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Princess Royalty For Entertainers

It won’t rank with American Idol or any of TV’s music reality shows, but competing for AJ-JamalEntertainer-of-the-Year on a Princess cruise ship can be a step in the right direction. And in March, four finalists will compete for votes to win the accolade on the Caribbean Princess after it leaves Houston on a 7-day cruise.

The four are comedian A.J. Jamal (right); magician Alex Ramon (left) singer, dancer and musician Nathan Foley (below right); and piano player and keyboardist John Dressler (below left). The winner will be the fifth Entertainer-of-the-Year for Alex RamonPrincess, as chosen by cruise-ship passengers.

Three years ago, we were on the Crown Princess to see number 2, singer Tony Tillman, above with Cruise Director Lisa Ball. This week’s announcement had us wondering what became of him and his three finalists from 2013: a comedian and overall entertainer named Sarge, a comedy duo named Alfred and Seymour; and mentalist Wayne Hoffman.

Today, Tony Tillman (now 69) is still listed with a talent agency and available for performances as a recent vintage of Sammy Davis Jr. Sarge seems to be booked as much as he wants to be, Nathan-Foleymostly in comedy concerts, mostly in Florida. Alfred and Seymour, who calls themselves the The Black StreetBoyz, entertain passengers regularly on Princess ships. Wayne Hoffman has a website.

All were talented, just as all four of the 2016 finalists surely are.

Jamal, calls himself the “King of Clean” which infers family comedy, has been on The Tonight Show. Ramon is among only 20 illusionists to win one of The Christopher Awards (for work that “affirms the highest values of the human spirit”) and John-Bresslercreated a magical accompaniment for Taylor Swift at the American Music Awards. Foley has 23 years of stage and TV experience in Australia, where he won a slew of awards. Bressler is multi-talented and Princess describes his show as a “must-see.”

Anybody who has been to shows on cruise ships knows these people don’t get there without being good. What nobody really knows is how good.

Winning Entertainer-of-the-Year is worth $5,000 but for them, it’s not about the money. It’s more about what it could mean to their careers.

In the news…

• Double the ships, double the sailings for Windstar over the last 18 months
• Lindblad Expeditions adding two new 100-passenger ships for 2017 and 2018

Today at portsandbows.comThe ultimate ‘going green’ — Ecoship

Celebrity Eclipse
14 nights
March 20, 2016
Miami (return): St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Aruba, Curacao
Inside: $1,399
Cost per day: $99

So Your Teenager Wants to go to Sea?

You have a teenage girl, just 16. She wants to make an education substitute, swapping international travel for textbooks. She wants to go and work on a cruise ship, as a dancer. She has a good head on her shoulders and you trust her…but she is only 16.

"What are we going to do?" Lisa Ball says her parents asked. "Do we say no, or let her go and get it out of her system, and hopefully come back after a year?"

They let her go. Today, more than a couple of decades later, she is a cruise director for Princess Cruises.

"Mom and Dad were incredibly brave," she recalls. "The first five years were scary for them. They didn't understand. They were more comfortable after they were on a cruise ship., with the safety…the comfort. They probably thought it would be more scary. It's such a safe job, and it's not like some run-down hired you over the phone."

She didn't say so, but the fact that Princess Cruises was such an established and respected brand in England, where they live and where she was born, probably gave the Balls a modicum of comfort. Like all parents, they envisioned something…well, different…for their daughter when she became an adult.

Like veterinary medicine, for instance.

"I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon," Lisa laughs, during a pause in the action on the Crown Princess — and for a cruise director there is always a lot of action, no matter the cruise ship. "To get into veterinary school, you need to have high grades or physics and chemistry. I began to realize if I studied for 24 hours a day I was not going to get them!"

A friend persuaded her to attend dance college.

"I was drawn to it and I really enjoyed it, and I was a professional dancer 11 years," she says. "About 10 years ago, I decided I needed to retire from that."

So she turned to the next best on-stage occupation (and maybe the best one): cruise director. It didn't happen overnight, of course. She invested six years in getting the "CD" label on her lapel, the third Princess woman to attain that status, and six more in perfecting her craft.

How long she'll continue is, like everything in life, unknown.

"It's a hard job to give up when you enjoy it so much," she says, "without worrying about where the next contract is coming from…especially the way things are at the moment whereso many people have no idea about the next paycheck. But It's all about enjoying your job. I can't imagine doing this job if you didn't enjoy it. I love the challenge of it. It's definitely a lifestyle choice. You miss family birthdays, that sort of thing, but when I have time at home, it's quality time. I have four best friends and we've been that since we were five. We all make the effort to get together. Now we have quality time and I get to be the favorite aunt."

Lisa Ball is not a cruise director 24/7. She does escape the ship in some ports — Cozumel is a guarantee escape when she's on a Western Caribbean itinerary — and she still enjoys teaching ballroom dancing. And on her 60-day breaks every four months, she does have a life that goes beyond being a favorite aunt.

"I've had a partner for eight years…he's an audio engineer and we had a little chat," chuckles Ball. "If he worked for bands on land, and I carried on with my career, we were not going to see each other for months. We made that decision as a couple. He goes on tour with bands, and I love my job. We're happy with that for now. If that changes, that's another conversation we'll have to have. When he's not on the road, he travels with me. He's comfortable on ships and he loves Princess. We probably see each other four months of the year. When I take a block of time off, I travel with him. It's incredibly quality time."

And as Lisa Ball's parents discovered all those years ago, it works for their daughter.

Holland America Prinsendam
15 nights
November 11, 2013
Rome, Cadiz, Portimao, Lisbon, Funchal, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $53

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