My Life At Sea
The thing that I could write a book about alone, is my cruise ship career. I wish I could share all the juicy details… I wish I could write in detail about the crazy people I meet daily, and the hectic situations that occur on board. Maybe one day I’ll be able to – I’ve been dreaming of the day that someone will dare to start a website named ‘Guest Critics’!
But don’t worry – I’ll still share a fair bit, hopefully enough for it to be entertaining. And I’ll owe you the rest!
So instead of just blaming and shaming other people, let me tell you about my personal experience on board. Everyone comes to work on ships for different reasons, everyone has their own story of how they found this job that I, for one, would have never – ever! – pictured myself doing. For starters, because I didn’t know/think of the existence of cruise ships until I was about 20 years old. When I first heard about the phenomenon, I remember thinking ‘That sounds cool, and also like it’s definitely NOT for me’.
But after graduating and looking for a job abroad, something that turned out to be not as easy as I had hoped for, I found myself applying to pretty much anything that would get me out of the continent – while gaining some valuable work experience and a decent amount of money. One week I thought I was moving to Guam in the Pacific Ocean, the next week I was applying for my Costa Rican visa. Then I decided to go back to South Africa, and the next week I was considering Mexico City. My poor family didn’t know what to do with me.
I don’t even remember how I applied for the ship, it was around the same time that I had had a very short-lived ‘ice-hockey career’ (I thought I had found a new hobby, went ice-skating for about 5 minutes before I fell and broke my wrist – that was the end of my new hobby). Since I wasn’t able to work at all at that point, I figured my issue with the job search was resolved. And that’s when I was contacted about a job on board.
Translations to German, Spanish and French, that is what they needed. What? Me? I’m not a translator! But a translator is not what they were looking for, I was told. I wasn’t too convinced, but had one interview after another, got some visas, medical paperwork and other stuff done – and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Mexico.
Everyone that first comes on board, needs to adjust. I like to think that I’m pretty good at adjusting, and I had already traveled quite a bit at that time. But no one could have prepared me for what I found on board. It’s just a different world, and I had to not only learn the language (e.g. “Getting banana” = being reprimanded, “Fixing someone” = making sure someone gets in trouble, “Being mamagayo” = being lazy) but learn the rules of engagement – with 5x more men than women on board, being invited to “watch a movie” is not always what you think it may be.
As you can tell – I came on board about as green as they come. First of all, I arrived late, because I missed my connecting flight and got stranded in LA for the night. I cried – what would my new bosses think about me arriving late?
Well – they thought nothing, apparently. Honestly, we don’t care about employees coming late to the ship. Either you come to the ship or you don’t come. And if you don’t come, no one will look for you. That’s just the way it goes.
For the first month, I had no clue about anything, really. But once I learned my job, the real fun began. Nothing will ever measure up to your first contract*, is what we always say. Making new friends from all over the world, traveling to places I thought I would never see – all while getting paid tax-free, and not having to worry about rent or food. Life was good!
I always thought I would do just the one contract, and I had already applied for a Master’s Degree at a university in Denmark. When I was accepted, I decided to go – it was now or never, I figured. I spent one year in Denmark, missing my life on board. I spent the second year in Brazil and backpacking from Mexico to Colombia – still missing ship life. So when I graduated, I wanted to get back on board – and to my surprise, I was promoted straight away.
My job from 2012 until 2014 was awesome. I was in charge of the hiring and training of new ‘translators’ on board, as well as the international program for the fleet. I traveled to all the ships in the fleet – meeting new people, seeing new places, working hard but playing just as hard… And it was hectic. It’s during that time that I started keeping track of where I was on an Excel sheet. It’s when I had the two longest flights in my life (from St. Thomas in the Caribbean to Singapore, and another one from Hanoi in Vietnam to Puerto Rico), which took about 2 days each. Thankfully we have iPods nowadays, to tell us in which time zone we are…
Unlike the rest of my jobs abroad, my cruise ship career hasn’t finished yet. I’ve been working for the same company for a few years, and I’ve been lucky enough to work my way up to Front Desk Manager. I now have less time to play, because I’m mainly working hard – this job is hectic! But I still have the chance to go out here and there, enjoy a tropical beach or a foreign city, be a food snob and only eat the best pizza in Napels or Kobe beef in Japan, swim in the Dead Sea or ride a helicopter to a glacier in Alaska, while gaining some super valuable work experience that no one will ever take away from me.
Plus, the vacations are legendary. I am able to travel to the most exotic places – I simply pick something off the map and book a flight. And when I’m home I enjoy my time with family and friends, driving everywhere in my dream car. It’s not for everyone, this job. But four years into ship life… life is still good!
* A ‘contract’ in the cruise industry is automatically permanent after your probation period – unless you do something stupid, of course. And of course it’s without all the benefits, regulations and security of a permanent contract on land.
- Caribbean cruises
- Glaciers in Alaska
- Norwegian Fjords
- Overnights in Japan