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Updated: Jun 2, 2021

I’m afraid you will need to let me know by this evening if you can offer me the job”, I told my interviewers at the London Hotel, “I have left my packed bags at reception, as I am due to join the QE2 in Southampton tomorrow otherwise”.

I had been interviewed twice by Cunard for the position of Crew Purser on Queen Elizabeth 2nd., probably the best-known passenger ship in the world at that time.

Once at Head Office by the Personnel Manager and then again on the ship itself when it had last been in Southampton by the Hotel Manager and Tom, the Personnel Manager responsible for the ship’s hotel crew. Tom, very graciously told the Hotel Manager that he could not add anything to the interview as I had known him when he was sea staff with P&O Cruises, he had come ashore to work in Personnel and I had taught him all he knew about the recruitment and training of sea staff during my time as Shipboard Training Manager with them! Cunard had wanted me to join in Portugal, but I had let them know I was being considered for another job and that that interview was later. They then asked me to join in Southampton.

I had now put the Hotel Director of Premier Cruise Lines, ‘The Official Cruise Line of Walt Disney World’, on the spot.

I never did sail with Cunard, but I did on ‘The Big Red Boats’ of Premier as Assistant Hotel Manager, deputy to the Hotel Manager overseeing all the franchised operations onboard including hotel operations.

One aspect of this role I delighted in and took upon myself to be involved was looking after the families who were on board courtesy of the ‘Wish Kid Foundation’. (Make-A-Wish®)

We regularly had such families where a child was suffering from life-limiting illnesses. They would be sponsored for either four days at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and a three-day cruise to the Bahamas or three days at the theme park and a four-day cruise to Nassau.

I would arrange an upgrade on accommodation, fruit in the cabin with a letter of welcome including an invitation to meet the captain on a bridge visit as we sailed from Port Canaveral.

On the last evening before arrival back into Canaveral I would arrange with the Disney coordinator, ships photographer, and captain to have the family meet outside the restaurant with the Disney characters currently onboard. A photograph of them all was presented to them during breakfast before they left the ship as a memento of their trip with us. It was the parents that got very emotional!

This is Chris Price in one such photograph with his Mom, Dad and older brother plus Captain Chilas’.

Very gratifying to get letters like the following.

The Disney characters, usually Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip n’ Dale were Disney ‘animators’ and their identity guarded. When in public they were escorted by their coordinator as a chaperone.

I was surprised when approached on Salt Cay, the island that we took all guests to for a day of water sports, snorkeling, BBQ, and pirate hunting for the kids by a petite young lady calling me by name. I could not place her as a crew member or passenger. I wasn’t usually called by my first name. “It’s me - Minnie” she offered. Well, we did have a ‘bit of a thing’ in public, but how could I have known!

The company were particularly good as we could take the occasional cruise off. I covered for the Hotel Manager when he took cruises off or went on a training course. They also allowed my wife and two young sons to join me for four cruises (two weeks) and were able to take them to Disney World (on a complimentary family ticket), EPCOT Centre, and Universal Studios on one cruise off and then to NASA’s Cape Canaveral on another. My then 12-year-old son still talks about it thirty years on!

John Martin

Hotel Manager, Starship ‘Atlantic’

Carnival Corp. expressed an interest to include Premier Cruise Lines as part of their portfolio. Not only their own brand, the happy-clappy party ships, but also an upmarket version in Holland America Line and the specialist Windstar Cruises. Having a family-orientated brand seemed sensible. After six months I went on leave confident that with Carnival’s support, the investment of another ship on the Abaco’s and one out of Los Angeles contracted with Disney Land would offer me the opportunity of a ship of my own as Hotel Manager. Alas! During the period of Due Diligence, Carnival said that Premier was overpriced. Premier’s principal shareholders The Dial Corp. and Greyhound were not willing to negotiate down. Efficiencies were then required. Redundancies were to be made. As I was on leave at the time – I was asked not to come back.

They were routine 14-hour days, 7 days a week, and on-call whenever, but they fun ships to work on.

And I would miss my time with Mickey Mouse & co., especially Minnie.

N.B. Premier’s contract with Disney was not renewed but then affiliated with Looney Tunes to maintain its family-friendly image. They bought older and older ships. Its final demise was in 2000.

I tried my luck again with Cunard, but really knew I had ‘burnt my bridges’ with them.

P&O, Princess, and Cunard are now all brands of the Carnival Corporation. Disney went ahead with building their own ships and operate as an independent cruise line.

Read more from John Martin

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