Earlier this year we started a tradition of interviewing crew members aboard cruise ships, in an effort to help demystify the important work that cruise ship personnel perform and to spotlight the diverse voices in their ranks.
A few months ago in Behind the scenes with the crew of Celebrity Infinity, I interviewed the ship captain, hotel director, head of housekeeping, director of food and beverages, a waiter and a stateroom attendant.
In my cruise aboard Viking Star, which ended on Thanksgiving morning in Venice, I interviewed six more crew members, and we'll roll them out over the course of the next few weeks. (I'll also be reviewing the ship.)
In this series:
- Part 1: Q&A: Bar server Ivana Vujovic (below)
- Part 2: Q&A: Guest services manager Martha Hanley
- Part 3: Q&A with cruise director Aaron Syfert
- Part 4: Q&A with general manager Karl Eckl
- Part 5: Q&A with ship captain Atle Knutsen
- Part 6: Q&A with chief engineer Peter Nilsson
Q&A: Bar server Ivana Vujovic
What is your job? On land, we would call you a cocktail waitress.
I'm a bar waitress, a bar server. I'm from Serbia, and I was working in my country as a designer and photographer, and a singer as well. I was on "Serbian Idol" and I came in the top 10 in 2011. I am an artist. I was also seriously into martial arts. But I decided to take up a new challenge. I cannot stand in one place for long, so I tried out with Viking and I am here working. I am very happy with this.
Do you perform during the voyage?
Yes, I like to say that I am entertaining the guests, I like to be friendly with them. I like to have friends here and make them comfortable on our ship. First, being friendly and second the professionalism.
How did you wind up working for Viking?
I admit I had very little knowledge about working in a bar. I had an agent in Croatia who told me there may be an opening at Viking if you want to try. I didn't know about Viking but he said it's a very good company to work for, so I went in for an interview and I hit it off with the interviewer. Next I interviewed with the restaurant manager and HR manager, and even though I didn't know anything about working in restaurants, I said, "But I will learn, just let me, I want to try," and I’m now very, very happy to be a bar server. This is my second contract, and I really enjoy my job.
You've been with Viking Star from the beginning?
Yes, we opened the ship, I started the 28th of February 2015, so the ship was empty. We had trainings at the W Hotel in Italy to learn what is the Viking kind of service, how do we treat our guests? After that, we started the process of loading the ship while wearing coveralls and helmets.
What does loading refer to?
We put in the carpets and the pillows and furniture, and we did the set-up in all the bars, We learned about making and serving cocktails, and they prepared us so that we were quite educated before we came in front of the guests.
And you had time to do this because the ship didn’t launch until May, right?
We had the shake-down cruise in April. It was the first time in my life I got a headache and was seasick on a ship. But Richard Goodwin, the VP of Engineering at Viking, got me through the rough seas. And Madame Karine, daughter of the owner Torstein Hagen, she taught me to look at the horizon so you don’t feel as sick.
What is the best thing about your job?
I get to meet a lot of wonderful people from all around the world. And I have made very good friends on my team. I travel the world and together we go out and make great memories. Two of my fellow crew members fell in love and got engaged on Viking Star — that was exciting.
I do miss my family, I miss my country, but I am here for career advancement.
How do you interact with guests on a typical cruise?
It depends on the guest, if they are more open or closed. I like to know something about you, I want to know what you like. Because I am going to try to make every day special. I met one couple from Dallas on a Scandinavian cruise and they invited me to Texas. I have never been to the U.S. but I am for sure going there. I always cry at the end of the cruises. we all start to cry because it's over so fast!
Is there anything you wish passengers knew about you or your job?
Don't be shy. If you want something, let us know, we will do our best to give you that. If for some reason you feel disappointed with something, we will work to make it right and find a Plan B or Plan C. Never say no because you are never without an option. We really do want to make you happy — because of you we have a job, we have a good life, we can help the rest of our family, we travel the world.
Will you be moving to one of Viking Star's sister ships next year?
We open the next ship in February 2016. I wear a T-shirt, “I launch it," so I will probably move to open the new ship. I would be proud to the third one and fourth one. We will learn from Viking Star how to make the experience even better on Viking Sky and Sea.
Do you have a sense of how Viking’s ocean ships are different from her river ships?
Some guests prefer a river ship because they like to walk around cities right along the river, and they're fine with only one dining room and one bar, so it's all a matter of personal taste.
I listen to the guests a lot. I always ask what is your experience with other ships, and it seems that we are really the most elegant ship. Our crew is very helpful, we don’t push our guests to drink, we don’t push our guests to buy something, we just give people options with a smile and kind attitude. When I read the guest card comments, I am absolutely confident that 99% have a nice experience on board Viking Star.
Is it tough being away from home?
During my fifth month, I found out my mother had two heart attacks and she didn’t want to tell me. So I was really on the end of my nerves. One of my bosses arranged a two-month leave so I could be home with my family to help my mother. Management treats the crew like human beings.