Behind the scenes: cruise director Q&A
By Kaye Holland | 2 Sep 2022
Go behind the scenes of a day in the life as a cruise director
While guests eat, explore and enjoy the onboard entertainment, cruise directors are hard at work. We speak exclusively to some of the best in the business to find out what the job of a cruise director involves on luxury ocean, river, small-ship and expedition cruises.
Ross Roberts, cruise director on Seabourn, explains what attracted him to the role
Tell us a bit about yourself, Ross.
I’ve been working at sea for 17 years. As a child, I always wanted to be on stage – performing and making people smile – but it was after a trip to the London Palladium to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aged eight, that I knew this was what I wanted to do. After lots of auditions, I landed my first seafaring job, which gave me the opportunity to not only have my own show, but also to be in charge of the team on board. At the age of 25 I was promoted to cruise director and the rest, as they say, is history.
What attracted you to the cruise director role?
One of my first jobs involved calling bingo and hosting karaoke. It was during this contract that I worked with my first cruise director and saw how he was able to play such a key role in the cruise – from hosting to singing and sending guests off on tours. I was sold.
How did you cope when landlocked during the pandemic?
It was a challenging time. Working at sea isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life. When that life is gone, you have to get creative. For me, this meant helping local charities within my community, releasing a Christmas album for charity and volunteering at a food bank.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
There are actually two that spring to mind. Seabourn has an exclusive partnership with theatre lyricist Sir Tim Rice, and we perform his show, An Evening with Tim Rice. On one voyage, he was on board and I was able to explain how Joseph had inspired my path. The other is when a guest gave me a very special gift. It was a sparkly black scarf her late husband had given her, telling her that no matter what happened to him, she should go on the cruise and wear it. She told me that she had never expected to laugh again after losing her husband, but that I had made her do so and brought joy to her life once more.
If you could invite one person onto your ship, who would it be and why?
Graham Norton. He is truly brilliant at what he does, both on screen and radio – and I think he would love Seabourn!
Eric de Gray, cruise director with Azamara, talks about the line’s commitment to experienced entertainers
What exactly does the role of cruise director at Azamara entail?
Azamara is unique in the sense that cruise directors need to have experience of performing on Broadway or in the West End. We are responsible for the overall scheduling of the entertainment, in addition to hosting events and keeping everyone in holiday mood.
Why did you choose Azamara?
I love the destinations we visit: we get to take our guests to places that bigger ships simply can’t dock at. It’s also a joy to present AzAmazing Evenings [the brand’s signature evening events aimed at connecting passengers to the culture of a destination] in stunning local venues.
What challenges have you had to overcome as a cruise director?
Being six feet, six inches tall on a cruise ship comes with its own challenges! But the biggest is coming to terms with the fact that I am never going to make everyone happy, despite my best intentions.
Any memorable passengers?
On one voyage, I had a 92-year-old woman ask to give a toast. She raised her glass and said: “May the rest of your years be the best years of your life, and may all your pains be champagne!” The whole table cheered and I asked for permission to take her toast with me on future cruises – 18 years later, I still do that toast at any Captain’s Welcome.
What are the qualities that a good cruise director needs?
To be able to work from the heart. I was once told that, as cruise director, I am ‘the heart of the ship’ and it stayed with me. I love doing what I do for the guests, but also for the crew who are, after all, separated from loved ones.
Tania Mirao, who works with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, explains that no two days are ever the same as a cruise director
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Tânia.
I’m a 38-year-old Portuguese woman who calls Porto home and has hospitality in her blood: I have been working aboard river cruises for the past 18 years. I have sailed the Douro River in my native Portugal, as well as the Danube, Rhine, Main, Moselle, Nile, Po, Seine, Saône and Rhône.
Why did you choose Uniworld?
It’s simple: Uniworld was known for being the best. I haven’t regretted my choice – after 14 years, I am still here. I like how Uniworld pays attention to the small things – we call them “tiny, noticeable touches”. In other words, thoughtful details that make a big difference to the guest experience.
What do you love most about your job?
When, at the end of a cruise, departing guests tell me they’ve had the trip of a lifetime – there is no greater feeling. I also appreciate that, despite my job being intense, no two days are ever the same. I wake up in a different location on most days, and on every cruise I get to meet new people.
What else goes on that passengers might never notice?
Occasionally we come across a broken lock or high water on a river, and so have to work on ‘Plan B’ in the background while embracing ‘business as usual’ for guests. We will do everything in our power to keep calm and not show any signs of stress.
Tell us about the qualities that a good cruise director needs.
First and foremost: good people skills. To succeed, you must also be service-oriented, upbeat, flexible, possess the ability to be discreet (we often deal with confidential information) and calm under pressure.
Ashley Perrin is an expedition leader with Aurora Expeditions, charged with leading guests into some of the most remote places on Earth
What exactly does the role of cruise director at Aurora Expeditions involve, Ashley?
As an expedition cruise line, we actually refer to our cruise directors as expedition leaders – at Aurora, we like to do things differently. I am tasked with leading the expedition, as well as managing the captain and crew.
What do you love most about your job?
It’s hard to single out just one aspect so I will answer with three. First, the daily challenges thrown at us by the weather, ice and other vessels operating in the area. Second, I love that I am constantly learning. Third, I love the teamwork involved.
Any memorable passengers that stand out in your mind?
This season, we welcomed a 92-year-old American lady called Doris, who had travelled to Santiago on her own. By day two, the other passengers had adopted Doris and were helping her with her waterproofs, and on and off the Zodiacs. On day three, Doris asked if she could do the polar plunge and, after answering some medical questions, there was no reason why not. So she plunged into the waters, cheered on by the entire ship chanting: “Doris, Doris, Doris!”
Tell us about your proudest achievement to date.
Planning and leading the only large vessel expedition to Antarctica in the middle of the pandemic to help Dr Tom Hart – who runs the Penguin Watch project at Oxford University – collect data to help stop penguin populations from declining.
Which are your favourite ports of call, and why?
I have two. First, the Falkland Islands. My husband was an engineering officer on the QE2 during the Falklands War and always wanted to return, so we did. The islands have fantastic wildlife, scenery and people. Second, South Georgia Island, where I lived for a spell – an experience few get. It is such a special place that I returned there in 2017 for my wedding.