Lecture on What You Love, and Cruise for Free!

A great many cruise lines give free sailings to "presenters" able to speak brightly about issues of broad public interest

By Robert Selwitz, Thursday, Feb 10, 2005, 12:00 AM

Remember that talk on better gardening that you attended in the course of a recent Caribbean cruise? The one that followed an evening presentation on hairstyling and makeup? Do you recall the tough old gentleman who spoke pungently about the history of Alaska and the growth of its capital city on the evening before your ship's visit to Juneau? Or the professorial type who told you what to expect on your next day's shore excursion to the Roman ruins of Kusadasi, Turkey?

If you've something of interest to talk about and speak not just well but entertainingly, many cruise lines will consider giving you gratis passage in exchange for onboard lectures. Lines such as Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Clipper Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, and Silversea Cruises take along speakers on nearly every sailing. While criteria for choosing these "presenters" varies from line to line, each company stresses that the talks must be engaging--fun to listen to.

The topics that appeal

The prime subject that all lines welcome is the attractions to be seen or visited at their ships' ports of call. Or the history, economy, lifestyle, cuisine, and even quirks of the cultures that passengers will soon be viewing or experiencing. Sometimes (in the cruise lines' preferred--but not always achieved--scenario), the talks are by former diplomats who've lived on-site, or authors who've written about the territory in well-received books.

Subjects the cruise lines don't want are those that will place them in legal jeopardy or that are too grim for vacationers. For example, one major line no longer books financial advisors because it was sued by a passenger who claimed to have "lost his shirt" following an onboard address by a prominent fiscal authority.

The lines that hire presenters

As you might expect, the upscale cruise lines are among the most active in signing up "presenters" for their expensive sailings. Unlike the popularly priced ships, nearly every one of the luxury ships carries one or two speakers per cruise.

Silversea Cruises

Thus, Silversea Cruises--a very elegant group--is fond of taking aboard retired longtime residents of the region the ship is sailing or experts on regional art. While its director of entertainment, Michael Day, points out that Silversea regularly hosts celebrities such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Day also readily admits that speakers needn't be quite so exotic. And a great many talks on more ordinary topics are rewarded with a free cruise, especially if the speaker has a past record of lecturing widely. Day suggests applicants send him a description of their skills and background. While the line fills most lecture slots from booking agencies, they are always open to suggestions from outsiders.

See the above box for addresses to which you should write for both Silversea Cruises and all the other lines. If accepted, in exchange for your words and time, the line will usually give you a gratis cabin and plane ticket to the point of embarkation. Spouses are welcome to come along but they might have to pay a discounted price for their bunk, and airfare.

Crystal Cruises

Aboard the elegant Crystal Cruises, being a celebrity is definitely a plus. Its roster of speakers is peppered with prominent personalities ranging from Barbara Walters to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Line spokesperson Mimi Weisband points out, however, that she also seeks professors and authors, and neophyte presenters would do well to send in an actual videotape of themselves in action.

Cunard Line Limited & Seabourn Cruise Line

Patricia Higgins, manager of enrichment programs at Cunard Line and Seabourn Cruise Line, says, "We pick speakers based on their track records. And while we don't actively solicit new candidates, and receive dozens of applicant letters and e-mails each week, there are moments when--due to a cancellation--we need specific expertise in a hurry." Therefore, she suggests making oneself known to one or both of the booking agencies listed on the next page (and that includes sending them a tape of the speaker giving his or her talk) and specifying areas of expertise. She adds, "Destination-related talks lead the list of topics aboard our ships. The second most popular is maritime history, particularly anything about tall ships and the grand oceanliners, nautical tales from the past, etc." Also in demand as speakers are wine experts, journalists, commentators on various motivational themes, and a wide swath of entertainment figures and/or experts in world affairs.

Ms. Higgins adds that in terms of destination talks, "since many of our upscale passengers have already visited a large part of the world, we try and focus on topics they're likely not to have previously encountered. For example, on a Seabourn voyage to Vietnam, in addition to booking speakers to relate tales of the Vietnam War, we had a professor who lectured about the country's textiles, art, and the interaction between crafts and daily life in Vietnam. We also had an economist who talked about the strength of Southeast Asia's position in the global economy."

Among other recent Cunard onboard presenters were a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who conducted writing workshops and a New York City-based travel writer who lectured westbound QE II passengers about shopping strategies in the Big Apple. And, on Cunard as elsewhere, it doesn't hurt to be famous. Actress Patricia Neal has given talks including clips from her films. And Ted Koppell has also crewed on Cunard.

Aboard the popularly priced lines, there's less emphasis on the speaker's celebrity:

Royal Caribbean International & Celebrity Cruises

Royal Caribbean and its sister brand Celebrity Cruises frequently book speakers, but primarily for voyages lasting longer than seven days. Usually, the talks are destination oriented, although they also book historians. It emphasizes that speakers must be more than merely knowledgeable and wants to avoid anyone who might deliver a lecture in History 101.

Clipper Cruise Line

Clipper Cruise Line's ships--carrying up to 138 passengers--regularly book naturalists who not only give scheduled talks but lead shore excursions. They're quite selective. We seek out professional biologists or natural historians. And it pays people because their expertise can really enhance passenger experiences at our ports of call. These include Alaska, the Sea of Cortez, Venezuela's Orinoco River, Costa Rica, China, Japan, and New Zealand.

Norwegian Cruise Line

This venerable operator of large, popularly priced ships also books speakers, primarily those who can describe ports of call or discuss food or their new book. Norwegian also operates a large number of "theme" cruises on such topics as sports and music. The line will host speakers whose expertise matches each sailing's theme. A line spokesperson suggests that those interested call the reservations department to see what themes are featured and for what sailing dates.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises regularly welcomes speakers who can talk about relevant ports of call. They always have a naturalist aboard our Alaskan cruises but we welcome experts in world affairs, art, and maritime matters. For Asian cruises, Princess also hosts cultural historians who lecture on the history and customs of the places they will soon visit.

Costa Cruise Lines

Costa Cruise Lines also brings along lecturers, but only on Caribbean sailings. Typical themes that passengers have found appealing include astrology, finance, history, and yoga.

And incidentally, Carnival and Premier Cruise Lines are among the few lines that don't normally trade lectures for cabins.

Presenting Your Credentials

To contact the cruise lines directly, be sure to contact the Entertainment Coordinator or Director of Onboard Guest Programs (and give serious thought to enclosing a videotape of your presentations).