One of the less glamorous responsibilities of Harmony of the Seas’ current cruise director is ensuring that someone stands by with a bucket lest a convulsion is triggered in a hot dog eating contestant’s gut.
Abe Hughes has that job, the same one he’s held at one time or another on ships in every Royal Caribbean class. Stripped of details, his overall duty is to ensure that guests are happy.
“That’s the long and short of it right there,” Hughes says, before delineating the intricacies of the job. “Cruise directors are in charge of the Entertainment and Cruise Programs divisions on the ship.
“Cruise Programs is your cruise director staff, sports staff and the staff of Adventure Ocean,” RCL’s award-winning activities program for kids. “There are technicians, stage and production managers, along with sound technicians, lighting technicians, rigging specialists, stage staff – which are backstage crew – plus broadcast technicians. That’s the one division.”
The Entertainment Division is more specialized. “That’s where you’re going to be getting into musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats, specialty acts, slackline performers, high divers, professional ice skaters and everything in between,” Hughes says.
Throughout his workday and into the night, the cruise director is the host with the most. He emcees belly-flop contests, themed pool parties, holiday celebrations, games shows, cocktail receptions, a Welcome Back Party for returning guests, a weekly social get-together for military veterans and many more.
In all these and other onboard activities, the cruise director is the most visible public face of the company. Just before his first promotion in the job, some visiting execs “kind of saw something in me,” Hughes says.
It may have been his million-dollar smile or the demeanor bred into him while growing up in Nebraska, where he still lives between cruise contracts. His speech is peppered with midwestern exclamations like “gosh” and “gee,” and such descriptors as “guys” and “gals.” His air is that of “hail fellow well met,” comity and congeniality.
(When first contacted for this story, this explanation, Hughes said, “Sounds like fun!”)
Still, it’s not all eating competitions, water fights and dazzling stage shows. Hughes begins his day with a meeting of division heads, one of several morning sit-downs with specialists on his 210-member staff.
He plans for the needs of future group outings for business or pleasure, records a nightly video laying out the next day’s activities, sees to the details in the half of his job that guests never see. “I’m very, very visible,” he says, “but there’s a lot happening behind the scenes.”
Though he gets a lot of credit for the good times on board, he knows full well that his staff and hundreds more shoreside and on board actually pull it all off. As a “car guy,” Hughes likens it to a Formula One race:
“The engineers, pit crew, everything top to bottom, they build this $1.5 million car. In my case it’s a $1.5 billion ship. And I get to be the driver.”