This abacus clam shell ring was one project taught during a polymer clay cruise organized by Lisa Pavelka.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Pavelka

Who doesn’t dream about getting paid to take a vacation? Teaching your craft on a cruise ship, visiting exotic ports, and eating great food sounds like a frolic, but don’t be deceived – it’s also hard work and is not the right fit for everyone.

Yes, cruising and teaching can be a grand adventure, says Anita Grossman Solomon, who has taught her unique quilting techniques on a variety of cruises.

“But it is work,” she notes, “comparable to any multi-day quilt event. A lot of preparation is required, as it is for any event.”

The perks, of course, are enticing.

“I get to go somewhere I would not otherwise go, with a built-in group of cohorts,” says knitting instructor Sally Melville, who will soon be traveling through Canada and New England. “On a cruise, you have a built-in group of friends,” she adds. “I feel safe and well taken-care of. I travel alone, so this is a wonderful way to do it.”

Knitting and quilting are today’s hot cruising crafts, but you can also find tours for beading, polymer clay, mixed media, painting, and to a lesser extent, scrapbooking.

Annette Harris has fun with clay during a crafting cruise organized by Lisa Pavelka.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Pavelka

But don’t pack your bags yet, Sparky. There are things you need to know.

Sure, there’s the free travel, with on-board meals, but beware of unexpected costs, such as taxes, port fees, supplies, WiFi, excursions, drinks, etc. If you bring a buddy, he or she often pays his or her own fare.

Sometimes transportation to and from the departure point is included, other times you pay your own way there, and if you have to arrive the night before, there may a hotel expense.

Pay rates vary from zero (hey, they’re giving you a cruise and food!) to fees a bit lower than what you would get teaching a regular workshop, sometimes on a per-student basis. Figures are hard to get, but can range from $25 up to $100 per student, and because classes are offered mostly during “at sea” days, this could limit your teaching opportunities. Also, while you’re away you may miss other higher-paying teaching gigs.

“Look at the big picture,” says Gwen Bortner, a knitter who teaches for Craft Cruises®. “Look at the pay rate for the number of hours you teach. Is that enough to make sense for you? I like the travel, I like to see places I wouldn’t see on my own, so this works for me.”

Lisa Pavelka leads a clay workshop on board a cruise ship.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Pavelka

Creative cruises are not big moneymakers for polymer clay artist Lisa Pavelka. She did her first cruise class in 2005 with crafting pioneer Carol Duvall and now holds her own Art Across the Oceans cruises specializing in polymer and metal clay, wire, and mixed media themes.

“I do them primarily because they are fun,” Pavelka explains. “They are also a branding/marketing vehicle for my instructors and me. I won’t do a cruise if it costs me money, but I have done some where I only broke even. For me, this is worth the effort and time because it’s about so much more than the bottom line.”

Teachers often bring their own supplies (sewing machines and irons may be provided for quilt classes). Sometimes there is a dedicated classroom onboard, other times you have “a limited-size teaching space and sketchy lighting,” Pavelka says.

Teaching on a cruise “is not a good fit for everyone,” adds Bortner, who will head for Asia and South America next year. “You need to be ‘on’ all the time. You are expected to eat dinner (and maybe other meals) with your group. You have casual knitting time outside of class, where people gather and work on projects in the afternoon and evenings. You’re not necessarily teaching but you’re being social, interacting with the students. You can’t have a bad day, you can’t sleep in. You’re kind of a celebrity and people want to interact with you.”

Also, she adds, if you have a guest with you, it’s important that he or she understands that you are working. “That person needs to be self sufficient.”

The pre-cruise prep work is huge and you need to thoughtfully construct projects to fit the parameters of a sea trip. “I’ve been very fortunate to see much of the world through teaching,” says Suze Weinberg, who has taught mixed media and jewelry making on land and at sea. “The downside comes in lots of prep work and a tight schedule of classes. Also, you must learn not to do more than you can physically handle and to pace yourself. Be overly prepared, not just with extra supplies but with lots of empathy for students who are doing this for the first time and are nervous about the project.”

Still game? Then read on.

Quilters iron their pieces at sea.

Photo courtesy of Anita Grossman Solomon

A student shows off a quilt made during Anita Grossman Solomon’s class.

Photo courtesy of Anita Grossman Solomon

How do you get these gigs?

Don’t bother calling cruise lines. Most have entertainment departments, but they don’t hire teachers. Agencies that specialize in providing cruise line workers, including lecturers and other “enrichment” instructors, usually charge a registration fee to get on their lists. Check carefully before signing up with any agency or group.

Your best bet is to go through a travel agency that offers specialized tours (see resource list).

Beginners need not apply

“I look for a teacher who has a reputation for having good teaching skills and who teaches classes regularly,” says Deb Luttrell, owner of Stitchin’ Heaven, which specializes in quilting cruises. “The teacher needs to have a following as we ask him or her to help us fill the cruise through promotion on their social channels. They need to understand and accept that the cruise is first and foremost a job. It’s not a vacation first, job second.”

Personality counts

The ideal candidate will have not just excellent teaching skills, experience and a good (preferably national) reputation, but must be an extrovert with a friendly, outgoing personality. “The skills are the same as teaching at any event,” says Solomon. “You must be thoroughly organized, experienced, and devoted to the participants.”

This means dealing with a variety of student skill levels. “You need lots of patience with people and a really pleasant attitude, good handouts, lots of extra supplies, and a good teaching voice and style,” notes Weinberg. “To you the project is easy, to them, it’s not.”

It helps to have a following

“Write books, publish in magazines, teach at a trade show,” Melville advises. “Look for shops that offer crafting retreats. Suggest that instead of going to a mountain cabin or convention center, why not have a shipboard retreat?”

While Weinberg once promoted her classes with ads in stamping magazines, today’s marketing is all about social media. “Be visible. Be everywhere,” Weinberg says. “Show your work online. Sell your work online.”

And don’t forget, you can also host your own group – chat with travel agents to find out about these options.

Students work on quilted pieces during Anita Grossman Solomon’s on-board quilting workshop.

Photo courtesy of Anita Grossman Solomon

Resources

Before contacting these companies, check the websites for application information. Some take recommendations only; some are agencies that require fees:

www.artacrosstheoceans.com

www.beadcruise.com

www.craftcruises.com

www.craftours.com

www.cruiseandcrop.com

www.sixthstar.com (a fee-based agency)

https://stitchinheaven.com/

www.worldofquiltstravel.com

Roberta G. Wax

Roberta G. Wax

contributor

Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader.   www.creativeunblock.com

Cruising Along: Blend Adventure & Work While Teaching Crafts on a Cruise

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