Georgia Original: This is a series of stories spotlighting area residents who have unqiue stories to tell based on their lives, careers and community involvement.
Scott Kinney’s travel numbers
106 — Countries visited
1,200 — World destinations seen
185 — UNESCO World Heritage Sites toured
For cruise tips from Scott Kinney, click here.
Before he saw Queen Elizabeth, before he privately toured the King Tutankhamun tomb, before he took five around-the-world trips and before he visited more than 100 of our world’s great nations, Scott Kinney was just a Georgia boy who had never been outside the immediate South.
Now, 30 years later, the 63-year-old Gainesville native and current Talmo County resident has a long history of sharing his love of globetrotting with thousands of would-be adventurers.
For the past three decades, Kinney worked on cruise ships as a shore excursions director, which allowed him to guide passengers on his ships to faraway and exotic locales, such as the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Sydney Opera House and much more.
Recently returned from a trip to Asia, Kinney had this to say about his travels and time in the business:
Question: How did you obtain your love of traveling?
Answer: I was really lucky, because, in 1970, as a student at Georgia Tech, I had a chance to live and study in Spain for four months. I got to study Spanish literature, culture, civilization, etc., and I realized then what a wonderful, big world we live in. Right then, I knew at some point in my life — and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it — but I was going to travel again. Then, in the 1980s, I saw an advertisement for a company called Advanced Career Training, and I thought that it might get my foot in the door somehow as far as continuing my travels. I took the course and graduated with honors. At the time, I was teaching piano and working as a church organist on Sundays, but within a month’s time (of graduating), I had a position with a cruise line.
Q: What was crossing your mind when you stepped onto that cruise ship for the first time?
A: Well, I had never set foot on a cruise ship before, other than working on a steamboat on the Mississippi River, so it was quite something to cross that gangway for the first time. To me, the ship just seemed enormous. It was quite something to feel the engines cranking up as we were about to pull away from the port of Miami for the first time.
Q: At that time, did you plan on making cruise ships your career?
A: Honestly, I thought it would be a good summer job, or that maybe I’d do it for a full year. But I could not have even remotely guessed it would be 30-plus years that I’d be doing this.
Q: What work did you do in those three decades?
A: Pretty much, for all those 30 years, I was a shore excursions manager. So I gave the briefings about the destinations, I helped people determine where they wanted to go once we got into port, things like that. You have to know about the historical points of interest, beaches, rental cars, hotels. It’s intense. The last ship I was on, I was the club director, which is the same as the cruise director. You’re the front person who has to make the announcement, be in charge of the entertainment, give briefings, answer questions, always be available, host cocktail and dinner parties, sort out problems, maintain a desk where guests can talk to you about anything and everything. But luckily, I didn’t have to sing or dance or anything like that, which some cruise directors do.
Q: You must have really enjoyed it to stay in the business all that time.
A: Well, yes, it’s fun, but it’s not for everybody. For example, I’m not married. This would have been a terrible life for any family. But after a while for me, what I was doing became my normal life. I got used to working out of the country for eight or nine months out of any 12-month period.
Q: So, you’ve said you’ve visited 106 countries, stopped at more than 1,200 destinations, taken almost half a dozen round-the-world trips. What’s your favorite place that you’ve been?
A: Oh, that’s hard to say. The parts of the world I like a lot are Scandinavia, the British Isles, Scotland in particular. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities. It just takes your breath away.
Q: What did you enjoy about working on a cruise ship?
A: It’s constantly stimulating. Every cruise for me was exciting because you have a different group of people every time. Unfortunately, I must say that, after 30 years, I’ve become a little bit desensitized to travel, only because I’ve been to these places so many times. If I were to pull up to Barcelona or Hong Kong, I’d feel as comfortable in those cities as I would downtown Atlanta. Actually, I don’t even know how to drive in downtown Atlanta anymore.
Q: Do a lot of people make a career working on cruise ships?
A: Honestly, a lot of people do this for short periods of time. I’ve known people who only do this job for two weeks and quit. But, certainly, I have developed a circle of friends who have been doing this for long periods of time. It just becomes what we do. For me, it’s just as normal to get a plane ticket to Dubai as it is for me to drive around Gainesville.
Cruise ship work is not for everyone. You’re away from home for possibly months at a time, usually working seven days a week, many hours a day, for the duration of your contract. And you’ll be under a lot of pressure to please and perform to very high standards.
Q: Where would you recommend people looking to take a cruise visit?
A: My experience is first-time cruisers often go to the Caribbean. OK, do that if you want to. Get a taste of what it’s like to be on cruise ships. But these ports are so saturated with cruise ships that it’s not the same experience as other places. On any given day in the Grand Cayman, you’re going to have five to six megaships with thousands of tourists coming off. What I would try to do is head somewhere else, if money allows. If you’re afraid of the language issue, go to the British Isles. Or, if time and money allow, Australia and New Zealand.
Q: What is your piece of advice for people about to take a cruise?
A: I would suggest people not take all the ship shore excursions that are offered on the cruise. But rather try to go to shore independently, to walk the streets, to visit the local shops, to meet the local people. That’s priceless.
Q: What is your advice for people considering following in your career footsteps?
A: It’ll be the best of life, with a down side, though. You’re away from home a long time, so if you have relationships, it’ll be a strain on those relationships. In my case, I was in San Juan when my mother passed away in 1986. I was in St. Petersburg when my father passed away. I was in Vietnam when my cousin passed away suddenly. And everyone thinks that it’s going to be fun and games all the time. Absolutely not. It’s like a pressure cooker.
All day long, you are either on call or working. There was rarely a morning that I wasn’t up by 5:30 a.m., arriving at the port by 7 a.m., and then I might have a little free time in the afternoon. Then we always have afternoon desk hours, and then there are things in the evening I have to go to, or something after dinner. Then I have work until 1 in the morning, sleep four hours, and wake up again. And that’s a typical day.
It’s not easy. It’s not for everyone. You have to get used to it. And a lot of times, we lose track of what the calendar day is. But for those who can handle it, it’s a wonderful career. On having the opportunity to travel extensively and see much of the world, I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and satisfying career. Simply put, this has been the right profession for me. I have taken much personal joy in being able to tell others about the places I have visited and hopefully guide them in the right direction for their own travels.
Q: Do you think you’re done yet?
A: No. I am a very young 63, definitely young at heart and in spirit. Every day is a new adventure for me. There is still a lot of the world I would like to see, and I have the energy and enthusiasm and good health to do so. My father worked until he was in his 80s, and I have no intention of ever retiring as long as my health and energy and enthusiasm hold out.
Q: What other parts of the world would you still like to see?
A: To begin with, I would like to see much more of the United States, particularly New England, and states like Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon. Outside of the states, I would hope to visit Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. I would also like to visit Austria and Switzerland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.