The answer is easy – we worked on cruise ships. When Cassandra turned 18, she signed with Celebrity Cruise Lines and left England for the sunny shores of Los Angeles. She spent six years sailing around the world on Celebrity and Carnival ships. The contracts were usually 10 months at a time and during the breaks she would often spend time with other crew members before heading home to see her family. Eight weeks in the Greek Isles with Angelika and six weeks in Sicily with Mandy were her favorite getaways.
I first signed up with Holland America in 1998 and ended up spending three winters at sea during Ocean City’s offseason. My contracts were usually 4-6 months. I worked on the Veendam, Westerdam and Elation before meeting Cassandra on Carnival’s Ms Holiday. My home ports were San Juan (Puerto Rico), Fort Lauderdale, LA, New Orleans & Mobile (Ala.).
Cruise Ship life was a lot of fun. You hear horror stories about the long hours people work. That is true – but only for crew. The ship is divided into three classes: Officers, Staff & Crew. Officers had the run of the ship. My ships were either Italian or Dutch. The officers wear nice uniforms and are encouraged to intermingle with passengers. They have a lot of special privileges and cabins similiar to the passengers.
The crew had it rough. Crew members usually spoke English as a second language. They worked 8-12 hours a day, seven days a week (There are no “offdays” on a ship). They lived at the bottom of the vessel and slept 4 to a room with a community bathroom and shower. These were the waiters, bartenders, stewards, cooks and maintenance. Most crew were from India, the Phillipines, Russia and central America.
We were staff, which was somewhere in between. Staff members all speak English as our native tongue and frequently interact with passengers. Staff is usually from the UK, U.S., Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Photographers, Casino Workers, Babysitters, Entertainers, Personal Trainers, Front Desk, and Shoppes are all staff. We usually had one roommate and had our own private bathroom. We could eat brekkie and lunch with the passengers, but ate dinner at the staff mess and were served by the crew. Cass started out in the beauty salon and made a ton of money through her commissions. When she switched to Carnival, they put her in charge of the jewelry shop to sell diamonds and Rolexes to high end clientele.
I was part of the cruise staff. My job was to entertain the guests and make sure they had a good time. Specifically, I was the DJ in the nightclub (usually 10-3 each night) and pool bar (on sea days). I also hosted Karaoke twice a week and emceed all of the ship events. I would also DJ & Videotape weddings. In the afternoons, I was the ship’s official volleyball instructor and organized the crew tournaments. There was a volleyball court on the top deck.
We used to have every port day off, but after 9/11 they changed the rules so that a third of the ship always had to stay onboard. Sea Days were busy. Everything was open from dusk to dawn and we were expected to keep the guests entertained and spending money.
The big money maker was formal night. We usually had two a week. Guests and staff dress to the nines and enjoy dinner and a Las Vegas style show. This was a huge day for the beauty salons before hand and the casino and night club after. We loved seeing the shows and got the opportunity to see some of the best stand-up comedians in the world.
We had our own crew bar with $1 drinks that was quite popular in the evenings. We formed a lot of great relationships who we still stay in touch with today. In addition to seeing the world at a young age, we were actually able to save a lot of money while we worked. There were no room and board expenses. Hardly anyone even owned a car. Health insurance is covered as well. It was very easy to live on about $20 a day. The best part was that I was able to meet the girl of my dreams onboard. That never would have happened if we had stayed on land.
Well, that’s the inside story on our life at sea. Cheers! – The Rox