Like other Cuba Cruise passengers, I started to recognize Danny early on. He is the onboard celebrity, otherwise known as the Cruise Director. Friendly, passionate, and hardworking, Danny has a knack for understanding and appreciating people, ending each of his presentations with “Life is Beautiful.” We sat down with Danny in the ship’s Eros lounge over cocktails and espresso to talk about the only ship he has called home.
What is your role here on Cuba Cruise?
At the moment, we have 35 people in the entertainment team. Starting from me, head of the entertainment department, we have assistants, animators, musicians, dancers, singers, special acts, and technicians. I am in charge of all of them, to create and coordinate the program onboard. I make sure dinner time does not conflict with the show time and special activities do not conflict with excursions and so on.
Can you tell me about the nightly shows?
There is a different show every evening. We are very lucky to work with very good professionals. The company is trying to offer as Cuban a product as possible to the guests so you have a local experience whenever you travel.
What we’re trying to do is not be like other companies: when you go to Cuba or you go to Greece and you listen to Elton John. We are trying to offer local experiences so when you visit Cuba, you can say you visited Cuba. You didn’t visit Cuba and see the Rolling Stones. When we visit Greece, we’ll have Greek food, Greek entertainment, and so on.
The first show in Havana is a Coco Circo Tropical circus show inspired by Havana’s cabaret life in the 50s, with Marilyn Monroe, Al Capone – this kind of stuff. Leaving from Havana, the Fiesta Latina has more commercial Latin music – whatever we, as foreigners, understand about Latin music. Coming from Maria la Gorda is the Captain’s gala night and the World of Musicals. Leaving Cienfuegos, we have a folkloric show called Azucar, showcasing Cuban traditional music like mambo and salsa. Then coming out of Montego Bay is a circus show, with a Canadian production company called Cirque Fantastic. It’s not like being in Cirque de Soleil, it’s more emotional here. You’re so close to the people on stage, you can touch them. Santiago de Cuba is the capital of the African-Cuban culture so we have an Afro-Cuban show here, showing their history and culture. It’s very nice. The last day, the day at sea, we have a show speaking about the Revolution. It’s more sentimental. It’s a love story about a Cuban guy and American girl who fall in love and get separated during the Revolution. You’ll have to see if they end up together.
How did you get into working on a cruise line?
I was working in a hotel in my town, a small town in southwest Romania. I was happy with what I was doing which was marketing. All of my colleagues were going outside the country for more money and I was trying my best to work on a contract with the company to develop myself and learn things. Then they told me I could go work on board a cruise ship and I didn’t want to go at first. I sent the papers and got the phone call. I was an animator at first and I loved the job. I got the chance to work with the Cruise Director who helped me develop. I learned and enjoyed the job and I stayed since then: March 2006, always on the same cruise line. When I’m happy in one place, I remain. I met my wife onboard and she is here. I never regretted one second coming to work here.
How long is your contract before you get time off?
It depends on the year and the assignments. The company calls me and I can say yes or no. This is my ship theoretically, but if they need me to go to another ship for a specific operation, I can go. But I am based here.
And you love it?
Oh yeah. It’s fantastic. Whenever you go on vacation, you have to have some expectations. When you come on a small ship, the advantages are not the shopping gallery. You come here to see Cuba. You come for the atmosphere on board and the possibility of meeting people.
What are some of the activities passengers can enjoy onboard?
There are two kinds of programs: One of them is the cultural exchange. We have two professors from the University of Havana – one history professor and one philosophy professor. Everyday, they organize lectures about Cuba. This program was made mostly for the People to People program [for US citizens] but it is open to everybody. It’s very, very interesting. The second program is a fun program with sports activities, zumba, gymnastics classes, fun and games.
The most important part of an entertainment program is the variety of entertainment you can offer because we all entertain ourselves in different ways. People come together to meet and socialize. We have a violist playing classical music, a band playing Latin and jazz, plus Cuban music and disco music…all sorts.
Of course, the variety of activities we can offer on a small ship is not as diverse as a mega ship. People on the ship are surprised that the activities are so personal. The towel folding demonstration is personal. I don’t stand up on a microphone and tell you how to do it. Here you can do, feel, touch and have a personal experience with the staff and passengers. It’s more sentimental.
You have some of the best staff I’ve ever met.
Because they are employed naturally friendly. You can be the best waiter but I may have to train you until you learn to say “good morning”. Here, I will find someone who says good morning and train them to become a waiter. When I go on vacation, I don’t want people to greet me like every other, I want them to say ‘Hi Danny, how are you?’ and mean it.
How long is the training for the staff?
It depends on the teams. For example, it took about three weeks for the dancers to learn the Cuban shows. You have hosts, animators, dancers, singers, musicians, all these people have different needs and different ways of training themselves. For example, the singer needs time to rest their voice.
How much of the staff is from Cuba?
While we are in Cuba, the dancers, singers, and bands are all Cuban. You can learn how to dance, but you won’t be the same as a Cuban person dancing. People will realize it. Authentic is the word for this cruise.
How many languages do you speak?
Wow. How did you learn?
Living everyday in an environment like this one, you learn, if you want to, of course. You have to have an open mind to learn. Talking to people and not being afraid of making mistakes. Whenever you don’t speak a language correctly until you reach the minimum level, people think it’s funny. When they realize you can communicate and speak their language, sometimes there is a positive-negative. Take advantage of being funny. And learn the good words first, not the bad ones like I did (laughs).
How long ago did you learn English?
In school. However in Romania, what I appreciate about our entertainment is that all the movies are played in the original voice and subtitled, they are not doubled. Due to the fact that you hear the language, it’s much easier to learn the language when you go to school. We studied English and French in school.
When I was sent on ships with the majority of Greeks, my first presentation was written on my hand. But the crew always has to speak English for safety reasons. It’s the minimum requirement. It’s respectful whenever you are in an environment where people only speak English that you do the same so they don’t feel excluded. Onboard it is compulsory to speak English for safety reasons.
A group comes up to us to say hi…
If you go on a mega ship, you are never going to meet the cruise director except on stage or if you have a problem. Here, people come up to me all the time. And it’s extremely nice and natural. I learn so much from speaking with people.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually do everything in the morning so when guests come on board I’m relaxed. Then whenever a guest wants to talk, I have time. At the beginning of a season, it’s harder. The days start at 6:00 am and finish at 1:00 am for about a month. In the beginning, you have to work a little bit more, but as the season progresses you recognize who your audience is and become more comfortable and have more time.
What do you like about Cuba?
The first time I went to Cuba outside the ship, I was with my wife at 1 am after our work was done. It was dark and there was one place selling ice cream by the Capitol. We sat on a bench and when we stood up to leave, we met this Cuban guy who gave us one glass of rum and was very friendly. He wanted to show me where to buy some more but I don’t really drink rum. I gave him five dollars and told him to buy a bottle of rum for his family, for Christmas in a few weeks. He was so grateful.
Around the same time I bought the staff chocolates and put them backstage, and I’ve never seen people more happy for chocolate. We get spoiled and we forget to be happy for normal things. And in Cuba, I believe it’s the only place in the world where people are happy for normal things, like chocolate.
Why should people experience this cruise?
You come to see the way of life and how this country is sustainable with minimal interventions from the outside. Not only do you go around Cuba and discover the different cities and the way of life, you enter in contact with people and people talk to you on the street.
If you think you go on this cruise to lay on the beach or go to the mall, you’re on the wrong cruise. You go on this cruise to discover a place that is still undiscovered.