A cruise ship is a veritable melting pot of work , travel, cultures, ideas and STDs. Crew from around the world slave away week in and week out to keep passengers coming back. After all, the passengers make this form of work while travel possible.
Life aboard a cruise ship is filled with tight spaces, work schedules, crew parties and time in new and interesting destinations.
On every ship there are designated crew areas which, compared to passenger areas, are small and confined. Instead of nice paintings on the corridor walls there are bulletin boards and emergency evacuation information.
For NCL, in these areas staff and crew do not need to wear uniforms. When not in crew areas all employees are required to wear a name tag, uniform, and look presentable. There were particularly strict rules about jewelry, tattoos and even hair styles. Dependent on the ship there could also be a curfew for staff and crew in passenger areas.
The food in staff and crew mess halls takes some getting used to. To say the least, mess hall cuisines is not held to the same standards as passenger food. Food is served buffet style and more often than not it is cold and bland. The coffee can best be described as sludge, where at times it seems that the spoon should be standing up straight in your cup.
Thanks to a constant problem with cockroaches, very little food is allowed in crew cabins. Snack food like chips, chocolate and instant noodles, sold in the crew shop, are allowed, but no perishable food from the mess halls. If you happen to miss the mess hours you dinner will consist of instant noodles, snicker bars and pringles.
If they can afford it, employees can get special permission form the Hotel Director and go to one of the passenger restaurants. The upside is that the food is good, the down side is that you have to pay for it.
The crew bar is always a happening place, with 75 cent beers, you can imagine why. To avoid standing in line for a drink you end up buying a six-pack or an entire bottle of wine. Problem is that your friends at the table have the same mentality so before you know it there are 36 beers on the table and a game of dirty Jenga underway.
Security closes the crew bar at 2am every morning. From here the party usually migrates to some cabin. If the party happened to be in your cabin, you could be sure of a rough day ahead, especially if you were unlucky enough to work the next morning.
There is strict alcohol limits on board and random breathalyzer tests weekly. Off-duty crew and staff can have a limit of 0.08% where off-duty officers (excluding senior officers) are allowed a limit of 0.04%. If you were on-duty the tolerance is 0.
Still worth it.
Official crew parties (A.K.A Heli-pad parties) are arranged by crew welfare and are often a celebration of some sort. These parties are the highlight of any contract, with the vast majority of staff, crew and officers drinking and dancing the night away on the helicopter landing pad.
The area was always guarded by security to keep uninvited passengers away. This is the one night where crew, staff and officers alike unwind. Did I mention open bar?
Maintaining friendships aboard can be like a soap opera, there is always drama somewhere. For the few that make true friends these bonds are unbreakable, after all this is where I met Jessica. We were introduced by her cabin mate, one of my best friends. Thanks again Tracey.
Sometimes, like on this trip, old friends are reunited. Reunions seem like you never parted. These friendships are priceless and are what traveling is all about.
Fraternizing or dating can be a tricky operation especially if you share your cabin with 5 other staff members. Scheduling your love life often involves reogranizing work schedules and elaborate signs left on the doors of cabins. If that does not work, you at least have your privacy curtain on your bed. Forgetting to close the curtain can turn an romantic night into a very awkward situation for those that failed to schedule properly.
For the finer things aboard you need The Mafia. Unlike mafias on land this is not an organization of gun toting criminals, rather a unofficial service to get things like hot wings and pizza for a party.
Mafias operate based on nationality and where you work, or rather what your department has to offer. Most mafia types are in the galley and good for cheese and salami plates late in the night. Other exchanges includes laundry, photo prints, extra pillows and towels, stronger drinks in bars, spa services and free tours.
If you happen to work for a department that has to close in port like the casino or the gift shop you are free to go on land. But only after the gangway has been opened for staff and crew. You have to be back aboard one hour before the ship sails. This severely limits what you can see and do in a port.
Not all crew have the luxury of time on land as their departments do not close when the ship is docked. Although most crew do usually manage some time on land and all have the luxury of being shuttled around the world, for free. This is by far the best perk of life aboard. You get to see and explore different cultures and locations around the world.
Any confined environment with a central air system is instantly a petri dish, add a couple of thousand people from around the world and you have yourself a floating infirmary. Prior to signing onto a ship, most crew members have to undergo a full physical, to screen for STD’s, TB and drug use.
This does not, however, go for passengers. The most common problems they bring aboard are colds and the infamous Norwalk virus, also known as Code Brown.
This virus, is a particularly nasty when it comes to ship life. If you are unlucky enough to get it, you will be quarantined for three days in your cabin, with no key and mess food delivery. After 24 hours you will be bouncing off the walls.
Amongst crew members that do not play it safe, STD’s are rife. A friend and fellow country woman was the doctor aboard on a pacific crossing. She told me that she sees 10 new STD patients, all staff and crew, every day. Remember, just because you are screened does not mean that everyone is.
The four years I spent working for Norwegian Cruise Line were some of the best and most challenging of my life. Living aboard a cruise ship is fun and exciting, expect to have a small living space and minimal privacy, but also to make many friends for life.
Next in the cruise ship series, we will look at what working aboard is like.