Extended Biography – from when the traveling began
Cruise ships are where I’ve made my home for the past almost 14 years now, and is my favorite way to travel. But this wasn’t my first adventure working away from home.
If you’re interested to see what came before and how it came about, read on.
I grew up in a bonnie wee village by Dunfermline in Scotland and initially was bitten by the travel bug from family holidays around Europe and the UK.
I was studying a degree in Music Performance and had just completed the 2nd year (at the time to the point earning an HND in the UK, which is like an Associates Degree in the US) when I got a job offer I couldn’t resist in an exciting destination.
First time working abroad – Paris (2000)
This is when I took my first proper step into the start of my traveling life, by packing my suitcase and moving to Paris in France in 2000, by myself, aged 20, full of hope, dreams and an obsession with fairytales and songs – to work for Disneyland Paris. While this didn’t end up with me being the singing voice of the next Little Mermaid – as I’d fully expected – I did fall in love with Paris and loved spending time there, and turned my very average British High School level French into a working language that I could actually speak beyond the stereotypical verb drills and handling interactions at bread shops.
Realizing the travel bug had bit
Upon returning to Scotland, something felt lacking and it wasn’t long before I was planning my next foreign foray. After a late night post-vino conversation about how fun it would be to go to New Orleans in the USA to experience the city I’d been besotted with since reading my first Anne Rice book, the seeds of a backpacking trip around the USA began germinating. As soon as enough money had been earned to fund it – from me working three jobs and saving every penny for several months – the trip began in August 2001.
The one job worth mentioning that I’d had for four years was working as a Presenter and Education Officer at Deep Sea World Aquarium near Edinburgh. I truly loved this job spending time first hand with all manner of sea creatures, especially sharks – which are still my favorite – and educating people about them. While I was never going to become rich working there, I became wealthy in the knowledge I gained about sea life. This turned into a life-long passion, which has served me well whilst snorkeling and diving all over the world since. (Also I know what will bite or kill you and what just looks like it will!)
Backpacking in the USA (2001)
The start was Seattle, Washington, snaking all the way down the West Coast, across the South dipping into Mexico a little, and up the East coast reaching as far as Washington DC, five months after it began. 22 cities, copious dorm rooms, porridge, busking, too many Greyhound Bus rides, cheap cider, memorable and un-rememberable conversations with weird and wonderful fellow travelers, a hospital trip, many accents and many good stories earned later, I headed home.
After a very brief, misguided jaunt working in Cyrus, I worked in Scotland as host, DJ, and karaoke compere, as well as some rather dull (but mostly decently paid) temp work; I then set my sights on Spain.
Viva Espana (2003-2005)
I moved to Mojacar in the Costa de Almeria in stunning Andalucía to get away from the cold weather, and to enjoy tapas, learn the language, become obsessed with all things Flamenco, and be the Entertainment Manager for a hotel complex.
I adored Spain, the region and the charming pueblo of Mojacar so at the end of a wonderful and hard working season, I arranged to come back the following spring. The second time around I started singing in various hotels and bars in the area until a large Irish entertainment bar complete with river dancing bar staff, scooped me up full time. After another successful season, and much improved Spanish (including me using my language skills to help many ex-pats buy houses, go to the doctor, make food and drinks orders for their bars etc.), I returned to the UK for the winter.
The following summer I did a short stint filling in with a 50s & 60s girl group in Malaga. We were called The Silhouettes and performed in various hotels as the guest act Supremes-esque singing and backing dancing as well as being backing singer/dancers for the area’s pre-eminent Elvis tribute act.
#Shiplife beckoned – Royal Caribbean (2005-2007)
This is when cruise ships appeared on my radar. A golfing buddy of my dad’s worked as a Security Officer on a ship and so I heard stories about what is was like working on cruise ships, so when I saw an ad looking for “Cruise Director’s Staff – all round entertainers who can host, sing, dance and compere” I jumped at it.
I spent just over the next year working as a Cruise Director’s staff for Royal Caribbean before being asked to spearhead the new position of International Host. This was a similar role but designing specialist entertainment programs for specific demographics, which for me were the British and Spanish guests. My program was taken and used fleet wide (and I think still is), trained new people in the role, and was cherry-picked to do a take out for a ship to Asia. After two contracts of this I decided to go to land.
Mambo Italiano (2008)
The travel bug wasn’t gone. I had toyed with the idea of becoming a TEFL Teacher for a while, so did an intensive course in it, and after graduating I applied to teach English in Italy. I applied for, and was offered four jobs in different areas of Italy. The one I accepted was based on a good feeling about the owner of the school, Emma, in the British Centre in north Naples.
Naples is a tough lady, and at first I didn’t think we were going to get along. However, as is the custom of Neapolitan hospitality, if you have a way in – which I did working for an Italian school – meant I was soon welcomed as part of the family. This was made evident when ‘nonna’ who lived downstairs introduced me to the whole small town as her ‘new granddaughter’, along with me having multiple Sunday lunch invitations every week from Emma or the other teachers.
If a Neapolitan likes you, you will never go hungry again. It was troppo buono! After the school year ended, I was offered a summer school job and position for the next school year, but I was missing the variety of travel on cruise ships.
Back to sea – P & O (2008-2009)
I saw an advertisement looking for a “Cruise Director who sings”.
Ta da! That’s me.
Instead of returning to Naples – which will always be a part of my heart, and BMI – I headed out to sea again on cruise ferries working for P & O as Cruise Director on their four North Sea ships going from Hull in England to Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Zeebrugge in Belgium.
I loved having my own department, planning the events and having my own team, singing, hosting, leading, they even put me through a management course at Hull University.
However, after almost a year, I wanted to get back on the big ships, and pursue the role of Cruise Director where I could go to many more ports and have a larger team and more responsibility.
Moving on to Princess (2009-2011)
I applied for, and was offered, four jobs as Assistant Cruise Director, and went with Princess Cruises due to a good feeling.
I worked in this role for the next two years; loving the work hard, play hard role, got to travel to many more ports and made many more good friends.
I was offered a promotion but after spending many evenings singing with the piano bar entertainer, I opted to do an about-face, and created my own band.
Time to sing (2011-2013)
I managed and sang in the band for the next two years, working on several cruise lines, being the party band, ballroom band, jazz band and lounge band; whatever my agent booked us for.
I loved managing it, planning repertoires, sets and events, but didn’t love the herding cats nature of being responsible for keeping four or five individuals together on a floating village for months at a time finding people that were not only good musicians, but good crew members (it isn’t as easy as it sounds), and sometimes felt like I was everyone’s mummy.
A new opportunity knocked – Holland America Line (2013-2018)
I was then asked to do an emergency fill in for Holland America as the Show band vocalist (HAL Cats), during my time off.
It was only 3 weeks, so I thought, why not?
The first time I did this I didn’t really know my posterior from my elbow so it were, but I worked hard to learn, and I liked the set up of it, being a cog in the show band wheel. This first stint was in between other contracts with my band.
A year later after the other contracts were fulfilled, I was asked to come back. The second time around I was more prepared and enjoyed it a lot more. I got along so well with my Band Leader that she asked me to come to her next ship with her. I did this and moved over to the role full time.
I took six months out of ships at the end of 2014 to return to my studies and gain a BA in Music Performance finishing up the music degree I began over a decade before. I studied distance learning and attempted this from the ship for the first few months, but a lack of consistent reliable Internet, and the course being more demanding than I had bargained for meant it needed full time attention.
On my first contract back after my educational sabbatical, I met a handsome, silly, talented pianist, who ended up being the love of my life. Nick and I started dating in August 2015 and soon realized this was the real deal. He proposed in January 2017 and we got married in the August onboard the M/s Maasdam. (You can read our story if you’re interested).
I stayed in the role of show band singer very happily on contracts with Nick until the job ended in summer 2018. The position was eliminated after being gradually faded out over the previous two years due to changes to the entertainment line up. I loved this job singing, hosting, planning theme nights, the ports, people, and ship life of it all.
Writing and sailing 2018
I’d started the seeds of this website and whole project while in the role of singer, as I wanted to share my knowledge of ports with crew and guests. From the start of 2018 I began learning about how to build a travel website and working on my writing with the help of Nomadic Matt’s Media School Superstar Blogging and Travel Writer courses, launching this site in April.
When my singing role ended at the end of May, I sailed with Nick as spouse onboard until July working on my travel writing full time. Along with working on the courses on writing and website building, I spent this time creating written and video content for this site. I was getting some freelance writing commissions for a couple of online publications, and was delighted when I was offered a place as an Editorial Intern for National Geographic Traveler in London for the month of August.
At NGT I learned a huge amount about writing and the industry, and was daunted by, in awe of, and inspired by, the skills of their writers. I managed to get assigned to write pieces for their in-print and online publication as well as with some of their affiliate publications, which has happily turned into some ongoing freelance work too. You can read these – and all the pieces I’ve had published so far in my Published Pieces section.
I also learned that while I loved the writing aspect of the work and knew that their caliber is where my writing goals lie, I don’t want to work full-time in a staff job in an office (at the moment anyway). I also learned that it would be extremely difficult to make ends meet from freelance travel writing alone.
So after looking into a couple of other roles onboard to keep working at sea, and finding out it would be near impossible to line up contracts on the same ship with my husband with us working for different schedulers, in October we applied for an interesting role that would keep us as a team – Future Cruise Consultants for Holland America.
I sailed as wife onboard with Nick from September until the end of November, and was lucky enough to visit bucket-list big hitters Machu Picchu, Easter Island and Bora Bora.
We found out in December that the company was interested in us for the position of Future Cruise Consultant, but due to the role being in demand and having a very low turnover of staff, that there was unlikely to be any openings for a year.
Tour guiding and writing 2019
From December 2018-April 2019 I was a landlubber.
After realizing that travel writing would only work part-time, I trained to be a tour guide in Edinburgh. I gave guided tours of the historic city as my “main” job while on land, while still doing freelance assignments.
While it was nice to spend time in my own home and city, I missed ships, the travel and ship life. Four months straight on land was the longest I’d spent since returning to study at the end of 2014, and by the end of it I had very itchy feet.
Nick still had musician contracts lined up so I sailed with him again from April until the end of May, and I tour guided when home in Scotland.
Near the end of June we got the email we’d been waiting for.
It was an invitation us to go to Seattle to train for the position of Future Cruise Consultants. This went well and before we left, we were offered our first contract in the new role, which will begin in November.
Nick had one more contract lined up as a musician, and that’s where we are now. I’m sailing with him one last time as spouse onboard before I return to be a regular crewmember and we start the new adventure together.
See the full list of cruise lines and ships I’ve worked on in which roles here.
Until the new role begins, I’ll be spending my time learning info on the ports we visit and filming them, working on this site, freelance writing work and preparing for the new job.
If you’ve read all the way to here, thank you!
I will be striving to add as much new content as I can while I have more time at the moment.
If you haven’t done so already, check out the site, and as always,
Cruise Ship Karen