A CRUISE ship director has revealed what it is really like celebrating Christmas onboard.

Jamie Petts is the hotel director for the MSC Virtuosa – a 19-deck cruise ship – and has spent 18 Christmases away from his own family to entertain others at sea instead.

Rather than spending time with his own family back home in the Norfolk Broads at Christmas, 51-year-old Petts is responsible for everything from food and drink to entertainment, housekeeping and health and safety for thousands of guests currently holidaying during the festive period.

He is used to long periods away from home, having worked at sea on cruise ships for 26 years.

Christmas starts early on a cruise ship, Petts said, and there is plenty to do so that all 19 decks are made festive for guests.

He said: “It’s a really fun time.

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“We start planning months before and then at the end of November the decorations arrive and we start to build up to the big day piece by piece.”

The MSC Virtuosa is currently sailing around Northern Europe for its winter season and while guests can explore the Christmas markets in destinations such as Hamburg and Rotterdam, Petts has ensured the festivities continue on board.

Since the end of November, the ship has been kitted out with its own Christmas markets, including wooden Alpine chalets serving mulled wine, hot chocolate, baked apples, hot dogs
and Bratwursts.

He said there are plenty of festive activities that staff arrange and run such as a snow party,

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Christmas card workshop, gift wrapping masterclasses, karaoke as well as a curling track.

Petts added: “Santa will come and give gifts to the kids on Christmas morning and there will be themed stage shows, carol singing as well as a special grand buffet for the occasion.

“It is fun to see the crew enjoy the season and do additional magical things to make the kids and guests smile that little bit extra.”

Despite not being with his own loved ones, Petts said crew members become like family.

He said: “Every day is different, and it will challenge you in every way possible.

“I enjoy the great places we visit as well as meeting both guests and crew that become lifelong friends.”

MSC arranges a Christmas crew appreciation dinner and staff can use the guest buffet, which they don’t normally have access to.

He said: “As officers, we will sit down one lunchtime and have a lovely dinner together informally to celebrate with each other.

“Many departments will also organise their own little celebration or even different nationalities will ask to have certain things made by the chef that is traditional for them
during the holidays.”

While it may sound dull having to work at Christmas, he says it is important to have fun with it, adding: “Wear a Santa hat, sing songs and make a day at work a great day for you and others.”

Staff even exchange gifts onboard and Petts said the best present he has received was a bottle of Jonny Walker Blue and the worst present was a harmonica.

There is a benefit to being at sea during Christmas though, Petts said, as you can visit exotic locations.

He said: “I once celebrated Christmas in Hawaii with my family onboard and went to the beach for a Christmas BBQ, now that was much better than being cold.”

Cruise ship staff also find time to phone home on Christmas Day, which Petts said is far easier due to modern technology.

He said: “I have to time the call for when the kids are opening the presents to make sure that we are all together, even if it is only virtually.

"When I first started working on cruise ships before the internet, we used to have to queue outside the radio officer’s room to phone home on Christmas Day.

“That was one long queue but you always found if you arrived bringing a gift you somehow didn’t have to wait so long back in those days.”

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