More than Four Decades at Sea Has Brought Many Cherished Memories
His face is iconic aboard Crystal ships. Even first-time Crystal guests know immediately upon meeting him that his warm smile and character will become central to their time on board. His voice is recognizable anywhere, whether it’s streaming on in-suite TVs or “projecting” from a ventriloquist dummy’s mouth. It has been this way for 29 years, as Cruise Director Gary Hunter has brought the Crystal Experience to life for travelers since nearly the very beginning. Gary has embodied the essence of “Crystal Family” aboard every voyage he’s sailed. And now, reflecting on his more than 40 total years at sea, what will remain with him as he begins his planned retirement and moves on to his next journey is that sense of family.
What was your first impression when you began with Crystal 29 years ago?
I could immediately see and feel what made this company different. Not only with the warm and attentive service the guests received, but also the way Crystal treated its staff and crew. You could sense that the crew was the heart and soul of the company. The philosophy of a “happy crew equals happy guests” is the key to creating Crystal’s unique service culture.
What are your most memorable moments with guests on board?
I have developed so many long-lasting friendships with our guests. I did become very close to a couple who lived in the Bahamas and we would often sing “To All the Girls We Loved Before” together at Karaoke. I was dating my future wife, Kelly, at the time and shared with them that I was going to ask Kelly to marry me. They were my Crystal Family – which often feels like actual family – and it felt like I was getting their “okay” to bring another member into the family. After we got married, we vacationed with them in the Bahamas.
Another memory that has stayed with me… A guest returned to cruise with us after she had lost her husband. She traveled with his remains and asked me to assist her in spreading his ashes on one of his favorite beaches. He had been a big fan of my ventriloquist act with Mr. and Mrs. Tweed as they had touched his heart with the song, “I Remember it Well”.
There are countless stories that have been shared with me over the years by our guests that have touched my heart. Stories of survival, success, love and adventures. It’s a unique bond among the Crystal Family that guests and crew feel comfortable sharing these experiences with each other, and I’ve never taken that for granted.
What have you discovered in your role aboard Crystal ships?
Travel is the greatest education in the world. Working with staff and crew and exploring the world with guests – all of whom hail from hundreds of different places – only broadens your mind when understanding different cultures and religions. It helps us see that we are all the same.
What has changed the most during your time with Crystal?
I believe the biggest change has been technology. Access to limitless information and communication with family, friends and love ones at home has brought travelers closer, I believe. Technological advancements from the Bridge to the Engine Room and everything in between has helped make the cruising experience better, overall. In the Entertainment Department, the shows and performance are enhanced by the new developments with lighting, sound and HD visual effects.
What are your top 3 most memorable journeys or adventures you’ve had traveling the world with Crystal?
To only choose three is impossible! To start, I’d say visiting the Great Wall of China, exploring the Pyramids in Egypt and walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. It was also a thrill to visit the Hunterston Castle in Scotland, my ancestral home. And to walk on the land given to the Hunter Clan by King David I in the 12th century was one of the top memorable adventures of my life at sea.
What journeys do you still dream of taking?
Cruising around the world with Crystal has given me an opportunity to travel to well over 100 counties visiting coastal cities. My wife and I will now start traveling inland more, seeing more of the interiors of these beautiful countries.
Any anecdotal stories you’d like to share?
Many years ago, I recorded a ventriloquist album to sell on the ships. I know that it sounds strange for a ventriloquist to have a record, but at that time there were no videos. The good news is that you couldn’t see my lips move! I only had 500 copies made and it was only sold on ships. At the beginning of one cruise, a guest from Texas approached me and told me how happy he was that I was on the ship and that he was very much excited about seeing my act. I asked him when the last time they had cruised with us had been. “Oh, never,” was his reply. “This is our first cruise.” I asked him how he knew about my act and he told me that he had my record. Knowing that I had only sold it on the ships, I proceeded to find out where he had got it. He explained to me that he had bought it at a flea market for 50 cents! A humbling experience to know that your record, that I was very proud of at the time, was pawn off for 50 cents, but was quite valuable to this gentleman. By the way… I still have a few if you’re interested!
We know that many of our guests around the world have come to love Gary as family, too, and join us in wishing him all the joy and adventure in the world in his retirement. He will be greatly missed, but he will always be family.