It’s not everyday that you get to meet a man who has to keep 2000 people entertained for 104 days.
That seems an impossible task, but Stuart McGunigall, Cruise Director on the 2016 Sea Princess World Cruise, has it all under control.
We caught up with him the other day, to get a behind the scenes insight into what the life of a Cruise Director is really like.
He tells it like it is. He speaks from the heart and is both disarming, friendly, funny and fun!
On the day we chatted with him we’d had a few rocky days at sea. There’d been a change of cruise itinerary, which had meant that some shows were postponed due to the safety of the dancers, and we were wondering how he manages to fit the entertainment jigsaw puzzle together when so many things can make plans go awry.
“Well on a sea leg like this it’s all about variety and mixing things up. As a Cruise Director I know what activities we’ve got on offer, but I want to offer something different to keep people happy and entertained – for instance we have 1400 people on board who are all doing the complete world cruise, which means it’s important to mix the entertainment up so that it’s not repetitive.”
Challenges at Sea
“The biggest conundrum on a world cruise,” he said, “is variety and the weather. This is my first world cruise, so it’s a challenge to come up with new things all the time. However, I listen to the guests as well, listen to what they’d like to see, and I tell them upfront what you see is what you get with me – so tell me what you want, and the team and I will do our utmost to help you. I believe you have to be upfront and honest with people.”
“If the Captain calls me at 6am in the morning to tell me there’s a problem, and I only got to bed after midnight, then I have to deal with the problem quickly. Perhaps he might say we have an unexpecteed day at sea and are not going into port – this means I have to scrap the Wake Show that I’ve recorded, put together a new one, and arrange entertainment. I have to say to the crew, go and work your magic, tell the passengers that we share their disappointment but tell them that we will make up for it by entertaining them.”
Two shows have had to be postponed due to the weather and we heard Stuart telling passengers over the ship’s intercom how it was. The dancers couldn’t perform when the ship was rock ‘n rolling, because it was unsafe for them.
“When the sea was a bit calmer I said to the Captain, “Can you stop the slight rolling off the ship, you know, because of the stage.” The Captain replied, “I’m not God but I’ll see what I can do!” and he slowed the ship so the next night the show could go on,” Stuart told us with a grin.
Respect and Sincerity
Stuart emphasised how important it is to have respect for, and from his team, and how necessary it is always to suppport them. “I have the utmost respect for my team, and this is really important. I will always defend them too. I tell them though that a world cruise is going to be a challenge, so my door is always open.”
“I say to my team, look I can teach you how to speak into a microphone, but I can’t tell you how to speak from the heart. You have to be honest with people, you’ve got to talk from the heart, if you talk without sincerity no one’s going to listen to you.”
How Stuart came to life on the ocean wave
“I worked for the BBC in England. I was a football commentator but the government made cut backs and I was put on part time. I was also going through a divorce. So I thought what better way to get over everything that was happening to me, than to run away to sea! Funnily enough many of my father’s side of the family had worked at sea in one way or another.”
Through adversity so Stuart found his place and he’s been at sea 18 years, all of them with Princess Cruises. The first ship he worked on was the Dawn Princess which he boarded in Acapulco in 1998. He met his second wife on board ship and they’ve been married for 16 years and have a 10 year old son
Stuart was quite famous in the UK due to his TV work and one day he was asked to do some lifestyle filming with a Tarot Card reader.
“I said that I didn’t believe in that sort of thing, but the funny thing was she told me, ‘You are going to work on an expanse of water for a long long time,’ and here I am! She also said that, ‘Eventually you will finish that work, and this other card tells me you will be famous in another country, but not your homeland,’ so I’m waitingg to see what that prophesy brings one day!
We asked Stu, ‘Who would you book on a cruise if you could chooose any artist?’,
Quick as a flash he replied: “Pavarotti, Lisa Minelli, Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond. They’d be great for a cruise like this one. But we’ve had, and do have some marvellous performers anyway, such as up and coming star Clara Helms who sings everything from pop to opera – she’s on tonight!”
“One of the best acts we’ve ever had on a Princess Cruise was Jo Little, she’s from the UK, a mighty but powerful comedienne, she holds her own 87and blows ’em away. She has a great voice as well.”
Passion and Enthusiasm
It’s pretty obvious that the Cruise Director can only be as successful as the perforrmance his cast and team delivers. ” I’m passionate about them. I can guarantee you this … when I do my farewell speech to this particular cast as they get off in Dubai, I’ll be in tears. They mean a lot to me. They are like my family.”
Stuart’s passion and raw enthusiasm shine through. He’s not cynical.
“I love every minute of this job, I’m passionate about entertaining people. “I know our passengers expect the very best and we have the elite of the elite passengers on this cruise and all I want to do is entertain them,” he told us.
The Wake Show
We asked Stuart to tell us a little about The Wake Show, an onboard TV show that he records each day with Ian, deputy Cruise Director.
“It’s a lighthearted breakfast show with interviews, quizzes and lots of humour. Passengers want to be entertained, they want to hear about the funny things, they don’t want a hard sell. When I do an out-take, you know when things aren’t going right, people love it. For instance I was singing happy birthday to Alex, one of the dancers, and for some unknown reason I sang ‘Happy Birthday Max’ instead … and 2000 passengers heard this, and soon all the passengers were saying, ‘Hello Max’ when they saw her!?
Get Up. Get Dressed and Deliver.
For Stuart, everyday is a show. Everyday is a smile. ” I say that to all my team. The minute you come out of your cabin, the world awaits you. Deliver the best you can is what I tell them.”
“I have 8 years left at sea before I have to retire. I’m really not looking forward to the day Princess Cruises say I have to hang up my microphone. I love what I do.”
If you have any questions for Stuart, why not ask him below in the comments section?
Jo’s a guest of Princess Cruises and opinions on the blog are my own, but if you’d like to find out more about world cruises there are lots of details and facts and figures on the Princess Cruises website.