaska, we were touring the Margerie Glacier and saw so many baby seals. We witnessed one seal give birth. I can’t wait for my next contract: a 73-day cruise around Africa.
We start in the Caribbean, pass through the Panama Canal, and go on to spend nearly three months exploring Africa. I’ve been to Africa before, but this is such a unique opportunity to see so much of it.
As much as cruising is about the destinations, it’s also about the people
I love this aspect of my job because I’m a people person. I live for making magical moments for others.
One time, at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, a guest was planning a proposal. I’d arranged for him to ride a white horse down the beach to meet his girlfriend. We’d set everything up and then got a call that he’d forgotten the ring on the ship.
I had to jump on a tender back to the ship. He gave housekeeping his room number and safe info and they were able to bring the ring to me. I ran down that beach to get it to him just in time. It was amazing to be part of that.
The crew section of the ship is its own world
There’s a corridor that runs the entire length of the ship in the crew quarters. Along the hall, we have barbershops, pop-up shops, massage therapy, girls making jewelry – you name it. We are a city on the sea, with a lot of diversity. My last ship had 55 nationalities on board.
This job keeps me busy, but it’s rewarding every day. Just a few weeks ago, my friends from back home in Minnesota shared that they had five feet of snow, and I was on the beaches of the Galapagos. Bigger than the places we see, I love that I make so many friends through this job. I’m still connected to many people I met during my first week on board.