Welcome to the first in my new series
Come "Crews" With Me
This series gives you a sneaky peak into staff life on board a cruise ship.
From health hacks to top port pursuits, crew parties, vessel transfers and Cuban escapades. This series I will cover a range of topics to do with life on board.
For those of you who don't know the last 5 months I spent working as part of the youth team for the worlds largest leisure travel company, boasting over 100 ships sailing under 10 different brands.
I was employed by their biggest brand (I won't name drop but you can easily work that out...) who now own 26 ships operating over 1,500 voyages annually.
Whilst from my account [@she_sails_the_seas ] it may have appeared I was on holiday for 5 months, this definitely was not the case. There is more than meets the eye about life both above and below deck, and it is definitely not a lifestyle that everyone would take to; many come home early, many stay on to have awesome careers at sea.
We work hard and in order to keep ourselves on top form and happy at work we also play hard.
Just as a heads up what I post is in relation to MY life on board, the two ships I was on and the roles I had on board. The experience of being at sea varies hugely depending on the company you're employed for [I am blessed to work for an awesome company], role you hold, and then ship related stuff such as it's run [ports, cruise length, days at port vs sea days], size of ship, your colleagues...
ANYWAY! I am kick starting with the basics:
1) Why I Chose Cruise Ships
2) Getting My First Contract
2) My Top 6 Things To Expect From Life At Sea
🛳So, Why Choose Cruise Ships?
I can't really pin point the time or place where this became a real focus for me.
Coming into my final year of University I remember clearly not knowing exactly what I wanted to go, so much interested me (and still does...), a lot of doors were opening but I felt so stressed and worn out with the 4years grind I'd had. Still living and working in my hometown for the past 25 years left me with this deep claustrophobia growing inside me.
I lived in Guildford, studied in Guildford, worked in Guildford.... I was itching to get away.
Stress + lack of sun + desire travel = Time to spread these wings
For the past 6 to 8 years I have worked with children and young teens, so naturally when I considered work abroad it felt obvious to look at the "kids camps" and "activity camps".
Although endless opportunities came up nothing inspired me, something just didn't sit well inside and it wasn't anxiety about going away from home.
As I Googled around I increasingly saw Cruise Ships pop up and this got me thinking - your travel is done for you with the ports you visit, you're earning, you're accommodated and there were ships with kids clubs!
Plus you're at sea, which being the families "sea baby", to often lost on beaches abroad and endlessly playing in the waves, was extremely appealing.
For the past 6 to 8 years I have worked with children and young teens, so naturally when I considered summer work abroad it felt obvious to look at "kids camps" and "activity camps"
⚓️ Signs To Set Sail & Landing the Job
Then people kept appearing in my life who had done, or were doing similar work.
An old school friend who was working on Yacht (very different kinda work) and another from my squash club who had undertaken his placement year on board an ocean ship.
I asked hundreds of questions, followed up links and started considering cruise ships as a real possibility for me.
Around this time I also was introduced to a guy who quickly became one of my best mates. He also had previously worked as a water sports instructor and on Yachts but was now looking at cruise ships himself. We spoke at length about life at sea, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me.
Within a few months we both arranged to go to the London Cruise Ship fair; CVs at the ready, both bright eyed and eager to get on board.
I remember sitting excitedly listening to one of the talks for those interested in youth activities, my ears pricking up at any mention of fancy dress or pirate parties!
It was clear that my friend and I were in for very different experiences on board.
And that is something to highlight: depending on who you work for, where you're based and what your role is on board your experience will change drastically.
Back home sieving through the millions of flyers I managed to pick out a few companies I'd apply to but came up against my first problem not having the experience on board.
For applications this really came as a disadvantage - major catch 22.
So I decided I'd join a recruitment agency who would help me get some interviews and through which I could apply to a bunch of job vacancies.
Cut a long story short; I got the interview and I got the job (Whooop!).
But setting sail didn't happen for a few more months and this was due to a combination of personal choice (you do get to pick your availability) and also needing to get hold of certain documentation such as an approved medical, [which is not cheap and very thorough]. This also took a wee while to get approved by my employees due to the rather colourful health background I'd come from.
But we made it!
Also, I had to get my C1/D VISA which basically means you are an alien in transit since you are on a floating vessel going from port to port. This also enables you to get into America, but as I was sadly to learn at 6.30am at Gatwick Airport, not through Canada.
Anyway, all these things do take a little time and money!
Once done, it was super quick.
In less than a week I was sent my letter of employment containing my first ship contract.
I would fly out on the 6th January at 6.30am GMT, to Dublin, Toronto and then finally ending up in the East Coast of America in Baltimore.
My heart was stampeding in my chest.
Get your game head on, this is really happening.
Packed, ready [...debatable], and running off 4 hours broken sleep due to the flock of butterflies that thought it would be ok to move into my chest at 10pm the night before, I was about to spread my own wings to the USA.
Top 6 Things To Expect On Board A Cruise Ship
As stated before this will hugely depend on what ship you're on, the department you're working in and even the run the ship has.
I was on 2 ships in my 1st Contract (very lucky!) and there were definitely differences, pros and cons, to both experiences.
So this is just gives you a general overview.
1) Multi-Cultural Environment
You are a miniature floating world.
On my first ship I remember the cruise director saying that over 75 nationalities were represented on board. 😮 OVER 75. 😮 That is crazy.
But very exciting.
I used to love quizzing people all about their home countries, the traditions they have, food they eat (of course, thinks with her belly more than her brain..). how the ended up on the ship etc..
Whilst variety is the spice of life this comes with its own challenges; different dialects (who knew the Surrey accent could be "unclear"?!?) different expectations, cultural standards of behaviour, ways of communicating (or not communicating as may be the case...), conflict management, standards of living, religious routines...
You have to be open to this, to adapt, be considerate and respect each others ways of being and living.
2) Unusual Working Hours
Days can be lonnnnnng.
I worked two different roles, as teen leader which came with more fixed hours of work and enabled more routine to be built in to my days, but came at the expense of a 1am finish every day. Then as camp staff which worked on shift basis and weekly rotations.
In general weeks could go from 40-70hours and weekends don't exist, so you can expect to work 7 days a week and in your time off that is when you rest, gym, do your washing [yes you have to do your own laundry onboard] or hit up a lush port, maybe even a cheeky shore excursion.
This is where social media was very much "rose tinted" view of my life.
A picture is a snap shot of that moment in time, and that could be anything from a 2 hour break where I grabbed a coffee by a good view, or slightly longer times off spent swimming with stingrays, catching a catamaran back through the tropics to my evening shift with the little bubblets (that's my name for babies).
And this leads me nicely onto my next point....
3) Port Days Spent ON BOARD
Once it was more like 2 weeks that I didn't get off due to sickness.
Major cabin fever.
Not all the guests get off therefore someone has to run the activities and open the playroom for them!
Then there are things like "Port Manning" duties and Safety drills, that take up time and can mean you don't get off to explore; but that's ok you're back next week!
4) Shared Cabins
None of this single cabin and porthole luxury life!
Well not in my role....
Nope we bunk together, same gender obviously.
If you're a couple and go together to ships you can have couple cabins 🤗
You will get to know this person very well (and in some cases too well!)
My cabin mates were awesome (I had 3!). Luckily for me we were all super chill and I have some amazing (and some eventful...) memories with these girls.
The bathrooms. Cosy. Let's just say you could probably go to the toilet, wash your hands and shower at the same time.
But does the job.
5) Unpronounceable Food
Guest food is not the same as staff food.
Whilst we do get chances to eat up in guest areas at the buffet, the occasional Steak House dinner, trip to Bonsai Sushi and one too many Pizzas (...it's 24/7 guys I'd be crazy not too), the staff mess was where we mainly "wined and dined".
Down below deck food is served in buffet style with many hot dishes with unpronounceable names and questionable floating "meats" in various oily sauces, a lot of the food is heavily salted to preserve it.
A salad bar filled with freshly frozen salad featuring boiled eggs you can chase around your plate as they defrost al fresco style. Ice cream on tap and areas you could make up your own hot drinks, toast, and grab a coffee.
The first ship I was on was slightly larger and did have more variety for staff, including Taco Tuesday and healthy lunch days, and even smoothies whizzed up by our very own Master of the Vessel, el Captain!
It can be hard to stay healthy though and I will do a post covering my top health hacks.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
6) Stormy Seas
It can get pretty rocky!
Especially if you hit a storm or rainy weather... yeah, weather isn't always sunny guys!
Walking around in high heels on elegant evenings could come at the expense of twisting ankle, but I quickly learnt to love the lull of being rocked to sleep, and you do get your sea legs quicker than you think!
On one cruise we had to take a 7hour diversion back to our home port to avoid a storm out at sea, that evening in my club I had toys and games were falling off the shelves and quite literally flying across the room.
But your safe.
And we made it.
I am very proud to have ridden out the storms of my first contract (quite literally...), rested, and be ready to jump back on board my new ship in 3 weeks time (eeeeek!)
There will be more to come [and not so long I promise] so make sure you're following me on @she_sails_the_seas AND signed up to my newsletter [scroll down a little further] and join me on more joyful living adventures!