Working on a Cruise Ship. Number 1

February 2010 – September 2010

Ship Name; Oasis of the Seas

Position; Sports Staff.

Sails: Caribbean.

If you want to know how to get a job on a cruise, read this first.

My Cruise ship episode was intense! I was thinking of a word to sum it up, I’m not even sure if ‘intense’ cuts it..

When I got the idea to work on a cruise ship, it just seemed to make so much sense, I managed to get hold of the email for the UK agency for Royal Caribbean International from a friend. Well I thought I did, I actually spent the first few weeks sending emails to a misspelt email instead (thanks Andy) and only then did I really start to bombard them with my emails and CV’s and reasons to hire me.

It paid off because I finally got a reply from the lady saying we could have a chat over Skype.

I was living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras at the time, money was tight as and I didn’t have internet at home, so I had to go to a pay-by-the-minute place and wait for her to become ‘available online’ Add this to actually persuading the Internet Man to download Skype, help with the microphone and earphones that didn’t want to work and finally I spoke with her, trying not seem stressed and frustrated, think more – friendly and hire-able.

But the vibes weren’t good, the worldwide recession meant openings just “weren’t available for the forseeable future.” She said I should get a years more experience anyway and try again next year. Ouch. A year? That’s a lot. It was only February but before she left she agreed I could drop her a line in September to see how placements were going.

So early morning of the 1st of September I annoyingly contacted her again, reminding her of who I was and explained to her I was in Italy all summer learning basic Italian and working in ‘Animation’ to gain the experience she had requested.  (Totally better luck than judgment.) She thanked me for my persistence and told me I can have an official interview in a couple of months back in the UK. That’s what I wanted to hear, so I flew back from Italy and prepared myself for the interview.

So fluttering around all nervous because by now I’d convinced myself I really wanted the job I turn up early after the expensive trains of London, map in hand, ready to impress and sat waiting in the lobby with all the other candidates. It turned out to be more of an assessment day, like watching lame crew videos, filling in forms over and over and until finally a one-to-one interview. Mine was in bilingual Spanish/English, there were two women and it went smoothly. I was feeling silently confident but you never know..They were really friendly and it was pretty easy-going. Still, a mandatory week wait to find out. A week’s a pretty long time if you ask me.

But…. Success! Yay! Hired. So I had a job again! I was really happy! The next step….. obviously…….Wait. Wait for a position and post to come up, then paperwork and my medical and off I’ll go. ‘By the way’ they tell me, ‘you could be waiting anywhere for up to a year.’ Now that doesn’t make it easy to get another little job…

It was a good few months wait and I was hanging around England outstaying my welcome at my parents house and taking little trips here and there. Off I go to Paris for a quick get-away and then, boom! Phone call. My ship is Oasis of the Seas. Next week. Buy your ticket to Miami.

Wow. Great. Umm Yeah OK. That’s the biggest Cruise Ship in the world, so I convinced myself that’s the one I wanted all along. Little did I know that meant heaps more work than the other smaller ships… hmmm…

The day before I leave I get an email from an old South African friend Darren I’d worked with years before, who wrote to ask me if it was really me coming to the Oasis, and he already worked on the team and I was going to love it! “Prepare yourself to party” he wrote. Perfect. So I flew to Miami a little more relaxed, because now I had a friend there, and began the real life of a crew member.

This part was all very exciting, you get put up in a hotel, the transfers are all arranged and I made friends at the airport. I was met by my manager, an American who was totally chilled out and had great banter and also, Darren, my friend. Yay! The ship is literally enormous, and I was thrown into the swing of things straight away, meeting the team, getting the uniforms and off to work that very day. There was so much to learn and know. You get your crew number and your uniform, your name badge and from there on in, your pretty much categorised by where you work. So I became ”Angela, Sports Staff 160006″

There are many, many rules, from your uniform, where you walk, what shoes you wear, your cabin inspections… I shared my small cabin with another English girl, Sam on my team and thank God we became really good friends. I liked her straight away. She used to play football for England, how cool is that? I did get stitched up with top bunk though. Last in usually gets top bunk. Top bunk is rubbish.

The cabins are so small and you don’t have a lot of personal space. Sam was really messy. So I became messy too.. (I blame her) we had to tidy for cabin inspections though. It’s pretty easy to de-magnatise your room key too, which has left me locked out on oh-so-many occasions. This requires a trip to the HR or ringing the security guys at whatever time of night it may be, they don’t like that. We lived on deck -1 and we worked on deck 16 at the other end of the ship. That’s a good 10 mins to get to work. There was a massive crew walkway on deck 1 called the I-95 where you can walk the length of the ship, with crew elevators either side and in the mid-ship (we were not allowed to use the guest ones) There was nothing more annoying about taking the lifts up to work when people would ring in every floor to go up one deck. This happened everyday. The stairs were either side of the lifts.

I had to learn to navigate my way around, not only in the guest areas but in the behind the scenes in crew areas. I found myself lost for the first few weeks. I was always rushing, getting to work on time is a big deal on the ships. I found it pretty stressing I used to leave everything until the last-minute then… oops. When you start for the first time you’re called ‘new hire’ so it’s kinda like an excuse that let’s you get away with everything. Doesn’t last for long though.

At first I was really overwhelmed with the amount of work we were doing. Not even one day off. Nor would I get one. That really takes a bit of adjusting to. But I had such a cool team, from all over the world I just loved it straight away. Saturday meetings were held in the pub, and even though topics could get serious, I found myself quite surprised at how respectful everyone was. My team had people from all over the world, from the Philippines, USA, Serbia, Ukraine, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina and so on… You get a heap of training in your first few weeks in all aspects of the ship and crew life. It’s really thorough until the point of eye-watering boredom and everyone moans about it. More lame videos.

As I worked as Sports Staff under the ‘cruise division’, this meant teaching guests to surf and boogie-board on the Flowriders, (by far my favourite thing) the rock climbing wall, the zipline and many other sporting activities around the boat, from shuffleboard to aqua aerobics you name it. I loved my job! Typically we would work a few hours on Zipline, getting guests to zip across the ship, a lot of harnessing and checking equipment, maybe a couple of hours on the flowriders, eat some lunch (a long way away and

you have to be back within the hour) a few hours of rockwall and maybe a basketball or mini golf tournament. Later on we would give flowriding lessons to guests who had rented the flowrider out. If a guest had rented the machine with instructors for an hour, it cost nothing less that $480. There are some rich people on Cruises. Sometimes they leave tips too. Always nice when your only doing your job anyway! Hours are long and hard, there are sea-days, port days and turnaround day, obviously port days being the best.

Our sea-days would see us starting at exactly 8:45am and finish somewhere around 6:00pm then, if you’re not already exhausted enough under the hot, hot sun, you get to do a few more hours in the night. That’s typical, but you can find yourself working way earlier and much, much later. Like we’d start at 4:45am on turnaround days, man that was annoying, “traffic control” to see guests off the ship. I used to see it as an excuse not to sleep and come from partying, change into my uniform and bash out a good few hours then at 10:00am sleepy time until 4:00pm. That is, of course, if you can actually sleep through the many announcements that bark through your cabin speakers in different languages. But the fun nightlife on the ships made it totally worth it. I’m sure I couldn’t do this now…

We were also roped in to work other things in the ship, including dance shows which I loved, like 70’s night, and helping guests plan their weeks, (having to break them the news that they have to pre-book everything while they hate on you for the huge inconvenience)  welcoming guests on and off-board in that all American manner, parades where you dress up in the most ridiculous ‘lemming style’ costumes, standing on the doors to the theatre saying ‘enjoy the show’ and telling guests if they havent booked their tickets, well sorry they’ll just have to wait to see if there’s room… ‘Gangways‘ is by far the worst, you have to stand for hours on end saying ‘welcome back’ ‘have a great day’ for hours, literally hours. Alone. Luckily when I started we were able to switch our shifts around, so there was always wheeling and dealing in my team. I loved taking aqua aerobic sessions where some of the guys didn’t and I’d trade them one of my football tournaments. I remember some guys would pay others to do gangways etc, that’s how bad it was… Although no-one ever paid me,,, hmm..

As ‘Sports Staff’ my job was mainly outside which is wicked in some ways and so bad in others. Great being outside, surrounded by the ocean and fresh air everyday, some crew members barely get to see the light of day but it’s terrible when you work for hours under the baking sun, roasting away and sweating profusely in your uniform with a smile on your face and we were always busy. You had to rush for toilet breaks and sometimes get people to cover you. If anyone has ever been in the Caribbean during the summer, you’ll know it’s monumentally hot. So working all hours under the day without shade is complete madness. In port we could get off, sometimes for a break of only a few hours, a lot of times I didn’t even bother, I slept instead, if not it meant running off ship to maybe get to an internet cafe (internet is too expensive on the ships, even at crew prices) although sometimes you got some good decent time.

As we were in the Caribbean the ports were mainly beach stops. After working long days under the scorching summer sun, the last thing I wanted to do was lay on a beach then go back to work under the heat again. But crew friendly bars were everywhere and money is flowing so cocktails and beach bars were the main hangouts.

You get to know the ports really well, working on the biggest ship sounds amazing, but it’s soo big that not a lot of ports are prepared to take it, so the itinerary was very repetitive from week to week, I’d explored most the islands by half the contract. Then breaks became sleep time. Catch a wink when you can, that was the motto. Even if it was only 20 mins.

The parties on the ship are really cool and fun~ and as you work with people from all over the world there is always some party or independence day or celebration. Any excuse. Plenty of themed nights and dressing up. Nightlife doesn’t usually start until past midnight so I didn’t sleep too much during that 7 month contract. Play hard, work hard. But it’s not forever.

The shows on the ship really are fantastic, like for example in the Aqua Theatre, with high divers, synchronised swimmers, acrobats and dancers, all these guys are complete professionals, I saw that show so many times and it was really something else. I even got to watch it from the tech room, which was madness! Seeing all the work that goes into the lights, sound and co-ordination. And the food. Come on, its top class. Like the Sushi restaurant, I couldn’t get enough..

The money was the best I’d ever made in my life, you get paid cash in hand and it’s easy to save. Actually apparently not for everyone, I knew a fair share of people who literally blew it all from pay cheque to pay cheque, you always find things to spend your money on. I made my basic wage and then made commission on the Flowriding lessons we gave before and after hours, divided equally within the team and we were paid every fortnight.

On a ship, it’s about who you know. Wierd but true. There are so many cool people from all over the world and in all departments, us sports staff were popular because everyone wanted to have a go on the flowrider after hours, while I managed to blag massages with my friends in the Spa.

Every position on ship has ‘stripes’. The level you are ranked at on a ship. I had two stripes, which officially made me an officer. This meant I could mingle in the guest areas and eat in the restaurants (at a discounted price which I took total advantage of). There are jazz clubs, piano bars, salsa dancing discos and clubs, shops and a gorgeous gym which, if I’m honest I barely used. You have your crew card and everything is paid for and dealt with on there. Ship life is a tipping life. So you pay forward your tips to the staff on the ships too. Everyone’s happy.

By the end of my contract I was really run-down I’m not gunna lie, I just lost the will to work and deal with the same questions and the more arrogant of the guests. I just needed a few days in bed and sit in not having to go anywhere or do anything all day..  Actually right in my last week I got a written warning, I turned up late for an early morning flowriding session a good 15mins (serious, serious problem on a cruise) I’d turned up late a couple of times before (we’re speaking minutes here) I remember being so gutted! To all future and past employers I don’t usually turn up late…

I look back really fondly on that episode on my life, although I’m not sure if I could stand the long hours again and not being able to walk off into the night or go to the supermarket, also the lack of sleep and party life. I do miss however, surfing on the Flowrider with my tea mates when the hours are closed for the guests, the social life, the shows, the activities, the people, the great money, the fun ports and amazing food! Good old Oasis of the Seas.


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