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Thursday, June 29, 2017

On What It’s Really Like to Work for a Cruise Ship


I’ve been asked this question a lot lately. And although working for this industry for the past couple years doesn’t necessarily make me an expert, I think I may be credible enough to shed some light on this very mysterious and elusive career.
See – the problem is that quite a few people probably have a very misguided idea of what working on a cruise ship is like. Some think it's glamorous - for good reason. The ships are beautiful… they travel to all these exotic places… there’s constant booze and entertainment… overflowing with delicious food… Which is all true.

For the guests.

Not for the crew.

On the other hand, some of you may have the misconception that crew members are treated like slaves in a floating prison. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration too.

It's a little better than prison.

So please allow me to set things straight – both for the curious cats who are interested, and also for my fellow crew members who are wrongly perceived. It’s time they found out the truth.



Let’s Start With…


THE PROS


1. THE VACATION.
 



Truly, for me, the best part about working for a cruise ship is THE VACATION. If you are living in the United States – you only get about 2 weeks of paid vacation per year. With tenure, some lucky folks get to accumulate more the longer they stay with the company. Still doesn’t beat this though.

My rotation is 4 months on, 2 months off. Which means I get about 4 months of vacation total per year. The majority of the crew members on my  current ship work 5 months on, with a 5 week vacation right after.

But I have to admit, my ship is a little different from the rest.

The crew members on the other ships usually work 6-9 months on, 2 – 3 months off.
Still not bad, right?

2. YOU GET TO SAVE MONEY --- If you’re smart.

When you’re at the ship, everything is paid for. Food, lodging, laundry, EVERYTHING. I can technically go for a full contract without spending a dime.

I do not have an apartment or a mortgage. Sold my car before I did my round theworld backpacking adventure. I don’t have any utility bills or insurances that I need to worry about. Nada.

So for me, this set-up is ideal. That even if the salary is lower than my previous corporate job, my take-away or my “cash on hand” is either even, or a little higher because I am factoring out the bills I used to have to pay.

If you are in the Philippines, or somewhere in South East Asia, or Eastern Europe, or South America, or the Caribbean– the salary is even better because you earn in US Dollars, not in your currency. Great opportunity to save and send money home to your families and loved ones. 

Now – if you are American, and you still have a mortgage, or an apartment, or bills to pay, and nothing changes in your lifestyle, and you decided to work on the ship --- this may not be the job for you if your sole purpose is to try to save some money. I would whip out a calculator and make a huge analysis before I take this job. Some positions make this worth it though… say if you were a higher ranking officer or a manager. Otherwise, I would think and calculate.

3. IT IS DIVERSE 




It is seriously a United Colors of Benetton advertisement, when you are sitting at the crew mess having dinner with a dude from Jamaica, a chick from Peru, a guy from South Africa, and a nice lady from Nepal. These companies take on crew members that hail from all over the world, and it’s really super fun to get to meet all these people and learn about their cultures.


 When I just got started and I was working on one of our International ships, meeting people from all over the world was definitely one of my favorite things about the job --- it made me feel like I hadn’t stopped traveling. 



My current ship is sort of unique in that we are the only US Flag ship in the world, so by law, we are required to have about 75% American workers, and 25% International.

But… it’s still fun… you know… getting to know someone from… uh… Delaware…




Shenanigans at the Crew Bar

4. YOU GET TO TRAVEL

And I mean this in 2 ways.

1st – If you get assigned to a ship that has an amazing itinerary, then it’s a win-win! Some of our ships go to Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and pretty soon – China. You may as well toss out your piggy bank because there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to save money if your itinerary is any of the above. How can you resist NOT seeing those places if your ship takes you there? You have to take advantage of the opportunity – I mean I would. I took this job so I could continue to travel! And being assigned to see those places is a dream.
My first ship took me to the Caribbean - and I hadn't seen any of those places before, so --- score!
This was in Cozumel, Mexico


I think this may have been Costa Maya or Roatan in the Honduras. I can't even remember anymore.


2nd – If you get assigned to a ship that has an itinerary that you don’t really care for, then you can save up the money you earn and travel during your 2 month vacation! Which is exactly what I do!

I am permanently assigned to our Hawaiian ship, and it’s pretty spectacular! But if you’re there year round, you can hardly consider that traveling anymore, especially if you look like a local. So after my 4 month contract, off to wherever-else-I-haven’t-been-to I go!


Beautiful photo I took of the Napali Coast in Hawaii

THE CONS


1. YOU WORK 7 DAYS A WEEK – NO DAYS OFF.


I’m not kidding. This is basically a 24/7 job. No rest for the wicked, type.  On average, a crew member works about 10 hour days, 7 days a week. You’d think it’s all fun and games, but it’s really not. It’s hard work.

In fact, some days, I find myself staring into the ceiling of my small cabin, wishing for at least one day off - out of my 4 months. I was wishing for 1 day out of 4 months!!! And my contract isn’t even that long. The other crew members who are working 8 – 9 months are probably wanting to throw their shoe at me right now.
It’s a lifestyle that you have to get used to. No weekends. No “Happy Friday’s”. Those don’t mean squat.



2. LIVING ARRANGEMENTS – Dorm style.
Like in college, only worse.

It’s not going to be easy for most to have to adjust to living with 3 or 4 other people in a small confined space, especially if one has never lived with other people before.
Because of the position that I am in, I am one of the more fortunate ones who get to enjoy the privilege of having a solo cabin. It’s small – but it never really bothered me as long as I was by myself.
This is my current cabin. And that's Falcor, my dog.

 The majority of the other crew members live with 2 to 3 other people in a very small living space, and that could be a major issue for some people. If you are lucky, you get roomed with people who are fun and you actually get along with. This is the dream. 

Essentially, this is what a (contraband) Cabin Party looks like, in a normal Crew Cabin :) It's nice and snug.

If not… If you get roomed with someone weird, or messy, or OCD, or someone who is downright crazy --- then, good luck.

A friend of mine said she woke up in the middle of the night to her roommate staring at her. Naked.

This story gave me nightmares for weeks.

3. CABIN FEVER

Sometimes you're too busy, and you have a crap schedule, that you don't really have time to get off the ship. And sometimes because you're so busy, that even if you do, you'd rather sleep. Living and working and eating and breathing inside the ship can make one go a little crazy if one doesn't take care of one's self. You don't really have the luxury of driving out to a pub to meet up with your friends after a hard day's work. All you have is the crew bar. And you have to watch your alcohol intake, because cruise ships have a very strict alcohol policy (Your BAC can't go over .04). 

Let's see... What were my favorite things to do on land after work, that I couldn't really do while I'm on the ship:
  • Grocery Shop and then Cook
  • Go and watch a movie
  • Happy Hour Thursdays with my friends
  • Happy Hour any day with my my friends
  • Boxing & Muay Thai 
  • Watch a concert/show
  • Go have a picnic in a park
Yeah. I miss all of that. But at least I don't do the dishes. And I don't do my own laundry.
Silver lining!

4. MISSING YOUR LOVES

It's definitely difficult being away from your loved ones. I have a relationship with my phone, which is reliant on WiFi on the ship that is expensive, even for crew. I've seen my little nephew grow up via photo messages and video chats. I can't even imagine how much harder it is for crew members who have families and kids back home, being gone for months at a time. It's definitely a sacrifice.


Look at that CUTIE!!!

IN CONCLUSION


This job is not for everyone. It's a lifestyle choice, and it either suits you or it doesn't. Having said that - I really do think that the experience of working at the cruise ship is what you make of it. I know a lot of people who have made a lifetime career out of it, that allowed them to pay off debt, buy a house, and send their kids to college... not to mention, travel the whole world!

I also know people who quit after working for a day. Claustrophobia or something. And good for them... better quit earlier than endure something you clearly don't like. 

As for me -- at the moment, it works. I think at the beginning I resisted the idea. I thought I was only going to do one contract... and now I'm on my fourth. Time flies...

I don't know how long I'm going to be able to do this, but I'll stay as long as it works for me and my chosen lifestyle.

My first instinct on my first few days on the ship was to quit. So I went from hating it... To tolerating it... to appreciating it... to -- now, not thinking it's so bad after all. I focus on the perks... The reasons why it's great... I focus on the PROS.

Besides... once you've gotten used to the long hours, the 70 hour work weeks, the cabin fever and the sea sickness... Working at the ship can actually be a lot of fun.

Well, I... at least make my own fun. ;)







Have you worked for a cruise ship? Are you interested in working for my ship? Leave me a comment below and I'll help you get started!