There are many reasons why working on cruise ships is a wonderful opportunity, not limited to getting paid to travel, exploring new places, meeting rad people from all over the world and seeing the sun set over the water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I feel privileged to have had such experiences, but there’s another side to the life one sees in movies like “Titanic” and “An Affair to Remember”.
1. Ship Lung
Ah, the beauty of recycled air: filling up your lungs with cute lil’ fuzzballs of joy, coating your insides like a trendy wooly sweater, making you gasp and hack oh so daintily when your esophagus finally decides to contract…it’s the loveliest. Living below decks, or below the waterline, is a test of one’s mental and physical stamina. Unless one has the fortune to be a a high-ranking officer, or guest entertainer, most crew are not granted the good fortune of having a porthole in their cabin. This not only ensures that one is banned from the glory that is fresh air, but one is not even allowed to see the sun. You can imagine how depressing it is to breathe in dust, have constant allergy attacks, have trouble breathing AND be forced to live in harsh, cold florescent lighting or darkness.
2. Never Leaving Work
I’m going to go ahead and assume that after a hard day of work, you, dear reader, like to go home, kick back in the peace and quiet of your house, and enjoy your privacy. Ship workers cannot do that. We must constantly be “on” in passenger areas, to the point where our cheeks go numb from smiling so much. In fact, a smile is permanently affixed to our faces…something very difficult for those of us that aren’t natural-born cheerleaders. When we go below decks after a long day of work, we open up the door to our cabin and behold our roommates who are also our coworkers. We eat, sleep, work, party with our co-workers and are often around passengers as well. It is a never ending stream of people and privacy is never part of the equation.
3. Constant Drama
OH MY GOD, SO MUCH DRAMA! When feeling sick for months on end with the dreaded ship lung, when not allowed to express frustration, or sadness, or anger, or anything other than peppy, cheery sunshine, when not given any privacy to unwind, one seeks other modes of escapism: enter an excessive alcohol and sex culture. Therefore, EVERYONE heads to crew bar EVERY night to drink their woes away. At a dollar a drink, people aren’t hesitant to buy 10 bottles of beer, two bottles of wine, or both a night to drink themselves into a care-free coma. At crew bar, with the alcohol flowing, the music blaring, and the girls decked out in short, tight little dresses, it’s a recipe for sexcess. “Oh my god, Becky is totally having sex with José tonight!” one watcher observes. His friend gasps and says, “But oh my god, she had sex with Fernando last night! What a slut!” The gossip runs rampant as the mating game begins. Men pick out the cutest and easiest looking conquest for the night, buy her drinks, the girls act aloof and coy and then much grinding occurs on the dance floor. Finally pair after pair mosey out of the crew bar to complete their interaction somewhere semi-private…
…But is it ever totally private?! No! Because inevitably someone is trying to sleep in the other bunk and has to put in headphones so as not to hear the awkward sex sounds happening two feet above their head. This is NOT conducive to romance…but really, that’s ok, because as much as people associate cruise ships with “The Love Boat” and “Titanic”, it’s the least romantic place one can be…for crew. Because of the lack of privacy, it’s hard to have one-on-one time with that (not-so) special person. Additionally, contracts generally vary from 2 months to 9 months, so one doesn’t exactly want to get all emotionally attached. Cruise ship crew come from all over the world, so it’s quite probable you will never see that person again. Cheating runs rampant which leads to suspicion and jealousy. Many crew are not ashamed to admit that they are married on land, but because they are away from their wives and families for most of the year, they have ship girlfriends. As one of my coworkers put it, “Ships don’t count”. Hmmm…”ships don’t count”. It is clear that cruise ships are the epitome of hook-up culture.
5. Privileged Passengers
Oh, the passengers. While some passengers are lovely, others are exasperating. It is common knowledge that when a passenger boards a ship, they leave their brain back on land. It is vacation, I realize people want to completely relax, but when you are hit on by a passenger for the upteenth time, when you must point out where the pool is even though it is in view of the passenger, when you must laugh forcedly at the hundredth Titanic joke you are told by a client that thinks they are particularly witty, it gets old. I think my favorite memory was when a middle-aged man thrust an empty soup bowl at me to bring to the kitchen. “I know you’re not a waiter,” he said, “but I figure you can bring it back there anyway.” Then he turned his back on me and started talking to his wife.
So what wins: The quest for adventure or one’s quest for sanity? I guess I’ll have to jump ship to find out.