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Cruise Ship Tips: 9 Insider Secrets From A Trailblazing Captain

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While there are more than 300 passenger cruise ships worldwide, very few of them are helmed by women. But a handful of women are charting a new path to the top ranks, including Serena Melani of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. An industry veteran with decades of cruising experience, Melani is making history as the first woman captain of a brand-new cruise ship: the Seven Seas Splendor, which will launch in 2020. This all-suite, all-balcony ship will be making waves, too: It has just 375 rooms, including the largest suite ever built on a luxury cruise ship, complete with a custom, hand-crafted $200,000 bed.

The Italy-born Melani got her start in cruising at the age of 16 when she started working as a cadet on cargo ships in her hometown of Tuscany. After graduating from nautical college, she worked on oil tankers, cargo ships and container vessels—where women rarely work—before joining Regent Seven Seas Cruises in 2010. She quickly moved up the ranks, becoming the line’s first female master captain in 2016.

“As I’ve been working in the maritime industry since I was 16, I’m not a stranger to being the only woman on board,” says Melani. “Growing up in this industry has taught me to not spend too much time thinking about the ratio and at the end of the day I’ve always done what I loved and that’s all that mattered.”

Melani says that in the beginning of her career, she remembers being turned away from jobs because of her nationality and gender. But she didn’t let that stop her—and she shares this advice with any other young women who are trying to work their way up the ranks. “While conditions are much better than they were 30 years ago, you still may face prejudice or discrimination in the workplace, so it is important to remain perseverant, keep a sense of humor and always smile in the face of people who think women should not be in this business,” says Melani.

Here, we caught up with Melani to find out her pro tips for taking a cruise vacation. This is advice that will ensure your next voyage is nothing but smooth sailing.

Wake up early to view the approach into port: One of the most unique views of a destination is from the deck of a cruise ship as it comes into port. While guests are typically sleeping during morning arrivals, I recommend setting an alarm earlier than usual to get that first glimpse. Two of my favorites: the sunrise approach through the submerged river canyon of Kotor, Montenegro, and La Valletta in Malta, with its stunning views of the city’s fortifications.

Be present: There’s no doubt, you’ll want to capture pictures of your vacation, but instead of experiencing a destination through the lens of your cell phone, try taking a photo with your mind instead. By putting the camera down, you may just find that being present allows for a deeper connection to the overall experience

Discover the ship: One of the oldest and most regal forms of travel, cruising is a sophisticated experience made unique by each ship’s rich history. As every ship has her own soul, I recommend taking time to explore the decks, chat with the crew and meet with the captain to learn more about the ship’s memoire.

Those with seasickness, stay low: For those who suffer from seasickness, the best cabin will always be on the lowest possible deck. As the Italian poet Anna Maria Ortese once said, “I did not realize I was sick because I was looking at the sky.”

Plan your voyage around your favorite book: The ideal voyage isn’t complete without a few books. I recommend packing literary works that have ties to a cruise’s ports of call. For poetry lovers, Petar II Petrović-Njegoš’ vast collection pairs nicely with a visit to Montenegro, while Giacomo Leopardi’s works are best read while docked in Italy’s tiny western province of Ancona.

For a different perspective, read this short story: While strong winds and rough seas can be quite scary for passengers, they actually mean something very different for sailors, as it’s all a matter of perspective. For the opportunity to learn more about the world through a sailor’s point of view, I recommend picking up Guy de Maupassant’s short story, Sur L’Eau, Antibes-Saint Tropez-Monaco.

Eat local: I recommend sampling at least one of a destination’s most famous culinary offerings for a true look at its culture and history. You may even discover unexpected connections between different ports of call on during your voyage, like the similarities between some Turkish and Greek dishes, for example. In Manaus, I enjoy Canto de Peixada, a delicious seafood restaurant that Pope John Paul II used to enjoy in the 80’s. In Alaska, I recommend ordering the fresh crab at Halibut Point Crab and Chowder. And in La Palma, Spain, head to Bodegon Tamanca to experience a unique restaurant located in a natural cave, adorned with lava stone tables that are dug right into the structure.

Skip a shore excursion and head to a local market instead: Visiting a local market should be on every vacation itinerary. From finding locally sourced goods and unique trinkets to interacting with the locals, it’s one of the best ways to get an inside look at a region’s culture. My favorite markets are in the southeastern province of Provence, France, where just about every village has its own weekly market, with some occurring daily.

If you have the time, take a long voyage at sea: On long voyages, the guests and crew form a special bond that inevitably brings travelers back to a time when ships were the only form of transportation between continents. The long days at sea with your newfound family will become your favorite days

Source: Forbes – Leadership