Cruise Crew Life By Dan Polulak
Former CruiseMates Teen Editor October 30, 2006
Here's an insider's report on life as a cruise ship crew member.
Cruise passengers always seem to be intrigued about the way life works behind those "crew only" doors. The crew areas of a ship are a whirlwind of activity, but that doesn't mean that we are always working. For crew members, the ship is our home, and we have our own facilities for relaxing during our off-duty time. I got a first-hand look at the life of a crew member when I joined Carnival as a teen club staffer.
Applying to work on a ship can be a job in itself. Finding the right contacts, getting the medical physicals, passing security clearance tests and filling out all the paperwork makes you feel like you are signing your life away. But after you go through all that, you feel the
excitement and anticipation of your first day on board the ship.
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First Day at Work
After flying to the ship's home port, you join the "new hire" crew members line, drop off your luggage, check in, and head to the ship's Manager of Staff Accommodations, or the MSA office. This is where all crew can go with questions about their cabins, paychecks or flights for transfer or home. After filling out another round of paperwork, you get to see your crew cabin. After overcoming the initial shock of seeing such small living quarters, you go to the safety training class. Before the ship sets sail, new crew members are trained in the basic safety needs of the vessel. After this short meeting, you must take a test about ship's safety and then attend more orientation classes.
You are required to take a test at the end of your first week. Because all of this takes about two hours, it is overwhelming to say the least! Members of the entertainment staff -- my department -- are typically assigned to run the muster stations at lifeboat drills, due to our higher level of English-speaking ability.
There are differences between the ranks of regular crew members and entertainment staff. Crew members are dining room servers, bartenders, deck staff, engine room workers, room stewards, etc. These crew members are the hardest-working people onboard. While they work long hours, their living conditions are usually better than in their homelands.
Most of the crew work very long hours with little time off. But for people like me, it's the vacation of a lifetime: Three to six months living on some of the most beautiful ships in the world, meeting new people, and getting a chance to visit some amazing ports, all while doing a job I love. I am considered a "staff member," which mainly includes the entertainment staff. These positions are overseen by the cruise director, and include the social hosts, DJ's, dancers, production singers, Camp Carnival staff, show band, spa staff, Club O2 directors and fly-on entertainers. Our hours are not as long as those of the crew members, but we are in direct contact with guests, which can be just as demanding and stressful. Staff members eat in a separate dining room (nicely decorated, comparable to a cafeteria), and are allowed access to some of the ship's public areas, like the gym and buffet, during non -peak hours. Staff members are also allowed to dine in the supper club, and it's not uncommon for a group of staff members to get together and plan a dinner.
The crew cabins are small but comfortable. There are two types of staff cabins, single or double. Probably 95 percent of staff members live in a double cabin. Single cabins are reserved for the assistant cruise directors, dance captain, production singers, golf pro, Super Shopper (and hopefully soon, Club O2 directors). A typical staff cabin has a long desk and bunk beds, full bathroom with shower, small TV and lots of storage space.
Since being home, I really miss my crew cabin. It was tiny, but my bed was the most comfortable one I ever slept in. Staff cabins are cleaned daily by a room steward in training. Staff members are required to tip their room stewards. We also have the option of paying a little extra and letting them do our laundry. The decor of the rooms is pretty bland. A typical cabin hallway is ivory colored with linoleum floors, and so are the cabins. Most crew members pack photos and other personal touches to decorate their cabin. A common addition to each crew cabin is a rug, which adds some color and warmth to the room.
On Carnival's Spirit-class ships there are three crew-only decks: A, B and C. Deck C features the crew cabins and gym, Deck B is full of crew cabins, and Deck A has staff cabins, the crew bar, crew mess, staff and officer dining rooms, Internet cafe, food storage lockers, and I-95. I-95 (the term varies from ship to ship) is the central hallway that gives crew access to all other parts of the ship. Spanning down the center of the ship, this hallway is busy around the clock.
The crew has its own bar with leather seating, carpeting and tile. The crew mess-room features tile flooring, a large buffet stand, coffee, juice and ice cream machines, and plenty of tables. The staff and officer dining rooms are also furnished with carpet and comfortable booths, along with a warm, relaxing decor. In fact, the staff dining room was one of the best hangouts on the whole ship. An average dinner lasts more than an hour as most staff come dressed casually to relax, eat and socialize.
Cruise staff do have planned activities. Every month, a different department sponsors the crew activities. A calendar is posted to show all the parties, games and events lined up for the upcoming month. At least once a week a crew party is held in the crew bar, or in a closed-off public room. On Carnival Miracle, crew parties ranged from a deck and pool party to a more elegant Black and White Ball in the crew bar.
One place to hang out after work is the crew bar, where the motto is: What happens in the crew bar stays in the crew bar. Where else can you find substantially discounted prices on adult beverages? Having said that, Carnival does have policies to keep staffers from overdoing it at these celebrations, and they are strictly enforced for the safety of all crew and guests.
With at least 50 nationalities among crew members, how does everyone get along?! Most people socialize with others from their own department and nationality. But in general, everyone is very friendly to each other; we are trained always to be polite and say "Hello" to both guests and crew members.
Working on a cruise ship is both exciting and stressful. If I could leave you with one tip or request, it would be to treat every crew member with respect. Although some things may not always be perfect, we try hard to make sure you have a great cruise experience.