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A Day in the Life of Silversea World Cruise Director Fernando Barroso de Oliveira
When you spend as many days cruising as Fernando Barroso de Oliveira has, it becomes, as he puts it, “addictive.” “When I come home, I find I’m bored after eight days,” he says, from his house in Cascais, Portugal, right before taking off to join up with the World Cruise in Haifa. “I’m used to go, go, go.” The veteran cruiser, who is both the director of Silversea’s World Cruise and the president’s ambassador to the Venetian Society, has been working on cruise ships for nearly 50 years, with more than half of them aboard Silversea. He’s a familiar presence on Silversea’s fleet, and if you happen to be on his ship, he will make you feel right at home – after all, it’s where he feels most at home himself.
As told to Dominique Lamberton
If we’re at sea, I get up around, 7 o’clock. I’m a lousy sleeper; I’ve taken a sleeping pill every night since I was 30 years old, whether I’m on the ship or at home. Once I’m up, I watch the news on BBC World, then I go to the office – luckily, it’s only 200 feet away – and set up the program for the following day, check mistakes in the programs and the Silversea Chronicles. Next, we have a meeting with the rest of the staff, and then I go up to the bridge and I make the first announcement of the day. After that, the lectures and guest speakers start. So, I go to the lounge to greet the guests, usually at 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning. Then, I might be doing my language classes or my own little lectures about Transatlantic liners.
I started by giving Spanish, Italian and French lessons. And I’ll do Greek and some Portuguese, too. There are always a few people who come. I speak seven languages well; and I won’t get lost in Turkey or Arab countries. I also give lectures on old liners because it’s a passion that I’ve had since I was six or seven years old – I have thousands of pieces of memorabilia. There are always people who want to know about the old liners in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It’s a good half hour, and I do it every four or five days.
After that, I do trivia for 45 minutes and then it’s time to return to the office and read the emails from the Miami office that come in later on. Before I know it, it’s time to take a quick shower, get dressed and start going around the lounges to greet everyone. I know everybody by name. On the Silver Whisper, we have around 240 guests right now, more or less. And I’ve known many of the people for years and years. But we always have first timers, too.
I have a photographic memory; I can remember up to 600 people. It’s a helpful quality because guests feel like they’re not a number, they are part of the group. And I think it shows that I, or whomever addresses them bbefore I’m at the gangway to say good morning. People get used to me and I get used to them, and we develop a bond. y name, care about them. It’s the difference between a huge ship and a ship our size. I also see everybody in the morning: If there is a tour at 8 o'clock, 15 minutes
I don’t go out at every port. In the Mediterranean, I go out in most ports. In Hong Kong and Manila, I like to go out for lunch. I’d say I go out in 50 percent of the ports. There are too many port cities to pick a favourite. I love Istanbul, where I live part of the year. I love Venice and Capri and Amalfi and Sorrento and Naples. If I’m going by ship, Sydney, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, Lisbon and Venice are probably the most impressive. But if you forget about sailing in or sailing out, there are many spectacular places. Buenos Airies is fabulous. Sicily, I love. I’m addicted to Egypt; I love Cairo.
So, after greeting everyone, we’ve got the cocktail hour. Normally, before COVID, I have dinner every night with different guests. So, I would have a table for six or seven people, and send up written invitations. So, it takes me a while to write the names and get the envelopes together. I deliver them myself – I’m the DHL guy on the ship. What I try to do is invite either people who are on segments of the World Cruise or people who are on their first cruise with us, to meet other Venetian Society members or those who are doing the full World Cruise. It’s an opportunity for them to mingle, and it works very well. I try to match people: It’s not just like I pick suite 701, suite 703 and suite 705. No, I go, “I think this couple will get along with this couple.” I’m like a matchmaker. We always have a good laugh, we’re the last ones leaving the dining room. Dinner is a sacrosanct time on a cruise. Whether you want a steak or pasta or caviar or seafood, it’s a wonderful chance to do so. The menus are always changing and there’s a lot of variety.
Right after dinner, I run up to introduce the show. I’ll stay for the show, and then I go to the main bar. I love to dance, so, I’ll ask guests to dance with me. We have a trio and two cocktail pianists who also play and sing, so you can dance everything from merengue to jitter bugs to jive. Sometimes if we stay for two days in port, guests will go on a full-day tour, then come back on the ship before dinner with just enough time for a quick shower, and then the next morning, they’ll have another full-day tour. On those days, I’ll play a movie, or sometimes a game like Liar’s Club or Name that Tune. We also have the cocktail pianists and a disco. But those nights, invariably, are quiet because it’s full-day tour followed by full-day tour.
It’s a busy life, I don't have time to get bored. If you spend more than four or five years working on a ship, it becomes addictive. And I became addicted after four or five years. But the thing is, I came here to do exactly what I wanted to do, and what I liked to do, so it’s no effort. I know people say, “How can you put up with people all the time, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, morning and night?” I say, “For me, it's fun.” I get my kicks out of it and I enjoy it.
The sea gives me a feeling of peace, tranquillity and relaxation. In the evening, when the show is finished on deck five, I go out on the open deck. The lights on the lifeboats project into the ocean and I just like to watch all the bubbles that the motion of the ship creates. You can hear the water against the ship's hull and I’m just like, “Ah, I’m in heaven here.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.