If the cruise is fun, it’s thanks to her! Annett Beitlich, Entertainment Manager for AIDA Cruises, cares as much about the craft activity for toddlers as she does about the dance show that brings the house down at the end of the night. Talk about a job that’s far from routine!
In her 16-year career, Annett Beitlich has stopped counting the number of times she has crossed the ocean or how many ports she has visited, from the Philippines to the Caribbean and from Australia to North America.
On cruise ships carrying up to 2,500 passengers, she organizes entertainment and keeps everyone in generally good spirits on trips that sometimes last several weeks. Backing her on this mission is her team of about forty people: dancers, singers, a pianist, a DJ, the sound, lighting and stage technicians, a children’s entertainment team, a hairdresser, a props person for the shows, an editor in charge of the daily bulletin and a TV crew to record the experience for posterity.
With them, she brings life and joy to all the different spaces aboard ship, such as the swimming pool, the nightclub, the theatre, the cozy bar and the children’s club. At all these venues she keeps the mood on an even keel, recalibrating as needed along the spectrum from hushed to overheated.
Every evening is another challenge to put on a show that appeals to the audience. From rock to disco, jazz piano to stand-up or local entertainment, no genre is excluded. “Of course, we adapt to the clientele and try to anticipate genres that fit with the age groups on board and the audience’s reactions in previous evenings.” Instead of a one-size-fits-all program that more or less satisfies everyone every night, she strives to find what each of her clienteles will love.
She alternates the programming between exclusive shows and productions that rotate from one cruise ship to another. “Since the majority of passengers are regular cruise passengers, we try to offer something they won’t find on other cruises during the year.”
Her sixteen years of experience are a valuable asset in figuring out what will please her clientele. “Out of habit, I know that an audience that came to tour the Mediterranean is generally younger, while a cruise to Russia will attract people in the senior age group.”
A typical day
“I start by meeting with the different departments to coordinate how the day will unfold. The bar, reception and hotel teams need be kept informed of the activities planned based on the previously prepared programming.”
Then Annett turns to her own team to take stock of the plan for the day and anticipate any adjustments that might be needed. They adapt to the weather, the ports of call and audience reactions on other evenings, and they deal with possible problems such as the aches and pains of artists who have to go on stage. “We start with a first version of the game plan and then we revise it. Not once have I finished the cruise using the first version!”
Once the paperwork for the day is done, she makes an announcement to all the cruise passengers. “Have a great day, everyone!”
On top of the activities to coordinate, there’s the next cruise to plan, leaving as little room as possible for improvisation. To come up with the right recreational offer, they look at the route, the stops along the way, the number of passengers and the age groups on board. They also have to plan procurement orders to replace broken equipment or old material. They don’t want to find themselves without enough board games or children’s books when it starts to rain!
Working at sea
Is it hard to recruit personnel on a cruise ship? “Most people like this work and come back, cruise after cruise. As all the passengers are on vacation, the atmosphere is always very relaxed and friendly.”
Of course, long stays at sea can be difficult, especially for those on their first contract and at certain times, such as the winter holidays. “But we’re all aware of this and we do our best to lighten these situations. We work as a family and everyone helps each other.”
Socially, it’s quite an experience. “We live together several months a year. From the time performers are recruited after an audition to the time they board ship, the team focuses on putting together the choreography and rehearsing the show for close to six weeks. The contracts aboard ship last an average of four months. There are lots of tears the day we disembark! But we know that one day we will find each other on another ship on another trip.”
What does she like best about her job? The passengers’ smiles! “We create happiness,” she said. “I never get up in the morning thinking I don’t want to go to work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here for sixteen years!” It will come as no surprise that everyone on board knows Annett. The children come talk to her like she’s a close friend, the regulars give her a kiss and call her by her first name, and it makes sense. Of the 1,100 AIDAvita passengers who came to the Port of Montreal in July, only ten were first timers. Annett can take a little credit for that, too!