Cruise liner makes work and holidays plain sailing for Cork's Ciara Ambrose

Cork woman Ciara Ambrose travels all over the world in her role with Oasis Class vessels. With 9,000 people onboard, her job is pretty busy, she tells Áilín Quinlan.

There are plenty of people who’ll tell you they love their job but how many of them regularly go on holiday with their employer? Cork woman Ciara Ambrose does both.

It’s immediately clear on chatting to the manager of hotel operations onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis Class vessels — described as the largest and most innovative cruise ships on the globe — that this is one woman who absolutely loves what she does.

“I genuinely think I’ve got the best job in the world! I get to work on a cruise ship,” enthuses Ciara, who has been with the organisation for some 15 years.

She currently works aboard the state-of-the-art Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship. As part of her job, the Ballinhassig native has been everywhere in the world that cruise ships go.

Her multi-award-winning employer brings passengers to more than 260 destinations in 72 countries on six continents, sailing 26 ships to destinations in Bermuda and the Caribbean, Europe, Canada, New England, Alaska, South America, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

So yes, although travel is a major benefit of the work she loves, Ciara also holidays with her employer. The 38-year-old says:

When I take a holiday I go on a cruise with one of the Royal Caribbean cruise ships

And, in fact, Ciara’s connection to Royal Caribbean is about to get even stronger — in August, in a ceremony to take place in Las Vegas, she marries fiancé Alex Radic, a bar manager with Royal Caribbean.

One of the reasons her job is so enjoyable, she says, is because every day brings something different, something which is not surprising given the fact that, in conjunction with the hotel director, Ciara oversees a massive onboard, round-the-clock operation dedicated to looking after a staggering 6,880 guests.

The hotel operations team’s responsibilities also encompass the wellbeing of thousands of dedicated crew members while overseeing everything from guest services and housekeeping to food and beverage experiences, spa and retail offerings, and shore excursions. Ciara’s department, in fact, is the largest onboard, with some 2,220 crew members.

Ciara stepped aboard her first cruise ship in 2004 after earning a diploma in business studies for hotel and catering management at CorkInstitute of Technology and seven years learning every aspect of the hotel industry.

“After about seven years I had got to the stage where I had worked my way through all aspects of hotel management, including the front desk,” recalls Ciara, who had worked in hotels since the age of 16.

By age 23, she wanted more.

SY, Symphony of the Seas.
SY, Symphony of the Seas.

“I wanted to travel and I wanted a bit of sunshine!” Her initial job with the cruise line was, she recalls, a relatively lowly one. “My first job was as a cadet purser, which was a front-desk trainee position. It was essentially the lowest-ranking post on the front desk.”

All the same, the qualifications required for the job were high and, Ciara says she wouldn’t have landed it without her extensive experience of hotel work, her ability to speak French, and her college qualification.

Her career path quickly moved upwards as Ciara took on leadership roles as front desk manager, and, just prior to her current position, as marketing and revenue manager.

The Cork woman has also been involved in the launch of Royal Caribbean’s groundbreaking Quantum and Oasis Class ships, the most recent being Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship. Royal Caribbean was named best ocean cruise company across the island at the Irish Travel Trade Awards in 2018, best cruise company at the Irish Travel Media Awards 2018, and Ireland’s favourite cruise line at the Irish Independent Reader Travel Awards in 2018 and again in 2019.

“There are four Oasis Class vessels, and two more on order. With the last two, I was involved in the start-up process, bringing the shop into operation,” says Ciara.

Her day usually starts about 5am, two hours before the ship arrives at its next destination.

“I have my first meeting of the day at 6am with the gangway-operating team. We discuss everything from the taxi fare to the local beach to towel distribution,” she explains, adding that on any one day, up to 4,500 people, and sometimes more, will leave the ship to enjoy scheduled land-based activities. “The facilities are so good that many guests often choose to stay onboard enjoying the facilities.”

It’s a busy job, and with some 9,000 or so people on the ship between crew and guests, a challenging one. “It’s the hospitality industry and we’re on call all the time,” she says.

And yes, things do sometimes happen, she acknowledges, but the vessel has response teams to deal with “every aspect” of emergency. “I love the changing nature of the work. I’ve been very lucky, very fortunate to be able to go into an industry that has developed so much — and to grow with it,” declares Ciara.

The Independence of the Seas cruise liner docks in Cobh, Co Cork, today.

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