01 Dec Life After Ships: Interview with Associate VP of Operations for Onboard Media – Vikki Knudsen
While she’s definitely passionate about travel today, Seattle native Vikki Knudsen wasn’t always a jetsetter. When she accepted a job onboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship during the late ‘80s it was her first time at sea. She loved it so much she stayed on ships until 1997.
As associate vice president of operations for Onboard Media, a company based in Miami Beach, Florida, that provides customized media to cruise ships, it’s not uncommon for her to be in Alaska and the Caribbean within the same month. “Who knows where it will be next?” says Knudsen. “Quite honestly, I didn’t even know I loved travel back then. I didn’t have a passport when this opportunity came along. I had to quickly get one.” Knudsen has also held management positions for Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.
What were your initial career aspirations?
My initial career aspiration was to be a professional dancer. In the late 80s, I was auditioning all over the place. I just happened to go to a dance audition for a dance part on a cruise ship. I had never been on a cruise ship. I’d watched the Love Boat but that was about it. I was 22 years old and really hadn’t had much professional experience prior to that.
What was your professional experience prior to joining cruise ships?
I really didn’t have any other than restaurant experience. I was a hostess at a family restaurant for a couple of years and worked at a burger joint.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the cruise industry?
I did a year onboard as a dancer in the shows. Then, the company I was working for lost the contract with Royal Caribbean. However, my roommate was dating the shore excursion manager. He had arranged for her to become cruise staff with him onboard Sovereign of the Seas, the brand-new Royal Caribbean ship in 1999. I told her I’d like to do that too. A month or two after I went home the cruise director called me from the ship and said I’d been recommended. Back in those days, the cruise staff were entertainers as well. During the day you would staff bingo or other activities and two nights during the week you would dance in a show. There was more to it than dancing. I really liked the cruise aspect. I could have continued working for the dance company I was working for but I decided to stay with cruise ships.
What position(s) did you hold while working onboard cruise ships?
I worked onboard for nine years. I did a year as a dancer in the revue show and two years as activities staff. Then I did six years as a shore excursion manager. I sold the land tours. It was a little more of a step up, a sales position, and more money. In my mind it was more of a real job.
What did you enjoy most about working onboard cruise ships?
You worked very hard for a set period of time (four to six months) and then you had an extended period of time off (four to six weeks) to travel or do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do. When you were off you were really off. It wasn’t like taking a vacation in today’s world where you had to check your email or call in. You saved your money because you didn’t have any expenses. Some of my best friends are friends I made on cruise ships. You get really close to people because you live together.
What did you find most challenging about working onboard?
You get your mind set that you are going to a specific ship, or on a specific ship with a specific itinerary, and they would change the schedule. Maybe you were dating somebody on that ship and now you’re not going to be together. It was a challenge to be open and flexible. You’re typically not home for holidays, although my family got used to it. Back then there was no internet. There were no cell phones.
What is one of your favorite memories working onboard?
What I enjoyed most was performing – the entire ship was your ‘stage.’ The guests would get to know you personally because you were teaching them an aerobics class or hosting bingo.
What skills did you develop while working on ships that lead you to where you are today?
I learned how to sell shore excursions which led to a lucrative sales job with Royal Caribbean International. A big piece of that is learning to develop relationships with different cultures and different types of people. There are not a lot of jobs that afford you that kind of opportunity. The ships would boast that there were 52 nationalities onboard. In sales you have to understand relationship building. Back then, the clientele was mainly North Americans. Nowadays that’s different. On Royal Caribbean International 45 percent of the guests are non-U.S. They have truly become a global company, marketing their product world-wide.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in the cruise industry?
Some people think it’s just traveling and fun. Research what you want to do. Some positions are less hours. Some positions pay a lot and some positions don’t. Once you’ve made a decision on what position fits you the best, research the best method to get noticed. Who can you talk to? Rather than just submitting a resume on a cruise-line website, take it to the next level. There are more cruise-ship jobs now because there are more ships but it’s also more of a well-known position than it was years ago. Enough people have cruised now that they know it’s a valid job.
As Associate Vice President of Operations for Onboard Media what would you consider the most fascinating aspect of your current role?
One day I’m working on a project with the onboard boutiques. Tomorrow I might be working on a video project that’s going to highlight what there is to see and do in Jamaica. It all encompasses the knowledge I have from working in the industry for 26 years.