COMPANY CULTURE / FEB. 26, 2014
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5 People You'll Meet Working on Cruise Ships

Working on ships is a fascinating experience. You can meet many different nationalities and cultures while going from port to port all around the world. Your fellow crew will be just as diverse, and you should do your best to meet as many of them as you can. Unfortunately though, social life on ships can tend to center around cliques. Most departments tend to stick together both in and outside of work, so trying to break into a new group can be a bit daunting. But this sort of tribe like mentality does allow for easy categorization. Here are five people you’ll undoubtedly meet on every ship.

1. The Female Singers and Dancers

They’re easily some of the most attractive women on the ship and they know it. Charismatic, with a dazzling smile that will pull just about everyone in, these girls are pretty much the center of the entertainment department as their co-worker’s social lives sort of just revolve around them. The dancers and singers tend to have nightly one hour shows in the ship’s large theater. They’re shows are energetic and feature song after song, usually lacking any coherent plot or sort of story. Like the rest of the entertainment department, they have a very forgiving schedule: they rehearse for a few hours in the mornings and then have two shows at night, adding up to a relaxing four or five hours each day. Expect them to be the heaviest partiers on the ship. If you ever have a chance, sneak out of work, grab a glass of wine, take off your name tag, and catch one of their shows. Sit close to the stage so that the stage lights will blind your fellow crew (particularly the Cruise Director and Hotel Director, who often do a short bit before the show begins) from seeing you ditch work. Remember: you’re working on a floating hotel. Don’t take your job too seriously.

2. The Tour Guide

Shore excursions, as they are officially called, set up tours for the passengers, and are generally the most successful of all the revenue departments. Passengers always want to do tours of the local ports so the tour guides are the hot shots on the revenue side. More importantly, they usually have a good deal of leeway in scheduling ‘Tour Escorts’. Tour escorts are members of the crew who go along with each tour group, technically meant to help the tour guide with keeping track of the group and making sure no one gets lost (note: you don’t need to). The real procedure for the crew is that you request to be a tour escort through Human Resources or through an official request slip weeks in advance. But, if you know someone in the department, they’ll put you on a tour, even if it’s the next day. Because of their knowledge of the ports and these superpowers, they’re predictably some of the most well-liked crew members on the ship.

3. The Housekeeper

Extremely polite, kind, well meaning, and upbeat. That’s your average housekeeper. They also have grueling 10 month contracts, compared to the 4-6 month contracts most of the crew keep. They work long hours every day and typically pick up side jobs around the ship so that they can supplement their meager incomes. On my ship, the housekeepers were all from Indonesia, though I’ve heard it can be more diverse on other ships. My cruise line had set up a training center for hotel services in Indonesia, making that country a main pipeline for cheap labor. So, with the housekeepers and kitchen assistants, you can glimpse a dark underside to ship life. It’s a very rigid class system, just like all ships have been since sailing began. Stripes pretty much determine everything, and housekeepers and kitchen assistants are given the least. There are very marked similarities to a slave based society. Housekeepers and kitchen assistants live on a deck only accessible by stairs, they barely ever have breaks, they can only eat below decks, and their cabins are typically triples or even quadruples. They’re also frequent targets of abuse by passengers through demeaning and racist comments. If you have cabin service, make sure to tip your housekeeper weekly. They work too hard and put up with too much.

4. The Officer

At the complete other end of the spectrum are the officers. These are the guys who will, because of their status, be the most comfortable on the ship and in ship life. It is also, to them, their ship and you, you are an unavoidable nuisance. Officers have a lot of privileges, including dining at the luxury restaurants for free and having free reign to do as they please in all of the areas of the ship. Some officers are nice, others are brutal, nearly all have an inflated sense of their self worth and importance. If they work on the bridge, they will generally fancy themselves to be Captain Kirk, successfully saving your life from hundreds of mammoth white whales daily. If they are the head of a hotel department, like beverage or dining, they act like kings, doling out rewards and punishments to their underlings at their whim, and frequently jostling for the fulfillment of their department’s ‘important initiatives’ through office politics. If you run afoul of any of the officers, either personally or professionally, expect several behind the scenes mutterings to happen that will make your life difficult, including morning breathalyzers and/or brand new safety practices designed to make your job all the harder. They’ll only interact with you if you have a high enough rank, so don’t bother trying to be best mates with them either.

5. The Blackjack Dealer

The blackjack dealer is the most beleaguered of all the revenue workers. He starts work the minute the ship is 30 km away from a port and then works until about 4 or 5 am, or, in some cases, until the last passenger decides to stop gambling and go to sleep. They only have a few breaks, here and there throughout their mammoth shifts. The casino workers are an insular group mainly because they don’t have much time to interact with anyone else on the ship. They at least get the mornings off on port days, making their jobs slightly more bearable than a housekeeper. Even though they’re a revenue department, don’t expect them to be congenial and friendly. Remember, a card dealer doesn’t need to smile when dealing. He just needs to play the right cards.

Ships have a wide range of departments and the fun of a first contract is figuring out what each one is like on your ship. So don’t use these templates too strictly when making friends. Make sure to just be open to everyone and be friendly to the new family that surrounds you. If you don’t, then you’ll never find out the interesting secrets of your particular ship. Maybe you'll never know that there’s a late night barber shop doubling as a black market for drugs and hard liquor on C Deck. On ships, you never know what you'll find.

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