Cruise ships for many are an image of luxury and relaxation. Not many people think about the people working on board the ship to make that experience possible. There are up to 2000 staff on a ship bringing the best service every day. If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know I have worked on a cruise before. Here are a few facts you only understand if you have worked on board a cruise ship.
Days become countries
This is something that is hard to imagine if you have never worked on a cruise ship. If you are at sea for six months, days become irrelevant. You do the same task every single day regardless if it is Tuesday or Saturday. However, since you usually do one itinerary for a few months, you start to know which port comes next. Since everything, including your schedule, depends on the port, you start making plans based on that. For example, we will go for lunch in Cagliari, because we have time there. I used to tell my mom I would call her in Valencia instead of saying I will call her on Thursday. This may be a weird system, but since everybody on the ship is using it, it becomes normal. Once you are back on land, it feels strange to have to go back to normal days since you are now to moving every day.
You learn a new language
The official language on most ships is English, however, that does not mean that is what you will hear the most. Many of the crew are Indian or Indonesian, so those are languages floating around as well as French and Spanish from the Latinos and the people from Mauritius. This environment has, therefore, come up with its own language, which is hard to understand if you have not been exposed to it. If you would like an extensive list, you can check out my post about it here, but below are some simple examples:
To get banana - to get in trouble and most of the time some kind of scolding from your boss
Capo - your boss on the ship, but also the caption
Taka Taka - someone doing a lot of talking
I-95 / Highway - the main passage on Deck 4 to use to get from the back to the front
Paisano - a person from the same country as you
It may take you a while to figure it out, but once you do, you will be using them all the time, even back home where nobody knows what you are talking about.
You turn on the TV to check the weather outside
If you are lucky enough as a guest to get a cabin with a window, that is a luxury. As the crew, we almost always have inside cabins. While this is great for taking a nap in the middle of the day, knowing what to wear becomes a hard decision. Therefore you rely on the cameras on the ship that you can access through the TV to see the weather outside and what people are wearing. While you still might need to go change once in a while, you have a better chance on getting it right.
Working less than 10 hours is an easy day
While on land everything over eight hours is a long day, the crew onboard a cruise ship would love for that short of a day. While it depends on the positions, 8 hours is the minimum you would work. 9 to 10 hours is more usual and more is expected especially on embarkation day. This does become normal after a while, so once in a while when you might get a bit of a relaxed day, it is the best.
Hours back determine when parties are
Crew parties are a legend among the passengers. Let me tell you, they are about as fun and crazy as you imagined. We take advantage of every chance we get to party. Mainly that means changing of the hours. Many itineraries involve passing through timezones and therefore go back and forth. This is a great chance to party since you will have an extra hour of sleep the next day. Those are the nights everyone looks forward to.
You happily spend 24/7 with the same people
This is something that is not usual, expect if you are in university. On a cruise ship you will work with the same people all day, go to dinner together, and then go to the bar or party. You most likely also live with one of them so even more contact. It can be amazing or your worst nightmare. Going to a party with your boss and having to face him the next day. It is hard if you do not like the people. I was lucky enough to have the best team imaginable who were amazing both at work and in private. Therefore these are some of the best friends you will ever make and many stay in contact and try to get on the same ship again.
Surviving on one suitcase of clothes for six months
It is insane how great packers you become after working on board. If you are lucky, you will be in a hot place for your whole contract and therefore need only summer clothes. However, this is rare and therefore you might need to be able to pack winter and summer clothes. Of course, we go shopping during our contract and usually end up with more things than we brought, but thinking of packing both your bikini and a thick jacket is a challenge.
Saying hello to everyone
While 1200 people seem like a lot, they really are not. If you are staying in your room all day, you will know most people after a while just from meeting in the crew bar and chatting a bit. This leads to walking by a familiar face every few minutes walking down the highway (main hallway). Saying hello is just common courtesy to people you know and it makes them smile. Also, you have to greet officers and managers, as well as guests in the guest area. That means a lot of hellos for just one way from your cabin to work. When coming back home it becomes almost an instinct to say hello to everyone on the street, although you look strange doing it.
You feel naked without a nametag
Nametags have multiple purposes on the ship. While they are there to tell guests your name, you also have to wear them on your off-hours, anywhere outside your cabin. This is because nametags are used to identify the crew from the guests. It allows us to notice if a guest is in the crew-only area. Further, in case of an emergency, it is important that you can always be identified as a crew member. Since this can happen at any point on a ship, therefore, it is not an option to not wear them. However, the moment you get off the ship, please take it off. It is the worst seeing people walk around town with their nametag still on.
No need for mobile phones on the ship
While onboard, mobile phones become almost useless. Wifi is expensive and slow plus there is no cell service, therefore there is almost nothing you can do with it. Instead of texting people, you will just call their cabin or work, or just go knock on their cabin. Most of the time you cabin is night next to theirs anyway, so what's the point. I was lucky enough that my best friend on the ship had a dekt phone, which is a satellite phone used by managers on the ship. So I could just call her directly from any phone on the ship. It was very useful to locate her around the ship.
Those are just some of the few things that you only understand if you have worked on board a cruise ship. I loved my experience and if you are reading you probably did too. If you are reading because you are considering working on board, give it a try, In the end, it is only six months and you will see if you like it. If you need more reading material to decide, here are some of my other cruise ship posts.
If you have any other stories to add, I would love to hear from all of you in the comments or on social media.