Behind crew doors of cruise ship life: The good, the bad, and the ugly
It recently occurred to me that many who read this (with the exception of Guy Smilie and Sherbet, my inspirations for the job) have little idea of what it’s like to work, eat, sleep, and live on a cruise ship. While my job is an amazing chance to travel, cruise ships contain an entire world of culture that few have the chance to experience and understand. So here’s a bit of an inside scoop of what goes down on the seas. I’ll answer some basic questions that passengers often ask me, as well as throw in some odd facts you might have never known.
“Do you get time to get off in the ports?”
Thanks to my position as a Youth Counselor and the hours of the Kids Center, yes. We are only open for normal programming during hours which we are sailing. While we’re at port, we charge parents a fee for babysitting (in case they want to go on an excursion or take a nap, etc.). One or two of us will stay on board to cover this obligation (usually once a week). Also, once a week crew are required to attend boat drill, to keep us constantly refreshed on emergency procedures. Other than that, I am free to leave the ship and explore the amazing ports at which we stop. When we have the chance, we are able to take discounted (read: free) shore excursions with passengers as well. The company sends us as tour escorts to make sure everything is properly in order.
Sleeping, or lack thereof
Remember college, when you shared a room with one person? Or maybe you’ve chosen to forget because it was so awful… Well if you thought that was fun, I’ll let you know I am placed in a room with 3 roommates, who are most often people I work with on a daily basis. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, imagine your stateroom. You have room to walk in, maybe put your suitcase down, but then you can’t make it to the bed because your suitcase is in the way. Now, shove two bunk beds, two desks, and two closets into that room. That’s where I live. People always ask me, “How do you all fit?” and I honestly have no answer. I still laugh when I walk into- correction, step into the bathroom. As one of the comedians on board jokes about this small space, “Yesterday I sneezed, flushed the toilet, and broke the mirror all at the same time!”
It’s a small world
As an American, I am in the small majority of crew on a cruise ship. While many Americans cruise with us, there are only about 30 American crew members out of over 1,000 on board. Our crew represents over 60 different countries, although more than half all come from the beautiful islands of the Philippines. In the Kids Center alone, I have worked closely with people from Peru, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, St. Lucia, and Croatia. In the crew bar, we have themed nights, such as Caribbean night, Latin night, and Indian night. The great part is that not only do these themes include special music, but they draw crowds of people literally from these parts of the world. On the Pearl, guys and girls from Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad, etc. would make a point to show up for the Caribbean theme. For Latin night, you’ll see people from South America, Central America, and Spain dancing salsa, bachata, merengue, and regeton. It is amazing to experience such culture and to be constantly surrounded by a small collection of the whole world.
Work hard, play hard
Like almost every department on the ship (I think entertainment is the only exclusion), I work 7 days a week, for many months at a time. For me, it’s a schedule that I’ve gotten used to, since the hours are varied. For days while we’re at port, I don’t begin work until we’re sailing, which ends up being 3-5 hours of work. If we’re sailing all day (Sea Day), we work from 9am to 10:30pm with breaks, usually about 10 hours of work. Our busiest day is called Embarkation Day. Cruise ships are a 24/7 operation. These ships NEVER stop. People are constantly working, cleaning, repairing, and keeping things in order. One worker’s last day is another worker’s first day. On Embarkation Day, 3,000 passengers leave the ship and another 3,000 arrive. For the few hours in between, housekeeping is preparing the staterooms, cleaners are spray washing the entire outside of the ship, programs are printed and folded for the week, and cart after cart of luggage is hauled through crew hallways. Though it’s a long day, I love the constant motion of cruise ship life. For the Kids Center, it is great to have new kids every week (though it can be sad too!). It’s exciting, busy, non-stop work here on the ship.
This is one of the most accurate ways I’ve heard it been defined, working on a ship that is. There are days when you realize how little control you have over your choices…what to eat, how much privacy you have, where you sleep, and when to be where. But other times, you’re literally on vacation, touring the city of Rome for the day or spending a lazy day on an isolated Caribbean beach. All I can say is that it is a very, very unique experience (and I love it!).