For cruise guests, the holiday gets underway the moment they step foot onboard the ship. Though the ship’s crew who greet passengers with a smile may be a primary part of the experience, there are also plenty of people behind-the-scenes who have played a vital role in developing the perfect experience.
Denitza Dimitrov is one of those people. She is a journey planner for river cruise company Emerald Waterways, which specialises in river cruises and tours spanning Europe, Russia, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia.
With so many destinations on offer, it takes real skill and expertise to select the best experiences from each to create the ultimate holiday.
While it may sound like a challenging task, it’s just part of the every day for Ms Dimitrova, and allows her to really express her creativity.
“The job of a journey planner is exciting, creative and very diverse,” she told Express.co.uk.
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Cruise: Denitza Dimitrov is a journey planner for Emerald Waterways
“Every day is different and presents a chance to learn and develop.”
By delving into research from all corners of the globe, Ms Dimitrova and her team are able to tailor-make holidays that uniquely fit their guest demographic.
“A journey planner creates experiences by following current tourism trends, emerging opportunities, demands from various markets and feedback from travellers.
“We are curious about everything and committed to bringing our guests the world’s most immersive excursions, tours and travel experiences,” she explains.
“As a river cruise planner, I am part of a team which prepares ship schedules by deciding the length, start/end point of each itinerary, designing tours from each port, as well as onboard enrichment activities.
“We work closely with a lot of other departments, from Nautical and Hospitality to Sales, Marketing and Operations, and are at the core of communication to ensure that the entire package is carefully designed and delivered at its best.”
Ms Dimitrova knows only too well the beauty of life on the river, and this is something that ultimately lead her to pursue her adventurous career.
“River cruising has always been an inseparable part of my life. I was born in a town on the Danube, in a family of a captain and a cruise manager,” she says.
“I love travel, cultures, languages and people. So, I guess all choices in life brought me back to river cruising and, honestly, there is no other place I would rather be.”
While it may have been her upbringing that led her to journey further into the world of cruising, its the diversity of the job and her passion that has kept her thriving in the industry.
“No day in river cruising is ‘typical’ and that’s one of the reasons why I love the industry.
“The job is so dynamic and diverse, it is hard to know what awaits you each morning.
“There are days when I have to revise a sailing schedule to accommodate special requests, or create new itineraries, revisit operational deliverables, or work with our marketing team on publications.
“Rarely does a day start with a plan, but there is always a lot of excitement in a business which depends on rivers so you need to stay flexible.”
Of course, when nature is at the heart of your business, the unexpected can happen, and everything has focussed on the river.
“In the field of river cruising, we depend on various external factors, and this can sometimes pose serious challenges in planning and delivery.
“Unlike land journeys, we depend on a natural resource our rivers. They are the source of our business and dictate the rules.
“The fact that there are more and more ships sailing the rivers is also a factor we need to constantly take into account.”
This is why creativity is so essential – and luckily that’s Ms Dimitrova’s favourite part of the job.
“In this business, it is essential to stay innovative and authentic.
“The rivers we build itineraries around don’t change, but it is the manner in which Emerald Waterways puts together each element of the journey that distinguishes us on the market and creates a lasting memory.
“It is the local encounters, flavours and stories that we hope guests take home after sailing through selected destinations.
“My formula for enjoying what I do is passion for the industry and a pinch of never-ending curiosity.”
Unsurprisingly, in order to know if a destination is a good fit, journey planners must experience it for themselves.
“We do regular visits to the ships for a closer look at onsite operation, so we can enhance the product,” says Ms Dimitrova.
“I very much enjoyed the educational cruise I did last year on Emerald Dawn, sailing from Budapest to Nuremberg.
“On the first day of the cruise, it started snowing, which complemented well the Christmas market visits we had planned for these themed sailings.
“The beauty of river cruising is that it’s a different experience depending on when you travel, so guests are always promised a unique experience.”
Yet journey planners don’t only look at destinations – they also draw intricate focus on building relationships with local people and businesses in each location.
Ms Dimitrova explains: “The job of a journey planner isn’t only to bring you to a small town in the Wachau Valley where you can enjoy local apricot products or a wine tasting.
“We try to ensure that we are developing the best possible journey with memories to last, whilst working with our long-term partners in each region to ensure our guests get a true glimpse of the culture in the different regions we visit.
“Between the initial idea of the journey and its actual delivery, there are many little steps we look into so we can ensure the value of the experience is guaranteed.”
Yet, even when the team aren’t stepping onboard vessels, they still spend their days being transported around the globe virtually, something Ms Dimitrova says makes her job “unlike any others”.
“For us to create a journey, we need to first have a vision, be able to imagine it and then put it in practice,” she says.
“This creativity and immersion keep us going and keeps us motivated, knowing that a product can constantly be developed and enhanced.”
For Ms Dimitrova, her job is a step towards turning fantasies into reality.
As she says: “Let your dreams sail!”