Cruise ship interview - - Celebrity Century - - Celebrity Cruises - - Cruise Director Sue Denning
A WEALTH OF
A conversation with
of Celebrity Century.
Richard H. Wagner
In 2004, Sue Denning went to sea. At first, it was a
continuation of her career as a full time entertainer that
she had begun in her native England. However, over
time she became more and more involved in the
management side of cruising as a cruise director at
Fred. Olsen Line, Thompson Cruises and Azamara Club
Cruises. She is now the Cruise Director on Celebrity
I began by asking her what sort of cruise experience
is she trying to create on Celebrity Century?
"I think Celebrity is a very warm company. They are
good to work for and obviously they are
customer-minded. Attention to detail is something that
we really lean towards a lot."
"The Century is the oldest ship in the fleet but it does
have a great heart. It has very classic decoration,
which is really nice, the guests like that. The guests that
are really into cruising like what they see around them."
"From my personal point of view, I like the friendliness.
I like the guests to feel like they are comfortable and
that they are home away from home. I like the guests
to feel welcome - - feel like they can approach us. That
is the style that I like to give out."
The cruise director on a ship typically is the member
of the senior management team that the guests come
into contact with the most often. She is on stage
introducing the shows in the evenings, she is on the
in-cabin television, she is out and about in the public
rooms and on the gangways when the ship is in port and
is often the one making the announcements over the
ship's public address system. In essence, she becomes
the face of the ship.
"I am out as much as I can be. I see my role as being
with the people. I am a very visible cruise director. It is
difficult on five and four day cruises because there is
still an operation to run. But I physically force myself
to get out on the gangways so the guests can
The ubiquitous presence of the cruise director does
cause some passengers to think that the cruise director's
area of responsibility is greater than it actually is.
"They do think that you affect a lot of things. I get
spoken to about bathrooms, linen, tender boats and
different things. Cruise directors in the past would run
the cruise. They don't now. I look after the
"Of course, I am available for other things as well. I
don't mind trying to solve other problems but at times it
may [be] I will try to find out and get back to you."
Entertainment on a cruise ship is a large area of
responsibility. It encompasses the production shows in
the ship's theater, the theme parties, the live music in
the various public rooms, the in-cabin television, the
visiting entertainers and all of the organized activities
that take place around the ship during the day. There
are 61 people in Century's Entertainment Department
including five managers who report to Ms. Denning.
An important part of the cruise director's
responsibilities is planning the entertainment. "Along
with my team, I have a good sense of what people need
and want on the cruises. I am a performer. I have a
good sense of the American way and the Canadian way
I certainly know how the British people will react."
But the cruise director cannot simply do whatever
comes into her mind. The guests have paid for a
Celebrity cruise and thus are expecting the type of
activities and entertainment that is associated with the
Celebrity brand. "We have what we call a 'Master
Activity List, which is fleet wide. At the last count,
there were about 800 activities [on the list]. We can go
into our Master Activities List and say 'let's do that.'
There are certain times you have to do things on the
spur of the moment but we try and organize ourselves
so we keep within the parameters of the company. We
have to keep some sort of structure."
The Celebrity fleet is composed of several classes of
ships with different features. Accordingly, every ship is
not required to offer all of the activities on the list.
"Some things on this ship do not work on Solstice and
vice versa. We don't do glass blowing; they do."
Celebrity also takes into account the talents of the
people serving on the various ships, authorizing
activities that depend upon certain individuals' unique
abilities. On one of the Celebrity ships, "we have a
cruise director who was a stunt man and he does a
section on that. But only he can do that. I do my own
show so there are certain things I can only do".
Perhaps the most visible part of the entertainment
program is the production shows performed in the
Celebrity Theatre. "The production shows are created
by a company in the U.S. The cast rehearses in Las
Vegas and then they bring the shows over to us here.
We have three production shows at the moment. We
also do two interactive parties - - theme parties. The
singers and dancers do one called 'Groove' and then the
dancers do 'Sizzle.' All those shows come from the
"The times of shows are dictated by the times of
dining. We try to make it so that people can see a show
and can still enjoy whatever [e.g., a theme party] comes
later without it being too late. The middle section of
the night between the two shows, you can do something
that is more generic e.g., dancing."
Another important part of the entertainment is the
performances which take place on various nights of the
cruise by visiting comedians, singers and other acts.
"[Celebrity's] entertainment director, who is Gary
Walker, organizes all of the guest entertainers. They
come through and we pop them in. He gives us an idea
where he would like them and we move them around as
Another aspect of the entertainment is the live music
in the bars, lounges and public rooms around the ship.
"Contractually, you can only use your musicians so
long in the day. So we have to be very careful how we
place them. If there is a special event, for example, the
strings will be used for the elegant tea. I then lose an
hour of their time."
As noted earlier, Ms. Denning also does a one
woman show of music and comedy. "I have been an
entertainer all my life and have been so since I was a
child. I still am. When I go home I have my own
shows." Indeed, she is a recording artist and her acting
credits include working alongside actors such as Sir
"We are kind of lucky because on a 14 day cruise
we have so much of a wealth to offer
entertainment-wise." Of course, the cruise director and
her staff have to decide when and where this wealth of
entertainment will take place as well as ensure that it
does in fact take place as scheduled.
When Century does a shorter cruise, the planning
and scheduling becomes even more difficult. "You'd
think that the short cruises would be easier but they are
not. They are more intense. It is then finding exactly
the right things that the guests want to see and do. We
have to shove a lot into this little small space."
As a cruise director, "there is a lot of time spent in
admin. Of course, like any business, you get more and
more of that all the time. But I delegate very well. If I
don't, I can't get with the people. I need to be with
them so they know I am here to solve problems, to help,
to listen to what they have to say, to make sure that the
attention to detail comes across. It's a big job but as
long as you delegate you're fine. And I have a good
The finale of a production show in
A string quartet plays in Century's Cova Cafe.
"Sizzle," one of Century's interactive theme parties.