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  • Writer's pictureJessica Hayes

What was it like to work on a cruise ship? Part One

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Part One: Living Quarters, Food, Crew Life

Living a sea farers life isn’t all glitz and glam. Most of the time, about 10-14 hours a day, you are working on your feet, greeting guests, always “On”. Unless you are in a crew area you are expected to be smiling, warm and welcoming, “the face of the ship”. But once you are in the crew area it’s whole different thing.

The “underbelly” of the ship is like a different world. We are one giant family and the ship is the home we all share for 6-10 months of the year. So of course things are done a bit differently than what you see on the upper decks.

For instance, we often got asked if we were brought to the ship each morning for our shifts. That had to be one of the most common misconceptions about the life of a crew member. The answer in no. We all have cabins on the lower decks that most of us share with at least one other person, in some situations a single cabin is shared with up to 5 people. As a photographer we were one of the lucky positions where we only had to share with one other team or crew mate. My first contract I was in a cabin with a bunk bed and one room mate. I stayed in that room my whole contract. My second contract I was moved around a few times. At first I started in a tiny room with a roommate from Front Desk, Cherrie, she was so sweet. I was there because at the time I came on board the ratio of men to women on our team was off, so there wasn’t a room with a fellow photographer available yet. Then I was finally moved to a very spacious double bunk room with a photo team mate, Meagan. It was the best room a person could ask for. We each had our own bunk beds. So we used the top bed as storage and each had an extra closet for our things.

One of the things people don’t really ask about is our bathroom situation. Which I suppose is understandable. But to answer that question… it was small… very small. We had a sink, shower, and toilet in about a 6 foot square space. And if your shower ended up getting clogged, because let's face it, its bound to happen, then your whole bathroom pretty much became one giant puddle and you were brushing your teeth while standing on two inches of water. The bathroom also functioned as a laundry room from time to time. Often times you were too busy to take the time to do our own laundry, so the sink became the best place to wash your delicates in between laundry days. I personally had a clothes hanger that I hung in the bathroom to hang my socks and other small items from.

When it came to laundry “day” it was a whole thing you really had to plan your week around. In order to get a single load of laundry washed and dried it took all day. Put your things in the wash on your morning break, come back and check on it to make sure nothing got stolen, come back again to put it in the dryer, go take a “nap” while you waited for it to dry, and hope that nothing got stolen while you were away. As a Photographer one of our perks was that we could send our uniforms off to the laundry room and have them washed for us. But after one of my uniforms was not returning I no longer used that. You are only issued so many uniform pieces and if something goes missing you have to go and explain yourself to the person in charge of handing out uniforms.

On to more fun things! After your long day of working you either had a choice to go to bed and get some well deserved rest or to go out and socialize at one fo the crew bars. Often times I chose to socialize. All ships have at least two crew bars which always have very different vibes. One usually attracts people such as officers and people who work on the upper decks and the other usually attracts the lower deck worked and people who work behind the scenes. One would have a more laid back vibe while the other was almost like a nightclub. So depending on your mood you had choices on where to go.

The bars where a great place to relax and unwind after a long day and to catch up with friends who you haven’t seen in awhile. Also, the beer for crew was at most $2ish. So you can imagine what that meant for the amount of alcohol that the crew consumed. Which could be a dangerous thing if you had to report to work at 6 the next morning to be dressed in a mascot costume, which is a whole different subject we won’t get into yet.

Another way to let loose is to go to a crew party. Once a month a different department of the ship was allowed to throw a party. During said parties you were treated to dancing, music, and free alcohol. Sometimes a group of crew members would do a dance for everyone, like a hip hop troop. These parties usually happened late at night in guest areas such as the observation deck at the bow or in one of the dinning rooms. But occasionally the parties happened in places like engine room. Hot and sweat. Small and cramped. And so much fun. The walls covered with white sheets covered in graffiti with black lights shinning on them. Fog machines and lasers. It was definitely a good time.

The ship would also throw “cook outs” for the crew on special holidays. I remember going to one once and they had a whole suckling pig laid out for us. And for holidays like the 4th of July they had giant sheet cakes, “American Food” like hotdogs and hamburgers, and trivia nights. They tried their hardest to make all of the holiday special. I was never on board during Christmas but I hear it is truly something to behold. The crew family all take the time to come together and make it special for each other.

If and when you had free time you could sit and eat in one of the nicer guest restaurants or at a guest bar. But you had to pay for those. Of course you did get a crew discount though. But most of the time you would eat in the crew mess for your meals. My first contract we were allowed to eat at the guest buffet for our meals, but on my second contract that was only allowed during certain times of the day. So most of my meals were below decks. The most consistent thing on the buffet was rice and some sort of mystery meat. Since most the crew was either Indonesian, Pilipino, or Indian, a lot of the meals where rice based. Sometimes, if you were lucky, the ice cream machine was working. And there was a special buffet late at night with leftovers from the main guest dinning room. So if you were there fast enough you could get things like escargot, steak, lobster tails, Italian food, etc. So it was always exciting to see what you could find.

One of the biggest benefits to working and living on a ship is that 100% of the money you make is profit. You don’t have to pay for anything besides alcohol and basic needs, like soap and toothpaste, while you are there. There is no rent, utilities, gas for your car, food costs, or travel expenses. The money you make can go towards things like bills back home, tours, food in the many amazing restaurants in town, or souvenirs. All perks of working on a ship which I will go over in my next blog.

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