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Behind the scenes of a cruise ship

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So you want to be a crew member on a cruise ship or you’ve had the idea at the very least. Here is some insider knowledge from someone that has had first hand experience working onboard cruise ships all over the world.

Let me start by saying that you have to fit in this very particular world and you either you do or you don’t.

There are huge misconceptions about life on board a cruise ship, some of which can be very misleading. Life onboard can be very attractive to some for the obvious privileges such as travelling the world however the crew life is not what the passenger sees but the things that they don’t. This intriguing under world is what makes a crew member life so alluring to others.

Entering The Microcosm That Is Life Aboard A Cruise Ship

When someone becomes a crew member, they enter a micro world, a world that gets smaller and smaller as the time goes on inside the ship. Unsurprisingly as a crew member, you get absorbed by the dynamics of crew life, the distances with the outside world getting physically and mentally bigger and bigger. Just as it happens in the outside world, a huge pyramidal hierarchy slaps you hard in the face. How many privileges and comforts a crew member will enjoy will depend on who you are and what position you hold. Officers are at the top of the pyramid, crew at the bottom and the staff everywhere else in between. Sounds hash? It definitely is…at least for some.

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The Social Make Up Of A Cruise Ship

As an ex crew member myself, soon enough after joining my first cruise ship I realised that we were not all the same, the differences between many of us getting only too obvious as the weeks passed. Besides the Captain and Staff Captain, the crew members who enjoyed the most benefits were the officers from the bridge and the engine room, these men played hard.

I always think of officers as characters that end up believing they are some kind of gods, as someone who gains respect through a uniform and not so much because it is gain based on efforts or actions. Officers enjoy different and better meals than the rest of the crew even eating in a separate canteen being this just one of their many privileges.

There are lots of things going on in the high spheres of a cruise ship and it is vox populi that sex and booze are linked with the experience. The higher your rank, the better your life on board will be with the line of professionalism often crossed.

 For every officer or well positioned staff member, there is a large bunch of crew members; they sit at the bottom at the pyramid. They are the waiters, the seaman, the cookers, the bartenders and the cleaners. These are the staff that work long hours, get paid very low rates, work long contracts and can only socialize within the crew areas when they’re not working which is not often.

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Parties & Excessive Socializing In The Few Spare Hours

However there are times when everyone comes together regardless of their rank. With long weeks of seven days work and even longer hours, most crew members look forward to the crew parties; it’s that time of the month where everyone unwinds and alcohol, a fair amount of madness and sex come together to make the crew member feel human again.

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A crew member lives by the motto “work hard, play hard”. The normal boundaries they become confusing and blurred on board, romances run rampart, time and space becoming one and from the offices quarters down affairs start and end, dramas occurring with the end of each contract or arrival of more irresistible crew members, relationships are counted by contracts instead of months; male workers leading double lives become old news, all normal boundaries broken.

And who can blame the crew members? Normal shifts lasting an average of ten hours and up to fifteen and even more on embarkation/disembarkation day, up to twelve or thirteen on sea days with low salaries and lack of privacy in cabins shared by two or more crew members.

A Full-Time Job – In The Literal Meaning Of The Term

I progressed from Receptionist to International Hostess in two cruise liners, my privileges and salary progressing, too. I was lucky that my roles at sea allow me to enjoy the public areas on my free time, however as great as this may sound, as a crew member you represent the company 24-7 and it gets tiring to be unable to disconnect:

a) Because as long as you are seen in public you are working even when you are not working

b) Because you can only really disconnect in the crew areas which are small and crowded (crew bar, gym, corridors, cabins, crew mess)

c) Because you are stuck with a bunch of people that are imposed to you whether you like them or not

d) Because often when the ship is docked you are working and unable to go ashore which is frustrating because at the end of the day you took the job to see the world.

Why Working On A Cruise Ship Still Is A Good Experience

In saying that, I highly encourage anyone to experience this life because nothing you can do will ever be slightly similar with what life at sea looks like and offers. No other job will allow you to work and live with several nationalities at once, or teach you to tolerate insane working hours, waking up in a different country each day, allow you to dream by seeing the world and all of these while creating lifetime memories.

This article first appeared on Euromentravel magazine: Behind the scenes aboard a cruise ship


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