Southeast Missouri State University junior Patrick Colosimo of St. Louis, Missouri, says his six-month internship as a steward on the National Geographic’s Sea Lion expedition ship was the most memorable experience he’s had and, he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It was awesome, hands down,” said Colosimo, a junior hospitality management major. “It was a big commitment, but worth every moment.”
The 62-guest expedition/cruise ship embarks on 15-day adventures between Sitka, Alaska, and Seattle, Washington. As part of his contract with Linblad Expeditions, Colosimo spent May to December 2016, perfecting his hospitality skills.
He often confronts the misconception that working on a cruise line is about mimosas and brunch every day, said Colosimo. And while yes, he’s is serving food and drinks to guests, it’s much more than that.
“Your day starts out at 5:30 or 6 a.m. waking up in your cabin below the decks and scrambling upstairs to start breakfast,” he said. “As soon as breakfast is done, the guests go out and do their daily routines and that’s when we start cabin cleaning. That typically takes one to two hours, depending on how messy your guests are that week. Then you go straight into lunch setup.”
After lunch, he got a break, which he spent reading, relaxing with crew members or catching up on sleep, but then it was back to work.
“You’ve got a big night ahead of you because that’s when dinner comes into play,” he said. “We started setup at 5:30 p.m. and you worked dinner service until 9 or 10 p.m.,” he said. “It was a pretty labor intensive day, but at the same time, it was awesome. There was never a dull moment.”
Despite the hectic work schedule, he really enjoyed the military-style environment, Colosimo said.
“It’s a very chop and go world, and you’re constantly going and moving,” he said. “If you mess up, you just had to push on, move forward and learn from your mistake.”
As the only student intern on board, Colosimo received training from Linblad before embarking on the high seas for five continuous months. Throughout the process, he was encouraged to jump right in, ask questions and engage the staff and crew members.
He knew he’d discover right away if he was a fit for this job or not, whether he’d sink or swim. There was always encouragement, and he knew just because he was new didn’t mean he’d be the weakest link, he said.
“Guests are paying a $1,000 a night if not more, so the level of service that they’re expecting is enormous, and they very well deserve it,” Colosimo said. “You learn on the fly – the proper presentation of wine, how to properly prepare drinks, what to recommend. You have to very quickly become an expert at it, and you spend a lot of your free time reading – what pairs well with this, cookbooks, how the chefs are cooking the meals, stuff like that because you’re there to educate people.”
Throughout his internship, managers, crew members and chefs encouraged him to not only learn about the experiences provided for the guests but also to be a part of them, he said.
“They’re there to help educate you and make you a better and more well-rounded person,” Colosimo said. “It helps you relate to the guests better.”
He treated his internship like it was a classroom, he said. He also had the opportunity to interact with the National Geographic engineers, naturalists and photographers on board. If he had a question about anything, all he had to do was ask. And with unreliable to little cell service or Internet access, he asked a lot of questions.
Without Google, it felt like it was time traveling back to the ’80s, Colosimo said. When a problem would arise, he and his fellow crew members would have to research it with the resources they had on board, discuss and formulate a solution.
During one of the first nights on board, he helped serve a steak dinner with blue cheese butter and whipped blue potatoes. When asked why their potatoes were blue, he had to research it. He and a fellow crew member poured over the books they had on hand and talked with the chef.
“The reason why is because they contain the same antioxidants as blueberries, and someone had mixed the two together,” he said. “Being able to tell a guest that, and able to alleviate the ‘what’s this blue stuff on my plate?’ and to know what you’re eating was very helpful.”
Being disconnected from technology also helped him to reconnect with people on a whole new level, Colosimo said.
“You make lifelong friends while you’re on the ship because that’s all you have to do is sit around and talk,” he said. “You form relationships with people you never would have expected.”
The internship was not only an opportunity for him to hone his hospitality skills, but also to focus on his career goals.
“My long-term goal is to be a regional manager. I want to be one who looks over a couple different hotels,” Colosimo said.
His end goal, he says, is to part of the staff opening a new hotel.
“I want to be the guy who shows up and teaches people how to do our job,” he said. “I want to teach people how to greet people. I want to be there the opening day of the hotel and train the staff how to give a great experience.”
Full-time employees on the Sea Lion worked two months on, one month off, and during his internship, Colosimo saw three staff rotations. While getting a brand new manager, chef and officers every two months could be overwhelming, it allowed him to experience different management styles, he said.
“I was fortunate enough to be on board and saw a new manager to the company. He had only been there for less than a year,” Colosimo said. “I saw the experienced manager, who’d been with the company 10-plus years, and I saw a mid-level manager who’d been there for four or five years. I really got the full spectrum of it all.”
Every manager was different, with different focuses on what customer care means. Some focused more on cabin cleaning, others on wine service. They were all great experiences for him to learn, grow and develop his own style, he said.
Upon returning home and starting a new semester at Southeast, Colosimo said he feels more confident in himself and the path he’s chosen. Having a six-month commitment away from friends and family was difficult, but it prepared him for completing his degree and finding a job.
“It’s not for everyone, but if you can do it, go for it,” he said.
The opportunities he had changed his whole life, he said, from learning valuable industry skills to experiencing a part of the world he’d never before seen.
“It was the best feeling in the world at about three in the morning, to have somebody pull you out of bed say ‘get up, there’s northern lights,’” Colosimo said. “Just that immediate rush of adrenaline to sprint all the way upstairs in flip flops and shorts – you’re not really thinking, just go go go, and it was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever seen. I would trade my whole life to go back to that one night.”