Rock the boat!
June 3, 2011 11:28 PM   Subscribe

Working on a cruise ship? Excellent adventure or more trouble than its worth?

I'm thinking about applying to work on a cruise line (Disney Cruise, specifically) as an AV tech. It seems like it would a fun adventure but are my glasses a bit rose tinted?

I know the pay is low and the hours are long. Cramped living spaces and long contracts are the norm. And I'm ok with that. But is there any other aspect that I'm missing.
posted by thejrt to Work & Money (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Several friends of mine have worked for a cruise line that runs from Alaska to Mexico. The biggest complaints I heard from them: Alcohol and tobacco were strictly forbidden, as was any kind of sexual contact between crew members. No fraternization with guests. Extremely strict dress and grooming code. Super unflattering uniform. One day off a week while out on voyage, but still confined to crew areas of the boat (no fraternization with guests), so you're either stuck in your cramped shared bunk, in the tiny crew gym, or in the tiny crew common areas. Very cramped living spaces that you share with others, meaning little to no privacy.
posted by palomar at 12:12 AM on June 4, 2011

No sexual contact between crew members, and also no fraternization with guests -- so every employee must be celibate?

(Really? And people sign up for this? And since I'm sure you're not making much more than minimum wage -- what exactly is the upside of this job?)
posted by lewedswiver at 12:16 AM on June 4, 2011

On the other hand, while the pay wasn't high, being out on assignment for a few months at a time but having no real expenses (since room and board is usually rolled into your compensation package) and not a lot of opportunity to leave the ship on stopover at a port of call means you're kind of loaded with cash when you do finally get a few weeks of shore leave.

I have one friend left who still works for the cruise line -- she'll work for a few months and save all her money, then spend a month or two flying around the country and couch-surfing and partying until she's out of money. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's worked out well for her for the past several years, but she's nomadic by nature.

so every employee must be celibate?

While you're on the boat, yup.
posted by palomar at 12:23 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

This blog and this thread might be relevant to your interest.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:25 AM on June 4, 2011

The biggest complaints I heard from them: Alcohol and tobacco were strictly forbidden, as was any kind of sexual contact between crew members.

Ahahahaha, what?

The cruise ship crewmember in the room with me asked what I was laughing at, but said yes, it's possible that some companies have put in a smoking ban for crew members. There are also some companies that are dry ships as far as the crew goes; he mentioned HAL as being likely to have these kind of policies but doesn't know about Disney. There is no way on earth that any kind of celibacy rule will be stuck to, but presumably its existence means that discretion is advisable, which as someone who spends time on ships not shagging anyone, is quite nice. Also it means that 'we broke up, boohoohoo', is not going to be a reason to get you a flight home and an early finish to your contract. A friend who worked for HAL had a relationship with a colleague, and she also mentioned being the person who went to get free condoms from the medical centre and distribute them to those too embarassed to get their own, so, probably not a no-shagging rule there. Or at least the medics are sensible enough to disregard, as they don't want to be treating a zillion cases of STDs.

But yeah, passengers are off limits. As a tech, passenger areas will be off limits too, so it's not like you're goin to see the passengers anyway.

There will probably be random drug testing, and failing a test will get you flown home at your own expense. There will be emergency response drills, ('probably every two weeks for you', says my cruise ship person), which is likely to mean getting up early and getting bored (you may have emergency repsonse duties, you will definitely have to do some pre-sea basic firefighting/first aid/sea survival courses, it's a week of alternating practical stuff and death by powerpoint, not difficult except for staying awake through the powerpoint).

If you can put your stuff in storage, the whole 'several months with no rent and bills' thing works out well for a lot of people (and for some, the 'liable to random drug testing' thing is a plus as well). Go for it.

Slightly off topic: Pretty much every cruise company will do the occasional 'gay cruise'. It's a marketing thing. Disney probably does too (I think of Disney as being generally pretty much in favour of teh gays, for an American company?). Won't make any difference to a tech as they are kept in little dark boxes well away from the passengers.
posted by Lebannen at 2:16 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess what seemed so bizarre about it to me is that I felt that employers' having total control over individuals' personal lives just *had* to be illegal on some level

Well, like I said, policies like that are rare, but some companies do still use them. I would guess in most workplaces it's impossible to enforce such a policy, but a cruise ship situation may be different. And I really only know about the cruise line my friends worked for, which was emphatically not Disney, which the OP is considering. So it may very well be a moot point!

OP, check out this blog, it's pretty interesting.
posted by palomar at 2:20 AM on June 4, 2011

Hmm... I once knew a guy who went and worked on a cruise ship for a few years. He said he had plenty of sex, (but only with the crew, not with passengers), and that there was a party every night once they knocked off work. He was in the "entertainment" side of things - running the slot machines.
posted by Diag at 2:20 AM on June 4, 2011

(Aha. The cruise line my friends worked for apparently went bankrupt and closed their doors last year. So maybe smaller regional cruise lines are the only ones with strict rules for the crew or something. Forgive my ignorance.)
posted by palomar at 2:26 AM on June 4, 2011

My understanding from my interactions with cruise ship employees on the bigger lines (Carnival, RC) was that they have a crew bar on the boat. Not exactly a dry boat. And plenty of hooking up went down. (Including two friends of mine, each with a different crew member... though they were the staff for entertainment/managing the teen program, not housekeeping or anything.) So yeah, not quite accurate. I'll leave the actual experience to people who have done it.
posted by disillusioned at 2:34 AM on June 4, 2011

Mod note: giant derail removed - please say your piece and move on, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:00 AM on June 4, 2011

I worked as a massage therapist on Carnival for a while and I'm cracking up at the presumed no sex thing. Every ship I was on was an STD stew! Crew members tended to party in every sense possible on a nightly basis. True, no fraternizing with the guests, but everyone else was fair game.

Actually working on a ship is doable depending on your tolerance level for The Crazy. Can you sleep in loud environments? With your bunkmate shagging some casino dealer in the bunk above you? Can you deal with being in a cabin UNDER the water? Being in cramped spaces all of the time? Never having any real privacy / being off duty? Remember, if you are in passenger areas, you are expected to be well dressed w/ your name tag on - even when you're just walking on deck for your own pleasure.

If you have a place to store all of your valuables on land and can work out a short-ish contract for your first voyage then I say do it. Aim for 3 or 4 months out if you can. That will give you enough time to see if you can hack it. I loved having a cabin steward clean for me, sending my clothes out to the laundry and having favorite restaurants on different islands. I hated being worked half to death.

My experience was 15 years ago, but feel free to memail if you have questions.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:16 AM on June 4, 2011

6 years ago I had the displeasure of spending the two weeks over Christmas and the New Year staying with the crew on a Disney Cruise in the Caribbean.

Now, I will give the caveat that I was there staying with an ex-but-I-thought-we-were-getting-back-together-but-no-she-started-banging-the-huge-guy-next-door-while-I-was-there-girlfriend who was a member of the show cast, and due to the personal complications, which I will not here get into in detail, but let me tell you it sucks when there are personal issues because you are stuck, my experience is obviously colored. But I will give you some insight into what goes on.

To clear up the alcohol/tobacco thing w/r/t to Disney: you absolutely can drink and smoke. There is a crew bar that pretty much everyone hangs out in at night and gets hammered. Technically I think you're supposed to go to the smoking area of the top deck to smoke, but people smoke in the bar and in their cabins. You can buy booze and drink in your cabin. When you get off the boat at a stop and then return, if you get the chance to, they do check all crew's bags, so drugs and things are tough to get in, but they do and people do them. And yes, people have sex. Lots and lots of it. It's pretty incestuous. Of course, participation in these activities is voluntary.

The living quarters are tiny. You'd probably share a dorm-ish size cabin with a roommate. There's a bathroom in most of them and a tiny porthole.

Disney is very cultish and weird. You are not supposed to discuss finances, religion or politics with other crew (of course it happens). Everything - EVERYTHING - on a Disney Cruise is Disney, e.g. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the song 'Livin' La Vida Loca,' only remade to be 'Livin' La Vida Mickey,' playing over the sound system. The characters can't say, "I'm Mickey," or "I play Mickey"; they have to say, "I'm friends with Mickey." It's weird. There's a secret room where they keep the heads and NO ONE but the friends of the characters are allowed in it, and it's guarded. All the heads hang in certain spots in certain ways. It's all about preserving the 'magic' in a very meticulous manner.

Disney is the only cruise line licensed to shoot fireworks from their ship (this may have changed, but it was true when I was on the ship). They are also the only marine operation in the world that was legally granted permission to change the color of their life boats from the standard color to a the shade of yellow that matches Mickey.

It's cliquey. The cast people don't really hang with the kitchen people don't really hang with the housekeeping people, etc.

The crew food isn't bad. There's always soft serve. I'm sure it gets old, but it's, you know, like ok college cafeteria food.

Benefits for crew members vary, is my understanding, depending on your contract. You usually get like a certain number of guest days (where someone can come visit you and stay in your cabin), discounts for family members, a certain number of passes to eat in the guest's restaurants (which are, admittedly, quite good...probably the best part), days off the ship to see the islands (which, at least in the Caribbean, are pretty crappy tourist dumps, like get off the boat and go to a Senor Frogs and buy some fake silver crap. Whoot.), discounts on excursions like swimming with dolphins or going further into the island to see some ruins and stuff. But - these opportunities are few. If you're crew, you're mostly working.

There are perks. You get paid ok, and you don't have any room/board expenses while you're there, and you don't really have any opportunities to spend your money, so it's a decent way to bank some cash. And you are on a cruise ship, if that sort of thing appeals to you.

Oh and don't forget about the children. So. many. children. Do consider this.

You may also want to read David Foster Wallace's infamous essay 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.' [PDF of how it appeared originally in Harper's, under the title "Shipping Out"]

Good luck.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Check out the Something Awful thread "Working on a Cruise Ship: Part II, Getting Drunk Some More".
posted by Benjy at 11:01 AM on June 4, 2011

Check out the Something Awful thread "Working on a Cruise Ship: Part II, Getting Drunk Some More".

Appears to be for members only.
posted by grouse at 2:43 PM on June 4, 2011

I come from the entertainment industry, and while I've never personally signed on with the cruise ships, lots of my touring colleagues have. Typically the higher the position the better the accommodation (so a lighting op or audio mixer would get their own accommodation, a followspot op or technician would be bunking with someone else). Disney has a reputation for being super restrictive (no piercings, no swearing), but if you can live within those boundaries it's pretty nice. Royal Carribean has a bad rap, but truthfully it's entirely dependent on which line you get on with.

Most people either love it or hate it. Those that I've talked to after wards usually end up as heavy drinkers and chain smokers, as there's not much else to do.

It's definitely a different gig compared to 'traditional' touring.

Feel free to mefi-mail me if there's any other details you are interested in.
posted by felspar at 11:04 PM on June 4, 2011

« Older Can DSL and a fax machine play together?   |   amber as a teething aid? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.