Holiday entertainment schedule case study

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Project overview

Holiday entertainment schedule

Designed , planned and implemented a month long celebration of events and entertainment focused to crew members to ensure their value was appreciated during the busiest time onboard.


3 Months (including planning, scheduling, implementation and review)


Entertainment Manager – responsible for designing and implementing the entertainment programme for the crew.


Myself, Trainee Entertainment Manager with assistance from other operational departments (eg dining, beverage, characters etc) 

About Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line currently operates five ships: Disney MagicDisney WonderDisney DreamDisney Fantasy, and Disney Wish. Three more ships will join the fleet starting in 2024. There is also Castaway Cay, a private island in the Bahamas designed as an exclusive port of call for Disney’s ships. 

Alongside bringing a Disney standard of entertainment quality and experience to the cruise industry, Disney Cruise Line pioneered the rotational dining concept, by which guests rotate with their waiting staff through three different main dining rooms.

The cruise line has experienced great growth over the past several years in terms of expansion and market share. In 2011, the company held a 1.95 percent market share and by 2021, the market share was 2.2 percent by passenger and 2.7 percent by revenue.

Problem Area

Crew feel disconnected from their roles on baord due to being away from family and loved ones during the holidays.

Crew feel unrecognised during December, which is one of the busiest times on board when efforts are high in each department.

Conducting research

Before beginning, I needed to understand what was working well for crew members already and their thoughts about what was missing.

Talking to the crew

What has worked?

As a starting point, I prioritised talking to crew from various departments to understand their thoughts of past events and what they wanted to see going forward.

  • Multi-departmental parties – This helps to bring different groups of people together to relax and unwind.
  • Big prize bingo – In the past, there has been a bingo event with prizes such as MacBooks, iPads and Apple Watches.
  • Crew Sale – An opportunity to crew members to shop in the merchandise stores after hours.

What hasn't worked?

  • Event timings – Crew mentioned that they could not attend some events due to them clashing with their scheduled work hours.
  • Multiple food-based events – The pressure on the food teams at this time of year is high due to the enhanced events which are offered for guests, this left little room for adding more of these for the crew.
  • Payment of activities  – Due to the nature of shipboard contracts, payments used to be taken post event which resulted in creditors.

What have crew requested?

  • Decorate the ship – On other ships there have been competitions to make the ship look unique and was judged by the Steering Committee.
  • Relaxed events – As the season is busy in many roles, the crew wanted events which enabled them to unwind in a social setting.
  • Beverage tastings – Events like champagne, beer and wine tastings have been trailed before with success.

Crew profiles

Certain areas of the ship were only available to certain crew members. These needed to be taken into consideration when planning the schedule.

These profiles also outline the different working patterns to take into account and what type of events were requested.

Fleet activies

What was being offered on other ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet?

Talking with other Entertainment Managers in the company, I wanted to understand what they were offering for the holiday season. 

This would help with the following;

  • Alignment – Ensuring that crew members did not receive a better/worse experience due to the ship they were currently working on.
  • Financial savings – Buying items in bulk for the entire fleet would save costs and keep budgets under control.
  • Speed of delivery – Allowing different entertainment managers to work on various elements of the programme eased time pressures of creating an entire programme.

Department capacity

What was planned in other departments and did they have extra capacity to help bring this programme to life?

Due to the crew entertainment department being limited with regards to people resources, there was a need to gain operational input from other departments to run the schedule.

For this, I needed to understand their department programmes which were planned for the December holiday season and what extra resources they could dedicate to mine for the crew.

This involved multiple conversations with different department heads ahead of time to keep the project on their radar and understand any constraints I needed to face.

Defining the design area

How might we enable more crew to attend more events, taking their work patterns into consideration?

How might we include a mixed energy of events (both high and low) to appeal to a wide crowd?

How might we prioritise food at events to not over stretch the catering department?

How might we keep on top of payments required by crew for the events?

How might we enhance the offerings for the holiday season compared to other times in the year?

Success metrics

Attendance numbers
How many people came to each event showed to myself, other entertainment managers across the fleet, upper management and shoreside management what was popular.

Talking to the crew about the event gave me a good understanding of their reaction. This information was also shared around the fleet and to upper management (onboard and shoreside).


Time schedules
Each department had different schedules where crew needed to work and had to be taken into consideration when planning.

Guest venue availability
Each venue on board has multiple activities going on per day, so I needed to plan carefully when I could use these for crew activities.

Other entertainment managers had access to the budget across the year, so I needed to understand any pending transactions on this before allocating funds.

Ideation and testing

Now that I had a better understanding of the problem and what the business needed, I could start to think about possible solutions to the problem. I came up with a number of event options that I tested out with audiences to ensure success.

Get people talking about the offerings

As part of the promotion onboard, I had access to a printed layout called the ‘Crew Navigator’ which outlined all of the important information crew needed to know about working on board including safety drills, mess hours, bar opening/closing times. This was to compliment the guest version and had to uphold the high graphic guidelines that Disney put in place.

For this holiday schedule, multiple events were happening at the same time. For this reason, I needed to maximise the space which was used here. I tried using a 4×4 grid to advertise events and to capture the crew’s attention.

Alongside this, I designed a full tabloid (A3) sized calendar that crew could put up in their cabins to have an overview of the full month. 

Trailing out an idea

The idea of decorating the I95 (the main corridor on the ship) was new to the Disney Fantasy. However, this event worked very successfully on other ships. 

This was an idea which was raised by multiple crew members to include in the line-up. For that reason, I wanted to try my best to include it and make it successful. 

I talked to several departments and other entertainment managers to see the best way to do this. From their response, I dedicated a section of the corridor to each department as a competition to see who did it best.

The result?

The picture here is from the deck department who utilised lots of material offcuts from their work to create this tree.

It had lighting to give it additional effects and went on to win the competition after being judged by the steering committee on-board.

Further feedback

I tested the final programme line-up with a small focus group on board made up of people from various departments. The purpose of this was to give me a view of what could work before the event went live and also to drum up more excitement and interest to attract a bigger audience.

A high majority of the events had a good response and people responded to the updated/new events in the line-up with excitement.

A couple of the of the events needed to be adjusted before the calendar was delivered to crew cabins. This was mainly due to timings as they didn’t align with the work schedule that I had originally been given.

Installation & delivery

These are some of the images from the various events that were part of the holiday entertainment lineup. The crew had a fantastic experience and there were lots of laughs and smiles.

Project reflections

After the project had finished there was time to look at the project in a retrospective manner to fins out what went well, what didn't work and what could be improved. Here are some of the key things that need to be considered for next time.

Look at attendance numbers

With each event that we need to review the attendance number of people that came along. If these were too low then the event will either need to be alterned for the next time or removed from future lines ups.

Alongside this, there needs to be an understanding of the overall enjoyment of the event. Did the crew enjoy it? Are there elements that could have gone better? What could be improved?

Budgets need to be better planned throughout the year

The way that Disney Cruise Line budgets work makes it harder to plan for the end of the year due to management crossover.

Can these be better managed from shoreside or could a portion of the budget be ringfenced to help plan better?

The holiday schedule is the biggest event on the calendar and I felt as though I was stretched at times due to the budget that I had, which was different across the fleet.

Lets talk

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