This is an account of how I became a bridge director on cruise ships and can now travel the world -- almost for free.
I was having lunch about 18 months ago in a local restaurant and ran into friends I hadn't seen in a while. Walking over to their table to say "Hello," I added, "Where have you been? I haven't seen you in ages."
"We're just back from a cruise on the new Queen Mary II."
" Wow! What an experience. How did you do that?"
"Danny was the Artist in Residence," my friend said, and added, knowing that I was a duplicate bridge player, "and they need Bridge Directors."
That's all it took. I was off in search of how to get my free cruise. (Disclaimer: I should add at the beginning that "free" is not entirely accurate. You have to get yourself to and from the port of embarkation and debarkation. And you must pay the Booking Agent a small fee. Still, the cruise is free, including gratuities. And, if you are a Bridge Director, you get a free cabin for two so you can take a guest.)
"You can't sign on with the cruise lines directly," my friend said. "You have to go through a booking agent."
OK, so where are the booking agents. Not too hard to find with a Google search. There were several listed, but the one I contacted was TOSEAWITHZ, a Florida based firm that books with several cruise lines, including Holland America, the one I -- or should I say, we -- eventually went on our first cruise with.
There were forms to fill out, of course, and I hit my first snag: in order to be a Bridge Director on cruise ships, you must be certified by the ACBL (American Contract Bridge League) as both a teacher and a director. Hmmmm! I had been playing bridge most of my life, and a couple of years before this I had re-entered the world of Duplicate Bridge and was becoming a decent player, accumulating points, going to tournaments, etc. But a Director! That was not on my radar screen.
So, I called another friend, who was a director, and invited her over for a cup of tea and a chat. I told her my story and asked for her guidance in becoming certified as a director by the ACBL. Turns out, ACBL was having a national tournament in Louisville, Kentucky (driving distance from my home) in a couple of months, and -- offering the Bridge Directors' Course.
My friend was interested in going, so I checked my available disposable income and signed up. She got the room, and off we went. (Here I'm skipping a gruelling five days of non-stop classes, from 9am until 10pm, and testing -- I can't remember when the last time was I took a multiple choice test.) Anyway, I passed and became duly certified as both an ACBL teacher and director.
For our first cruise, however, time was short and before I got certified, my friend said,"I'd like to do that, too." So we/she signed up with TOSEAWITHZ and we got our first cruise. I went as the guest.
September came and we flew to London where we were sailing from the new port at Tilbury on the Thames. We flew in a day early -- so as not to miss the sailing should the plane be delayed -- spent a relaxing night at a Hilton near the docks and presented ourselves at the embarkation line for the Prinsendam.
"Sorry," the person in charge said, "we don't seem to have you a room assignment."
The guy hauling our luggage, said with a smirk, "I thought that TOSEAWITHZ thing sounded fishy."
My friend and I looked at each other, undaunted. She sat with the luggage while I went to ask more questions. Turned out the taxi driver, who was an Afghani relocted to London and very chatty, had dropped us at the wrong entrance. Bridge Directors are designated "supplemental staff" and must check in with the crew. Whew!!!
Well, from there on, it was all a breeze, for me anyway, my friend had all the responsibility on this cruise. But I helped. I was the "step-and-fetch-it-girl." And I taught the lesson to the beginners. My class was composed of three Australian guys who had never played bridge before but wanted to learn. They hung on every word I said -- because they knew nothing.
We had a marvelous time. The meals were superb, though we chose not to eat in the formal dining room most of the time because single women were mostly seated with couples at a table for eight. We soon discovered that the men expected to do all the talking. So we reverted to the informal dining in the Lido Room on the top floor of the ship. Same food. Better conversation.
After dinner we went downstars and listened to the trio from Rumania or saw a movie in the theatre or attended one of the shows performed by the ship's entertainment staff.
We/she only worked three days, because there were only three days at sea. Lesson from 11am until noon. Bridge game from 2pm until 4pm in the Half Moon Room, which we unwillingly shared with the Mah Jongg players until they got relocated by the Entertainment Director.
Nights at sea and the days (all but three) spent exploring the small ports along the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian coast lines: Cherbourg, Alicante, Barcelona, Lisbon, and -- finally -- Civitavecchia, where we debarked and headed to Rome for three nights. But that's another story.
It was without flaw, for me, this time. And my friend did a marvelous job as the Bridge Director, so good, in fact, that the Assistant Entertainment Director asked if we would like to sail in two weeks on the cruise that went to the Black Sea. (Didn't work out, but it was a confirmation that we/she got good evaluations and would be invited back.)
In May, I'm going again, on the Prinsendam, crossing the Atlantic from Ft. Lauderdale, stopping in the Azores, Lisbon, and two small ports in France, before debarking at Tilbury on the Thames. We'll see how relaxing this cruise is because I will be "working" for six days at sea and another one or two in between ports. Bon Voyage!
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 29, 2015:
Would love to take a cruise, especially for free.
Facu on December 30, 2014:
I have lived in Tuscaloosa all my life. Ten years ago a tornado hit in the area where I live off 69 South, but that one does not coprame to the mass devastation of this one. Places that have been here since my childhood days are gone. Tuscaloosa will never look the same in these areas. I work at the hospital here and was off sick the day the tornado hit. If the tornado would have hit the hospital it would have been devastating. Thanks to all the people from all over that have come to our great state of Alabama to help out. You just don't know how much these means to the people of Tuscaloosa and the other areas of the state. God Bless each and every one of you. Thanks to President OBama for coming to our city and also a big thanks to Charlie Sheen also. Please continue to keep our great state in your prayers. Alabama the Beautiful will be Alabama the Beautiful again soon, thanks to all the volunteers.
Artie on December 29, 2014:
It was dark when I woke. This is a ray of sunehins.
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on February 27, 2014:
Oh, I didn't know To Sea with Z had closed. The only other booking agent I know of (but I haven't used) is called Sixth Star Entertainment. Web page: sixthstar.com.
pat on February 27, 2014:
What other agents are available for bridge as To See With z has closed its doors. I am familiar with Posh but looking for others.
Peter Geekie from Sittingbourne on June 30, 2013:
Thanks Sandra - I didn't see that one, but he has made, I think 93 episodes to date so I must seek that one out.
Kind regards Peter
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on June 30, 2013:
Thanks for your visit and your humor, reminds me of a Poirot episode where Hastings is having a clay pigeon shooting contest off a pleasure ship docked in Alexandria.
Peter Geekie from Sittingbourne on June 29, 2013:
Oh ! That sort of bridge.
I thought that my past short career in the Royal Navy would give me some sort of influence over the comings and goings on the ships "bridge"
Well, back to my normal sort of paid cruising.
I keep trying to influence them to try my new cruising sport - golf shooting which is a cross between golf and clay pigeon shooting. It's very simple the golfer tees off from the stern of the ship and I blow his ball out of the air with a shotgun. For some reason they don't think it's a good idea. Now what's this bridge all about.
Kind regards Peter
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on February 10, 2013:
Yes, the cabins for the "support staff" as bridge directors are called are all inside cabins, at least it was so with Holland America on the Prinsendam, maybe it's different on other cruise lines. Good luck! Keep me posted.
Karen Hellier from Georgia on February 10, 2013:
This is really exciting and the first time I have heard of anything like this. I spoke to my husband who was wondering if the cabins for people who are booked by TOSEAWITHZ are all inside cabins? I don't care because I love cruising, but if they are, I might have to find another cruising partner if I were to do this!
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on October 31, 2012:
Pinochle? What's that? Just joking. Afraid bridge is the only game they pay to have run.
Maude Keating from Tennessee on October 31, 2012:
I don't play Bridge well enough to teach it but I play a darn good game of double pinochle. Do they have that on cruise ships?
Voted up, this was a fun hub.
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on July 31, 2012:
Thanks for your visit. I'll check out your hubs, too.
Jenn-Anne on July 31, 2012:
Awesome hub! I love cruising but hardly ever get to go. What neat way to go about it! Voted up!
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on July 30, 2012:
Thanks, Nell, for your visit and your thoughtful comments.
Nell Rose from England on July 30, 2012:
Hi sandra, what a great way to get to see the world! I had heard of people working on cruises before, but never knew how they went about doing it, fascinating reading, if only I had a skill that they needed! lol! voted up and thanks for sharing, nell
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on May 02, 2012:
Oh, a fellow duplicate player. We are having a tournament in Tuscaloosa sometime soon -- I can't think of the date, but I'm sure you will get the announcement in Huntsville. Please identify yourself to me if you come. By the way, I'm off on another cruise May 12. Back by May 28. Thanks for your visit.
bill48 on May 01, 2012:
Thanks. Maybe I will see you at some bridge tournament. I am from Alabama, too (Huntsville).
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 11, 2012:
Hello, bill48, welcome to hubpages and thanks for visiting my hub on cruising as a bridge director. To answer your questions: 1) you get an inside cabin and can take a guest. 2) No you can't upgrade. Good luck hubbing.
bill48 on April 11, 2012:
Thanks for your interesting and exciting account of being a cruise ship bridge director. I am somewhat interested in doing the same. What kind of cabin did you get? Can you upgrade if you are willing to pay the difference?
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 10, 2012:
Your ability to speak 4 languages will make you a great catch for working on a cruise ship. Let me know what you find out. Thanks, again.
Escobana from Valencia on April 10, 2012:
You really got me going here! Gonna surf the web for any possible other interesting jobs to cruise for 'free' and live a fabulous life, even if it would be just for two weeks.
I speak 4 languages fluently and I guess I'm adventurous enough to just go. Even better...I don't have a fixed job so that gives me all the freedom too.
I love your fun-loving way of writing the entire story! Your attitude of getting rid of certain obstacles to get where you want, makes me wanna hug you:-)
Can't wait for your next Hub! Voted up, shared and away!
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 29, 2012:
Pilates director might work. On the cruise I was on Holland America had hired a man full time (he was "real" crew, not supplemental, like I was) to teach yoga, feng shui, meditation, etc. Good luck to her and thanks for stopping by. Sandra Busby
2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on March 29, 2012:
What an interesting Hub. Pat has a male friend who has been on cruises as bridge director. Neither of us has ever been on a cruise. Pat is a terrible sailor (we have both crossed the Channel more than once). Tricia has a small boat and is hoping to go on a cruise as the Pilates director (one day).
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 26, 2012:
Thanks, jacqui2011, I look forward to my May cruise and hope it provides many opportunities for hubs and photos. (If I'm not too busy directing the bridge games.)
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 26, 2012:
Oh, maybe you should check. They love couples because it saves them a guest room. Your wife might get on as an artist in residence and you might be a dance host. Cunard, and I think only Cunard, hires males to dance with the single ladies who regularly book on the Queen Mary. I don't know the agent's name, but you could Google it. Thanks for stopping by, Sandra Busby
jacqui2011 from Norfolk, UK on March 26, 2012:
Wow, what a great opportunity and a great experience this must have been. I haven't been on a cruise before, but would like to go one day. Looking forward to hearing all about your next trip. Voted up and interesting.
cornerkick99 from Magnolia, AR on March 25, 2012:
I like cards, but I don't know how to play bridge! Maybe I need to start spending some extra time in the Yahoo Games bridge room!
Great story, sandrabusby! What other "ways," if any, do cruise ships offer these advantages to "workers?" Although I don't play bridge, I do have other talents, just not sure if they are looking for them. My wife is also an art teacher and a fantastic crafter. Possibly her talents are sought by the cruise industry.
Looking forward to your next hub in June!
Sandra Busby (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 25, 2012:
Thanks, L.L., for stopping by to read my hub. Yes, I am excited to have such a neat way to see the world, and especially to see places I had given up on going to as a tourist. Stay tuned for more about this in June. Sandra Busby
L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on March 25, 2012:
What a neat way to see the world! Thanks for sharing this interesting adventure with us. I hope other people who are interested in cruises might be able to use their skills in the same manner as you did.
Voted up and SHARED.