Cruising 

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Backstage with the cruise director

It's 10 minutes to midnight in the Crow's Nest lounge of the MV Ryndam, somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan on Mexico's Pacific coast.

Michael Rowland takes the microphone and announces that Chuck and Eloise, on their third Holland America cruise, are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary that day.

He calls them forward, hands them a gift and tells them that they're being treated to lunch next day in the Pinnacle Grill, the ship's upscale restaurant, which passengers usually pay a premium to eat in.

Then Rowland moves around the room, greeting people here and there, often remembering names and hometowns. He's such a bundle of energy it's hard to believe that he has been on the job since 7:30 this morning, without a break.

Rowland is the cruise director, the person who, probably more than any other, is the public face of a cruise ship. Before the end of the voyage pretty well everyone aboard — in this case more than 1,200 passengers — will recognize him.

Many of them "know" the job from the TV series The Love Boat (1977-86), in which actress Lauren Tewes played perky Julie McCoy, cruise director on the fictional Pacific Princess. Julie always greeted guests, and before the cruise was over you could be sure she'd have kindled at least one romance and maybe solved some minor mystery or family drama along the way.

"That's not what it's really like," says Rowland. "No, I don't get involved in people's lives and loves."

For one thing, he doesn't have time to. On a typical day he'll be in his office before 8 a.m., going through the day's activities with his staff. By 8:30 he'll be on the PA, telling the early risers what to expect.

After grabbing a coffee and chatting to breakfast patrons in the Lido Restaurant it's off to the atrium to introduce, and putt the first ball, in an indoor golf contest.

At this time he's wearing a sports shirt and chinos. Before the day's out he'll probably have half-a-dozen costume changes.

"I have three full suitcases," he says. "I need tuxes, sportswear, chinos, pumps, ducks. The right clothes for every occasion."

On an average day Rowland will probably be supervising or moderating such diverse events as wine tasting, bingo, basketball, pool games, bocce and cake decorating, plus a dozen more.

Sea days — that is, days on which the ship doesn't make a port call — are busiest, for everyone is aboard all day, meaning more activities are expected.

"Stamina. That's what's needed," he says, glancing at his watch before bounding upstairs to host the afternoon trivia competition, one event he looks after personally. "It's my favourite of the day."

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