Meet the Man Behind the Curtain

Inspiration Travel



Christian Cruise Director Charlie Spencer Shares his Two Decades of Experience

Charlie, center, takes a rare moment of pause on one of the many Alaska cruises he's led.
Charlie, center, takes a rare moment of pause on one of the many Alaska cruises he's led.

Sure, some of the best advocates for cruising are passengers who’ve just returned from a spectacular destination, having had the time of their lives. But what about the experts who spend 52 weeks a year immersed in the world of ocean liners and port excursions?

We caught up with the legendary Charlie Spencer whose staggering 17 years of industry experience have made him more passionate about cruising than anyone else we know. Here’s what our Cruise Conferences Director has to say about first-time cruisers, billion dollar ships and the future of cruising.

How has the cruise industry changed since you’ve been a part of it?

When I started serving in the cruise industry in 1998, there was a little over 5 million cruisers globally. The prediction from CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) for this year is 24 million. 24 million people cruising worldwide! That’s a growth market!

What do you attribute this growth to?

There are at least four or five brand new cruise lines that have popped up since 1998 and they’ve all skyrocketed. With so many additional cruise lines, vessels and routes, there is suddenly so much more supply. And with that, the prices for cruising have come down, creating a much broader and expanding cruise community.

Not only has the game changed economically, but it’s also become a mass market that’s inviting to people from all walks of life. It’s not reserved for an elite, narrow socio-economic sector any more. Not only is cruising more culturally inclusive now, there’s a specific type of cruise for everyone. And you have things like convenient new destinations and theme cruises to make sure people are still getting a unique, exceptional experience.

How have you seen the cruise experience change over the years?

It would be hard to overemphasize just how much the global cruise industry has changed. Now the buzzword is: multi-generational cruising… with parents, grandparents, great-grandparents traveling together with their children. A decade ago, that was not as common.

Cruising has a much greater appeal than ever before. The ships are truly built as destinations in and of themselves. Rock-climbing walls. Putting courses. Zip lines. Twenty restaurants to choose from. Your pick of Broadway shows. It’s not just shuffleboard and dinner anymore.

What reactions do you see from first-time cruisers?

I would say the common response is that they feel a good way. Even if they read what the experience would be like, nothing can compare to actually being there. The physical scale of the ship is so beyond what they could imagine.

A decade or two ago, a new ship could be built in the 300-400 million dollar range. Today, you have Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, coming in at 1.3 billion. So, the ships are much more grandiose and sophisticated than anything they’ve seen before. They weren’t expecting three story atriums and chandelier-clad theaters.

How about from cruisers who are on a Christian voyage for the first time?

[smiling] I get the same response from our passengers on every single trip. Dozens of them. And they’re almost all verbatim: ‘We just wanted to let you know: This is not our first cruise. But now that we know what a vacation can really be like, we are never going to do this any other way.’

How is a Christian cruise different than a regular cruise?

I would say it’s an extremely fulfilling experience for Believers. Even for those with very high expectations, the experience tends to exceed that.

Christian cruising is really the best of both worlds. People get to explore a beautiful part of the world while they draw closer to God. They also get the novelty and entertainment of a cruise, but without the kind of distractions that can take away from those looking for a spiritual respite.

Do you consider yourself as working for a logistics company?

Certainly what we do wouldn’t be possible without an inordinate amount of logistics. There must be 3-4,000 details that go into the planning of each and every cruise. Multiply that by 12 to 18 cruises a year and you have an idea of what’s going on in my head!

Can you name a few kinds of details for those who have no idea what goes into an event like this?

I don’t know that I would want to. I’m a theater guy, and don’t want any peeking behind the curtain.

The best compliment I can get from passengers is that they had the time of their lives, and everything we did seemed effortless. I don’t want them to notice all the work that goes on behind the scenes. I want them to enjoy the relaxation, the rejuvenation, the enrichment that the experience brings to their lives. If we can make that happen, that’s mission accomplished for me.