Marco Van Belleghem admits that he is both a performer and a recluse. This tall and imposing Dutchman talks with an engaging twinkle in his eyes and with a calming and careful accent that is mesmorizing. Despite this, he projects a commanding and controlled presence that suits his rank as the Hotel Director on the Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam – a role that is staggeringly broad. Marco looks after every aspect of the ship’s operations – other than the engineering and navigation of the ship. The food, the bars, the shops, the casino, the entertainment and every aspect of cabin service is included in his remit. It is a vast job that is extremely demanding and explains his need to totally unwind when back on land!
When he is on board for his usual 10 month assignment, he leads around 750 staff and also takes care of their food, entertainment and welfare as well as that of over two thousand passengers. Despite this huge task whenever you see him around the ship he has time to stop and talk to anyone interested in any (or all) of his passions: the welfare of the crew, the happiness of the passenger and photography. Full of energy he and his wife even have created an emerging business in cruise line recruitment (Oseanz.com) to encourage and facilitate others to work on cruise ships. They set it up as they believe that a career on ships is the best in the world – and they want to encourage others to do it.
Hotel Director is his performer role. It has to be as he is always in the spotlight and he can never have an off day. However, when he returns home to his family living in Belgium he admits that he retreats into the welcoming quiet of a small village where his home is, not far from Bruges. There he will cycle through the farmland, spend time with his wife and young daughter and disconnect from his 24-hour seven day a week Hotel Director job.
I have met a lot of hotel directors on many ships and I found Marco unique. In addition to running the hotel operations of the ship, he has taken advantage of travelling the world to build a formidable portfolio and reputation in the world of photography. On most cruises he holds packed talks where he shares some of his images and generously shares the best tips and tricks he has learnt about taking incredible photographs. He is an evangelist for encouraging passengers to build lasting memories of places the ship takes them around the world. Marco is no amateur and his photographs have appeared on travel websites and in prestige publications like Conde Nast. It was, therefore, rather nervously that I took out my camera to take a shot of him in his office when I got the chance to interview him. I suspect he was eager to share photography tips even then. He quietly and leadingly asked if I was sure that I had captured exactly the image I wanted. His instinct and drive for perfection is clear. I am no amazing photographer (yet) and taking a look at his photos on his site has set me a goal to strive towards.
Take a listen to the 15 minute interview I did with Marco about photography, Holland America Line and the best ports in the world to visit…..
In my interview with him I spoke about his photography, what makes Holland America Line special and he gave insider tips on making the most of cruising with them. He shared his unique insights based on being at sea for over 15 years. While I will include highlights in a more detailed podcast of my Tips for Travellers about Holland America Line, I wanted to share the full interview with Marco and what he had to say. If you want to listen to a specific section I have put where he starts talking about each topic:
- Marco’s photography (first 4 minutes). He talks about his passion, the talks he does on board and what makes a great travel photograph.
- His view on what makes Holland America Line special and different (from 4 minutes in). He talks about the aspects of the line that are unique and why.
- The type of people HAL is best suited for and why (From 8 minutes in). He talks about the different passenger mix based on time of year and destination and gives his thoughts on which type of people will most enjoy this premium cruise line.
- His favourite ports and why (From 11 minutes in). His answers are surprising and closer to home than I had expected.
Listen to my interview with Marco online using the media player below, or you can subscribe to the podcast to get the episode on iTunes or via your favourite podcast catcher using the podcast RSS feed:
See all my other articles, podcasts and video about Holland America on my dedicated page.
For more information and to follow Marco Van Belleghem before you get to meet him on board Holland America Line:
- Marco Van Belleghem photography: http://www.marcovanbel.com
- Oseanz cruise recuitment: http://www.oseanz.com
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of Holland America Cruises on their MS Nieuw Amsterdam ship on a 7 Night Mediterranean Cruise from Barcelona visiting Naples, Palermo, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno (Florence/ Pisa), and Toulon. Holland America are a Premium Cruise line with Dutch origins dating back to 1873.