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Parlay Your Expertise Into a Free Cruise

Put your skills and expertise to work on a cruise ship, and travel in luxury for free.

By Robert K. Otterbourg

Want to go on a free luxury-ship cruise? If you have some area of expertise, you could follow the course take by John Hall, 72, of Shreveport, La., who is a retired Louisiana State University professor of anthropology and geology. He provides passengers with lectures on the characteristics of the destination. In return, he gets a vacation at no cost.

Hall and one guest, usually his wife, Carol Ann, who operated the PowerPoint presentation, receive a free cabin, meals and most shipboard amenities. Since 2002, Hall figures that he's taken one or two cruises a year, including trips to the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Alaska. During the Alaska cruise, he spoke about the Klondike gold rush and glaciers "I talk once a day when the ship's at sea," he says.

Unlike Hall, who specializes in destination talks, Cynthia Barnett provides self-help advice. Barnett became a cruise regular soon after she retired in 2003 at age 60 as a public-school teacher in Norwalk, Conn. During a typical one-week cruise, Barnett gives four talks, each a variation of what she calls "refire, don't retire." Barnett describes these presentations as "a great way to get a free vacation. On some cruises, I've taken family members as my guests."

Shipboard talks and activities are part of the at-sea ambiance that makes each hour of every day akin to summer camp. Retirees like Hall and Barnett keep passengers busy with lectures to attend, games to play and new skills to learn. If you are proficient at bridge, crafts, computers, crossword puzzles or zoology, there could be a place for you on board.


Cruise lines such as Carnival, Cunard, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise offer work-vacation gigs. "They often favor retirees," says Allan Jordan, a New York City travel consultant. "They're more predictable since they do not have another job."

To find a job, you can contact the entertainment departments of any of the 25 cruise companies that are members of the Cruise Lines International Association ( You can also get in touch with agencies that specialize in placing speakers and workshop facilitators on cruise ships: To Sea with Z (; 305-931-1026), Sixth Star Entertainment & marketing (; 954-462-67600, and Compass Speakers and Entertainment (; 954-568-3801).

There is no standard arrangement between cruise ships and program providers, so find out ahead of time what your responsibilities and living conditions will be. Jordan says that the room is always a double so the speaker can bring a guest. Some cruise ships even pay a small per-diem stipend, he says.

At Sixth Star Entertainment, executive Paul DiFilippi provides each staffer with a letter that outlines the cruise ship's do's and dont's. "Staff members are expected to mingle with guests, to promote their programs an, on some ships, to host tables in the dining room," he says. He also says that staffers pay the same rate as passengers for shore excursions.


Talks often relate to topics of current interest such as identity theft, says Diane Zammel, president of To Sea with Z. Proof of expertise is essential, she says. To be accepted as a bridge director, for example, an applicant must be certified by the American Contract Bridge League, she says.

Many cruise lines recruit "gentleman hosts," single men between the ages of 40 to 70, who conduct dancing classes and serve as dance partners for single, divorced and widowed women passengers. One caveat: The men sign and agreement specifying no romantic involvement with guests.

Jeff Davidson, a management consultant who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., conducts two to seven lecturers on a typical one-to two-week cruise. Davidson says that applicants must convince the cruise ships of their knowledge and presentation skills. He advises hopefuls to assemble a sales kit consisting of a CD or DVD, letters of recommendation on speaking skills and a résumé that shows they have expertise that a cruise ship would need.

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