Cruising from the inside

IMG_1261On our cruise, Charlotte and I were lucky enough to get to meet with Celebrity Reflection Master, Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis and Hotel Director, Niyazi Korkmaz.  They shared with us some of the highs and lows of a life spent at sea.

Captain Skylogiannis has spent 30 years of his life aboard various Celebrity ships, including acting as the inaugural captain of both the Eclipse and the Solstice ships (the Solstice now visits New Zealand and Australia).  He joined the Celebrity family after graduating from the Merchant Marine Academy in Athens in 1984 and has worked his way to the top of his game.  Living aboard for 3 months at a time, he knows his boat inside out.  He is a self-confessed perfectionist and it shows.  From the bridge to the bathrooms, there is nothing out of place and that’s just how he likes it.

Niyazi Korkmaz was born in Turkey and comes from a family of hoteliers. A career in cruising came about when a friend, in 1990 said that his ship was looking for someone with just his skill set.  It happened at the right time for Niyazi and 4 days later, he was aboard and has not looked back since.

Niyazi’s shares a similar philosophy to that of Captain Skylogiannis.  Right across the ship everyone is immaculately turned out, not a hair out of place and a genuine and authentic smile at every turn.  They produce around 10,000 meals for guests every day and feed at least 1500 crew.  Rooms are refreshed daily and turned down every night. Everything seems to run like clockwork.

Both agree that the highlight of their jobs is the people.

“It’s all about the people that you meet, and doing everything you can to ensure they leave with happy memories that last a lifetime” Captain Skylogiannis said.

IMG_1317Obviously, a life at sea is not for everyone, but as Hotel Director Niyazi Korkman explained, “It is a great job. You’re running a billion dollar business, making great memories and you’re paid really well for it.  Niyazi left cruising for several years but he couldn’t stay away.  When he returned he said it felt like coming home.

Both struggled to find a downside to the life they had chosen.  Niyazi said that “for the most part taking care of the 3400 guests was a pleasure – but of course there were always one or two who were more challenging”.  He saw that as just part of life and no different to life ashore in any other hotel.  As for being away for long stretches, his partner can join him on board at anytime and she often does.

For the Captain, his wife and 3 children who are based in England join him for school holidays and half term breaks whenever possible.  “It’s not for everyone, but it works for our family really well.  I am home for about 6 months of the year and do all the things that a lot of Dad’s miss out on – like taking them to and from school each day.”

They both have apartments on board and there are staff bars and other areas where they can get away from things.  They are also able to enjoy the boat and have their own special places on board.  Niyazi and Panagiotis are often found at the Cellar Masters Bar at the end of the evening enjoying a quiet glass of wine, with guests or members of their team.

IMG_1252Both will be involved in the launch of Celebrity’s latest offering – The Edge whose inaugural cruise is December 16 this year.  The ship is the first in a new class of vessel which further builds on their successful brand.  Both consider being chosen to be a part of her inaugural sailings to be a huge privilege.  From all accounts The Edge will deliver a whole new level of cruising.

IMG_1256They have seen significant changes in the industry during their careers and believe there is lots more to come.  It is more than just the number and nationality of people cruising that is changing, but also what people want from their cruise.

The days of traditional cruising are ending.  More multigenerational families are travelling together, different countries are being added to itineraries and people are increasingly seeking more resort like facilities.  The Celebrity ships fit firmly into the upper end of the market and they are seeing increased interest in suites.  On the Edge 13% of cabins will be suites and they have already sold out on the initial cruises.

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Niyazi believes that it is more than just a larger room that makes the suite class appealing.  There are extra touches, like the private lounge, restaurants and the ability to choose to be away from the crowd and seek out more solitude on board.  “The level of service is fantastic”, he said, “with private butlers 24 hours a day to look after your needs” Many of the top suites have unlimited specialty dinning included. On the new ships, suite class passengers will also have their own pool and resort area.

Captain Skylogiannis said that it was a fantastic time to be part of the industry with the year on year growth and the opportunities that it presented for career progression.  He believes that the industry is still dominated by the US and Canadian markets, but there was strong growth from the UK, Australia and New Zealand and as demand increased in Asia, he expects that the destinations offered will continue to grow.  He said, “being on board is as much of the holiday as the destinations and the offerings keep growing to keep up with that trend”.  Once people discover cruising, they keep coming back to it, so there is a constant need to grow destinations.

IMG_1316With growth comes added pressure on the environment and the crew at Celebrity go to great lengths to ensure they do all they can to minimize their impact on the environment.  Last year the Celebrity brand won the environmental award for their efforts to minimize their carbon footprint.  There is a strong emphasis on recycling and the boats use special paint to minimize friction in the water.  They manage fuel consumption but acknowledge that they need to rely on customers to do their part.

While they go to great lengths to ask guests to keep doors closed to minimize the use of air conditioning, encourage the reuse of towels and to refrain from throwing things over the side, it remains up to the individuals to follow these requests.  Having said that a crew member can lose their job if they are caught littering off the side of the boat and ultimately a guest can be asked to leave if they continue to do so.  Niyazi said, “it is a joint effort and one that we encourage guests to be involved in”.

IMG_1246Safety on board is also of concern, especially for Captain Skylogiannis and while it doesn’t keep him awake at night, it is always at the back of his mind.  And for Niyazi there is always the challenge of managing the odd guest who enjoys life on board just a little bit too much.  He said, “When we see it, we simply escort them back to their cabin and generally in the morning they have no recollection of it.”  Safety of all on board is critical which is why there are so many security checks when people return to the ship.  “We’d always prefer to be safe than sorry”, he said.

The cruise timetable is tight and there they do have an agenda to keep, so they can’t wait forever at port. If you’re late on board and not on a Celebrity excursion, you will get left behind. With the number of guests on board, it’s amazing it doesn’t happen more often.

As you leave arrive or leave port, it will always be Captain Skylogiannis at the helm.  He is also in charge as they navigate challenging straights (such as Messina on this cruise).  Otherwise there are a team who work on the bridge, constantly updating and monitoring the ships progress, even though the course is usually plotted a couple of years in advance.

Both men run their teams 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 3 months at a time.  And they run it very well.  Staff have separate facilities and enjoy down time just as they would if they were at home.  There are opportunities to go ashore and enjoy the ports and the team are encouraged to enjoy the lifestyle that working on a cruise ship offers.

When contracts end, they take at least 2 months off before rejoining a ship so they return refreshed.  All the team members we spoke with on this cruise, loved their jobs.  They were seeing the world, working with a multi-cultural crew of like minded people and were very positive about the cruise line.

IMG_0486Celebrity take care of their team as well as their customers.

It shows in the positive experience on board and it’s no accident.  Captain Skylogiannis and Niyazi Korkmaz run a very tight ship.

Highlights from Small heights

Well, Mum missed a few key things out – so once again, let me pick up after her.

Firstly, they are both nice people.

Secondly neither have been to New Zealand.  Which is just all kinds of wrong, but at least Niyazi has plans to come next year.  The Captain will have to get it sorted soon!

Neither had a favorite Port – which I just don’t believe – I think that is an example of grown up’s being slack because they can’t think of something.

The Captain is from Greece – kind of important information Mother! – so when he is in Athens he gets to go home and see his mum and brother.  His kids are seriously lucky!  They arrive on Monday for a whole month on board – I’m jealous!!!

They also told me that to become a Captain – you needed to be good at physics, math and chemistry and then you need to go to a special school and graduate that, get a job as a 2nd Officer and then work hard and do well to become a Captain.  So that just smashed my never existing dreams.

And to become a Hotel Director – you will need to go to a Hotel School and get a degree in Hotel Management.  So that’s not happening either.

Oh, and you will also need to be really good at English.  There are 150 countries which are involved in shipping and you MUST speak English.  I’m pretty happy to speak it already!

See – really interesting – right?  You cannot rely on my Mum for anything.  Good thing I am here to tell you what you really want to know!

 

 

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