a harbor filled with blue and green water

Q&A with Richard Grey – Cruise director

Q. How long have you been working as a CD in the industry, what attracted you and where did you start?
A. I started on the ocean in 2008 with Thompson Cruises. Because of my extensive acting background, this seemed a great venue to continue to improve my craft. Little did I realize I would fall in love with this industry. From acting and entertaining, I was promoted to hosting status. I enjoyed mingling with all the guests, learning about them and finding myself with so many new friends – real friends. Promotions came quickly – I went from assistant cruise director to cruise director and oversaw all the entertainment as well as staff performance and managing various revenue related departments. I am especially proud of the work I did in training and developing other onboard managers and the numerous awards received from Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor for Best Entertainment and Best Service, among others.
Q. What brought you to Scenic/Emerald Waterways?
A. After a few years on the oceans, I was beginning to feel in need of a life shake up. A friend had recently taken a position with Emerald Waterways and was raving about it. So, I took a chance and interviewed with them in 2015, was hired and started working on the Scenic Space Ships in 2016. I have now spent time on both brands.
Q. What is your function as a cruise director with Scenic?
A. Pretty much a jack of all trades. As these are small ships with less than 200 guests, we have our hands on almost every aspect of their experience. Our job is to focus on exceeding the guest’s expectations, so they go home with such great memories and, hopefully, a whole bunch of new friends. The cruise directors must have a good grounding of knowledge on the ports so guest wishing to do any independent touring can rely on us for good advice and guidance. We need to put forth the vibes that we are approachable and ready to solve problems. Of course, one of the most important aspects, and one that I gravitate towards due to my background, is performing. Guests are more likely to listen and absorb the details of the excursions and other info given during port talks if it is presented in a way that makes them feel like they have a front row seat to a performance. They are entertained as they are digesting the options. We try to make every guest feel like they part of our family – and are genuine about that effort. It is also important to raise the awareness amongst the guests of the importance of the crew and each of their roles. The Scenic and Emerald Waterways crews all work as a symphony, each with their own tasks but willing and able to support each other and the guests. Guests then feel more comfortable talking with any of them and asking them for advice when it comes to meal selection, excursions, places to see independently, etc.
Q. How does working as a cruise director on a National Geographic/Scenic cruise differ from other sailings?
A. We do need to be familiar with how they do their lectures and presentations and their involvement during excursions, especially the ones that have been added for their sailings. We do this by working with their staff before the sailing. This gives us everyone advance understanding of each role and expectations. We also spend time on webinars with the National Geographic experts that are coming aboard so everyone is comfortable with each other and we can assist the experts when on board. It also improves our own knowledge, which in turn gives us the opportunity to better guide our guests on non-National Geographic sailings. 
Q. What is different on National Geographic cruises?

Special excursions are added so guests can have even more opportunities to explore than they do already. And we already have quite a range of offerings. The experts – usually one is an expert on the promoted topic and a second one is a National Geographic photographer – are incredible. Not only do they have the ability to open our eyes to so many things we didn’t know before on a litany of subjects, or learn photo techniques that are used by top ranked professionals so the guests can really wow their friends and family back home with their photos, they are genuinely interested in interacting and being part of the whole cruise experience. Because the experts are on board for the entire cruise, you will find them at dinner, on other excursions, having a drink in the lounge, doing all the same things as the rest of the guests. This makes them very approachable – which they also make clear they enjoy.

It is interesting to watch the guests as they start their National Geographic cruise. The ones who signed up for this experience almost immediately gravitate to the experts, having done their research ahead of time on the expert and looking to interact and ask questions from day one. The guests who are on board for the cruise and may not even have known about National Geographic are a bit more reticent at first. But it is only a matter of a short period of time before they are in the middle of the scene, learning more about National Geographic, the experts, asking questions and sharing their own experiences. 

Q. What should a guest expect from a cruise director, whether on a Scenic, Emerald Waterways or any other ship, large or small?
A. Every guest should expect to be treated with respect and interest. Guests should rely on the cruise director to help them sort out any questions they may have about their cruise experience, directing them to the right person should it be an issue that has arisen. Guests should feel free to ask the cruise director any questions, seek info on the best places to eat or shop ashore, where to find interesting sights, and information on the vessel and its operation. The cruise director should answer questions about the entertainment on the ship and explain the next day’s agenda in clear and understandable terms. And, to some extent, be entertaining. A good cruise director must have a good sense of humor while also able to show empathy, reassurance and a willingness to listen. They should be hyper-organized, friendly and personable.
Q. What part of your job do you enjoy most?
A. Seeing big smiles on the part of the guests throughout the cruise. Then you know you are doing a great job and the guests are going to go home with a suitcase full of wonderful memories. I really enjoy spending time with guests while they are on tours, particularly on special excursions. These Scenic Enrich events often come at the end of a busy day of touring and guests sometimes express a degree of being tired. So, we sometimes have to cajole them a bit to go see that classical concert in the amazing palace. And away we go, trudging along (well, maybe walking slowly). I then get to see them floating on air as they have so thoroughly enjoyed the experience and they almost always thank us for pushing them to go. How can it get better to see expectations be exceeded? I also enjoy the opportunity to make new friends. Friends who will invite me into their homes when I am traveling in their area or will visit when they come back for another cruise.
Q. What has been your favorite cruise/itinerary on the rivers?
A. Jewels of Europe – which is between Basel and Amsterdam. This is a two-week sailing through one of the most beautiful stretches of rivers in the world. The beauty of the Black Forest, sailing along the Moselle is like being in a trance, the great places to see in Belgium…the list is long. Equally enjoyable are the days we spend sailing on the river without stops. These are the days where the busy guests can sit back, read a book, share a wine with new friends, listen to the Tailormade and learn about all the castles, villages and sites long the rivers, or just catch up on their napping. Sometimes not being busy is one of the best parts of a vacation.
Q. What do you do on your days off?
A. Nothing – really, I do as little as possible. As a cruise director we are working for four to five weeks straight without a day off and then have two weeks off. I will relax and binge watch TV programs, trying to keep up with my landlocked friends. And, also spend some time with those same friends, getting together and enjoying a relaxing visit.
Q. How is it to live on board a small ship with the rest of the crew?
A. We become like a family. We share so much time together and with little privacy. So, it is important to get along and be understanding of the needs, space and privacy of each person. Like any family, we look out for each other and help each other out. As we work so closely together, we get to see the value each person brings to the job and we often become friends for life.
Q. Are you always working, or do you have time to enjoy any of the ports the ship stops in?
A. I enjoy every one of the ports we stop in. Believe it or not, I truly enjoy spending time with the guests on their tours. It is such a pleasure to be out exploring with them and seeing things through their eyes. It keeps you from becoming jaded and often makes you aware of things you may have missed in past visits. Plus, it is always good to get off the ship and get some fresh air. Occasionally, I will go out on my own – just to get a little quiet time for an hour or two.
Q. What advice can you give a prospective guest when they are looking for a cruise to go on – namely, things to look for in choosing the right line?
A. What do you like to do? See castles? Learn about history? Be independent and strike out on your own on foot or on bikes? Be truly leisurely and just sit and read on deck? I suggest couples sit together before planning a trip and ask each other these questions. Though we often like to share our experiences, we don’t always want to do the same things. This will help them seek out vacations where both can come home feeling fulfilled.
Q. And what are the first few things you suggest a guest do when they come on board a ship in order to maximize their enjoyment during their vacation?
A. Attend the cruise overview – this is very important as it can help you develop a plan for your entire vacation. This is where the imagery is given to the guests so they can make informed decisions on excursions. I also suggest chatting with the cruise director to get suggestions on what to do during the cruise. But come prepared with answers as the cruise director will ask you some of the same questions, I suggest you ask each other before leaving home – namely – what do you like to do? And don’t be shy. Many of our guests arrive on the ship early. Take the time then, while waiting to be taken to your cabin, to speak with the cruise director.