What is it like to create the shoreside experiences of a lifetime for passengers travelling on a six-star cruise ship? e-Travel Blackboard speaks to Crystal Serenity’s shore excursion manager, Dan Steyne, about taking tours to the next level and his desire to become an explorer.
Natalie: How did you get to where you’re sitting today?
Dan: I started on Serenity in 2003, and at that stage I started in the dining room.
I was there for about one contract and then I went to the front desk and I was at the front desk for a short time period because I had a friend who was an assistant manager at that stage in Shore Excursions and she really wanted me to go into that department.
I knew a lot of the ports, especially in terms of the history of art and so it just happened that one day I was at the desk and guests came and wanted to know (we were in Istanbul) where to go in Istanbul and I said to them, “You can go here, here, here and here,” and my friend looked quite shocked! She came around the corner and she was like, “Oh my goodness! You’re coming to Shorex!”
It’s been an absolutely fantastic experience. I’ve probably seen more places in the world than, I would say, a couple of people, but in terms of the friends that I’ve met around the world, I guess also in terms of, I would say ‘world experiences,’ it’s second to none.
We have the opportunity of seeing the world like nobody else. You can watch it on the news, you can see things like this, but you don’t experience it how we do.
Natalie: So, as a Shore Excursions Manager, are you involved in selecting the new shore excursions come onboard or is it a head office directive?
Dan: Yes, we do that when we get the opportunity. We’re obviously in very close contact with our operators, especially in Mediterranean.
A lot of the time they’ll say to us, “We’ve got something new would you be interested?” Or, we would go to places and go, “Do you think this would be a good idea for a tour?” And it generally ends up being like that.
I’ll give you one case and example; my predecessor, James and I were in Dubrovnik and they’ve just bought a new cable car there and the tour, essentially, was just supposed to be a cable car tour, but we hadn’t produced it yet.
So we went on a site inspection, went on the cable car, went to the top, which overlooked Dubrovnik and it was really, really spectacular. Then somehow we just got onto the conversation of the war and I asked, “What is that building over there?” He said, “Well actually there’s a museum in there, it’s not a great museum, but there’s a museum there and it actually tells all about the war.”
That particular structure, was very fundamental in keeping Dubrovnik the way it is looking now because, you know, Serbs on one side, war on this side and three gentlemen literally kept control against these people.
So we went to the museum they said, “Well actually, one of the guys who was stuck in here is a guide,” and I was like, “Wow, now you’ve taken it to a whole different level!”
So then, we actually developed the tour. Now the tour we developed is actually one of our most successful tours in Dubrovnik and that’s how it all begins.
A lot of times we adjust tours. I try to look at it from a guest’s perspective. I want it to be really interesting for guests, you know, a lot of them come far away.
But a lot of it is done from L.A. because they really speak a lot with our operators, pre-season wise, but a lot of it is also done from our side, where we speak to the operators and they say, “What can we improve for next season, do you have any ideas?”
Natalie: It must keep it so interesting for you. Constantly changing.
Dan: In terms of tours, we probably have the most diverse program in the industry, in my opinion.
I think John Stoll has got a lot to thank for that, he is our land project director and he is one of these guys who is constantly looking for new ideas. He also wants to give guests a different experience.
We all have the panoramic tours, the general knowledge tours, but you want to take it one step further, give guests many options.
The cruise industry is expanding, you’re going to find that people have ‘been there done that,’ so what we want to say is, “Well actually, you haven’t done this,” which I think is a great extra aspect to have.
Natalie: Tell me about the voluntourism opportunities with Crystal?
Dan: Well voluntourism is something again that was delivered by John and I think it is a fantastic addition.
It really has been a success, I think. In the beginning, we were all a bit unsure, but it really has caught on in a big way and it’s really great because in our opinion, it’s easy for people to give money, but lending time is I think even more important.
It’s not just to do with helping the people; it’s also about making the environment more friendly and clean and stuff like that.
Natalie: If we use this itinerary (seven-day Rome to Athens) as an example, what would be the most popular voluntourism excursion?
Dan: We had two…we are trying to do one per cruise but this cruise we’re running two because last cruise we didn’t run any and we wanted to make up for it.
The one in Sorrento was for a Christian foundation that looks people with disabilities and so, they went over there and they get involved in a certain activity, which is really great.
But it’s not always about people. The one that we are going to run in Athens goes to a turtle rehabilitation centre.
It’s a really cool excursion. We do it there and we also have it in other places as well, like Argostoli, where they’ve also got a turtle rehabilitation centre. We try to run them even when we have minimum people.
It’s important not to label these a ‘tour option’. It’s not really a tour option; it’s a program.
Natalie: I noticed that there are quite a few options with Crystal to book ‘exclusive’ experiences. Can you tell me more about those?
Dan: Our private adventure program is actually very diverse. If anyone wants to just take a private car and drive, or a guide, or go anywhere they want, we can arrange that, we can do anything, if they really want. Obviously the cost is a little bit more, but they get to experience that on their own.
In regards to our private adventures, it’s usually a great way to get more flexibility.
A lot of these private arrangements, they can dodge the lines, they can get into places that the groups can’t and of course you’ve got that comfort with the guide.
A lot of these guides are professors, or are very well trained, so that’s what makes it a little bit more special.
Natalie: At the shore excursions desk, are you open to people not wanting to necessarily book a shore excursion but wanting advice on the ports you are calling into?
Dan: We do service that as well. If it’s something we don’t know, we’ll look it up and try to find it for the guest because you never know, you might be serving a guest and the next moment they book a shore excursion!
Natalie: You’ve visited so many different places, but what would be the port that you most enjoy visiting personally?
Dan: That really depends. You know, we live in such a seasonal world that after every season, we’re always looking forward to the next and I think that’s what makes this position so addictive, because when you get to the end of Mediterranean season, you go, “Oh there’s the Caribbean!” And then after the Caribbean you’re thinking, ”Oh it’s going to be world cruise soon!”
I think in this particular line of work, you have to really love all the different places that you go to.
I mean, I’ve been into the most godforsaken places in Africa and you get off there and a lot of the people are wondering what we’re doing there, but you always find something interesting about it.
You’ve got to look at the culture. You see the culture of the people and try and bring it out.
I think people understand that when you go to these places that nobody has ever been to and you get off and you sit down with people who live there, it humbles you a lot. You realise how lucky you are.
That’s what makes travelling so exciting. It’s not just the places or the actual material world that you go to, it’s the people that make it special.
Natalie: From here, what is your ultimate goal? Is this it? Have you reached the pinnacle of what you want to do in cruising?
Dan: I don’t think you can go much further in this position in terms of cruising. Unless I become captain which would be pretty awesome…but no!
Natalie: So where do you see yourself in the future then?
Dan: Well…maybe land-based would be the next goal.
I’d like it to be more action-orientated though. I would like to be more mobile. I’m looking more at Africa and probably like East Africa; that’s where I’d like to kind of see myself. I want to be more tuned to more the adventurous nature of excursions. I’ve always wanted to be an explorer.
Natalie: We’ll see you as the next David Attenborough!
Dan: Oh, I’d love to do something like that. I love travelling, I love going to different places. It’s so much fun. Like, what I’ve done over the last couple of years is just unbelievable; it’s just got me more and more fascinated, you know.
Natalie: If you were travelling for pleasure, what would be the three things that you would have to have with you, that you would have to pack?
Dan: Wow, I haven’t thought about that actually. Generally I’m the world’s worst packer, so I just throw everything that I need
I would say like an iPad/iPhone has been invaluable to me.
A good first aid kit is very important, that has helped me tremendously.
Having good travel insurance is absolutely very, very important and a good back-up plan if anything goes awry.
If you’re going take anything though, take an open mind. Things can go wrong and just always remember that you are lucky to travel this world.