Lessons on the high seas

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

One of my favorite classes when I was a student at the University of Tennessee was a speech class.
Yes, part of the allure was that it combined two of my favorite things: writing and talking. And not just “talking,” but speaking to a captive audience who had to pay attention because part of their grade depended on how carefully they listened to what I was saying so they could give a thoughtful critique.


Win, win!

But what I loved best about the class was that the young, graduate student instructor – a theater major – couldn’t stand the confines of the boring classroom in the high-rise Humanities building.

As soon as the halls were quiet, we would make our way outside to sit cross-legged in a circle in the grass with our young instructor in her tye-dyed T-shirt and hand-painted jeans leading the way. She would teach – telling us the importance of first crafting a well-written speech and then, for the coup-de-grâce, of presenting our thoughts with confidence and, most of all, flair.

When speech time came, we met at the Laurel Theater for coffee and speech presentations. From football players (there were a couple of senior Vols in the class) to me, a lowly freshman, we thrived in that class. The learning environment made all the difference.

That story is way too many words to tell you simply this: I am back in “school” for two weeks, and my learning environment is awesome. The beautiful Oasis of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s bigger ships, is taking me to the Western and Eastern Caribbean. The ship is filled with pools, hot tubs, restaurants serving everything from lobster to sushi to barbecue,

View from Oasis of the Seas of Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at Coco Cay

entertainment venues with live performances that range from country to rock to really bad karaoke to a Broadway-style production of “Cats.” You can play Bingo, gamble in the casino, surf on the Flowrider, play miniature golf or pickleball or go bowling. There is an Escape Room and two very scary looking water slides including one called “The Abyss.”

The Flowrider aboard Oasis of the Seas

And, an ice-skating rink where ice shows are presented at night and classes for travel agents are conducted during the day.

The first week we were at sea was more of an “independent study” week, as my official classes didn’t start until this week. I took that seriously and did some exploring on the ship, asked a lot of questions of staff and crew and got to know a little more about the Royal Caribbean way of cruising.

This week is more formal training, and I have already learned many tricks of the trade that should up my game as a travel advisor. The networking is great, too, as we compare notes, hash out problems and exchange ideas on what works and what doesn’t.

Truthfully, the venue does make the learning easier. The captain of the ship spoke to us today, telling us a little about himself and a lot about the state of the cruising industry from the Royal Caribbean point of view. The Covid pandemic changed many things for the cruising industry. The fact that they survived at all and are now on the road to recovery is a testament to how seriously many travelers take their love of cruising.

As an independent travel advisor, I am associated with a national organization called Cruise Brothers. Cruise Brothers will be 50 years old this year, and the grandson of the founder is with us to add his insight. Most of the presenters are on the CB staff, so our teachers know their stuff.

Like my speech teacher, they know how to embrace the venue and change the scenery when it needs to be. I didn’t attend the networking event today, but the format was intriguing: A Pub Crawl!

I think my speech teacher would have liked that. I know she would have applauded the presenter today who told us to work on our elevator speech so that we are always ready to tell a potential client all about cruising.

I’m working on mine. As a tribute to my UT training, I will try to present it with confidence and, most of all, flair.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at sghgotravel@outlook.com.

 

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