CRUISE DIRECTORS

Questionnaires from our Cruise Directors (extraordinaire)

Its time to meet some of our fabulous Cruise Directors! While you will have the chance to get to know them on board our ships, we’ve compiled these fun questionnaires to give you a bit of insight into who they are beforehand. Find out where they’re from, where they’ve been, AND where they’re going:) Also included are a few insider tips and tidbits about the cruise tours they currently lead. Take a look below – and don’t be shy in saying hello!

Europe: Dusan L. Kuljic

Meet our Senior Cruise Director for our Europe Cruises (including Danube, Russia, Tulip & Rhine Cruises)

 

What tour(s) do you lead?

Danube, Rhine, Tulip

Where are you originally from?

Belgrade, Yugoslavia

What brought you into the travel and tourism industry?

Curiosity – to see the world and meet people.

How long have you been leading this tour?

Well over two decades – you can check all the wonderful emails I get from our clients:)

What’s your favorite activity to do on this tour and why?

Visiting museums and other sights not on itinerary.

If you could recommend one food dish and drink on this tour what would they be and why?

Sorry, there are too many good ones to pick one – but Serbian chevapchichi for sure.

What’s your favorite book and/or movie about this destination?

Title: The Bridge on The Drina; Author: Ivo Andric (Nobel prize winner in 1961.)

What are your favorite local hotspots on this tour?

Danube gorge and city of Brasov with Sinaia mountain Peles Castle.

What historical, cultural, or political figures from here have inspired you?

Janos (John) Hunyadi – Hungarian military and political figure from 15th century
Nikola Tesla – one of the greatest Serbian scientists of all times from 19th – 20th century

Where’s your favorite place to travel and why?

Greece, Herzegovina, German & French wine section of river Rhine.

How has travel impacted your life?

Tremendously by all means!

Why do you think it’s important for people to travel?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”   -Mark Twain

Rhine & Tulip: Tea Toplak

Meet our Cruise Director for our Radiant Rhine and Timeless Tulips Cruises.

What's your name?

Téa (pronounced Tey-uh)

What tour(s) do you lead?

Tulip, Rhine, and Danube (at times)

Where do you live now?

Amsterdam, Netherlands 

What brought you into the travel and tourism industry?

My parents are originally from Yugoslavia and both worked for Yugotours “back in the day.” Whether it was for professional or personal reasons, I was always their little travel buddy. So I guess you could say it’s part of my DNA:) I’ve spent a significant amount of my life traveling and organizing my own trips, so having the opportunity to help others do the same seemed natural – and fun – for me.

What's your favorite site to see on your tour and why?

Well, that’s a tough one! The canals of Amsterdam truly encapsulate the air of romance (sorry Venice!) Of course, the castles along the Middle Rhine Valley are truly spectacular. No matter how many times I’ve traveled this route, this sight NEVER gets old! And this may not be an opinion that’s shared by most, but…I LOVE cathedrals! The ornate architecture and extensive history is something you don’t see everyday…especially coming from Southern California:)

What’s your favorite activity to do on this tour and why?

Visiting Keukenhof is always a highlight for me. The tulip fields are absolutely amazing to see. On top of that, the gardens and many greenhouses within Keukenhof offer a tranquil escape from the bustling bikes of Amsterdam. I very much enjoy accompanying my groups on all the informative walking tours, but I really love sharing hidden gems that may be a bit unexpected. For instance, Heidelberg has the best gelato outside of Italia…who knew?! Side note: We have tons of fun on board with impromptu karaoke, too.

If you could recommend one food dish and drink on this tour what would they be and why?

Honestly, I’m all about snacks and street food. If I could make a sampler platter I’d have Dutch cheese with French bread and Belgian chocolates (they really are worth all the hype). Then head to Germany for my wine and beer options. German Reisling is NOT quite the same as you may be used to – more of crisp finish rather than super sweet. Also: you must try the fries! And not “french” fries, but friets. There is a healthy – or should I say unhealthy – rivalry between the Dutch and Belgians over who has the best fries…what better way to weigh in than to taste them for yourself?

What’s your favorite book and/or movie about this destination?

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I’ve read it many times, but visiting the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam really drove the human element of her story home. The museum holds pages from her actual written diary and the dreams she had that were never fulfilled. Video interviews from old friends and classmates depict a young, tough, outspoken girl with hopes for a brighter future. The well-known outcome of her (and her family’s) plight that many others experienced during that period in history should never be forgotten…and are honored in this poignant place of remembrance as well as the pages of her book.

What are your favorite local hotspots on this tour?

YIKES. Another tough question. Well, my favorite hotspots are as follows:
Amsterdam, Netherlands – I know I live there so I’m “cheating” hahaha! You can walk anywhere and feel the buzz of the city, but the coolest areas for me are 1) Museumplein also known as Museum Square, where the “big 3” are located: Stedelijk modern art museum, Van Gogh museum, and Rijksmuseum aka the most beautiful building in all of Amsterdam! Also, Museumplein is right next to Vondelpark which is Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Central Park. 2) Jordaan area has the best, most picturesque streets to explore and lots of shopping on 9 Straatjes. 3) Nieuwemarkt is a funky area full of fabulous outdoor cafes and restaurants perfect for people watching a short distance from Centraal Station. Then it would be Rudesheim, Germany, with its quaint cobblestone streets, music on every corner, and a cable car ride with views of the magnificent Rhine. Oh, and wine-tasting galore:) Finally…all of Ghent, Belguim! A mix of medieval architecture and modern art with large market squares to sample local food and snag souvenirs. There is also a place where visitors and locals alike can take “the beer boot test.” Basically you order a special beer, but in return you must give your shoe as collateral. If you finish your beer, you get your shoe back. But if you break the fancy glass, you must pay 90 euro OR give up your shoe for good! As a reminder, there is a net hanging overhead filled with the “fallen ones” who broke their glass before…a fun test for Belgian beer aficionados.

What historical, cultural, or political figures from here have inspired you?

Vincent van Gogh. My favorite artist and Dutch icon. While many Dutch folks might regard Rembrandt as their artistic hero, there’s a reason Vincent has his own museum. The Van Gogh museum offers amazing insight into the personal life and overall artistic aesthetic of this famous tortured soul. After you’ve had the chance to visit as well, give another listen to Don McLean’s ode to Vincent (Starry Starry Night) with a box of tissues by your side.

Where’s your favorite place to travel and why?

I tend to pick obscure places that aren’t on everyone’s bucket list. Some a little strange – haunted even – with plenty of myth and mystery attached. I’m particularly drawn to mountains and forests filled with fables and ancient lore. For instance, Darmstadt (near Frankfurt) is not really a travel “hotspot,” but the best city to stay in when visiting Frankenstein Castle. The castle is super spooky, yet nestled in the magical Odenwald, which you have to hike through to get to and from Frankenstein. It’s one of the best forests I’ve had the chance to explore. Legend has it that a brave knight by the name of Lord George slayed a dragon just outside the castle walls…and died in the process. You can even visit his tomb to this day! There are also tales of the fountain of youth and magnetic phenomena that take place in the surrounding woods. You won’t find this in more “popular” guide books, but it’s an awesome place to wander around, especially for nature lovers and literary buffs! For a more “traditional answer,” I’ll say Italy for food and fashion hehe.

How has travel impacted your life?

Travel has literally shaped me into the person I am today. From reconnecting with family, to experiencing life, love, and loss abroad, travel has become essential to my existence in more ways than one. Which is another reason I take great pleasure in assisting other travelers on their journeys as well.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned leading tours?

A smile and sense of humor are truly the best problem solvers.

Why do you think it’s important for people to travel?

The best education you can give yourself is through travel. There is no better way to learn about the past and present than by visiting places and meeting people from around the globe. Not only will you discover wonders of the world, but the ones within yourself along the way too.

Russia: Galia Saifulina

Meet our Senior Cruise Director for our Rivers of Russia Cruises

What's your name?

Galia Saifulina

What tour(s) do you lead?

Rivers of Russia, Radiant Rhine

Where are you originally from?

St.Petersburg, Russia

Where do you live now?

St.Petersburg, Russia

What brought you into the travel and tourism industry?

I graduated from Leningrad University in 1983. My major was English. I wanted to practice English with native speakers but at the Soviet time it was difficult and the best opportunity was to start working in tourism. And very soon I realized that it was exactly what I liked doing.

How long have you been leading this tour?

Since 2000 – quite a long while:)

What's your favorite site to see on your tour and why?

I love my native city and I’m always very happy to show our guests the beauty of St.Petersburg.


What’s your favorite activity to do on this tour and why?

I like showing my country to our foreign guests, telling them about our lives, habits, traditions, to break some stereotypes.

If you could recommend one food dish and drink on this tour what would they be and why?

Russian pastries (pirozhki) at Mandrogui. They are delicious.

What are your favorite local hotspots on this tour?

Difficult to choose. Maybe Kizhi Island as it is unique, but every stop is different and interesting in its own way.

What historical, cultural, or political figures from here have inspired you?

Peter the Great – the Russian Emperor who founded St.Petersburg.

Where’s your favorite place to travel and why?

It’s a very difficult question. I always prefer to go to new places, to see and learn more. But I like traveling to warm countries. I hate cold weather!

How has travel impacted your life?

I’ve seen quite a number of different counties, I’ve learned a lot about their culture, habits and traditions. I’m used to respecting their way of life but also I notice that basic human values are the same everywhere.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned leading tours?

People are very different. But when at the end our tourists tell us that we help them discover true Russia and they are leaving our country with warm feeling to it, we feel happy. 

Why do you think it’s important for people to travel?

Traveling gives people opportunity to see everything with their own eyes, to meet people of different nationalities, to learn and understand more.

Russia: Sveta Samotenko

Meet our Cruise Director for our Rivers of Russia Cruises

What's your name?

Svetlana Samotenko

What tour(s) do you lead?

Rivers of Russia

Where are you originally from?

St. Petersburg, Russia

Where do you live now?

St. Petersburg, Russia

What brought you into the travel and tourism industry?

n 2002 I was studying in a language school and my English teacher, who was leading tours at the time, offered me to work as a tour-leader trainee on the cruise ship. Of course I agreed! ☺ Who wouldn’t? So, I went on my first sailing in September 2002 and that was the most stressful and the most exciting fortnight in my life but ever since I have been hooked on cruising. A few years later I did a guiding course in St Petersburg and became a licensed guide in my native city.

What's your favorite site to see on your tour and why?

It’s impossible to choose only one sight on the tour: they are all different and each of them is quite special in its own way. Yet, one of the most fascinating spots on the cruise is the Kizhi island – a unique open-air museum of wooden architecture. On a warm sunny day it gives you the feeling of tranquility and calm while you are enjoying a breathtaking view of its 22-domed Transfiguration cathedral.

What’s your favorite activity to do on this tour and why?

I love the sailing part of the tour with stops in small towns and villages and various fun activities on board. I love having Q and A session “Russia today” and talk on Russian customs and traditions. I highly appreciate the interest our guests display in the history, culture and everyday life of people in my country.

If you could recommend one food dish and drink on this tour what would they be and why?

You should definitely try borsch – our famous beetroot soup. It’s absolutely delicious! As for the drink… Well, it doesn’t come alone. Our famous vodka goes with blini (traditional Russian pancakes) and all our guests have a chance to taste both at the Vodka and Blini party! We tell our travelers about the history of vodka and how to make blini the Russian way. But what I like the most is the competitions and fun games we have during this party. As we like saying, when in Russia drink do HAVE FUN as the Russians do! ☺

What’s your favorite book and/or movie about this destination?

Russia by River by Howard Shernoff

Moscow, St Petersburg and the Golden Ring by Masha Nordbye
Land of the Tzars – historical documentary by BBC

What are your favorite local hotspots on this tour?

Nevsky prospect – the central street of St Petersburg.

What historical, cultural, or political figures from here have inspired you?

Peter the Great – the first Emperor of Russia who founded the city of St Petersburg. Alexander Pushkin – the outstanding Russian poet who lived a very short life but did so much for the development of the Russian literary language.

Where’s your favorite place to travel and why?

Besides this regular Cruise of the Czars tour I’ve sailed other destinations a couple of times and one of my favorite is the sailing down the Volga river with stops in Volgograd – the city famous for its heroic resistance to the Nazi during the World War 2 and where we find a magnificent war memorial so dear to every Russian person.

How has travel impacted your life?

Travel has had a tremendous impact on my life. After each travel you are never the same person.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned leading tours?

I’ve learned that in spite of the fact that we are from different continents and the distances between our countries are so huge people are very similar in the way they feel and think. When you work with people you have to be open, patient and willing to understand other people’s needs.

Why do you think it’s important for people to travel?

We all have certain stereotypes about other countries and nationalities and traveling is the best way to break these stereotypes. When you come to another country you are not aimed to judge or to criticize. We travel to enjoy, to learn and to share.