Saturday, September 14, 2013

The "Family Cruise"

Most of what we do as gondoliers here in the US involves romance,
and here in my Newport Beach location about 80 to 85% of our cruises
are for just two people. Of the remaining 15 to 20%, we get double dates,
and of course families.

The dynamics are very different when you've got a group on the gondola.
Typically you've got a heavier boat, with people who want to interact more.
Sometimes they want more of a tour guide on the back of the boat.
More emphasis is often placed on "seeing things", versus just having a nice relaxing cruise.

And then there are the little ones.
If ever there were such thing as a true "element of chaos" in the gondola world, it's children on a boat.

If you've got kids in your boat,
          expect it to rock,
                    and at unexpected times.

So how do you survive, and even shine as a gondolier with families aboard? 
Here are a few ideas:

Break out the lifejackets
No, I'm not saying that you should inspire widespread panic among your passengers, but talking about safety in a routine way can send a message to everyone that there are good reasons to not act without thinking.
Showing the lifejackets helps.

I like to ask the parents if their kids will need lifejackets.
Nine times out of ten they say no, but I almost always see it register in their eyes.  Next thing you know, they're telling their kids that they'll need to sit still and not crawl all over the boat.

Now and then a parent does take me up on the life jackets.
In those cases, it's one of two things:
1. the kids really are wild and crazy
2. the parents are much more control or worry oriented people - the kind of people who are likely to complain later that their kids weren't offered lifejackets.

Oh, and if those kids do end up wearing life jackets,
they'll be a lot less likely to run around and do crazy things. 
Lifejackets do a great job of limiting spastic children (and adults).

Get ready to sing
More people on the boat may mean more people who want to be entertained.
This may (or may not) be a good time to lead everyone in a rousing chorus of "That's Amore", or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" if they don't know "That's Amore".
During the holidays I've had many cruises where they want to sing Christmas carols - making for great memories for everyone, including folks pasing by on shore and in other boats.

Guide the tour
Often I find myself pointing out a few interesting things to my more
romantically-inclined passengers, but I try not to be too talkative.
With a group, however, they sometimes want to hear about everything.
If your group is not from the area, they are more likely to be intrigued by the various sites worth seeing.

Of course there's always the flip side of that...
Know when to shut up
Sometimes that group of people on your boat is more interested in talking amongst themselves.
Reading your passengers is always important.
Also, no matter what kind of people you have aboard, be prepared for rude interruptions.  No matter how much they may love you, you're not family,
and to some you are just the "hired help".

Talk to the animals
In most waterways there are at least a few interesting creatures to observe or interact with.
In different locations I've seen passengers feed ducks, fish, and even seals. 
Wild birds are popularly observed, and I often have at least one laminated bird chart in my bag just in case someone on board wants to know more than I can provide.
There are differing opinions on the feeding of ducks in the wild, but I can tell you that with the right, healthy food, a duck feeding experience can be a great thing for both passengers and ducks.

Expect a picnic
Often times when I do family cruises, they bring snacks for the kids. 
There have also been those times when they brought a full-on feast.
If you can provide that extra table space, some extra napkins, or other serviceware in anticipation of their setup, it shows that you are on top of things.
It may also manifest in both a better tip and some snacks during your cruise.
Any gondolier who's had folks picnicking on their boat knows that it may also mean a little extra cleanup.
A few minutes before we return to dock, I like to ask passengers if they have all their belongings together (this says in a subtle way, that maybe they could clean up their own mess).  Also mentioning that you'd love to stay out longer with them, but you've got another cruise right after theirs, signals to your passengers that you might not have time to clean up a whole lot of garbage.
In the end, though, it is the gondolier's job to do such things.
Swallow your pride and grab a trash bag - you've got a great job.

Separate and romanticate
ok, yeah, I just made that word up, but it made for a better title than
"Divide and conquer" which was my first choice.
The idea here is to try and get the kids away from the parents, or at least move them towards the front of the boat - this way the parents can at least try and steal a kiss as you pass under a bridge.
They didn't come expecting a completely romantic cruise, but you know their friends will ask them "was it romantic?", and if they enjoyed their tiny sample of the romantic side, who knows...they might come back (without the kids).

Play pirate
This one is way above and beyond what we usually do, but Matt, my manager out in Lake Las Vegas has done it a few times and it was a hit with the kids.
He got advanced notice that a family was cruising with him, and that they had young boys who loved anything to do with pirates.
Matt stopped by a party supply store that week and picked up plastic swords, hats, and of course, eye-patches.
When the family showed up, "Pirate Matt" was waiting on the dock.
The kids loved it, the parents loved that the kids loved it, Matt's passengers appreciated that extra touch, which didn't really cost much.
Funny thing though, I think Matt had as much fun as the kids did on that cruise.

As you stand on the dock, after your third romantic couple cruise,
and you watch a noisy, animated family trudge down the ramp
with backpacks and bags of food - relax.

Smile and take on that "ready for anything" attitude,
because a family cruise can be a fun departure from the norm.

Do a good job, and you'll get a good tip.
Do a great job, and they'll come back again and ask for you by name.

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