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  • Writer's pictureJessica Hayes

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

Part Three: Work Life, Mascots and Portraits

Work life on the ship was… different. If you were in a guest area, you were working. If you were in a crew area, you were working. Basically you were working 24/7. Always expected to be warm and welcoming and the “face” of the industry. You have to have your name tag on you at all times if you were outside your room. The only time you were allowed to wear regular clothes was if you were in crew spaces or if you were in certain positions, such as shop keepers or photographers. In which case if you had off time you could go out to the guest areas as long as you were in nice attire. But that was a rare occurrence.

A usual day consisted of me waking up at 5 or 6 am, quickly getting dressed, rushing up to breakfast, scarfing down runny scrambled eggs and downing a cup of tar like coffee, walking to the other side of the ship to climb up a few flights of stairs to get to work where on most days I was told I was late even though I was there on time. Then I would sort though countless photos and organize them into the correct corresponding folders so the guests could find them. After that was done I would sell photos and cameras, make bookings for the photo studio, and generally just stand around for about 4 hours until my first break.

On break/meal time, you usually had about 30 minutes to get back down to the crew area, eat, do laundry, and/or relax before you had to go back up to work another 3 hours before the guests dinner time. During dinner time there were several different things you could be doing. One was standing in the gallery selling photos. Another was photographing though the dinning rooms while people sit and try to enjoy their meals. One of those resultants was the hibachi restaurant where you went and took photos, quickly ran back to the lab, got them printed, ran back to the restaurant to hopefully catch the people you photographed before they left so that you could sell the photo. I actually broke the record for this on one cruise by selling the most that anyone had ever sold in one session.

The last thing that you could be doing during dinner time is photographing on a formal background. This was a whole process. It started with you having to go down to the storage room, grabbing the 8 or 10 foot long background, carting it up three flights of stairs, grabbing the tension poles to set it up on, making sure you had all of your lights, setting the lights up, taping down the cords, putting up caution signs so no one tripped over anything, which still happened no matter how hard you tried, and then finally testing your lights to make sure you have everything in working order. All of this was usually done within half an hour and by the time you were all set up… you were ready to be done. It was exhausting. Then you would stand at your back ground and try to get as many people to take photos on your set as humanly possible for about 3 hours. And if you didn’t meet the image count that was expected then you got in trouble.

After a long night of standing in one spot taking photos you would tear everything down, put everything away, turn in your SD card to have the images edited and printed, and then stand around and wait to be dismissed for the night. Then you either went to bed or to the bar. It was always a tough choice. If it was the last night of the cruise you me be assigned to go and take all of the left over orders to the guest cabins.

Then the cycle started all over. The first day of the cruise you would go and set up in the cruise ship terminal and take photos of guests boarding the ship. Sometimes if you were lucky you would get this time off and get to go out in the port. But that was rare. When you are done photographing in the terminal you pack up and head inside. Sometimes you would go and photograph the sail away party on the outside decks. If you weren’t doing that then you were inside the photo gallery trying to get appointments books for the studio while the guests explored the ship.

One of the things most people don’t realize is that the photographers are also the ones inside the big mascot costumes when you get off the ship in port. This was a surprise to me on my first contract. I had no idea that I would be dressing as an animal to have my photo taken with guests. For some reason they felt the need to leave this bit of information out during the hiring process. So while we were in Mexico I had to be dressed in a big parrot costume, yes, in Mexico, where is was 80+ degrees. In the Caribbean I was dressed as a pirate, corset and all. And in places like Canada there was a whale, dolphin, turtle, and Big Foot. Yes, Big Foot. At least while we were in Alaska the temperatures where a bit more bearable while in costume. However even dressed as a bear, moose, eagle, or seal, when the wind is blowing and the rain is coming sideways, you get cold. Thats right, we even had to be out there in the rain. With our own personal camera equipment. There were days where I was wearing leggings, jeans, a tank top, a t-shirt, a hoodie, gloves, a hat and my hiking boots with thick socks and I was still freezing. That wind goes right thought you. It’s amazing we never got sick.

On the bright side, once you were done photographing the gangway you had some free time to explore town, that’s if you didn’t have In Port Manning. Meaning that there always had to be certain number of crew aboard the ship at all times. For this there was a rotating schedule. You would be IPM for a week at a time. There were also countless safety drills. A lot of crew members had a job to do during emergency drills. My job during passenger drills was to direct passengers to their life boats. This consisted of me standing in a stairwell and directing people to go up the stairs to the upper decks. We sit though numerous safety classes and lectures. Including first aid, fire safety, emergency evacuation, etc. During our fire training, the final “exam” was to get dressed in the fire fighting gear and crawl though the engine room. That was an awesome experience. Then we made our way to the bow of the ship where we learned how to work the fire hose. Turns out that I would not be much use in helping put out a fire, but at least I know how to now. Haha.

The alarm only rang a few times while I was on board. Luckily it was never anything serious. Most of the time if was a fire alarm set off by a guest cabin air conditioner unit smoking. Turns out that happens quite often.

The only instance we had of anything serious happening was when we had a crew member take her own life by jumping over board in the middle of the night while we were going though Glacier Bay. The alarm never sounded, the guests never knew, she was never found. It was a very solum week after that. The truth about working on a ship is hardly ever seen. It’s long hours, hard work, you are away from your friends and family for months at a time. If you don’t have healthy coping mechanisms to help with the stress it can be too much for some people. Unfortunately it happens more times that the cruise industry would like to acknowledge.

Sometimes guests don’t see us as actual human beings who need to be treated as such. I had countless experiences where a guest treated me like garbage and the only thing I could do in response was smile and apologize for what ever it was that they thought was wrong. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t give you the right to treat people so harshly. It was often seen that people would think “everything has to be perfect”, the mentality of “It’s my vacation and I want things done my way.”. Sometimes the guest isn’t always right, but who was I to say in those sort of things. Some days you just had to grin and bear it. But I suppose it’s that way with plenty of jobs.

On a happier note, it wasn’t always so hectic. A lot of the work was fun. Getting to make so may memories for so many people. It was truly a blessing of an experience. I gained so many different skills, in photography and in life. I think one of the biggest things I learned from working on the ship was simply the knowledge of how big, yet small, the world is. There are so many different ways to see the world but unless you get out and explore it you may never learn those ways. The world is a much larger place than the small town you grew up in, your friends don’t all have to be from up the street, your job doesn’t have to be boring. Just taking a chance can lead to you to so many different places and so many different people. Take a chance every once in awhile. Trust. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to.

I am thankful every day that I went out of my comfort zone and went on this crazy adventure. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met my amazing husband. Funny how it took us traveling half way around the world to find each other even though we lived two hours away from each other at home. Life is funny sometimes.

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