During the year I spent working on a cruise ship — traveling throughout the Caribbean, England, and Mediterranean destinations like Italy — a common question guests asked me was, “Do you live on the ship?”
“No, sir. I fly in every morning on a helicopter and repel down a ladder just before I rip off my outfit to display my superhero work clothes for Royal Caribbean!” Or so I answered in my head. Even now, people are crazy curious about what life was like aboard a major cruise liner. Did we party? Did we have sex? So to answer all of your questions once and for all, here’s what really goes on below the deck of a cruise ship.
1. The “I-95” is everything.
While the “I-95” is one of the busiest highways in America, it’s also a specific hallway on every cruise ship. The “I-95” — as it’s really called — is located on deck 0, and it’s where workers spend their days running beneath your feet. It’s every crew member’s survival center and where we do our laundry, visit the nurse, transfer guest luggage, and hide away in our tiny cabins.
2. The living situation is dismal.
Yes, we live on the ship. No, it is not an ideal lifestyle. The windowless rooms are microscopic, holding a bunk bed for two with the top bunk so close to the ceiling that you hit your head every morning. A teensy closet and two drawers allow only enough space for a couple of outfits. The bathrooms are so small you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at once if you so desire. If you want to live on your own, it’s far from glamorous. The “single” room has just enough space to pull the bed out of the wall.
3. We nap like cats.
Crew members don’t sleep overnight; they nap throughout the day like a cat. It’s very difficult for crew members to find the time to have a full night of sleep as work days can exceed 12 hours and free time is typically for traveling, eating, and partying. A two-hour break between shifts is prime time to pass out in your windowless, underground room.
4. Safety comes first.
Safety is the most important thing of all, and this is not a joke. All crew members must go through the steps of evacuating the ship in case of emergency. This happens twice per cruise, once with the guests on the first day and again during a random port day. It’s frustrating to lose time in a place like Italy and be ordered around with life jackets, but lives matter more.
5. We are ready for pirates.
There are still pirates roaming the seas, although Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t one of them. All cruise workers are educated on what to do in case of a pirate attack, but the training’s unlikely to be needed. While cruises avoid areas that are occupied by pirates, the crew is still ready in case thieves come climbing up the side.
6. Guests are entertainment.
Sure, you may host karaoke and trivia nights for your entertainment, but guests are our amusement. We feed off of the moments where guests are arrogant or do something hilarious. If you don’t think the crew talks about you every day to their co-workers or even friends and family back home, you’re wrong.
7. Cruises are always the same.
Cruise activities and itineraries may be different from ship to ship, but for a crewmember living on the ship, it’s the same thing every day for six to 10 months. Crewmembers are always excited and fresh-faced upon a new contract and ship, but time truly kills. The fun begins to fade as your friends come and go but everything else around you remains the same. The end of a contract is heaven as workers leave the ship ready for a two-month vacation.
8. The food is torture.
Imagine eating leftovers every… single… day. This is the life of a crewmember, although there are ways around it. The crew mess is full of guest leftovers that a chef attempts to throw together in a special way. I call this food “mush” as it’s basically a bunch of items thrown into a pot and mixed around.
You’ll often find workers doing everything they can to hit up the guest buffet because the “crew mess” is unbearable. Workers will not only find food throughout the ship, but they will visit grocery stores at every port possible to bring their favorites back to their cabins.
9. The melding of cultures is awesome.
People from many different cultures live together on a cruise ship, but they only merge from time to time. Crewmembers typically hang out, eat, and party with other workers from their own countries. There are Filipino and Latin parties every week while Americans and Canadians more typically drink and watch sports. The blending of cultures is always fun to watch as Ukrainian men work hard to learn to salsa dance with the Mexican chicas.
10. Party, party, party.
Have you ever partied in a big-time college? Multiply that by 10 and you have a cruise ship. Crewmembers party hard every night. It’s very rare that a night on the ship will end before 4:00 AM. All the different cultures throughout the crew come together to create the ultimate parties. “All Crew” parties happen once a month and often result in a few people getting fired the next morning.
11. Sex? Yes.
How do most parties end? Sex — and a lot of it. When you throw a bunch of cultures and alcohol together, you will find a lot of latex being thrown into the trash. What else would you do as a bunch of traveling adults living in a confined space seeing each other every day for months at a time?
12. We do get to leave the ship sometimes.
Traveling is what brings so many workers to ships. Why else would you want to live in a cramped space with no windows for months? But it’s not a luxury experience. Crewmembers work seven days a week, every day, for up to 10 months straight. When crewmembers get a five-hour break, they rush off the ship to see some sights and enjoy the local culture.
Traveling the oceans, seeing new countries, and meeting people from around the world is what makes the job worth it. That said, time off the ship depends on your position. You will hardly see a restaurant server in the Caribbean, but you will find the star of the musical running around the Mediterranean in every port.
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