During a cruise last year aboard the Carnival Spirit 2.0, I was lucky enough to encounter Dessi, the beloved Maitre D' who is in charge of all dining outlets and wait staff across the ship. Despite such responsibility, she is a passenger favourite and a major character in many Carnival cruise reminiscences. Last month we took a look at the roles of women in cruising, gender equality in the industry and the strong, capable females who help to keep everything ship-shape across a few different lines. This is one of those women!
Adding a bit of colour and flair to the already-quirky Empire Dining Room!
Dessi kindly answered a few questions for us, so that Cruise Sale Finder readers could find out about the woman behind the legend. Here is what she had to share:
Hi Dessi! How long have you been with Carnival, and the Carnival Spirit in particular? What made you decide on a career at sea, and how did you come to your current position?
I joined Carnival 16 years ago, and I have worked on Carnival Spirit since 2012. I actually joined Carnival just because I wanted to run away from my mother in law, who I lived with for a long time. I was originally rejected for a role at Carnival but I was persistent. Eventually, I started as a bus girl (waiter's helper). That was a long time ago. I worked my way up in the hospitality area and I now hold the most senior position in the department as Maître d'.
What do you like about your job - is there one thing you could pick out as the absolute best part?
From the very beginning, I always wanted to make a difference. So the best part is interacting with guests and keeping them happy, especially our Australian guests. They are a delight.
I have found that Australians are very warm. I can say proudly, the highlight of my career is being given the opportunity to set the dining room for the Australian market.
You must meet many interesting characters! Are there any particular guests or situations which have stuck in your memory?
Sometimes in the U.S ships are hired by groups for special charters. An American charter that stood out, so to speak, was the Bare Necessities Cruise, during which most of the passengers were naked. We had some rules, one of which was that they had to cover up from the waist down during meal times. Most of the crew were not sure where to look.
Many of our customers remember very fondly having you as their Maître d'! What does it take to be such a rock star in the hospitality and food service areas, and what exactly does your role entail?
Funny, most of the guests think that my role is only to say "Show time" and "Halloo" - my catch-phrases.
But behind the scenes, I am responsible for running all the dining outlets, including the main dining room, buffet, room service, plus special dining events throughout the ship, as well as the various crew and officers' dining rooms and scheduling of all the wait staff. My department is also responsible for all the Camp Carnival Kids Clubs meals. I oversee all hospitality crew training and interactions with guests.
Do you find it hard to juggle managing such a big staff with maintaining such a strong personal presence "on the floor" in the dining room?
Sometimes it can be busy, especially when there are a lot of new wait staff. I also have to ensure that all is going smoothly in the kitchen which can take me from the dining room. It is a challenge keeping on top of monitoring both areas during service and ensuring wait staff are following procedures and everything is moving promptly etc.
Are there any other positions on the ship you'd like to try your hand at?
Seriously, I am so fortunate to get to do a job that I love, every day!
What about life on a ship in general do you appreciate the most? Would you do what you do onshore, or is there something special about being at sea for you?
I love working for Carnival, and hope to continue to do so for a long time. Frankly speaking this is my life - this is all I know. Working for Carnival is like being part of an extended family. I could not think of working anywhere else and I see myself running the dining room on a walker at age of 95.
I have always promised myself that the moment this becomes just a job, not passion then I will have to leave. If I don't have a butterflies in my stomach when I am doing my last cruise day speech and saying goodbye to the guests (which actually become your friends), then it is my time to go. Until then, I hope I have plenty of time.
And finally, for our readers: Do you have any insider tips about what to order in the dining room?
Beyond trying the lava cake, my answer is simple - one of each. You are on holiday, so do not hesitate to ask for more than one dish, especially desserts. My favourite dish is the BBQ ribs!
Lava Cake. Try it.
Dessi spends most of her time on Carnival Spirit cruises - so if you're dining in the Empire Dining Room, keep an eye out for her lovely and friendly face.