James MacDonald


James MacDonald
Captain James MacDonald served 15 years with the Merchant Marines before coming to work for Royal Caribbean International, so he runs a tight ship. Since then, he's spent another 15 years sailing 7 different ships in our fleet. A deep love of travel and exploration has made this lifetime seaman a valuable member of the Royal Caribbean team.

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How do you become a captain?
You have to be a Master Mariner, which is the equivalent of a captain's license or a master's license. Then you have to have a year's worth of experience in the industry, like an internship. There is also special training specific to Royal Caribbean ships and equipment that we do in simulators. Overall, you just work hard and move up through the ranks.
How did you decide to pursue this career?
In high school, a friend's father was a captain and I had summer jobs with him. After high school, I sailed on an international cargo ship and really enjoyed it, so I decided to get my navigational licenses and it progressed into a career.
What other cruise-industry positions did you hold before you became a captain?
I started as an ordinary seaman and a quartermaster, and when I had the sea time required by the government to become an officer, I wrote a required paper and got promoted. I moved through the ranks this way, from third officer, to second, to chief officer and so on. I've worked in all of these positions, right up to captain.
How involved are you in planning the ship's itinerary?
Our First Navigation Officer starts the process by laying out the new itinerary - usually a direct route. My chief officers and I look it over and make comments or adjustments. Finally, I approve it and then I sign off on the voyage.
Is navigation still done by hand or is it all computerized?
It's regulation company policy to use paper charts, so the tradition is still there. We still record positions on the nautical chart on a regular basis, but the ship is run by computers 98% of the time. We have the newest management system software that you can get, plus GPS and AISL, which identifies nearby ships by name.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love to travel. I love ships. I love the ocean. Since I've been in the cruise industry, I like working with people, the interaction with the guests, and the crew, of course. There are a lot of interesting moments dealing with guest satisfaction and coordinating the team effort across departments.
Do you keep in touch with repeat guests?
Yes. Repeat guests tend to become like family - hopefully get to know the crew onboard. They will make it a point to come back to the ships that they enjoy. I sometimes keep in touch with them - I get a call here and there, and Christmas cards. Onboard, I try to have as much contact with our guests as possible. It's very enjoyable!

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