Starting With 'Mary Had A Little Lamb'

Athletes are athletic, educators are educated and cruise directors are…well, characters. It's part of the job description because within any given two-minute span they have to be entertaining, serious, funny, talented, spontaneous, thorough, athletic and fast on their feet, which are sometimes called upon to do the two-step, kick balloons and get them off a stage before the curtain goes up or down.

Leigh Xuereb is a fit.

He's currently cruise director on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. There is no job in the cruise business that is more demanding of a person's energies 24/7, or close to 24/7. And Xuereb took the first steps down that road not long after taking his first steps, period.   

Age four.

"I wanted to be a performer since then," he says. "Ever since the day I walked away from my parents in an open-air shopping center and wound up in a nursery rhyme contest, doing Mary Had A Little Lamb. I went to the final and did Ten Little Indian Boys, but I didn't win."

What he did was get hooked on performing. That was in Australia, his homeland, and he went on to work almost nine years at a theme park called Warner Brothers Movie World. He became known as one of the world's top Austin Powers clones but has played a cast of many characters along the way…Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Wylie Coyote, The Penguin in Batman, the Cadbury mascot, Dr. Evil in Austin Powers…

Is there a trend here?

"Austin Powers was my 'Ground Hog Day'," he laughs. "When I was 20, I was still a kids' entertainer. I didn't want to be a 40-year-old Austin Powers impersonator. I needed a change."

The change came on his 30th birthday. His girlfriend ended their nine-year relationship. By then, his Australian theme park and Austin Powers roots were deep, so he took the recommendation of friends who worked in the cruise industry, for Disney and Royal Caribbean. He chose Royal Caribbean not to escape the kid thing, but because it was the first cruise line to respond to his resume.

Looking back, he is grateful to the old girlfriend.

"It was the best present she could have given me," he explains. "It changed my life."

His first job was on Voyageur of the Seas. Between contracts, he was in Atlanta for an Austin Powers convention, doing radio spots, appearing on TV, being picked up in limos. Back on the cruise ship, he was teaching scrapbooking and line dancing.

"I thought: 'What have I done?'" Xuereb remembers. "But it was a challenge. I was always hiding behind characters, and never performing as Leigh, and I wanted to see how Leigh worked out."

Understandably, that also took time. And ships — Adventure of the Seas, Splendour of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas. Floating from one ship to another, Leigh worked jobs ranging from assistant cruise director to activities manager to stand-in cruise director, bridging the gap between contracts of two full-time CDs.

Less than three years ago, another girlfriend story. Her name is Olga, she is from Siberia and they met while she was performing in Swan Lake On Ice on one of the ships. During a break between his contracts, Xuereb was home in Australia and wondering about Olga. An email exchange later, he discovered she had left Royal Caribbean and was vacationing…in Australia.

Today, she is back with the cruise line. When she was skating on Explorer of the Seas, he turned down a contract to go to another ship because they wouldn't be together.

"Money…career…it doesn't mean anything if I don't have anyone to share it with," he says. "We've been together for two and a half years, the most time we've spent together is six months, but we'll be back on the same ship [Explorer] in October."

Then, he'll be doing what cruise directors do.

"Performing every day," he says. "Honing skills. Making people laugh. Discovering something new. When you try something new, you never know when it'll work. When it does, there's no drug like it. My humor can be a little edgy. I always make fun of myself, and other people…it's cheap laughs. Just like at the theme park, I'm still playing dress-ups, making a fool of myself and enjoying it. Just like when I started doing Austin Powers, practising in a mirror, you first want to be competent — not just wear a wig and glasses and talk like Austin Powers. You want to be the best you can be. This is no different."

Passengers on cruise ships can make or break cruise directors. On the New York-to-Bermuda runs that Explorer of the Seas makes, it seems Leigh Xuereb is just the right fit.

Carnival Ecstasy
5 nights
September 9, 2013
Port Canaveral (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $209
Cost per day: $41

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