…Neil arrived in Anchorage. After a night in a hotel there, along with other Princess employees about to join Coral Princess--many like Neil on their first contract—they boarded a shuttle bus to the pier. “What were your thoughts as you were on your way to board the Coral Princess? Were you anxious about seasickness?” I inquired.
“I was excited. I didn’t have any anxiety about seasickness or anything. I hadn’t thought about it because I didn’t have a clue about what I was getting myself into. I was looking forward to it. Just amazed at the size of that ship as you came around the corner and saw it for the first time, docked against the backdrop of the mountains.”
Neil really didn’t have a clue of what to expect or what was going on. He told me an anecdote about a person who as they were getting off the bus noticed Neil’s shirt, which was the jersey of the Everton Football Club in Liverpool. The individual introduced himself to Neil; he was also English and told Neil that the Everton Football Club was his favorite team. Later Neil found out that this guy was close to the most important person on the ship. But that day on the bus Neil told me, “I didn’t have a clue.”
Neil asked him what he did on the ship, and he told Neil that he was the cruise director. Neil said, “So what does that mean?” The cruise director laughed, and it was the beginning of a bit of a kinship. The cruise director would have the Everton matches sent to him every weekend and when he was done, Neil would go and collect the tapes from him….
While much of what Neil experienced early on seemed to whiz by because of the pressures of his work schedule and trying to get up to speed in terms of being a videographer for Princess Cruises, that doesn’t mean Neil was not enjoying his new job. Neil said, “A few days after boarding Coral Princess, I thought to myself ‘this is what college would have been like had I gone away to school.’ And it was obvious what things were going to be like right from the start. You know you’re joining a good ship when everyone in your new department is hungover as shit the first time you meet them because there’s just been a big party the night before for the person you’re replacing!”
Of the dozens of cruisers that I have interviewed for The Joy of Cruising, Cruising Interrupted and The Joy of Cruising Again! most of them listed a Panama Canal cruise as among their most memorable past cruises, on their bucket list for future cruises, or both. On his first contract, Neil was able to cross the Panama Canal every 12 days for the season that Coral Princess repositioned from Alaska. While visiting the same ports every week or so and filming passengers doing the same things on the same excursions over and over could become repetitive for Neil, the Panama stop was different. With all Coral Princess’ destinations and excursions, Neil lamented that he could not video documentary-style focusing on the location—particularly the sheer technical magnificence of the locks system at the Panama Canal. But the videography department’s reason for being was to get passengers to order videos, and the key to making that happen was for them to see themselves in them. So that meant not only shooting the ship traversing the locks but importantly capturing the passengers waving from the balconies and decks. Nevertheless, Neil didn’t mind the routine of the semi-weekly visit to the Panama Canal, although he learned on his first time filming the Coral Princess traversing the locks, that preparing for the long day ahead was akin to some James Bond role-playing:
After just about waking up (sobering up) we had to climb down a rope ladder and jump onto the pilot boat that would take us ashore while the ship went through the locks. This was seriously some action movie shit; you had to pass all your equipment and make sure your life jacket was secure. It’s still crazy to think that I had to jump from a moving cruise ship onto another smaller boat after about three hours of sleep while it was still night outside; in your twenties, you do not question any of it and you jump when they tell you! Once on land, a jeep was waiting to take us to the locks where we would film the ship going through; from an artistic point it would have been great to focus on the mechanical and technical aspects of the ships transit; however, the main reason for us being ashore was to take pictures of the guests waving at us from their balconies onboard. —Cruise Ship Diaries
…after experiencing that every couple of weeks, Neil and the photographer who accompanied him on the shoot decided to shake things up a little bit. Their driver/bodyguard (yes, he was armed) would normally take them to the Melia Hotel for a few hours and then he was supposed to take them to the second set of locks and drop Neil and his assistant at the terminal for the rest of the afternoon to wait for the Coral Princess to come in.
Instead of taking us to the locks, our driver took us to a tiny industrial area where this tinker toy-looking death trap was waiting for me and Christian, our assistant manager. At this point, I'd never even been in a helicopter before let alone tried to operate a camera in one! I was also slightly unnerved by the fact that our pilot didn't seem to speak any English and myself and Christian didn't speak any Spanish. Of course, these are trivial concerns when you realize the helicopter has no doors! Yes, admittedly great for filming but also THERE WERE NO DOORS! And one tiny seat belt that went around our waists. With the adrenaline fully flowing the pilot then decided to take us over Panama City on the way back to the airfield which gave us some amazing shots of the city’s skyline. —Cruise Ship Diaries
...the photography department had appealed for funds to film the Coral traversing the locks from the sky, that is, allow them to do a helicopter shoot of the canal. The idea was to package and sell the helicopter footage as extra cost additional content—passengers are going to buy a video of their ship going through. Princess had funded the expense of a helicopter in the past but on a sporadic basis. Neil got his opportunity to lead the shoot on his first contract, and it was a success. I asked Neil if he had any lasting impressions. “The photography department realized a surge in Reflections video revenues on that sailing; and oh yeah, THERE WERE NO DOORS!”
Read the complete Cruise Ship Diaries in the section, Ship Life, in The Joy of Cruising Again, available now!