Insider Interview: P&O Pacific Eden Hotel Director Andrew Spencer
When P&O Pacific Eden hotel director, Andy Spencer, started as a Shell oil tanker galley boy at age 16, he wasn't aware of the direction his career would lead him.
Today, with up to two thirds of the ship's staff reporting into Andy, we chatted on how he keeps his staff motivated at sea, his favourite ports to sail into and how the Australian cruise market has changed.
How did you get your start at sea?
In the UK I joined the Merchant Navy and was then offered a sponsorship through Shell Oil who guaranteed my employment after passing out of British Merchant Naval School.
I passed out of there with honours and then went onto shell tankers for two years as a junior catering waiter, which was essentially a galley boy. It was peeling potatoes, doing whatever the chefs required, catering for 20-30 people including officer's wives.
My brother is four years older than me and he was working for Cunard on QEII, so I wanted to see a bit of the good life cruising and transferred onto Cunard after my two years on tankers. I was then on QEII for 19 years and worked my way up the ranks to be food and beverage director.
I actually started off as a dish washer originally, before moving onto the bars, utility, wine sommelier, waiter, a bit of hotel stores, mainly in the beverage department but some of the restaurant also.
In those 19 years I completed 15 full world cruises so I was very lucky to be able to do that. It was a great and happy time in my career.
I then was chosen to start up the then brand new Queen Mary 2, which was a great honour, and worked the ship for 18 months. When the Carnival merger went ahead, I transferred to Princess Cruises for the next few years.
I finally made it to Alaska after all these years and then I was seconded down to Australia for Princess and P&O where I was promoted to Hotel Director initially on Pacific Dawn and involved with a few more launches, which became my area of expertise.
So you've been in Australia for a few years already then?
Yes, about eight or nine years now on various ships, so I know the Australian market well. I've enjoyed just staying down here and dealing with different publics and brands.
From a passenger point, how have you seen the Australian cruise market change?
Oh yes, the changes have been great. The focus has shifted from the 25-to-45-year-old market to a much more family focus with facilities and offerings.
It's no longer just the more affluent or higher end market where there were hardly any children onboard.
You will see things now like interconnecting cabins, enhanced kids clubs, adventure programs such as P&O The Edge, and the whole product overall has been overhauled of late.
So Australia is much more family focussed?
It is, and we are lucky down here to have all the beautiful islands, which are great family destinations. The beauty of [Australia] is it's paradise at sea with such amazing locations including the Great Barrier Reef.
I've been to many different islands around the world and they have all been 'cruise-a-fied' or commercially over taken, whereas Australia is very unspoilt and natural.
But we do have our challenges and the itineraries are a little tougher with lots of sea days and tender ports, which are a lot more difficult to access. So a lot more demanding itineraries on the crew, but we are spoiled with options.
More P&O crew interviews
How many staff and areas are you responsible for?
Everything not deck or technical is best way to explain it. Out of the approximately 630 crew on board, I would say around 500 of them are dedicated to the hotel side.
The different divisions are food and beverage, and I have an admin of revenue director, entertainment director, the accommodation manager and the medical service, which all report into me.
You started at sea when you were 16 and have been in the P&O family for 32 years. What does the company mean to you?
The brand just fits me and they are also the leading cruise line in the world, which is wonderful to say you work for them. It's actually been my family.
How do you keep yourself and all your staff motivated?
As director I'm afforded some privileges such as a bigger cabin, but we do have lots of behind-the-scenes crew clubs, such as a social activities, which we have funds from the company towards.
We make sure the crew areas are kept clean and we have a crew recreation area and bar plus a crew gym and a few other facilities. We try and do sports activities when on shore, such as hiring bicycles for the crew so they can get off for a bit of release.
What is your favourite port to sail into?
I would have to say sailing transatlantic into New York is just fantastic and you never tire of it. It's comparable to sailing into Sydney Harbour, which is also on a lot of peoples' bucket list – get up early in the morning and watch the sunrise as we sail in through the beautiful head lands and into the harbour.
Hong Kong Harbour has great sites and places like Suers Canal to tour the pyramids, and Panama Canal can be ticked off your list.
When on holidays, where do you go? Or do you become a home body?
Well, I have a wife and a 12-year-old boy back home in the UK, North Wales. But I'm lucky that at my rank I'm also able to bring them on board occasionally.
My son is also into sailing small yachts and he now realises what I do and where I am, but I'm lucky to be able to do shorter contract times away from home.
So it's nice to be just home for a while and turn off and be with the family and sometimes we go off on holidays to Florida, but we often just holiday in the UK, in the woods or somewhere different. Although I do have a list of jobs when I go home for the first several days [laughs].
Set sail on a dream holiday with Cruiseabout