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"We have people calling the call centers asking, 'Is Eric on that voyage?' So he makes a difference in that he makes people laugh," Pimentel said. "And the laughter is the joy and glorious connection that he gets."

Interaction with the crew turns out to be one of the most highly valued parts of a cruise experience, according to research undertaken by World Travel Holdings, parent to retailers such as CruiseOne/Cruises Inc.

In an analysis of more than 14,000 entries submitted by cruisers to the company's Cruiseline.com review site, staff and service were rated higher than any other cruise attribute, including food and dining.

On a scale of 1 to 3, the average review ranked satisfaction with service and staff at 2.71. "It is where we find our highest scores, but people are also telling us it is very important to them, as well," said David Crooks, senior vice president of product and operations at World Travel Holdings. Crooks said that when CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. held its annual conference last fall on Princess Cruises' new Regal Princess, Hotel Director Dirk Brand stood out.

"He was phenomenal," Crooks said, "and that ship does score really high."

For the six months that ended in March, Regal Princess tied with Celebrity Reflection as the third most popular ship among Cruiseline.com reviewers, behind only the Disney Dream and the Allure of the Seas.

As overseers of the dining and cabin staff, hotel directors supervise the largest number of crew on a ship.

They can have a dramatic effect on crew attitude, said Jennifer Gasser, vice president of supplier relations and product operations at World Travel Holdings.

Photo Credit: TW illustration by Thomas R Lechleiter