As cruise journalists, we cover up to ten cruise ships every year, seeing the world and making lots of new friends along the way. Invariably, whenever others learn that our business is reviewing cruise lines, they are amazed and often envious. But, of course, they are viewing what we do through the eyes of a cruise traveler, not a cruise journalist. To an outsider, our life seems to be a series of champagne toasts (like the one to the right). And, after all, who wouldn't want to cruise for a living? Right? Believe it or not, running a travel blog and website is a lot more work than you might think.
A typical media assignment can last anywhere from seven to fifteen days, depending on the destination and the size of the ship we are covering. Longer cruises give us more time to accurately cover a ship and crew. Often, journalists or bloggers will write reviews of cruise ships based on a two-day "preview" cruise of a new ship with mostly media and travel agents on board. We have learned over the years that there is no way we can accurately cover a cruise ship, not even a small ship, in only two days.
Our coverage is also unique in that Rickee and I are both journalists. We feel that having a male and female perspective adds value to the end product.
Many of you have emailed us over the years asking, "What is it like to be a cruise journalist?" In response, I have put together a typical "day in the life" to satisfy any curiosity. Please remember, this is a typical day for us and may not be typical of all cruise journalists/bloggers.
5:00am - Wake up, look for a place to have coffee and access to WiFi
My days begin very early as I am typically up by 5:00am. On larger ships, there is usually a 24-hour coffee/hot water/tea station in the Lido buffet. But, not always. I try to find an "early-riser" area where I can at least get hot water. I always travel with my own coffee and French press, so all I really need is hot water. On Silversea, I am able to call room service and have a pot of hot water delivered to Panorama Lounge, where I like to work. On Viking Cruises' ships, 24-hour coffee/tea/hot water is available.
Rickee likes to sleep past 5am, so the early mornings are all mine. I travel with my MacBook Pro and use it to update our blog and social media.
5:30am to 7:00am - Photo editing and preparation
It takes about an hour-and-a-half to go through the 200+ photos we shoot each day. We have three cameras that we use to capture images of the ship, the crew, the entertainment, destination shots (when in port). For every 100 photos shot, we get about four that we feel are good enough to use in our daily cruise blog. The photos have to be cropped, re-sized, adjusted for exposure and color, etc., then exported for use in the blog.
This photo came from the much larger original photo below. The image was cropped to "zoom in" on Brian. Color and light levels had to be adjusted and I blurred Justin's jacket in the background. Making the adjustments to a photo like this can take 10 to 15 minutes to get the desired look.
The photo below of Alexis is another example of how much editing it can take to get a photo to look the way we want for our blog. Stage lighting can cause some really ugly colors in photographs. And, to increase the drama of the photo, I like to focus on the performer with as little in the background as possible. On the photo below, I did some cropping, cloned out some of the background images (sorry, Katrina!) to put Alexis alone against a black background. I worked on this photo for 15 minutes to get it the way I wanted it.
Notice in the photo below how Alexis' skin looks more flesh-toned and less "blue" than in the photo above. I was unable to get a perfect flesh tone with tools I travel with, and my skill level. But, it is an improvement over the original, and much more like what the human eye actually sees.
The last example shows Alexandra and Katrina singing a duet. First, I had to select what I felt was the best photo from the selection below:
Once I had selected the photo, I wanted to remove as much distraction from the background as possible to focus on the performers. I used some cloning tools to do that, then adjusted the lighting and color to enhance the ladies' appearance.
With some cropping, cloning and color correction, I was able to get the photo below.
7:00am to 8:30am - Write the blog
Now it is time to summarize the previous day's activities. This requires access to the ship's WiFi. If we are in port, we may be able to use a portable WiFi hotspot that we take with us when we travel to get better connection performance. As you may be aware, the ship's WiFi can be incredibly slow and unreliable at times. The process of writing and posting the daily blog can easily take 1.5 to 2 hours per day.
8:30am to 9:30am - Proofread and Edit
Before we can post the blog, Rickee has to proofread my writing. She is wonderful at spelling and grammar, not two of my strengths. She goes over every word and sentence with a fine-toothed comb before she will allow me to release anything to the world.
9:30am to 10:30am - Social Media
Next, it's time to update all of our social media accounts. We usually post photos from the previous day and include links to our blog post. We update Twitter, Facebook and Instagramwhen the ship's WiFi will allow it. We use social media to quickly communicate with our followers and to provide links to our daily blog entries and cruise reviews.
If we have an early morning shore excursion planned, the social media stuff may not get done until the afternoon.
9:30am till Noon - Morning Activities
Now it is time to begin gathering content for the next day's blog entry. We may go on a shore excursion, or, go ashore on our own. On sea days we may take in a lecture or a cooking demo. All the while, we are always shooting photos, video and taking notes. Everything we do during the day is with the blog in mind. We try to experience the cruise from a typical guest perspective, except that we have to document everything. Rickee takes copious notes while I shoot most of the photos and video. However, Rickee has her own camera to shoot photos, too.
Noon to 1:00pm - Lunch
On most days, we skip breakfast. However, we always have lunch together. We are mindful to try to have lunch in as many venues as possible so that we can write about them in our blog, and in our final review. As you might imagine, we always have our cameras with us to shoot interesting photos of food, a helpful wait person, or the restaurant.
1:00pm until 5:30 pm - Afternoon Activities
What we do depends on what is going on around the ship. If we are in port, we may do more exploring and photo shooting shoreside. If we are anchored, and tendering, I always try to get a seat in the tender where I can get some decent shots of the exterior of the ship. This is one of the most difficult tasks. Occasionally, a cruise line will arrange for a tender to take me around the ship so I can get good photos, but that usually is only an option on smaller vessels. Getting a good photo of the ship is dependent on weather conditions, sea conditions and the time of day (to get the correct lighting). It is not as easy as you might think, and nearly impossible on a tender full of other guests.
Shots like the one above can usually only be taken when everyone is either off the ship, or in bed asleep. The best interior photos are actually taken late at night or early in the morning to prevent harsh backlight coming through the windows.
5:30pm to 6:30pm - Cocktails!
This is really the only time of the day that we try to have to ourselves and are not too concerned about photos, video and note taking. We will find a lounge that we like and enjoy our favorite drink. I typically will have a Crown Royal, neat, and Rickee a glass of champagne. If there are tapas available, we often will have those as our evening meal and skip dinner altogether. However, we have to have dinner at least once in every venue (if possible) so that we can write about it. Even at cocktail hour, we have our cameras at the ready in case there is something interesting to capture.
6:30pm to 8:00pm - Dinner
On longer cruises, we will skip dinner some evenings. However, we feel we have to cover every dining venue at least once so that we can write about the experience. This can be difficult to do on large ships that now have several restaurants, especially if we only have seven nights on board. This is also one of the reasons we shy away from 2-night media cruises that cruise lines offer when a new ship is launched. There is no way we can give an honest, in-depth analysis of a modern cruise ship after only two days.
By now, you probably would expect that we have a camera with us at dinner. I often get looks from fellow cruise diners when they see me re-positioning my dish so I can get a good photo. Food is another subject that is very difficult to photograph, especially in a dark, romantically-lit dining room. The contrast between a bright white plate and dark food is a challenge for any photographer. We have special lenses we can use for low-light situations but, even so, sometimes I have to use a small tabletop tripod to get the shot I want. This can involve carrying a fair amount of gear into the dining room.
And of course, we have to go through the same editing process for food photos. I shot the photo below from a plate of sushi at World Cafe on Viking Sea.
After some work, I ended up with a much more "palatable" photo below:
8:00pm until 11:00pm - Entertainment
If there is a production show, we will try to get a good seat close to the front. Why? You guessed it. PHOTOS! Again, we may have to use a special lens to get a good shot of the performance. We will often shoot 100+ photos of a show just to get one good one that we can use. Again, low-light and fast motion (like a dance routine) make for difficult photography.
As you can see in the photo below, Petr moves too fast for my camera/lens to capture the motion without a blur. I throw away hundreds of photos like this every week.
11:00pm to Midnight - Photo/Video dump
Back in our stateroom, I copy all photos from our cameras to my laptop so that they will be ready for editing the following morning. I have to make sure all of the batteries are in the chargers overnight and that all of the memory cards have been re-formatted for the next day's use.
Midnight - Sleep
The day is over and it is time to get some sleep before getting up in five hours and starting all over again!
When The Cruise Ends, The Real Work Begins
As soon as we disembark the cruise, we begin work on our final review of the ship, crew and destination. Our reviews have a reputation of being the most comprehensive in the industry. In a world where most journalists limit themselves to 140 characters, we still deliver to our followers an in-depth, thorough review of every aspect of the ship. CruiseReport.com editorial reviews continue to enjoy strong readership years after they are initially published.
In addition to our cruise review, we often will edit a short video of the cruise for our YouTube channel. I also write and maintain all of the proprietary code that runs our website and blog. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it has been a very rewarding endeavor. We have made a lot of new friends all around the world and had the opportunity to visit places we never dreamed we would visit.