Born to Engage: Meet Cruise Director Russ Grieve
Sometimes it takes Russ Grieve 40 minutes to "walk to work" at the Cabaret Lounge because he chats with so many people along the way. Learn about this genuine people-person and why he loves his job.
Q: Where do you live when you're not on the ship?
I just bought a townhome in Las Vegas…I was in Mamma Mia! here for seven years and decided it was a good place to live. It feels comfortable and familiar, and it's much less expensive than New York.
Q: Tell us about your entertainment background and how you became a Cruise Director.
At 17 I traveled around the world for a few years with a group called Up with People. About five years ago I saw them perform again, and all those people I traveled with…well, their kids are now singing with Up with People. That tells you how long I've been in the business!
When I was in my early 20s, a producer got me a job in the production cast with Royal Viking Cruise lines (they are no longer around). I did that for four years, then helped put together production shows for a few years. But I didn't want to give up performing, so I returned to performing and did shows all over the United States. After that I joined Seabourn and was there for nine months when I got a call from Celebrity. That's how I came to Azamara Club Cruises.
Q: Sounds like you were born to entertain and knew it at a young age.
I can't tell you how many guests say, "You were born to do this." I do feel I've found my niche as a Cruise Director. I have a great job. I am paid to entertain people and make sure they have a great time. You have to be a "people person" for this, and I am.
Q: What's a typical day like for you as Cruise Director?
I get up by 7:00 AM to see the guests off. Because most guests choose Azamara for the ports and destinations, we may have 350 to 400 people going off the ship in early morning. After that I usually have meetings, time in the office, lunch with guests, then some gym time in the early afternoon. I try to fit in a nap if I can. I don't have free nights, so my gym time keeps me healthy and balanced. In the evening I go to cocktail parties, film my TV show for the next morning, have dinner with guests, then host the early show at 8:15 and the late show at 9:45. Then back to the office to wrap things up. After that I'll drop in at the Looking Glass to dance or chat a bit. My day typically ends at midnight or later.
Q: So your job involves a great deal of guest interaction, all day long.
When I walk out of my office and head to the Cabaret Lounge it takes 20 to 30 minutes because I chat with everyone I meet. I want to be engaging. Because the more I get to know our guests, the more we feel like family. Fortunately that's how I am naturally…I'm interested in people.
Of course you have to be in tune with what people want. Not everyone warms up right away. For someone who's only been on big ships, it might take a few days to stop wondering, "What does he want? Why is he talking to me?"
But I've found that if you're honest and authentic, there are very few people who don't respond positively. And I think that's true of the entire staff and crew. We're engaged and interested because that's who we are. I should mention that the Hotel Directors and I work side by side. I wish I could clone Philip and Richard because they are the best bosses I've ever had. For us, there's only one job: please the 600+ guests onboard. We work hand-in-hand to do that.
Q: What's the best part of your job, and what's the most challenging?
The best part of my job is meeting some of the most wonderful people of my life and maintaining those friendships. I have guests coming to Las Vegas next month who want to get together and others who keep in touch via text and email. I think the most challenging part is trying to make 600 people happy. You try but it's impossible to do it all the time. I've had to learn to not take it personally.
Q: Do you adapt your performance to the age group and demographic?
Some audiences are more giving and some are more demanding. Some will be dancing in the aisles; others will be sitting on their hands. Late-night crowds tend to be livelier. It's my job to please them all.
Q: Tell us about a time when everything went wrong with a performance.
Of all the shows I've ever done, the one that comes to mind is when I was doing Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. One of the balcony lights caught fire and fell on a guest. We had to evacuate the whole theater. So we're standing outside the theater for two hours while they put out the fire. That was exciting. In the wrong way.
Q: How about shows that you consider "one of the most perfect performances ever"?
I had one of those about a week ago. The audience and I were so totally in sync that it was just amazing. It was a brand new show. The guests were yelling and clapping and on their feet at the end. It was wonderful. That was definitely one of those times when it all worked.
Q: Have there been times when you had to call a show off?
Unfortunately, that happens every once in a while. If it's too rough we can't dance. If the entertainers get seasick, what are you going to do? But I do come from the old school where the show must go on if at all possible. Fortunately we don't have a lot of cancellations.
Q: What do you do at the end of a long day when you're tired and you've been socializing all day and night?
I love soaking in a hot shower or reading a bit. I have to close down my mind because if I don't, I end up thinking too much about the show, the next day, and everything else. I have to turn my brain off.
Q: Do you have any favorite White Night stories?
People love that event! I have guests who bring wigs, sunglasses, hats, beads…they have a blast. On my most recent voyage we had one that was absolutely over the top. I brought in an Italian tenor from Sorrento and he sang all these old songs from Naples. Guests were throwing their hats in the air and there was just a wonderful synergy onboard that night. We were out there go-go dancing and the floor was packed. You know what that says? You are giving guests permission to have the time of their lives. And they love it.
Q: Most famous celebrities you've entertained?
When I worked for Royal Viking back in the ‘80s I sang for Elizabeth Taylor as part of the Supper Club entertainment. That takes the cake.
Q: How do you see Azamara shows evolving in the future?
I think we did a great job with a show called Voices, which is all on a video screen. Just voices, no accompaniment. Guests love it, and we may do something similar in the future. On the other hand, our orchestra is fantastic and adds such richness to our voyages. Bourbon Street jazz night is one of my favorites. Our guests love live music.
Q: What's your personal favorite style of entertainment?
I like a little of everything, but I really love going to the movies. It's the ultimate escape for me. I also love Broadway shows because I was part of them for such a long time. I love to watch a good talented cast. Next month I'll be in Los Angeles to see Kinky Boots—can't wait!
Q: How about music?
I listen to everything from Broadway tunes to Katy Perry to ‘60s soft rock—Carol King, Chicago, Tower of Power. I even have a little country on my IPod. I also like Bono. So a cross-section of everything. I have eclectic taste.
Q: What's the nicest compliment you've heard from a guest?
About me personally? Guests have told me that I'm a class act, authentic and real, and don't ever lose that. It's the best thing anyone could say to me.
I don't imagine Cruise Directors on large ships hear comments like that. It shows a real respect for the relationship.
The other comment I get from guests is, "You were right when you said on the first night that Azamara is family and we are part of it. I felt that way on this voyage."
People all across the ship work so hard to make that true. I'm a white shirt—a senior manager—but the core, the real heart and soul of our ships, are the people who serve dinner, make drinks, change the beds, work in the galley. They may not be front and center, but their attitude, friendliness and hard work have a huge impact on how guests feel. In my mind, these are the people who run the ship (no offense to our captain!) and they're why guests come back. I love the crew. They really are my family.
Q: What else would you like to share with us?
I enjoy life. To me, living is learning, and learning is living. You have to be open to learning from everyone you meet. I try to experience life as much as possible. It's not something you learn from a book. "Being, doing, having…" is a philosophy of life that works for me. There's a whole book about it. Put the "being" part first and life is a grand experience.