Bill Toone is the kind of guy you want to be friends with. He's got a warm, welcoming face, an easy smile and the lanky physique of a teenager. His repertoire of self-deprecating anecdotes is amusing, and he seems to instinctively know how to make you feel good. This guy's definitely a people person; and one with a passion and message to share with the world.
Seems he was born to be a cruise ship lecturer. Not a full-time gig -- they rarely are -- Toone is coveted by Crystal Cruises because of what he does when he's not lecturing on board.
As a conservation biologist based at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, part of Toone's job is educating the public about conservation. When he's not in the "office," he's out in the field working on research projects in places like Cameroon, Kenya and the Bahamas. Either that or he's slogging away for the non-profit conservation organization he started called The ECO-LIFE Foundation (www.ecolifefoundation.org), which focuses on sustainable living solutions. The weeks at sea are yet another hat he wears. I met Toone on the Crystal Symphony's Hong Kong to Singapore cruise last April.
His talks were personal and humorous, laced with anecdotes and tales of adventure, from a guest appearance on the Johnny Carson show years back to the story of how he courted his wife Sunni by working to save endangered Monarch butterflies. His style of delivery charmed the audience, captured their attention and hopefully gently got across his conservation message.
"Crystal guests are hungry for information, but they are on a holiday," he says, adding that he tries to offer interesting information without sounding preachy. "Goal #1 is to make the guests happy. That is why Crystal brings us on."
The whole point of Crystal's impressive lecture series is for passengers to not only learn something, but to meet and mingle with the experts. Lecturers routinely do two to four lectures per cruise, but otherwise they're real passengers, eager to explore the ports and meet new friends. Whether chatting after a talk or making plans for drinks or dinner, the speakers are accessible.
"The Crystal crowd is not generally as conservation aware as the natural history oriented ships out there, but I am not interested in preaching to the choir. I want to talk to people eager to learn something new. We often retire to the bar for some pretty animated discussions -- the education goes both ways there," says Toone.
There are two types of cruise ship speakers, special interest lecturers like Toone, whose spiel may not have any direct connection to the itinerary (there would be more of these, for example, on cruises with many sea days), and destination lecturers who are speaking specifically about the ports. For example, author Dr. Catherine Lim spoke about the paradoxes of Singapore's cultural identity and discussed Chinese traditions and the role of superstition. A gifted and enthusiastic speaker who talks without the aid of slides or other props, Lim has a thespian's flair for engaging her audience. The outspoken author of many books, including The Bondmaid and Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore, Lim is an iconic figure in Singapore's cultural fabric.
"I call myself a cultural freak; I straddle the east and the west," says Lim. She grew up in a predominantly Chinese town in Malaysia, was educated in an English school by Catholic nuns, and then settled in Singapore after marriage. "It was only as an adult that I reclaimed my cultural identity," she says.
The April Symphony cruise, which called on Chan May and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, as well as Laem Chabang, Thailand, also featured Dr. Jay Wolff. An author, historian and commentator for The History Channel, he eloquently spoke about the Indochina War between the French and Vietnamese in the 1950s. Art historian Joan Root spoke about the temples, tombs and emperors of Hoi An and Hue, two important Vietnamese cities, while international relations expert and author Dr. Andrew Pierre presented a talk on revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.
For anyone who wants to learn more about where they're going, literally or figuratively, some cruise lines are definitely more education focused than others. The luxury lines, including Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, Regent and Cunard, as well as the small ships of adventure companies like Sven Lindblad (www.expeditions.com) and Travel Dynamics (www.traveldynamicsinternational.com), offer the greatest number, and generally best caliber, of guest speakers on most or all of their itineraries. In addition to their lineup of speakers, the luxury lines, especially Crystal and Cunard, also offer themes on many cruises, revolving around special musical acts, chefs, wine experts and other subjects. Some mass-market lines, from Disney to Holland America and Celebrity, have a destination lecturer or two on more exotic itineraries in the Mediterranean, Asia, South Pacific and other far flung locales; some also have speakers on special interest topics like financial planning or hand-writing analysis. On a recent Disney Magic cruise, historian Kenneth Bartlett was excellent, speaking with authority on topics from Sicilian mosaics to the Roman Empire. Alaska itineraries on ships off all kinds usually feature at least one onboard naturalist presenting talks and answering questions. Guest lecturers are not to be confused with the cruise lines' shore excursion staff who presents talks about ports, typically offering logistical information and shopping highlights, and sometimes basics on the history and culture.
Speakers by Line
Crystal Cruises (tel. 866/446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com)
- Dick Morris, newspaper columnist and commentator who previously worked as a pollster, political campaign consultant, and personal advisor to President Bill Clinton; March 27, Singapore to Mumbai aboard Crystal Serenity.
- Harm de Blij, author, professor, and television personality who was the popular geography editor on ABC's "Good Morning America" for seven years and who continues his "The Power of Place" series on PBS; March 27, Singapore to Mumbai aboard Crystal Serenity.
- Dr. Jay Wolff, historian and Fellow of the British Royal Society who has written for professional journals as well as American Heritage, Forbes, American Legacy, The Washington Post and The L.A. Times, and who has been a commentator on The History Channel; March 27, Singapore to Mumbai aboard Crystal Serenity.
- Robert Adams, thespian and author who has been giving on-stage book reviews of modern fiction to sold-out audiences in Montreal and Toronto for more than a decade; March 27, Singapore to Mumbai aboard Crystal Serenity.
- Lisa Airey, wine expert who co-authored a study guide for an exam given to wine industry professionals; March 27, Singapore to Mumbai aboard Crystal Serenity.
- Michael Boll, historian and professor who served on the Policy-Planning Staff of the Pentagon, was a Foreign Service Officer with the US Information Agency and an analyst for the CIA in Europe; March 27, Singapore to Mumbai aboard Crystal Serenity.
- Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco and current FOX News contributor; April 10 Mumbai to Civitavecchia/Rome aboard the Crystal Serenity.
- Brig. General Nick Halley, an internationally recognized expert on leadership and terrorism who commanded combat troops in Vietnam, Grenada and Desert Storm in Iraq; April 10 Mumbai to Civitavecchia/Rome aboard the Crystal Serenity.
- Stanley Teitelbaum, a psychologist who discusses a variety of issues from drug and alcohol abuse to domestic violence, gambling and steroid use by sports figures; April 10 Mumbai to Civitavecchia/Rome aboard the Crystal Serenity.
- Dr. Bridget Buxton, an archaeologist and classical historian specializing in ancient Mediterranean civilizations; April 10 Mumbai to Civitavecchia/Rome aboard the Crystal Serenity.
Cunard (tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com)
- David Hempleman-Adams, Polar explorer, mountaineer and author; Aug. 23 and Sept. 4 Transatlantic crossings aboard QM2.
- Jeffrey Hoffman, former NASA astronaut and currently co-director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium at MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Sept 22 westbound Transatlantic crossing aboard QM2.
- Frank DeFord, Emmy Award winning sports commentator; Oct. 7 eastbound Transatlantic crossing aboard QM2.
- Richard Underwood, space photographer who created first topographical maps for the moon and is a longtime technical director at NASA; Oct 19 and 25 Transatlantic crossings aboard QM2.
- Lynn Truss, bestselling author (Eats, Shoots and Leaves); Oct. 25 Transatlantic westbound crossing aboard QM2.
- Dr. Susan Humphris, senior scientist and chair in the geology and geophysics department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Oct. 25 Transatlantic westbound crossing aboard QM2.
- Dr. Jerry Labriola, who practiced medicine for 35 years and was an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut Medical School, is the author of seven mystery novels and co-author with renowned forensic scientist, Dr Henry Lee, of three books; Oct. 31 round-trip from New York aboard QM2.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 866/213-4800; www.rssc.com)
- Marta S. Wendlinger, a fashion editor, runs a fashion consulting and personal shopping business in Barcelona; Sept. 12 Dover to Nice aboard Seven Seas Voyager.
- Ken Haas is an award-winning photographer; Oct. 28, 2008, Piraeus to Dubai aboard Seven Seas Navigator.
- Commodore Jamie Miller has had a storied military career is now the Naval Attaché in Wales and Western England; Jan. 16 Callao to Buenos Aires aboard Seven Seas Mariner.
- Elyse Weiner is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and network news producer who spent many years with ABC News, as Tom Brokaw's foreign producer at NBC Nightly News and was a news executive at CNBC; June 14 Monte Carlo to Civitavecchia aboard Seven Seas Navigator.
Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391.; www.seabourn.com)
- Robert C. MacFarlane, former national security advisor to President Reagan and in key White House posts in the Ford and Nixon administrations; Nov. 20 Dubai to Singapore aboard Seabourn Spirit.
- Hugh Downs, Emmy Award-winning television anchor; Dec. 6 Singapore to Hong Kong aboard Seabourn Spirit.
- Bernard Kalb was a correspondent covering world affairs for CBS News, NBC News and The New York Times; Jan. 31 and Feb. 14 between Singapore and Hong Kong aboard Seabourn Spirit.
Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955; www.silversea.com)
- Hallam Murray, lecturer, photographer and writer who spent three years riding thousands of miles by bicycle from California to Tierra Del Fuego; Jan. 6 from Buenos Aires to Santiago aboard Silver Wind.
- John Cork, a writer, producer and director, is co-author of three books about James Bond; Oct. 26, round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale aboard Silver Shadow.
- Scott Pearson, and economist and expert in economic development and international trade, co-authored a dozen books, wrote numerous journal articles, and advised governments on food and agricultural policy; Feb. 15, Rio de Janeiro to Bridgetown, Barbados aboard Silver Wind.
- Lawrence Rudner, former professor and retired aerospace engineer is a recognized authority on celestial navigation; Dec. 21, Santiago to Buenos Aires aboard Silver Wind.
- Roderick A. McDonald, a professor of history at Rider University, author of The Economy and Material Culture of Slaves: Goods and Chattels on the Sugar Plantations of Jamaica and Louisiana and Between Slavery and Freedom; March 18, round-trip from San Juan aboard Silver Wind.
- Stefan Buczacki, one of Britain's most distinguished gardening experts, has studied and photographed the gardens of the Seychelles, Reunion Island and Mayotte Island; Dec. 2 from Mahe to Port Louis, aboard Silver Cloud.
- Mark Johnson, a 30-year career foreign service officer who served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Cairo, Egypt; March 16, round-trip from Dubai aboard Silver Cloud .
- Richard N. Gardner, Columbia professor and former US Ambassador to Italy and Spain, is the author of four books on international affairs; May 29, Barcelona to Civitavecchia/Rome aboard Silver Whisper.
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