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Explorer of the Seas
A CONVERSATION
WITH
CAPTAIN ERIK

Royal Caribbean's Captain Erik
Standal talks about commanding
Explorer of the Seas  (Part I)

By Richard H. Wagner
ABOVE: Captain Erik Standal of
EXPLORER OF THE SEAS .  
BELOW:
Captain Erik talks with his officers on
EXPLORER's bridge.
Captain Erik Standal is a soft-spoken native of Bergen,
Norway.  He is the master of Royal Caribbean
International’s Explorer of the Seas, the popular Voyager-
class cruise ship that has been operating out of New York
Harbor (Bayonne, New Jersey) since 2007.  
Announcements over the ship's public address system
start with a friendly and informal:  "This is Captain Erik .
. ."  His relaxed, easy-going manner indicates comfort
with command.  At the same time, his youthful appearance
gives no clue as to his substantial experience or to the
perseverance it took to reach his position.

 When he was at school, Captain Standal studied to
become a skilled workman in ventilation systems and
worked in that trade both before and after serving in
Norwegian Army.  However, “one day, I looked around
me and I thought my world was very small and I really
wanted to do something else.”

 He decided that he wanted to go to sea but changing from
one professions to another was not easy.  First, before
enrolling in a maritime academy, he had to take a one year
correspondence course in preparation.  He also had to
gain some experience at sea.  “I spent a couple of years
on the North Sea fisheries.  You learn something about
seamanship that you don’t do out here.  You learn things
seamanship out here but in a different way.  It is much
more hands on because you are in a small ship on rough
seas.”

 After three years at the maritime academy, Standal
worked on the ferries that connect the Scandinavian
countries.  That gave him the experience needed to join
Royal Caribbean in 1996.  “I joined as a quartermaster,
making coffee, dusting on the bridge and doing the hand
steering.   From there, I went to Second Officer, First
Officer, Chief Officer and Staff Captain.”

 “Explorer is the first ship I am the permanent captain on.
I functioned as relief captain on the Voyager and on the
Rhapsody.”  Standal believes that coming up through the
ranks gave him the experience required to become
captain.  “Even if you have your captain’s license, it
doesn’t mean you can be captain on a cruise ship.  If a
captain on a cargo ship came here, he wouldn’t have the
same understanding especially of the hotel operation.  
[Because it is such a vital part of the cruise business,] you
have to have the interest in the hotel operation.  When you
are going up the ranks [on a cruise ship] you can get a
pretty good understanding of that operation and if you do
not have it, you will not become captain.  Through these
positions you have to work hand in hand with the hotel
side of the operation."
 "Everything you do has an effect on somebody else.  It is
like a very fine Swiss watch where everything has to fall
into place.  For example, going into Labadee where we
transport our own ice cubes.  One guy is supposed to put
ice on the tender.  If it is not there and you have to wait
for him ten minutes, it will delay the whole operation.  It
will delay the guests going ashore because there is one
less tender.  This is part you have to understand of the
hotel operation.  Of course, you also have to learn the
business side - - budgets and so on and how to manage
people, how to drive the human force in the right
direction.”

Managing the Ship

Ideas about how to manage people have evolved and
managing a crew on a service-oriented ship is not the
same as it used to be.  “You can’t force people to be
happy, you can’t force them to smile.  It has to come
naturally and you can only do that by making people
somehow enjoy what they are doing and being where they
are.  The old style with a stick is not welcome anymore in
the culture we have now.  The respect must be mutual
regardless of whether you have no stripes on your
shoulder or four and a half stripes on your shoulder.  The
management has the duty to correct problems and
behavior issues with employees.  If somebody is not
doing what is expected or required in a position, you
explain it in the best way and try to make them understand
it.  If you don’t [make him or her understand], the whole
process is worthless.  If you take someone in and make
them sign a paper that says they have done something
wrong and they don’t understand it or accept it
themselves, they will be back in very soon.  You have to
get people to agree and willing and not try to force them.”

 Still, even in a service oriented business, the traditional
military-style hierarchy on ships remains necessary.  “At
sea, you need to have it in some ways.  It is, of course, not
as strict as the military, but the system functions in the
same way.  We are a small community and in a community
you have some order to control certain people - - the fire
department, the police station.  Someone in society has to
make the decisions.  [On a ship]. you have the ranking
system in order to make it clear who is making the
decisions - -.a certain degree of respect for the officers of
the ship.”

 “If you work in a business shoreside, you are there for
eight hours a day and then go home. Here, the people are
together 24/7 365.    If you took everyone from a
[community] and put them in a city hall and said from now
on you are going to live here for the next three months, I
am sure that you would have to establish some extra new
additional rules and so on to make it work.  It is not to
make life difficult for anyone.  In fact, the crew appreciate
having rules and regulations in general as long as they
understand them.  As long as they know what is expected
and what is allowed and not allowed, that makes people
comfortable.”

 The management system on a cruise ship must also
recognize that crews today are composed of many
nationalities and that there is considerable cultural
diversity.  “The books of rules and regulations can seem
very big sometimes but we all come from different
backgrounds and what is obvious to me is not obvious to
the one working next to me.  Like when I came to Royal
Caribbean, I was handed this book in the office in Oslo
when I started.  [One thing it said] was that I would have
to shower once a day.  Do you really need to tell people
that?  It took me a short time to figure out that for me it is
obvious but maybe not for everybody else.”

 Another reason for having rules, regulations and written
policies “is standardization so when [a crew member]
comes on one ship so we are able to operate similarly.  
Crew members like to know what is expected.”
 
 Standardization is also viewed as important in marketing
cruises.  If a person has a good time on one Royal
Caribbean ship and knows that they all operate similarly,
he or she is more likely to try another Royal Caribbean
ship. Nonetheless, guests sometimes favor one ship over
another.   “For some reason, you always get comments
from guests saying this ship is so much fun and this one is
not so fun.   There can be specific situations that can drive
things.  Maybe the crew is more happy on one itinerary
than on another, maybe it is the management on board that
has a slightly different style.  Even if they follow the
policies, it can be a different way of running things.  [For
example] we have an executive team on board Explorer
that works very well together and is very open to
discussing ideas.  The crew can feel this and it reflects on
their performance.”

 Along the same lines, differences can emerge out of the
natural competitive streak in people.  “Just as in society
in general, people want to work for the best company and
the best ship.”

Some thoughts on cruising

"I  think it would be very difficult to say that there is a
typical passenger on Royal Caribbean.  We see people of
all ages, from all parts of society, and from different
nationalities.  So, I can’t say that there is a typical group
of people.  What we offer today in cruising is so different
than some years ago, there are so many things that you can
do.  It is no longer about sitting in a deck chair with a
blanket over your knees reading a good book and
watching the sunset.  By all means, if you choose to do
that, I salute you too because relaxing is absolutely part of
cruising but there is so much more.”

 “I think it is a very good form of vacation.  You look at
the price and compare it with staying in a decent hotel
[where] you have to buy in addition the food and all the
other things.  If you haven’t been to the Caribbean and you
go on a ship, you go to three, four, maybe five different
places and spend a little bit of time there. You come back
onboard, have a nice evening, shows, a good dinner and
you wake up in a new place, a new island.  If you find a
favorite, a place you really like, then you can go back.  If
you go somewhere you have only read about in the
brochures [to spend] a whole week, [you may find on] the
second day it is not what you want and you want to go
home.”

 “Some people just use us as a method of transportation.  
Okay, it takes more time but at least you did not have to
go through the airport.  Flying today is not very
pleasant.”      

 “There are many choices.  Like I said, if you want to stay
on board and sit in a deck chair and relax when everyone
else goes ashore you can.    That is exactly what you
should do. You want to sit on a horse or on a beach, you
can go do that. Then, you have the other ones who want to
see as much as possible.  They realize you can still have
the evening onboard.  What better form of vacation can
you have?”
On formal nights Captain Erik hosts
the above table in EXPLORER's
dining room.
Built into the armrest of the chair are
a set of controls that can be used to
maneuver the ship.  
Click here for a printer-friendly PDF version of the article
Click here for the second part
of our conversation with
Captain Standal.

There is more information
and photos of Explorer of the
Seas on the
Explorer of the
Seas Profile Page.

Read Captain Standal's
comments about Navigator of
the Seas in our
Photo Tour
and Commenatry on
Navigator of the Seas.
Cruise ship inside interview - Explorer of the Seas - Royal Caribbean - Captain Erik Standel - page 1
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