FRIDAY, APR. 20: Ricky Matthews is constantly on the go. As cruise director on the Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas — the largest cruise ship in the world — Matthews has had to hustle his way from one end of the ship to the other as he plays host to a multitude of events. Whether he’s introducing the cast from the ice show, being the foil as he helps contestants skewer themselves in the Love and Marriage Game Show, or grooving to the beat during a 70s Disco Dance Party, Matthews is making sure cruisers enjoy their time aboard the ship. Matthews is unique in that he is the only cruise director for Royal Caribbean who is Jamaican — most of the cruise directors across most of the North American lines tend to come the US, Canada, UK or Australia. The March 31 sailing of the Oasis of the Seas was his first as cruise director. Don Burgess spoke to him about the challenges of his work.
What did you notice as some of the major differences with the Oasis Class?
On my previous ship I had 67 staff members under my responsibility and on here I have 200. That’s a drastic change for my scope of management. That is a big change for me to adjust to. There are positions within the division I have not worked with before like the aqua cast. I’ve never had to host in an outdoor theatre or the aqua show.
In addition, I’ve had to adjust to the volume of guests I have to serve.
What did you think about the aqua show?
It’s amazing. It’s hard to believe that we’re able to put on that calibre of entertainment on a cruise ship. The highest point for the high diver is 65 feet and they dive into a pool that is 17 feet. It’s just remarkable what they are able to do with the space we have.
You seem like a genuine people person — how does that help with your job?
(Laughs) I’m still trying to figure that out. I just get up and go and it happens. The thing I think about most is how am I going to use the skills that I have to create an exciting environment for our guests. If someone isn’t smiling or doesn’t seem to be engaged in what we’re offering, I look to see if I can change how they’re feeling to participate in the events. That’s what I enjoy the most — get people involved and get people excited.
How did you become a cruise director?
It’s been a long process. I’ve been on cruise ships for 16 years and working for Royal Caribbean for three and a half years. I started out as a bar waiter and worked my way through various positions. I’ve now been a cruise director for 10 years.
What made you decide to work on a cruise ship?
My dad worked for a cruise line. Every time he came home he had exciting stories and photos to share of the places he has been. He’s been to some amazing places that even in 16 years, I haven’t gotten to you. I got intrigued about the possibility to travel the world and experience great things thanks to my dad.
Have you ever been to Bermuda?
When I started in 1995, the ship I was on was doing the New York to Bermuda season so Bermuda was the first place I visited. We would spend three days in Hamilton and it was incredible. My first three months at sea was during the hurricane season and we hit the tail end of a hurricane while leaving New York and I thought we would never survive because we had 45-foot swells. We were delayed into port by a day and half.
What is your favourite port?
I love Australia and thoroughly enjoy the South Pacific. My favourite Caribbean island to visit, even though I am from Jamaica, is St Maarten.
I really don’t get much time to go ashore and let my hair down — even though I don’t have much hair right now — because of meetings.
How does being Jamaican affect how you do things?
I definitely bring something different to the experience than say a cruise director from the US or Australia because my background in the Caribbean and Caribbean music and the Caribbean way of executing the entertainment programme.
What’s a typical day like?
It usually starts with a meeting around 8:30am or 9am. I read e-mails for an hour or so and then get out to the gangway or the floor to say ‘hi’ to the guests and wishing them a nice day. I then spend some time working on upcoming programming. I’ll hopefully get to squeeze in some gym time and have lunch. Then there are group events that I need to be at. If it’s a day at sea — it’s just hectic because there are activities by the pool and filming the morning show for the next day. On the Oasis of the Seas there are so many dining options so there are multiple shows going on at the same time. I may have to open the aqua show and 45 minutes later to take off Hair Spray or the headliner show and then go back to the aqua show. Then there are appearances at the theme parties so it’s quite a busy schedule.
It doesn’t sound like you get a lot of sleep.
(Laughs) No, but that’s what vacation is for.