Author: Genna Roberts
Have you ever wondered what it’s like working on board a cruise ship? Below the passenger decks is a whole other world that we rarely see or hear about. Here we give you an opportunity to find out what really goes on down there…
Laura Fletcher, 26, of the UK recently returned from her position as shore excursion staff with Norwegian Cruise Lines. She has worked on the Norwegian Star, Spirit and Pearl on itineraries around Alaska and the Caribbean. In our interview, Laura tells us the good, the bad and the ugly of her time onboard.
How did you manage to get a job on a cruise ship?
With great difficulty! I initially applied directly to the cruise lines, but received very little response. I then did a bit more research and decided that NCL was the company I wanted to work for, I then applied to an agency in Southampton that dealt with cruise ship placements, and they quickly found a position that was suitable for me.
What was your position onboard?
I worked as part of the shore excursions team, so I was responsible for organizing and selling tours as well as ensuring the trips went smoothly and of course dealing with any problems that may arise, which they usually did! My first contract was for 5 months in Alaska, followed by a 2 month break, then I flew out and joined the Norwegian Spirit in the Caribbean. My final contract was on the beautiful Norwegian Pearl in Mexico.
What were your first impressions of life onboard?
Boarding the ship for the first time was very daunting, I remember our coach arriving in the Port of Seattle, and seeing the Norwegian Star. It was the first cruise ship I had ever seen and initially I just thought about how tiny I felt against the 14-deck ship in front of me!
Once on board, it was all very overwhelming. There was so much to take in and learn, ship safety procedures, destinations on the itinerary and tours offered all had to be learned inside out.
Before I left the UK, although everyone said it was hard work, I must admit, I thought my experience would be about seeing the world, the people I’d meet and some work, in that order.
At this point, the reality of the work kicked in! I think I had underestimated how much I would be doing and the responsibility I had taken on.
Once the passengers arrived, and the tours began, I started seeing all the places I had learned about onboard and experienced each of the shore excursions first hand. After a few weeks I had been on every tour and explored each part of the destination by land, air and sea!
What was your accommodation like?
During my first contract, I got lucky and shared my cabin with just one other crew member. The cabin was pretty large, en suite with my own drawers and cupboard space. When I started my second contract, on the Norwegian Spirit, I ended up in a top bunk in a much smaller cabin.
Does the accommodation vary depending on job role?
Yes, whilst all cabins are en suite, they do vary in size and numbers sharing each cabin. For example, house keeping staff may share a cabin with 4-6 others, whereas cruise staff get a slightly better deal and will usually end up sharing with just 4-2 others. All were comfortable and cabins were viewed purely for sleeping in.
What happens at meal times?
Meals are available to crew at 3 set times a day, with snacks available in between. Food wasn’t bad, although nothing like the guests were being served! We would always make the most of the local food when we were on a break and in port, local delicacies and fresh fish beats the crew meals every time!
How many days off did you get each week?
None! Crew members work pretty much every day of the week with a few hours off here and there. During my little free time I would be straight off the ship and into the port, or, if it was a place I had already explored I would use the time to do laundry or just relax. There was also a gym, a pool, games room and a bar for crew to make use of in free time. We made the most of free evenings with crew parties and other fun events organized by crew welfare, this is when we would often get passengers poking their heads around doors to see where all the fun was really happening!
What was the hardest part of your job…?
Without a doubt, the long hours. It was hard work, but the job itself was wonderful, I had good days, when customers thanked me for recommending great tours, and bad days, which made being away from home, friends and family so much harder. Each cabin had a telephone and we had calling cards, so there were plenty of opportunities to call home when things weren’t going so good.
Having to remain polite when passengers were rude was also very challenging for me!
…And the best part?
The places you get to see! No other job lets you go kayaking in Dominica one day, then sunbathing in Mexico the next. Working and living with a great group of people means you build close relationships with people from all over the world.
Were there ever any crew – passenger romances?
No never! Any staff caught having a relationship with passengers would have been sacked. Funnily enough, it seemed to be the passengers trying their luck with the crew members after a few too many cocktails at the 70′s or 80′s party nights!
How did the crew get paid?
Wages were settled through finance and were paid directly into my bank account back home. For onboard spending we had crew cards which were linked to our accounts.
Depending on your position, you get paid different wages. Those who are in direct contact with passengers will get paid cash tips in addition to their set wage. The crew who are not involved directly, such as laundry staff, don’t get a share of the tips, and are on a much lower wage. These tend to be crew that can’t speak English to a high enough standard. This may seem harsh, but when you consider all food, accommodation and living expenses are taken care of by the cruise line, the money they receive is all theirs to keep.
What skills do you think someone would need to do the job?
For my particular role, you definitely have to be a people person to be able to interact with all different kinds of people. You have to be extrovert, sociable and know how to have fun! It is also really important to be responsible; looking after a group of people who are in a strange country away from home is a big job, so you have to have good leadership skills too.
So next time you go cruising, spare a thought for the “other world” onboard and the excellent job they do which makes your experience what it is.
About the Author
Genna Roberts is web editor at Inside Cruise – an online cruise community based in the UK. – Ideal Cruising