By Gerry Barker
North Palm Beach Life
During a recent cruise on Holland America's Nieuw Statendam, a number of guests had gathered around the ship's cruise director, Gage Griffin. The topic of conversation wasn't the evening's entertainment, or when the next bingo or trivia would start. Instead, they were all trying to guess his age.
Even Griffin himself acknowledges his youthful appearance. "I could pass for 16," he says during an interview.
In point of fact, he is not only the youngest cruise director in the Holland America fleet, but also the youngest across its parent company, Carnival Corporation.
A native of Louisville, KY., you could say Griffin was born to work on the high seas.
"My mom loved 'The Love Boat,' " he said. "She had us watch it (on reruns, of course) and we got very invested. We all wanted to be Julie, the cruise director." So much so, Gage, along with his younger siblings, Stevie and Hunter, would "play fake cruise ship in our pool, with a blow-up raft"
Later, he got a chance to cruise on the real thing during family vacations. "I thought (working on a cruise ship) looked like so much fun." But, he added, "Watching 'Love Boat' was the biggest inspiration."
Gage's other early love was musical theater, which he got involved with at age five. For two years, he performed in the national touring company of "Les Misérables," playing the role of Gavroche, "a child that was supposed to be 8," although he was 11 when the tour started.
At Indiana University, Gage majored in broadcast journalism and theater. Upon graduating at 20, he became a TV news reporter and anchor in Atlanta, Ga. While he liked what he was doing, the siren call from "The Love Boat" never left him, so as the pandemic began to wind down, he decided to apply for a cruise job with Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
"I sent in my auditions and didn't think anything would happen," he said. To his surprise, he got offers from all three, but ultimately chose Holland America. "I one hundred percent made the right decision," he said. "It's been the job of a lifetime."
He credits his background as playing a key role." Performing and journalism combined to really help me in this job, since I talk to a lot of people, learn a lot of different things and have to convey information in a concise and easy to understand way."
So far, he said the job has "exceeded expectations," and loves the positive work environment," adding the "happiness and positivity is so refreshing."
When he takes a break and is back home, Gage can't turn it off. "I'm shopping in Target and go around smiling and waving at the customers. People are probably freaked out."
Gage has had an opportunity to work on all four classes of Holland America's ships. So what is a typical day for him? Depends on if it's a sea day or a port day.
"Sea days very busy," he said. After a morning staff meeting, he'll host a coffee chat with one of the ship's personnel, conduct one of the ships EXC (Explorations Central) talks and deliver announcements throughout the day. It affords him plenty of exercise since he always takes the stairs, and has learned the art of the power nap as well.
On port days, he'll frequently get off with the guests to explore, since a major part of his job is to know everything about the ports of call. On those rare occasions when conditions force a port cancellation, Gage said, "It's all hands on deck to rapidly plan a whole new sea day." Rather than being stressful, "weirdly, it's almost my favorite," he said. "It's like a bonus for the guests and we get to do some special events."
So, why is Holland America a great choice for a cruise?
"People are amazed by artwork and design," he said, and since their ships are relatively smaller, "they feel more like a village than a city, with a family feel." He added that the line "represents classic cruising, with itineraries second to none to all seven continents."
He summed it up: "We're not trying to create tourists -- we want to create travelers, helping people understand the places we go."
While his typical contract is four months, Gage requested an extension and stretched it to almost 10 months, saying, "I love this job so much, if I could, I would work 12 months a year." Given his performing background, he said he's ready to stand in for any of the singers and dancers should the need arise.
And just in case you were wondering how old this cruise director that could pass for 16 really is, we can reveal it now: He's 24. That little factoid might come in handy on a future Holland America trivia session.
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