What’s more relaxing than a cruise aboard a ship the size of a small city? A million different things, actually, what with cruise ships apparently being diarrhea centers commanded by captains who get in the lifeboat at the slightest hint of trouble. Still, there is something alluring about being in the middle of the ocean on a manmade, moving island. Or at least I thought so until I talked to Adam and Mackenzie who both worked for popular cruise lines and totally ruined them for me with their stupid facts, like how…
5. The Crew Makes Fun Of The Guests At Staff Stand-up Shows
The last day of a cruise is usually reserved for Disembarkation Talk where the cruise director explains to the guests how they should get off the ship. At Adam’s boat, the talk would include such indispensable wisdom as “please don’t be naked” or “don’t threaten the staff” because those are things that have actually happened in the past. It’s not surprising then that the crew portion of the Disembarkation Talk eventually evolved into ship-wide roasts of their dumbest passengers.
“At some point,” Adam says, “management has discovered they could spice the Disembarkation Talk up by making it into a standup-like routine with stories of the dumbest passengers they’ve ever had. At another point, the different cruise directors started sharing their stories with each other, meaning that the worst guests can become a joke across the entire cruise line.” So if you’ve ever asked if there is fish in the salmon on a cruise, congratulations, you’re probably famous!
So, what kind of behavior can turn you into a cruise line legend? Adam gives some examples: “Our ship lets you leave your bags outside their door the final night of the cruise for the crew to pick up in the morning at departure. Some guests apparently leave their bags out and then sleep naked, forgetting to leave any clothes for the next day whatsoever.”
”Another director told the tale of a woman who wrote him a three-page letter complaining that the glaciers in Glacier Bay, Alaska were ‘dirty,’ and that if they really cared about their guests, they’d send out a cleaning crew with brooms to sweep it off in advance.”
Nobody said that immortality will be pretty.
4. A Lot Of The Crew Are Alcoholic Party Animals
One of the main reasons people go on cruises is to drink heavily because something went wrong down the evolutionary chain that made us believe alcohol doesn’t affect our livers once we’ve crossed international borders. Unfortunately, this mentality is also shared by people responsible for not turning your ship into a Titanic sequel:
“I have seen things in the crew bar that rivals everything I’ve ever seen in any bar on land, and I’ve been to a gay bar in Russia,” Mackenzie told/intrigued me. “I saw grown men wrestle on the crew bar floor for fun. I saw grown-ass adults dry hump and make out in front of all of their employees. I saw a very drunk man sit down, grin widely and pull his erect penis out of his sweatpants. None of this shocked me. It was just another night in crew bar.”
Wow, who would have thought that giving young people near limitless access to cheap alcohol could ever result in them abusing it? Not the cruise lines’ owners, that’s for damn sure.
According to Adam: “On our ships, drinks were tax-free and thus incredibly cheap. As in beers are a dollar, and good beers were two.”
“Because most of the crew is in their 20s or 30s, a lot of us drank like we didn’t have work the next morning. Ship-sanctioned crew parties were held monthly in a nicer segment of the ship. The alcoholism eventually got so out of control that the line quit letting us buy hard liquor to consume while on board.”
But to be fair, Adam’s bosses did try to make the crew stop drinking… by working everyone to the brink of exhaustion. And if you’re too tired to lift your arms, you sure as hell can’t hold a drink in them.
3. Most Cruise Ships Fly Foreign Flags So They Can Treat Their Crew Like Slaves
The law is a funny thing. Not like funny “haha” but more like funny “you can basically become a slave under the right legal circumstances.” Working on a cruise ship is one of those circumstances.
Adam explains: “Go on a cruise anywhere in the world, and you’ll notice that the ship itself is usually flying the flag of some other country like Malta or the Bahamas. This use of ‘flags of convenience’ is entirely so the cruise lines can get around US labor laws and other regulations … What does this mean for the crew? It means working hard. Some crew members, like us photo/video types, often go for contracts as long as eight months straight without a break. There are no days off on a cruise ship, not even weekends,” which is apparently A-OK in the land of not-America.
It’s almost like a magic trick: you wave a specifically-colored fabric over your ship, and suddenly *poof* you’re free to work your employees to the bone. Still, though, how common is this practice? Welp, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, about 90 percent of ships that set out from the U.S. fly flags belonging to Panama, Bermuda, Italy, Malta, and the Netherlands, just so they can keep their staff on 24 hour standby. Just a BTW but… do, like, all Netherland laws apply on the ship, or…?
“I personally worked about 50 hours a week when I was a photographer,” Adam says, “and when I took on the role of Videographer, it moved up to about 70. The only limit on how many hours you work, set by international maritime law, is about 75 hours.”
Incidentally, that 75h rule was instituted to keep ship crews from being too exhausted to respond to an emergency, like the ship sinking. It’s nice to know your cruise is playing it really close to the limit just so you can have a picture of yourself drinking heavily at 9 in the morning.
2. Getting Paid On A Cruise Ship Is Weird
One of the most surprising things I learned from Adam is that, if I’m ever strapped for cash, I should just go and mug a cruise ship worker. And not just because they will probably be too drunk/seasick to fight back.
“We’re all paid in cash,” Adam explains. “This means that unless you’re lucky enough to be on ship that stops where there’s a bank branch from your home country, you have to hoard it until the end of your contract and brazenly carry several months’ wages in your pocket on the flights home (I have a friend who actually did this) … Some cruise lines put their crew’s wages onto a debit card, called a ‘sea card,’ which can then be spent onboard the ship or withdrawn at an ATM, but there’s a fee for every individual withdrawal.”
Hmm… paying your employees in what amounts to credit at the company store. Where have I seen this before? Let me ask my good friend, Tennessee Ernie Ford:
After I asked Adam more about his cash payments, as well as the places he likes to hang out after payday and his martial arts prowess, he was quick to point out that some cruise ship workers opt for wire transfers.
“This costs a lot but it’s a lot more secure. I personally did this once my ship got into southeast Asia. It involved going to a small sketchy booth, forking over several months’ worth of wages to a complete stranger, and then writing out who it was going to and where on the backside of a small shred of a discarded form. Amazingly, it made it to the States okay.”
1. Everyone Is So Horny All The Time
“Because of the dramatic nature of ship life,” Mackenzie says, “your relationships onboard are always the most intense and passionate ones of your life. Everything you feel is real and strong and you honestly feel like you might be in love in a matter of weeks. I saw one couple spend every last minute of their contracts together. She was saying goodbye to him on the gangway the next morning and I watched her sob all the way down the hallway back to her cabin. Then I saw her in the crew bar that night hitting on my boyfriend.”
During many of her contracts, Mackenzie would walk into the crew bar and get blinded by the shine of wedding rings on hands that were busy buying drinks for their not-spouses. Everybody saw them, but few cared.
“It was mostly men who were cheating on their wives, but married women do this, too. The routine went like this: Married man takes a mistress, they are openly dating onboard, wife comes onboard to visit, mistress spends a week pretending she doesn’t know him, the entire crew pretends he’s not dating someone onboard. Repeat every contract,” because the sea isn’t just a harsh mistress – she’s also one hell of a wingwoman.
Check out Mackenzie’s blog about her life aboard cruise ships: https://lovelycoconuts.wordpress.com/