When Royal Caribbean International's Vicki Freed started her weekly Coffee Talks in March 2020, she never would have guessed she'd be prepping for her 50th show one year later.
"I started in March right after the first pause," she said. "I never thought I'd be doing it this long."
Her weekly Coffee Talks range from between 3,000 to 5,768 viewers (the most the platform will allow). The 50th episode last week had more than 4,000 travel advisors on, each of whom received a $50 gift card to mark the occasion.
Freed's dedication to the chats is clear. She hasn't taken a taken a vacation since they started because they are in the middle of the week and even joked on one Coffee Talk that she hoped her grandchild wouldn't be born on a Wednesday -- and especially not between noon and 1 p.m.
She skipped a couple of weeks over the holidays, but otherwise, her show has been one of the most consistent features of a year without cruising.
"It's not easy coming up with interesting content that is relevant to the trade and that they will find interesting," she said of the episodes. She's delivered that content by bringing on various members of the Royal organization, from its CEO to people in human resources and ship personnel, and letting travel advisors ask what are sometimes tough questions.
Freed has many favorite shows but topping the list is the holiday episode, the Royal Gift Giveaway. "Celebrating our travel advisors was the most fun," she said. "I felt like Oprah without the cars."
Other favorites were having on the head of guest relations -- "the advisors loved hearing about the guest stories" -- and letting the strategic account managers "share their success stories."
"I loved International Women's Day," Freed said, and "received so many wonderful compliments on the amazing women who work at Royal Caribbean."
All of the shows receive compliments, comments and questions, she said. Last week's, the 50th episode, got 1,527.
I asked Freed when the chats might end.
"I have enjoyed the platform as a way to stay close to the travel advisors during this challenging pause in operations and thought that once we return to service, I would scale back the coffee chats to once a month with 'espresso shots' every week (shorter versions of the chats with just a soundbite of info)," she said, adding that she's still not sure and that future Coffee Talks may happen live from a cruise where she interviews people onboard.
In those cases, she won't have to worry about her biggest challenge: the barking of her golden retriever, Freddie, and finding someone to dogsit him for the hour.
Freed gave a shout-out to her co-host, "Dean" Renee Didier, a nickname Freed coined during the chats since Didier heads up Royal Caribbean University, and Nick Weir, senior vice president of entertainment for Royal Caribbean, who Freed said "is trying to make this the Nick and Vick show." Weir has co-hosted several episodes and produced original content exclusively for attendees -- he's currently working on something from the Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Sunset Boulevard" for an upcoming episode.
"We put so much effort into the coffee chats," Freed said. "They are not thrown together at the last minute."
She also keeps the programming timely. Tomorrow's show will feature members of CLIA, who bumped the planned programming "due to the urgency of needing the travel advisors to help us get back to service," Freed said.
"The purpose of my Coffee Talk is to stay engaged with the trade," she said. "I've always maintained a very strong relationship with the trade, they know I'm sincere, they know I care about them, and I think it's a mutual respect for one another."