7.5 months: 3 months on my first ship, 4+ months on the the next, 3 days off in between transshipping, 4 countries, 3 overnight cruises (PARTAAYYYY!), 30+* cruises, 5 addendum to my contract, 1 contract.
*approximating, since I lost the itinerary from my first ship and can’t possibly remember the exact number
My first three months at sea were filled with extreme highs and some lows. The lows were mainly because I started to tire of the lack of space that crew had for privacy, but I was fortunately transshipped (read: rescued) to a larger vessel (1,900+ passengers rather than just 1,200+) mid-contract.
I loved my second ship from the very minute that I embarked, solely because I was transshipping after a 3-day holiday in Port Vila with a lovely Kiwi (MAINE, you’re the best!).
I ran straight into Jarred once I boarded, which was really cool since he’s quite a special lad – probably the best guest entertainer (along with Isabel & Johnny). Maaaaaagicccccccc. There’s nothing better than reuniting with guest entertainers/musos – just when you think you’ll never see each other again, they pop up on another cruise and screams erupt (mostly from me). And, in all fairness, entertainment is a pretty small world on ships – so even if you transfer cruise companies, the likelihood of running into the same performers is still quite high.
From July – September, I worked with the best team I’ve possibly ever had in my career thus far, and I couldn’t have been happier (Matt, Joe, Arauna, Adam – you guys are forever my brothers). I couldn’t stop raving about my teammates to my mum, and while I missed a few people from my old ship (Migs!), it honestly couldn’t even compare to the family bonds I created on this new ship. I was extremely fortunate to have been transshipped, since that’s where I met the bulk of my favourite crew members who are now best friends.
I mean, I’m flying to the UK in 41 days primarily because these best friends helped guide my decision in making my dreams become a reality. But we’ll get to that later…
My second ship turned out to be completely different from the first in many ways. It looked like a proper hotel with giant corridors, and even though it’s an older ship, the architecture and layout of the bars made so much more sense aesthetically. Whereas my first ship literally only had one floor where things were poppin’, the second had a few floors and a lot more walking room. It might not seem like that big a deal, but it makes a difference when you live in this “floating hotel” for months on end. The atrium was stunning, complete with a waterfall in the middle staircase that made it look proper Vegas-esque. Our theme parties were heaps better on the second ship – confetti drops for Gatsby night (and not having to hold that damn heavy cigarette tray and pose for pointless photos) and a lot bigger space for Bianco White Night – definitely more enjoyable for both crew and passengers alike, I presume. My first ship seemed to be more suited for retired old couples who don’t party, which is why I got a little bored (after only 3 months, too).
Let’s preface and nickname my second ship “The J,” since it’s too complicated to mention any names with strict social media policies nowadays (but it sounds dumb to keep saying “the second ship”). From what I recall, my first day on “The J” was jam-packed – reunited with Ruth (who ended up becoming my BFFF!), learning what the heck our “Mobile Library” was, being asked to pretend that I was a karaoke competition finalist (I was saved from that, thankfully), dancing for 2.5 hours at our Bianco Party, looking like a lost deer in the highlights (and being approached by every crew member who assisted me, bless them), being mistaken for a talented singer/musician who became my twin sister and one of my favourite people ever (Jasmine!). It helped knowing about five familiar faces that I worked with on “The A” (first ship), so I wasn’t completely alone – but being the new girl, I was luckily able to settle in quickly (crew bar, waaaayyyyyyyyyy).
Crew bar was followed by a hangout sesh with the one and only Harrison (the first lovely American I met on ships!) and Matt – and this little cabin party ended up going until 3 A.M. With red wine, Zedd, and laughing hysterically, I considered this my official initiation.
The main reason I loved the ship was a reason I normally wouldn’t have cared about – but on ships, life is different. I was in love with the crew bar. A proper jukebox, pole, blackjack table, foosball, couches, TVs, a proper dance floor – it was an actual hangout spot for us after work, rather than the joke of the prison cube we had on The A that literally only fit a max of 15 people before you felt claustrophobic. I was only tight with two people from our team and the photographers on my old ship, whereas I literally loved everyone on The J. It was honestly like one big, happy family and I adored (mostly) everyone. I mean, there were very minimal creepers on this ship in comparison, too. Always a plus.
… not to mention all the times my phone was kidnapped and used to burst about 1,000+ photos. Ah, such memories.
There was also a stark difference in our meals. It was like a proper sit-down restaurant where you could order starters, entrees, and dessert from our main restaurant’s menu for the day. My stomach was happy.
At one point, we had a German chef (Chef Alex, the best in the fleet) who organised an amazing spread for Oktoberfest. We danced, we drank, we indulged in all sorts of German delicacies, he ordered 30+ of us Jägermeister shots and we danced around the table and drank some more. I couldn’t help but think of everyone else back home working 9-5 as this was occurring: “I get paid to party like crazy and let loose. This is insane.”
The passengers I met (across both ships) were always rad – especially the young groups. You guys know who you are – you made my “job” seem like I was just getting paid to make new friends. 🙂
We also did some pretty cool stuff ashore:
Hardships on the Ship
Okay, so maybe not every second of ship life was glamorous. First of all, don’t expect to take a cruise job as a vacation – it’s quite the opposite. Sure, you get a few ports every cruise to relax and mentally recharge, but it’s only for a few hours. You definitely work more than play, that’s for sure.
The hardest part was, undoubtedly, the fact that we worked 7 days a week for months on end. Weekends? What are those? Holidays? That means more themed events and work, yay…
99% of the time, we had no idea what day of the week it was (or even the date) – we just knew whether it was a sea day, port day, or turnaround day (when the ship docked and we disembarked guests and embarked the new ones). We constantly had reminders of when to set our clocks backward/forward depending on the cruise and where we were sailing. The best nights were always the ones when we gained an hour and gleefully saw the clock go from 2 A.M. to 1 A.M. Wheeee.
When times got tough and tiring (especially toward the end of my contract), I had to keep reminding myself to put everything in perspective. I mean, we literally were being paid to travel with a huge network of friends – and best yet, my job was to entertain and party. Accommodation, meals, and medical bills were taken care of – and our alcohol was dirt cheap. What more could I ask for?
Since most of my close friends were straight out of uni (therefore, babies, at age 21 or 22), I was officially the grandma of the group. I had to basically force myself to stay awake until past midnight when I first started out in March, just to prove I could hang. The one difference with cruise life vs. land was being completely disconnected up until a decent port or turnaround day – because our onboard WiFi was just atrocious (yes, $32 for 1GB of data dwindled pretty quickly). So yeah, to anyone who asks, Facebook Messenger will always be the best mode of communication – it’s practically the only app that ever worked for me, anyway.
The hardest part of the job (in any front-of-house department) is that you’re never truly off. Unlike my days with Disney, I’m never allowed to change out of my work uniform, throw on casual wear, and then frolic around and blend in with the passengers. Nope, we have to be in uniform (the correct uniform based on whether it was daytime or evening) whenever visible in guest areas. Anytime I was in my cabin during off hours, I’d only have lingerie on, because gone are the days where you could do that during working hours.
And my goodness, talking to people around the clock is draining. I’m fortunate to have had so many friends I loved, because they honestly gave me life. “If I have to answer one more bloody question about the location of the gangway when the sign is clearly right in front of them…”
Also, don’t even get me started on the sheer horror of hosting 2-3 hours of karaoke. My heart would plummet every time I saw “Late Night Karaoke” on my schedule, because I simply dreaded having to sit there and listen to off-key people sing (who thought they were actually decent). I managed to doodle pages full of artwork for people in between songs in order to keep my sanity…
And of course, you get used to the lack of sleep. I averaged about 4.5 – 6 hrs/night and my body became accustomed to staying up past midnight (we generally worked up until midnight). 1:30-2 A.M. was my general “bedtime,” and as a result, we got sick a lot more often. Entertainment was like its own sad little community of germs – if one of us went down (including the show team), we’d all go down together. I guess it was inevitable, given the fact that we shared microphones, cramped living spaces, and were constantly in close quarters with both passengers and crew. Most of us, at one point in our contracts, made the mistake of visiting the medical center when feeling extremely ill and would then have to be signed off, which is like death to crew member. Being isolated for over 24 hrs. is not particularly fun, but it had to happen to prevent us spreading outbreaks of flu, gastro, etc. to others. I’ll never forget how I gave laryngitis to my old cabinmate, and a show had to be cancelled because she was one of the main singers that evening… #facepalm
It’s also quite a struggle for us to get ourselves back to the ship before “all aboard” at a certain time (i.e. 4 PM) when we’re off sunbathing and eating a proper meal in our fleeting hours of freedom. “It’s a bit sad that I have to go back by 2 for Deck Quoits,” we’d sometimes joke. But in reality, what a problem to have, especially when a lot of others are back home in front of a computer, dreaming of doing what we do.
Lastly, the food can get monotonous. I distinctly remember my first meal, being all chipper and remarking that it wasn’t that bad – to which my Assistant Director simply said, “Just give it a few days and you’ll be tired of it.” Sure enough, by day 4, I was over it. Figuratively speaking, I was blessed because I’m the worst cook ever, and with all our meals provided for us, it was a win-win. I was also hungry all the time because we were so active throughout the day and only had set meal times. Despite going to the gym daily (almost) and taking the 9 flights of stairs up and down, I still gained about 9 kilos in 7 months.
The Curse of Being a “Social Hostess”
I might be cursed with having to talk to people even when I’m off. In the first leg of my flight home, two P&O passengers sat next to me and chatted away (what are the odds in that); in my layover, the three hours I could have spent napping were spent chatting to a girl who tagged along; on my last flight, the person next to me used to work for Carnival Cruise Lines; and on the airport shuttle, a religious couple inquired about my spiritual guidance on the ship. By the time I actually set foot inside my house, I wanted nothing more than to just be left alone in quietude.
I suppose it never hurts to be too friendly, but now I feel like I’m also a bouncing Disney ball on steroids now. If anyone thought that I talked a lot (and quickly and loudly) before… now, especially because of my party animal streak, I’m pretty much un-shut-uppable. I forget that I’m in America right now, so “How ya goin’?” is probably too casual and foreign for people to understand here. Whatever.
Stories…. Oh, the Stories!
I’m proud to say that my life has never been more exciting.
Wait. Maybe that’s not something to be proud of, given my age…
Ship atmosphere is entirely different from everything on land. You eat, sleep, and function differently once you adapt, but you generally fall into a routine and either love it or hate it. I love how crew members are forced to socialise and create family bonds. You have to see the same people in a confined space on a daily basis, some longer than others. It’s like university on steroids: you eat, breathe, live, and (sometimes) sleep with these people for months and eventually get used to saying goodbye to your closest friends whose contracts end before yours. But it’s usually never goodbye, since you’ll usually end up crossing paths with them on another ship or in travels.
I can count on one hand the number of times I was sober throughout my four months on my second ship, whereas I rarely drank on my first ship (goes to show what a difference the bar makes). I inherited a variety of nicknames throughout the months (Godzirraaa, Pingu, Herrroooo Kitty, Ching Chong, JAPANESEEEEEE, D-Dawg, Deborah the Explorer, fake Chinese). I did all the theme parties at least once while completely destroyed – the most memorable being the first Back to School Night with Adam, where we downed one drink after another and then tried our best to disguise the dizziness on the dance floor (at least for me). My Asian glow factor didn’t disappear completely, but it did decrease over time. As sad as it sounds, the most memories (and stories, obviously) came from the nights where I was gone beyond my mind and loving on everyone, because I’m probably the happiest little Asian drunk in the world. Every crew party on The J was a reason for celebration, whereas every crew party on The A was just… crap (to put it lightly).
For the grittier breakdown of “ship life,” I suggest that you read this, because it addresses things that I’ll politely refrain from writing about. If you hire onto a ship as crew, expect 100% of these things to happen – and if you don’t think you’ll engage in any of the culture, well, like everyone else told me: “That will change…” It’s not necessarily bad change – but it’s also the reason why my life only seems exciting on ships.
There are some stories that can only be understood by those who were there, but the memories shall live on forever. Cases in point:
- The nicknames we invented for each other (CBC, Gadge, and a bunch of other non-PC ones)
- The numerous all-nighters I pulled with the guest musicians
- The time I invaded the cadet cabin until 4:30AM and was the cause of them not getting any sleep
- Trademark sayings (“WAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!” “Friendship prevails,” “FIDDLE-DEE-DEE-POTATOEEES,” “Six-one-ohhh-ayyyyyyytttt,” “Lads, lads, lads!”)
- The multiple evenings when we had rough, rocky seas (dancing at theme parties proved difficult)
- The number of times I accidentally pulled down my skirt with my heels during the Gatsby flashmob dance
- Sorting tender tickets out while smashed out of my mind (sorting three color categories, 30 of each number, proved insanely difficult and I started throwing them up in the air like confetti – but eventually finished after an hour)
- Screaming whenever I’d see one of my favourite engineers in the bar
- Kissing the first girls in my life as a promise that I’d go to the UK (and shortly after, I booked my ticket)
- Celebrating my birthday onboard (which only meant that we just drank more)
- Screaming and nearly falling down the stairs with the shock of seeing my favourite band (MMG!) on another cruise with me
- The day that golf putting turned into tsunami putting thanks to being poolside during rocky seas
- Failing at playing beach volleyball and French cricket with a cool group of passengers (yes, “Beach Sports” was our shift for two hours, believe it or not)… and then a rabid dog coming and deflating our volleyball and ruining all the fun
- Starting a riot within our pool volleyball team because I was the world’s worst player ever
- Arauna’s imaginary dog, Max – and his “Imaginary Friends Gathering” that was approved to be on the daily schedule of entertainment events
- Themed crew parties (Disney Apocalypse, Inner Animal, PJs, Bollywood, Fijian Night, etc.)
- The Queensland cruise from hell (never met so many rude, crotchety people in my life)
- The “Bang!” game during Country Night (this would never fly on Disney)
- The spontaneous night sailaways out of Sydney
- My first (and only) time on stage in the theater and horribly ad-libbing when promoting our themed parties… because I’m awkward like that (“Who likes to partyyyyyyy?!”)
- Having the honours of playing the triangle at Live at Charlie’s
- The horror of having to sing in front of passengers if no one signed up. There’s only so many times you can do a duet with “Bad Romance,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “…Baby One More Time”
- The wonderful world of pagers – yes, the electronic devices that beep and show only the number that called you. The only machines that could text from pager to pager were in the ECR and bridge, so my favourite pages were ones from my two best mates (“OMG CAPT LET ME BLOW THE HORN,” “luv u long tyme,” “HEERRRROOOOOOO,” “Bought u Dairy Milk choc,” etc.)… 😉
The most memorable evening of all was when several different events unfolded: a poppin’ crew party, cabin party, waking up a disgruntled Deck Cadet at 2 A.M. and jumping on his top bunk with him (you’d think he wouldn’t complain about two girls being on top of him), and then a private cabin party in my room in which one person fell asleep in my bed and I fell asleep with two others on the bottom bunk. After sleeping through 10 alarms (and saved by a miraculous, random phonecall), I was almost late to my shift at 7:30 AM and then proceeded to work a 12-hr. day since it was a themed party that night. Guess who still partied hard that following evening? When on ships, you make every minute count, and the most memories are honestly created by living it up and letting loose. Because only the boring people went to sleep at a reasonable time and didn’t socialise… 😉
The highlights of my contract were three main things: 1) Touring the engine room; 2) Touring the bridge; and 3) Melbourne Cup. The engine room is probably the coolest part of the ship – I felt like I was walking through the Millennium Falcon. I was thrilled by going up and down ladders, through watertight doors that opened up into more sections, and actually seeing the massive turbo engines that powered the ship along with the bow thrusters. The only thing not that exciting was the sewage room. And with a boiler suit, safety shoes, and a noise-cancellation headset on, I couldn’t have felt cooler – like a proper engineer. They are, after all, some of the most important officers on the ship because our lives are in their hands. The ECR (Engine Control Room) is pretty damn cool as well – it just reminded me of my days in attractions when we were responsible for all the buttons on the console.
The bridge is pretty cool as well (usually all the hot guys on ships work on the bridge), but it’s not nearly as cool as the engine room.
A Day in the Life…
Like everything in life, you settle into a comfortable routine and it becomes your jam. I was used to my pager going off all the time, whether for work reasons or from my friends asking when I was having dinner…. I felt naked on land without it.
A day in the life of an Entertainment Staffer looked something like this:
8:30 AM: Roll out of bed and lazily do makeup and hair to look presentable
8:45 AM: Tidy run (setting up shuffleboard and table tennis)
9 AM: Mobile Library*
10-11 AM: Golf Putting*
Noon – 2 PM: Break
2 – 2:30 PM: Golf Chipping*
2:30 – 3 PM: Deck Quoits*
3 – 4 PM: Battle of the Sexes Pictionary*
4 – 5 PM: Break
5 – 6 PM: Evening Trivia*
6 – 6:45 PM: Break
6:45 PM: Greets (doors)*
7:40 PM: Degreets (doors)*
8 – 10 PM: Mix & Mingle
10 – 11 PM: Rock the Room (gameshow)*
11 – 11:30/11:45 PM: Stand down
*Duties varied every day, so we always had different things to do (and some days were busier than others, especially on sea days and theme nights).
No two days in our schedules were ever the same, and we found out the schedules for the next day around 8 PM the night before. Tender operation (if it was our turn to cover) and embarkation days were the bane of our existence. We started as early as 6:30 AM on those days (5:45 AM for Brisbane turnaround days, kidding me) and would sometimes have to work all the way until midnight if it was the same night of a theme party. Nights off were like gold to us and we definitely appreciated them when we had them.
Salt Grill nights off:
And about that “mix & mingle” – what a duty. I absolutely loved it during my first three months, but then really wore down after awhile and started to “cheat” by sitting with passengers and listening to the bands play in a quiet bar (because that still counted as mingling). Being the face of the ship, we always had to “be seen” and had to do laps around the main floor, greeting passengers and ensuring that they were having a wonderful evening. Sounds easy, but when we were sometimes scheduled for 3 straight hours of it, we’d find our own ways to be smart about it (i.e. playing Cards Against Humanity, watching Joe perform magic tricks to passengers, etc. rather than just gabbing away).
One of my favorite gameshows (since I only had to do it once) was “Beat the Elite,” in which some members of the entertainment team battled various passengers in deck sports (quoits, filling buckets of water, golf putting, hula hooping, water balloon toss). Virtually every team member ended up soaked by the end of it, and if we weren’t, we’d get thrown into the pool anyway, uniform and all. Yes, this is my job.
Post-Contract and Going from Sea to Land
The world of crew members is so entirely different and chaotic from anything on land. As a result, it’s also a bit difficult to articulate our feelings to anyone back home who hasn’t experienced this type of life before. While everyone has a different experience, more likely than not, even the most reserved/introverted people become social butterflies on ships and go a little bit wild.
Because I’m now back at home (oh, the monotony), I can now reflect on everything with a lot more clarity. The conclusion?
I’m a lot more boring on land than on sea.
I’m NORMAL on land and wild at sea. And this is why I’m pretty sure I found the right career for me…
See, everyone jokes about itching to get off the ship (AKA “the tin can”) and having freedom. Contracts change (in my case, 5 times) – you get extended, shortened, transshipped, etc. and it’s all for the best (most of the time). Sometimes you have a choice, but most of the time you don’t – and I willingly extended from 2 months to 7.5 months. I don’t regret it one bit, since I met so many people in the latter 5.5 months that made my heart so happy.
However, most of the experienced crew members wished bid me adieu by saying, “Have a great trip home! Let me warn you – you’re going to love the first hour, and then realise how bored you are. You’ll be counting down the days until you come back, just wait.”
Yeah, they were right. The minute I landed into LAX, I felt suffocated. Then again, coming back to LAX will always mean anxiety rather than bliss for me – or anyone, really.
Quite simply, transitioning back to land after being at sea for months on end was a bit hard. I didn’t sleep for about two days since my body was so thrown off from not getting any sleep… and I’m just barely getting used to driving again and having to pay for my food and petrol, etc. Wahhhh, adulting is so expensive.
All in all – a very memorable and amazing first ship contract completed. Couldn’t have asked for anything more, and it soared beyond my wildest expectations. This is my way of thanking you all – crew and passengers alike – for making this some of the best 7.5 months of my life.
And now, an extended holiday in the UK awaits in about a month… the best reward I could ever give myself. xx