Cruise Director Eric De Gray

Cruise Director Eric De Gray

Quebec City, Canada
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Where did you grow up?

I was born in the small village of Morrisburg, south of Ottawa on the St Lawrence River in Canada. My mother was a school teacher traveling between small towns near our home, and my earliest musical influence in life. She was also the Presbyterian Church organist, so I grew up singing in the choir and playing piano. Playing music, singing and going to festivals was a big part of my childhood. I also had a passion for figure skating and was a competitive ice skater in my younger years. I then went to the University of Toronto and earned my Bachelor of Music in Performance on bassoon.

I always loved the theatre and singing, and when I won a $1000 karaoke contest (I entered because I desperately needed a new radiator in my car), my friends encouraged me to do something professionally with my voice. I was fortunate to study with the renowned vocal teacher Seth Riggs from Los Angeles and his associate Bill Vincent of Toronto. After a few lessons, I got my first show: Beauty and the Beast in Miami, performing as the Beast/Prince. And like most entertainers, I made ends meet with some additional work. I actually did singing telegrams for three and a half months, which was some of the best possible training for Cruise Director. I learned how to win a room over quickly!

What was your path to becoming a Cruise Director?

I was a singer for ten years on various cruise lines as a production singer, headliner and entertainer. I became a performing Cruise Director with Seabourn Cruise Lines in 2001, and that’s how I branched into this position. Azamara came along and I knew the other Cruise Directors, and of course I knew Larry Pimentel. This unique position as a performing Cruise Director lets me follow my passion for singing and writing shows. It’s no secret, for me music and performing is the greatest gift and joy.

What do you do in your free time at home?

Sleep! Toronto is now my home. I love trains and I’m a big model railroader, and that’s something I pursue in my free time. I also write music, which I am pleased to say is being used for Nigel Marvin’s series with the BBC featuring a wildlife perspective on Azamara itineraries. I write, direct and perform in shows, mostly touring in the U.S. My most recent is Fanfare for the American Hero – A Tribute to the Heroes of 911 created for the 10-year anniversary of 911, touring throughout the USA. I still enjoy ice-skating…although my body doesn’t necessarily want to do what it once could do. Of course, traveling to see family and friends is a big part of being home when you’re away so much. I miss them a lot.

Tell us about the life of a Cruise Director on Azamara.

A Cruise Director is not a 9 to 5 job in any way. The minute you’re outside your door, you’re on! People expect that. And you have to be on top of your game and have strong knowledge not only of entertainment, but all the destinations we visit.

A lot of energy goes into putting the entertainment together. Because we’re a mid- to small-sized ship, there’s a big emphasis on a high standard of performance. We have a small stage in a beautiful little theater, so we focus on quality instead of quantity. It’s a much more intimate experience. As a performer, you really are in the limelight. You have to be able to act, dance, and sing, and formulate shows and do things on the spot, making quick decisions when circumstances change. You have to be flexible, filling in gaps. It’s a lot of responsibility to provide pleasing entertainment for a wide variety of musical interests and cultures.

I’ve learned that you have to put aside your own ego and personal opinions and look at the overall impact and guest satisfaction factors. After all, we are traveling with our critics every day. This work has helped me grow and made me a far more flexible and understanding person.

As Cruise Directors, we have a large responsibility for keeping up the spirits of both guests and crew. The needs of others come first in many aspects of the job. You have to love people and enjoy being around and inspiring others. I really do enjoy looking after people. I find laughter is the best medicine for everything, everyone, everywhere. Including myself!

What’s the best part of your job, and what’s the greatest challenge?

The best part is the performing and improvisational aspects, with a lot of comedy built in. I also love doing the morning television show, which I call Who Cares? We talk about everything onboard, bringing in personal events, useless knowledge, trivia, comedy, and references to the previous comedic events. It’s like a morning talk show with many sidetracks to it. I love developing and directing it in new ways with the team.

The biggest challenge is that you cannot possibly make everybody happy. That’s been a journey for me. You try your very best and want to facilitate a tremendous holiday, but sometimes you can’t compete with things like the weather—that can complicate things. You sometimes have to reschedule quickly, while still keeping it fun.

What kind of music do you listen to?

When I’m on my own, I often choose very tranquil music as well as spiritual music. Keeping inner harmony and balance is important, as best as I can. I love classical music and the great movie scores of today with John Williams and John Barry. And of course a lot of musical theater. I’ve listened to all the great singers over my years and admire those who’ve taken chances and risks along the way. I grew up listening to the greats of Big Band to Country music. Equally influential were Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Donny Osmond, Celine Dion and Bernadette Peters…it’s the performance on top of the dynamics that impresses me. And of course musical theater has so many different genres, from classic traditional, pop opera to jazz, country and rock. Every style of music brings a different means of understanding and joy.

With your background playing the bassoon, along with singing and stage performing, what have you learned about the power of music?

To me, music is energy in motion, which equates to emotion. I’ve discovered that when something connects with you, you’ll connect with your audience, regardless of the material. And not just the music, but the characters you play. There’s so much of me in those roles that I don’t always get to express! Example…Jeckyl and Hyde is a great anger management piece! LOL!

I really love sound. The combination of notes, the key that you’re in and how it affects both you and the audience; the mood you can set with one note or combination of tones. On stage, you understand that you are an instrument or vessel and an expression of sound, and your responsibility is to allow all that to come forth.

As a performer, taking people on the gamut of emotions from laughter to tears with a song is extremely rewarding and also healing for me. You’re bringing joy to someone’s life, helping them forget their troubles, or even healing them through the expression of tears. Someone once said, “We have your CD and listen to it when we’re stuck in traffic in Los Angeles.” I love the idea that I could be helping someone in some small way on the other side of the world, depending where my voice is being heard!

What’s different about working with Azamara?

There is so much “family” here for me. We really are great friends with each other.

From an entertainment perspective, I so appreciate what the company invests in entertainment for a mid-size cruise line. As other cruise lines make cutbacks, we still have a seven-piece orchestra! It brings a huge amount to the experience aboard. We have Broadway directors working with us, great productions featuring ballroom dancers, and award-winning guest entertainers.

Many of our guests have been there, done that, and they don’t want glitz so much as quality entertainment. And I applaud Azamara for leading the way. We just got recognized in the UK Cruise Critic for being #1 in entertainment as well as Cruise Critic. And these are our guests voting! When competing against ships with much larger budgets, that’s really rewarding.

There aren’t many cruise lines doing what we do—world travel, two ships circumventing the globe with longer stays and more overnights. The slower pace makes guests more relaxed and it transfers to the crew as well. The White Night parties are one example of the special environment you find here. You can see how the right material, the right energy, and the right place and time create an amazing experience for guests. Imagine a White Night Party in Monaco with that beautiful backdrop of the Casino and Royal Palace all lit up…it’s magical. Guests also love the local entertainers who are featured in these amazing evenings…no one else does it like this.

Nicest compliment you’ve heard from a guest?

“Tonight you touched my heart and soul! It’s clear you love what you do. ”

“What are you doing here? You should be on Broadway!” LOL!!

I’ve also had people say they book cruises because I’m here, or the Captain/Hotel Director that is here, or particular crew that are here. That means a lot to all of us.

It also means a lot that when CEO Larry Pimentel or VP Bert Van Middendorp come aboard, they take time with me personally and genuinely care about my well-being. They read the letters and comments. I know that I’m working on behalf of a company that appreciates me and others on that level. When people say, “I hope Azamara appreciates everything you bring to this ship,” I can honestly answer, “Absolutely. They do. I’m very fortunate.”

Why do you love most about working with Azamara?

The sense of family, and also how they allow me to express myself on and off the stage. I’ve taken risks, pushed the limits, and they allow my passion and creativity to flow. The opportunities that come from that are large in magnitude as I am often asked to perform/write/direct abroad as a result of this. And sailing with Azamara facilitates a lifestyle that I enjoy very much. I’ve been so blessed to see the world.

Your favorite places?

I do love Toronto and “my home and native land.” Such a beautiful country! I have a great fondness for the Mediterranean. I love the cultural aspect of so many different countries: Greece, the Italian Riviera, Turkey, Croatia and Spain. And who doesn’t love Down Under in Sydney, Australia? “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” New Zealand is simply stunning with its beautiful nature and people.

And then there’s Antarctica. I have been fortunate to be there twice with Azamara. The serenity, majestic and peacefulness are hard to describe. When our world is bombarded by so much technology, you go there and feel such calmness and appreciation for the earth, and at one with this environment.

My best advice: Everyone should travel if you can. Don’t get locked into what the media tells you, and don’t be fearful. You will miss the opportunities of a lifetime. Education through travel is one of the only ways I truly think we will ever develop some form of peace on earth. I have loved where Azamara and the Azamara family has taken me in my understanding of the world! Thank you Azamara!


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