Cruise Ship Life Part 1 – Before coming on board and embarkation day

Dear Reader,
I am starting to tell this adventure when it has already ended. I am home again. I just came back after 6 months of living on board a cruise ship.
Over the next couple of posts, I will tell you all that people always ask about when I tell them I worked on board a cruise ship. I will answer questions, tell stories, recall memories, and hopefully let you experience what it was like through my writing.

Basic Information

So let’s start at the beginning. I worked for a company called MSC, with it’s headquarter in Geneva, but actually the company is more Italian and based out of Sorrento. (This will be important later.) So… When I applied, they only told me that my assignment will be on one of the big ships because I was an intern and that’s where they needed me the most. They take care of everything and LOVE keeping you in the dark until the last minute. It is completely normal to not know your shop or exact embarkation date until about a month out.

Before you embark

Finally, after a month, they told me which ship I will be on, so I could start googling the itinerary (the route the ship will be taking). For all those of you, you have just reached this point of the journey, I have found a website that will have the itineraries for most ships of almost all companies. Just click here.
About two weeks before your embarkation date (the date you are supposed to board your ship) they will send you your flight. Remember the company is responsible for you the moment you board that plane until you are back in your country at the end of your contract. This means if you have any problems after you board your flight they have to fix it. This could be delays, cancelations of connections, or whatever.
So I was working on the MSC Splendida, with the embarkation mid July in the port of Civitavecchia. If you are now going: Where the hell is that? Don’t worry I was the same. Turns out, it’s the port that will take you to Rome.

Embarkation Day

Getting to the Ship

So in the morning I boarded my flight to Rome and landed around noon. When I landed I was searching for the person who was supposed to pick me up at the airport. I was looking for a good 10 minutes and didn’t see anyone. In my desperation I went up to the Royal Caribbean lady I saw standing next to the exit and asked her if she knew where the MSC people normally are. She looked at me a little strange and then waved towards the back, saying “they are normally somewhere over there”. Sure enough, walking a couple of steps that direction I saw this guy with a small MSC Splendida sign. He took me to a group of 5 other people, who were also embarking with me. We seemed to be waiting for some more people. 20 minutes later, when everybody arrived, we were lead to a minivan which would take us to the ship.
The way they do this pickup is everyone who arrives around the same time will be picked up by the one person. This means that you could be the first and wait a while or the last and only wait a few minutes. From there you will all be taken to the ship together.
When we arrived at the port about one hour drive later, I saw some ships (which I now know were ferries) and was thinking “those are pretty big ships” (they had maybe 8 decks), and then I suddenly saw my ship towering over all of them with her 18 decks. I was stunned.
the MSC splendida
MSC Splendida in the port of Civitavecchia

First time on board

Next came the challenge of actually getting on board. We were dropped off by the minivan in front of the terminal. It has to be said that in Civitavecchia the terminal is not a huge complex. It is just one room where they check your ticket, your luggage, and take your picture. The 5 of us walked back and forth trying to find the crew entrance,  but nowhere. Eventually, we just went to the security guys and told them we are crew and have to embark on the boat. They let us pass and we were one step closer to our destination.
Once we reached the gangway the security scanned your luggage again and then made us leave it there, to be checked at a later point in time. Slowly all the people who arrived with me were getting picked up one by one by people from their department. In the end, I was the last one still waiting. Finally, this short chubby lady comes towards me and introduces herself as my boss. She took me to see the crew purser, who is basically the reception for the crew. It is where you sign your contract, who gives you your crew card, your room key (if your ship still has normal locks, which mine did not), your time card (to keep track of your working hours) and your name badge (which you are required to wear basically day and night). At this point, you will also sign your contract and show him all the certificates and everything you need to work on board. At this point, my colleague came to pick me up, because she was actually my buddy (the person from your department who is supposed to show you around and explain everything you need to know).
After all that was done, she showed me my room and then left me alone for a while saying she’ll come to pick me up again later for the rest.

First time on deck

In the afternoon we got my uniform, bed linen, and even meet the HR, who took over from my buddy in showing me around. Since I was doing an internship on board, I was a little bit of a special case. I only worked 40 hours a week, which was about 6 hours per day, and would transfer departments during my contract to receive the best possible insight. Therefore the HR was by boss besides the head of the department I was in.
After all that hassle they finally gave me some food and then HR showed me around the passenger area for the first time. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. It was my first time ever on a cruise ship so I had no idea what to expert. It was beautiful. There were crystal staircases, beautiful bars, and restaurants, and just so much to see. I will admit I totally lost the overview the first time I was shown around. Even though most of the things we needed to know were only on Decks 6, 7, and 14, except for the reception on Deck 5, I still didn’t know where to look for what. And that was only the passenger area where there were signs and stuff. The crew area was way more confusing. There are what feels like millions of corridors and stairs The first week you will probably take the same exact way from your cabin to work, just to make sure you don’t get lost (and you’ll probably still get lost).
So after the tour, I was taken to meet the team in the excursion office and then told my schedule for the next day. Most people would start work the same day they arrive, but because my embarkation process took so long, they let me skip that day and rest. When I got back to my cabin I also meet my roommate. Most people, expect heads of departments and officers, share a cabin with at least one person (on my ship nobody shared with more than one person regardless of their position). The room was super tiny for two people, but since most of our time was spent working it doesn’t really matter.
So those were my very first impressions of my ship and the start of my onboard adventure. In Part 2, you can read all about the first week on board. Part 3 is all about ports. You can read all about friendships and love in Part 4. If you are wondering what it is like to live with a roommate and how to do it the best way, you can find them in Part 5. Also here are some answers to many people ask, which you might have been wondering as well. Lastly, if you need some ideas about what to do in ports, read my port guide here.

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