01 Feb Life after ships: interview with radio host – Brenda Savelli
Brenda Savelli, a radio host in Erie, Pennsylvania, recently returned to her hometown after spending nearly a decade aboard a Royal Caribbean ship followed by living in the fast-paced city of Miami for many years. In love with the small-town atmosphere she recently reconnected with, she credits her time on ships as fostering her love for acting as a social butterfly.
While teaching tap dance in Ohio, a couple in one of her classes had recently returned from a cruise and let her know that there might be teaching opportunities onboard. “I always wanted to take a cruise but I never thought about being paid to be on a cruise,” says Savelli. “I was clueless about what to do. I had never been on a plane.”
During the years Savelli spent working on cruise ships she spread her wings by filling roles as cruise staff, social hostess and production manager. All of these experiences prepared her for the next chapter in her career, as a radio host with a bubbly personality. Today she is a co-host for a morning show in Erie, broadcast on Classy 100 or WXKZ 99.9 FM.
What were your initial career aspirations?
I always thought I would be a teacher. My mom was a teacher. I taught dance, acrobatics and aerobics and loved it. That is what I was doing at the time, for nine years before I joined the ship in 1992 at the age of 26. Some people go right out of college.
What was your professional experience prior to joining cruise ships?
I taught dance in high school and kept doing it after graduation at a studio east of Cleveland. I literally taught dance or fitness during the day and waitressed third-shift at night.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the cruise industry?
You have all kinds of experiences you don’t have in your little town and meet people you never would have met. I loved the social interaction, the travel opportunities and the ability to let my family experience it as well. As a crew member, you could sometimes have family come onboard for a lesser fee. I would pay for their vacations. I felt guilty that I was experiencing things they had never experienced. I couldn’t wait to show them there’s more than their backyard.
What position(s) did you hold while working onboard ships?
As cruise staff, our job was to chit-chat with guests – and we were chatty people anyway. I’d come up to you in the pool and ask how your day was and ask what book you were reading. Because I had a dance/exercise background, I taught some of the line-dance classes and the morning-stretch classes. They had a program at the time called the “Ship Shape” Program. For every 10 Ship Shape dollars you collected for attending a class you could trade them for a souvenir.
Then I became a social hostess. I taught a class in napkin folding. As production manager I was in charge of the theater and working with entertainers. It seemed like a natural fit to move into.
What did you enjoy most about working onboard cruise ships?
People on vacation are, for the most part, happy and if they’re not happy you can usually find a way to make them happy. I loved meeting people from all over, with neat accents and expressions and different ways of doing things. Being from a smaller region, and that we didn’t go on family vacations, I pretty much only knew my backyard. This was opening up a whole new world. They’re life experiences you would never have had – and you are getting paid to do them. Playing volleyball with guests in the Caribbean was our job!
What did you find most challenging about working onboard?
You’re not on vacation. It’s long hours. You really have to be disciplined. If you’re a party animal you’re going to have to curb that because you have to get up early. You don’t have your family and your support system. The very thing you love about meeting people from all over with different personalities can also be a challenge because different personalities don’t always see eye to eye. You have to keep a big-picture perspective. You’re going to see these people at dinner.
What is one of your favorite memories working onboard?
I was really blessed with a good first-year roommate. We laughed until our faces turned red. We were like-minded and always respectful of each other’s space. We both had the same work ethic. You’re in very close quarters. Your room is very small and it’s sometimes bunkbeds. You’re truly at times tripping over each other!
What skills did you develop in your cruise line jobs that lead you to where you are today?
Despite the long work hours you have to be out there with a smile and develop a good work ethic. Your customer-service skills become great. Because of the weather changes, that things are always changing and you’re working with people from different cultures, you learn to be adaptable.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in the cruise industry?
What sets you apart? Do you speak a language? Is it only okay? Then work on the skills to become more fluent. Start volunteering at the local YMCA or YWCA so you can teach more classes or work bingo at the local senior center. Don’t think that just because you’re in a beautiful place it shouldn’t be something you don’t take seriously. Once you get on the cruise ship, make the most of it. Put your best foot forward. My mom told me when I left to keep a journal. When you’re experiencing everything you think you’ll never forget it but you’d be amazed at the things that you forget.
As co-host for a morning radio show, what would you consider the most fascinating aspect of your current role?
We go out on live broadcasts and get to meet many of the people we interact with through contests. The crazy hours that you once endured on cruise ships come in handy. Right now I get up at 1 o’clock in the morning. I work from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m.