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Look who's 'Undercover' now: Norwegian Cruise Line's CEO hits the deck for shipboard work

January 02, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger

Kevin Sheehan had a heck of a time on some recent cruises. First, he was roundly ridiculed by a tough-talking co-worker for his substandard deck work. Then he flopped in an attempt to lead a thousand passengers in a line dance.

Wait. I thought cruises were supposed to be fun. They might be for viewers who tune in to watch Sheehan, 57, learn the ropes on the CBS reality TV show "Undercover Boss" at 9 p.m. PST Sunday. "Every single task I did was overwhelmingly hard 80% of the time," the chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line said in a phone interview. "I look like a goober because I couldn't do the stuff. I wish I were 25 years younger and in better shape." Check out a preview of the show in this video.

"Undercover Boss," for those who haven't seen it, disguises captains of industry and then films them working alongside employees at the companies they oversee. The allure of the show is that most fail at basic tasks -- and who doesn't love watching the "boss" being chewed out by the little guy?

During Sheehan's turn, he got plenty of that while "working" aboard the Norwegian Epic, the line's newest and biggest ship, which launched in June, and the Pride of America, which cruises the Hawaiian Islands. He had to follow instructions on deck and engine maintenance, serve food aboard the ships and, of course, lead the line dance during a party time moment.

Sheehan grew a beard, darkened his usually red hair and donned geeky black eyeglasses for his on-board disguise, which worked most of the time. "I had a funny situation where I was serving a table, and the three people at the table know me," he said. "I know for sure they didn't know it was me."

Sheehan, who acknowledges being a "rookie" (he's a newbie to the cruise industry and has been CEO only since 2008), said his "Undercover" experience allowed him to learn what's working and what isn't at the company. For example, one company-mandated task aboard the Epic, which he wouldn't reveal before the show, left him with this reaction: "I can't believe we're making our crew do this."

Aside from a chance to watch Sheehan's struggles, I think the show offers broader appeal to the travel crowd, particularly cruise mavens. It offers a frank look at some of the most menial jobs aboard cruise ships -- and the people who do them.

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