Before I came to New Zealand, I was in that cliche phase that every young woman seems to go through. “I’m packing my bags and leaving this hellhole! I’m getting an Om sign tattoo and then I’m moving to Hawaii!” By bags I mean one bag because that’s all I was allowed, and by moving to Hawaii, I mean moving into a room the size of a closet shared with three others, that’s somehow below water level on a rocking cruise ship. Oh, and you bet your ass I got an Om tattoo. On my wrist of all places. I got an unlimited three month membership one summer at a yoga studio and naturally, decided I was some sort of yogi. First week into classes and I paid $80 for a scribble of a tattoo on the underside of my wrist, that would quite commonly get mistaken for a bar stamp. “Ooooo…big night out last night, aye?” No. (I’ve recently ditched the yoga pants and covered that up with another tattoo). Classy, right?
ANYWAY. So I got this job as a “restaurant stewardess” working for, I don’t want to name any names.. Norwegian Cruiselines. The way the job was described seemed like a dream. “Are you someone that enjoys traveling and wants to get paid to work and sail around the Hawaiian Islands?” Um, yes?! The interview process for getting a job through this cruise line was insane. I think I went to about three different interviews, and they continued to get more and more intense. I had to get drug tests, medical exams, and a bloody maritime license! I saw this as my one-way ticket to finally have that Instagram perfect lifestyle. Javier would be taking photos of me constantly at some remote beach with a big floppy hat, and a boozy slushy hidden in a coconut. I was fucking ecstatic when I got the call congratulating me as I was hired. I was also half drunk as I was in Las Vegas lounging at the Treasure Island pool for my 21st, so I really lived it up after that phone call. I truly was a salty sea-dog now.
A few fun facts before we really dive in: There are four types of employees working on cruise ships- Officers, Staff Members, Entertainers, and Crew Members. Officers are very specialized positions and are the high-ranked guys. They range anywhere from First Officer, to Medical Officer, to Hotel Manager. To sum it up, they’re the head honchos and get paid the big bucks. They also get free reign to go wherever they please on the ship. Fee-fi-fo-fum. Not to mention they also get their own private cabin (which is very appealing to other employees if you know what I mean, but strictly forbidden). Next up we have Staff Members. SM’s are the people that work in the gift shops, massage parlors, salons, etc. They seem to have a pretty cruisey life and generally are paid through an outside contractor, which means they typically are paid relatively well. These people also get free reign of the ship and normal-ish hours. Now we have the entertainers. These people are the performers who put on all of those beautiful nightly shows for guests. They range from doing performances every night, to performing only a couple times a week. Some of the most beautiful human beings I have ever seen in my life came from the Entertainment department aboard Norwegian. Again, another pretty breezy position. THEN..we have the Crew Members. Crew Members are all of the cooks, cleaners, waiters, bartenders, servers, bussers, etc..the foundation of the ship. (Literally, crew sleep on the bottom floor, therefore, we are the foundation. Bow down). We, as crew members, have the worst of it all by far. We work the longest shifts, anywhere from 9-12 hours, only get access to the bottom three floors of the ship, UNLESS you’re working in guest areas, and we don’t get any days off. Literally. It is borderline slavery. It’s awful. Think of the crew member staff as the bottom of the barrel; the bottom of the barrel that is 1/4 full of lukewarm water and fish guts. The crew members, really are at the bottom of the barrel- barrel, meaning ship in this instance. Our corridors were literally the last three floors of the ship. We weren’t allowed to go above and mingle with guests, or even see sunlight, unless we were working in restaurant and silently mouthing, “help..me” to a family of 5 from Australia. (That is a slight exaggeration). In Crew Mess, (i’ll define this in a moment) we did have small air-hole looking windows that we could gaze out through longingly while scoffing down a PB&J for the 17th day in a row. I shrugged it off thinking I would just be waiting tables, mingling with guests, telling a joke here and there, and earning some tips to go towards my jeep rides through Jurassic Park. Hehe, silly me.
So in my role, I was assigned to “Crew Mess.” Beautiful name, I know. Crew Mess is basically how it sounds. It’s the cafeteria/lounge area for all crew members and is conveniently located on the third floor of the cruise ship. It’s where crew go to die at the end of their shift, or go to talk shit while stuffing peanut butter and jelly sandwich #3 in their face. It’s weird. Keep in mind, all other employees don’t have to come to Crew Mess. They get the luxury of eating in the dining rooms up top, or some of the restaurants. Life isn’t fair.
My job, was to be the person behind the extraaaaaavagant buffet, (hint of sarcasm) wearing one of those paper boat hats, gloves, and a grease-stained red polo, serving up slop for my fellow co-workers. Here I was, 21 years old, doing a job lower than what I was doing at age 15 working as a busser for a small-town diner. JOY. My manager, was a very large woman who had a very large attitude. Her favorite pastime was telling me off, watching my every move, or standing over me like a gargoyle telling me to stop laughing. She was an actual demon and hated smiling, happiness, and probably puppies too. My friends would come through the line, sliding their trays along the steel long table, receiving their slop by yours truly, and we would quietly whisper to one another, telling jokes, trying not to laugh. Confessing our love to one another.. “Come to my cabin later for hot cheetos and a Harry Potter marathon.” I swear to god, Large Marge (I actually forget her name) would always be watching, and sure enough, I would hear a, “Cassandra! Stop your chatting and get back to work..I tell you what.” Lovely.
Even though as a Crew Member, I did work seven days a week and had VERY limited time off, I still got spare hours here and there where I would be able to hop off the ship and go explore whatever island we were on. Sometimes this would include renting a car, hitting up a beach, shopping, hiking, but lets be real..these short breaks mainly consisted of finding the nearest bar in the sun, getting the drunkest possible, and then trying to sober up for our next shift: dinner service.
Aside from the hardcore labour, working on a cruise ship is pretty disgusting. Everyone is hooking up with everyone, and no, this is not an exaggeration. One minute you’ll be in your cabin watching Family Guy on Netflix, reaching for that bag of skittles, next minute you’ll hear the top bunk springs above you about to give way, followed by a disgustingly much too close for comfort sound of fluid swapping. Ahh, a true Hawaiian vacation..
Being sick was out of the question as a crew member. You had to be projectile vomiting in order to get the day off of work. And if that were the case, you were quarantined. Literally locked in your room until given the green light. Healthy!
I could go on for hours and hours about what really goes on as an employee aboard a cruise ship, but my fingers are tired and frankly, i’m hungry. Many people ask what made me finally quit or “jump ship” as we like to call it. My mom was on holiday over in Honolulu while I was working on the ship. I had asked three managers AND an officer if I could please just have one day off to go and hang out with my mom. They told me no, that it wasn’t possible. I had been working on this ship for over 4 months now without a single day off, and now my mom was on the very island I was on, but wasn’t allowed to go see her? FUCK this. Byyyyeeee. I literally quit that day. I packed my bags, left the ship, got threatened that I would never be able to try for employment again if I chose to do so, and spent a lovely week on Oahu with my beautiful mother and grandmother. I didn’t have an ounce of regret then, and still don’t know.
In conclusion, whew, I think that my time as a cruise ship employee was an amazing experience. Yes it was hard work, and borderline illegal at times, but I learned a lot about myself, and met some amazing people that are still very close to me to this day. I think my timing to try this experiment was perfect. I was freshly 21, hangovers didn’t exist to me yet, I could survive off of 2 hours of sleep for up to a week, and my body was bangin. Now? I need at least eight hours of sleep a night or I will die, and I suffer a hangover if I even encounter a scent of vodka. So for any of you out there that are thinking, “hmm..I want to join the cruise circus..” Give it a go! Live Laugh Love Lol.