#Shiplife Series: Life as a Crew Member on-board a Cruise Ship.

So what happens on a cruise ship? How does life on-board differ to life on land?  It really depends on what kind of lifestyle you were living in prior to being on the ship and I’ll help you answer some stuff you’re wondering about based on my experience!

Travel time to work

A little background story before I start. Your girl here has been living by herself for a while, even before starting work on the ship. I moved to the city when I was 20 years’ old to study and I’ve been living by myself ever since. Well technically I shared the house with my housemates but everything I do on my own. When I started studying I didn’t have a car so I relied on my own two feet and a lot of public transport to get around and even when after I bought a car I still prefer to drive to the train station and take the the train to the city. So that being said, the biggest difference for me  when  comparing life on-board vs. life on land is not really the distance.  Like yeah, I used to visit family every 2 months or so for maybe, 3 days and drive back to the city vs. only being able to go back home every 6 months but staying on for 2 months (they’re all sick of me now I think) but really, the time and distance to go to your workplace is huggeee.

I used to wake up at 6.45 a.m. and leave my house around 8 a.m. to drive to the train station. I arrive to work at 9.15 a.m. On the ship, I can wake up at 7.45 a.m. and be at the crew mess to eat at 8.30 a.m. and at work by 8.50 a.m. There was once when I was living alone in the cabin that I overslept and woke up at 8.40 a.m. I was in the morning briefing by 8.50 a.m., lol. So yes, your workplace is literally 5 minutes away when you’re on the ship vs. an hour away or something ridiculous like that. My roomie and I would complain that the crew mess is TOO FAR when really, it’s just a 5 minutes’ walk, haha.

 

Food choices

When I was working at home, I used to eat really badly because one, I was alone and too lazy to cook for one person, the better, more nutritional  meals were expensive and sometimes it is more convenient to just order fast food. I would buy nasi lemak (traditional Malaysian food consisting of coconut milk cooked rice and condiments) for breakfast, have Mamak for lunch (mostly rice, curry,  fried chicken and salted egg) and something simple like noodles for dinner. Some days I’ll scratch my head thinking about what to eat which right now doesn’t happen anymore because everything is done for you! We’re so spoiled, haha. The crew gets wholesome  food on board and while sometimes the food gets repetitive, it’s healthy  enough (if you want it to be). There’s always fruit and salad bar, we get soups (usually Filipino sabaw or some random Ukrainian/Serbian fare), rice and other stuff like fish, chicken, beef, sandwiches etc. We also get a pizza parlour everyday but not on every ship so if you like being pizzas, it’s a treat!

Activities on-board

The comments that I received before I left was either I  was going to “drink seawater and starve” or that I was going to “get so fat” but well. For those of you who are worried that you might not lead the same healthy lifestyle you had before you left, fear not! There’s the crew gym and also the passenger gym (for those of you with deck privileges) plus there’s always crew health initiatives on-board (eg. yoga, zumba, etc.)

We also have TV in our cabins so we don’t exactly “die of  boredom” on the ship not to mention lots of crew activities! There were crew bingo, karaoke nights, wine and cheese nights, latin disco nights, etc. plenty of stuff to keep you occupied. Back home, most activities calls for money, except maybe walks in the park and stuff.

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Chores

Like laundry and cleaning your room. I  used to do the same when I was living alone but heck, I only cleaned my room when I feel like it. As for the ship, we have crew rounds every week which meant that the room will have to be spick and span when the inspectors come around. The space is small and you do share the load of cleaning with your roommate so it’s not much but still. Apart from that, you don’t do much cleaning – you don’t even need to clean your plate after you eat.

Free time

Perhaps this is a little more substantial when comparing life on the ship and at home. I used to work a 5 day week and have weekends off to just chill and be lazy. On the ship, free time is a luxury and even a 30 minute nap is Godsend. Privacy would be another thing I would like to talk about. You get to be alone most of the time at home if you’re living alone but on the ship, you’re likely to be sharing the cabin with another colleague. Your space is also their space and while there’s always curtains around your bed to give you a little privacy, you basically most of  the time together.

Relationships

You go to work and at most spend around maybe 60 hours a week with your colleagues but when you’re on the ship, you literally see each other all the time. You work everyday together, probably live together, eat together, party together, you get the gist. There’s definitely groups of people who hang out more often together but you can’t escape the fact that you need to live if not co-exist with the same people for long periods of time. You tend to make really close friends and sometimes enemies for others but oh well, people come and people go – if you really can’t stand someone, just remember that they  will leave too. Can’t say that for your colleagues working on land though, you just don’t know when they will leave, haha. Culture and upbringing are also a whole lot diverse on the ship as we are most of the time exposed to only the majority of  the locals where we come from but nope, it’s like a huge melting pot on-board. There’s so much to learn from each other and as long as everyone is considerate and respectful it’s easy to get along.

The little extras

When you live  with such a huge community there’s bound to be some unwritten rule or “mafia” business going on. Need a local SIM card? Looking for the noodle guy? It’s useful to ask around and know more people – it does help to have some connections on-board. As for going around the ports, did I mention shore excursion escorts? It’s basically a volunteer position which you can sign up for during your time off. If you’re selected, you  are able to go on shore excursions with the passengers – in exchange for a little bit of your time in helping out the shore-ex team. One of  the best ways to enjoy the ports as you literally go for free on the tours!

 

 

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#Shiplife Series: Top 10 Most Asked Questions about Life On-board.

Questions that I’ve been asked countless times and I don’t blame anyone for asking them. It’s not widely shared and people are curious (they’re great conversation starters tbh.) so here goes! Everything is based on my experience so there might be some difference for others:

  1. How did you get this job?

Always a general favorite with the passengers on board. If you’re really interested, here’s the links Part One and Part Two

2.  Do you get to go off the ship?

Well, yes. Some of us are much luckier (for instance the boutique and the casino staff) and get more free time in general which gives us more opportunity to visit the ports of call. Other departments do get time off  on a rotation basis too so there’s definitely an opportunity for everyone to get off the ship.

3. Do you get days off?

No we don’t. Not officially though as it depends on the itinerary as well as the department you’re in. When I was working in the Regal during Baltic season we do have an overnight in St. Petersburg, Russia so it sort of counted as a day off for us in the boutiques. The Baltic was a great itinerary 🙂

4. How do you get to the ship?

Trust me, this is a pretty popular question as well. Many people are not really  aware of the complexity of cruise ship operations and this question always crack me up inside. Some assumed that I will get picked up in port by the ship or at least transshipped  from one ship to another until I reach my destination. Well, not really – we travel to meet our ships by flights arranged by our company. Yep, everything from flights to hotel lodging and meals arranged and paid for. We’re a pretty spoiled bunch.

5. Where  do you live / what kind of  living arrangements you have?

We live on the ship, just like the rest of the passengers with majority of the crew on Deck 3 & 4. Below sea level? Yes. Porthole? Just for some officers. There are some that lived on Deck 7 & 8 as well, most of the time it depends on the rank and the place where you work. Majority of us live with a cabin mate. Yes, we have a bathroom in the cabin – it’s not really as communal as you think. Some crew might have 4 to a bathroom ( 2 rooms sharing) but I lived pretty comfortably.

6. How long do you work / what are  the working hours like?

A  typical contract will be 6 – 8 months for majority of the crew on-board and a  normal working day will be around 12 hours. That being said, I never really worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 6 months. I only work from the time the ship is sailing which is typically 5-6 hours on a port day and maybe 10-12 hours on a sea day.  

7. Where have you traveled to?

I’ve been pretty blessed to be able to visit so many places during my first contract as I started in between seasons (East Caribbean – Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica, etc. and the Baltic – Denmark, Russia, Sweden, etc.). In between I had the transatlantic crossing  through Portugal, Belgium, France and also dry dock in Germany…let’s just say the list is pretty substantial for 6 months. 

8. Do you have to pay for your traveling expenses / any expenses on the ship?

All our traveling expenses to the ship will be covered by the company. As for paying for stuff on-board – most of the bills come from buying drinking water, the crew bar, some perfume or skincare  you need, snacks and necessities from the crew shop and maybe an occasional dinner or two from the specialty restaurant on the ship.

9. Do you get to choose the ship?

Nope, the deployment is arranged based on the needs of the ship and the availability of headcount. You can always try to request but let’s just say it might take a while or it might never happen.

10. What made you come to work on a cruise ship?

The classic question, lol deserves a classic answer. There’s a million ways to travel and when there’s a chance to see the world and work at the same time with most of your expenses paid for – this is not a chance you let go off  easily. 

#Shiplife Series: Things to consider before working on a ship.

Let’s face it. Most people are intrigued by the idea of working at sea. For us seafarers, it’s routine to be asked about life onboard, be it from passengers or friends and family.

Speaking from my own perspective, which might differ from the rest – these are some of the points to consider before applying for a cruise ship job: 

1. Being away from home for at least 6 months.

Most contracts range from 6 – 9 months and this means long days without seeing your loved ones and being in familiar territory, eg. Your bed.

2. Sharing a small space with someone.

Most positions on the ship requires you to share a cabin with a roommate. If you enjoy being by yourself, this might be a little challenging.

3. You have other duties apart from your regular job.

This means that not only am I working on retail but I’m also a stairway guide during crew and passenger drills, I have embarkation duties and yes I also work the x-ray machine sometimes.

4. Nobody cleans after you.

Unless you pay the cabin steward to do it for you. But yeah, you do your own laundry, clean your cabin…you get the idea. The company offers complimentary laundry for uniforms but sometimes it’s easier to dump everything into 1 load. 

5. You don’t get days off

Like how can I even forget this super important point? Most people react with horror or sympathy whenever they hear this. Crewmembers do not get days off. We do get shore leave and hours off though. 

Most retail and casino staff tend to have the “easiest life” apparently as it is dictated by law that we’re not allowed to operate when we dock. For this itinerary that I’m in currently, we have an overnight in Russia so yes, there’s a day off for me!

These are the 5 basic points and yes there’s plenty more considering how different people are but still. Signing off now because I want maybe a 30 minute nap. 

Naps are a luxury.

#Shiplife Series: The Halfway Mark.

This is it.

The halfway mark of my first contract onboard a cruise ship. I left home on 27 February 2017 and today is 20 July 2017.

Its been 5 months.

Initially I was supposed to disembark on 26 August 2017 but was requested to extend until 23 September 2017. So 2 more months to go ’til home!

There’s just so much to share but also so much most people would not understand about life onboard until you’ve been there. The ship is our workplace, our home, our playground, our city, our country. We eat, live and breathe the ship and its people, so much that strong friendships are formed even without intention. One day feels like one week on the ship which is why you feel like you know each other forever even when it is just a few months of being together.

Which is why people fall in love onboard or hate someone with such passion. Who wouldn’t when they’re faced with them 24/7? 

I really can’t explain too much right now. I will need some quiet time to collect my thoughts and some time to reflect on them before I can do a better job at blogging. The whole experience has been enriching and I love being on the ships and sailing across oceans. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Right now the body has started to tire and energy to falter. But the heart feels eternally grateful for that one opportunity which changed everything.

The countdown begins for home now.

#Shiplife Series: Training on the Ship.

It’s been 12 days since I’ve left Malaysia to join the ship. Time has passed so quickly that I was just living in the moment, one day at a time and everything seemed so vivid yet so blurry that I’m beginning to question the reality of things, haha. I guess that’s how I will sum up shiplife at the moment. You live in the reality and your reality is your life onboard the ship. Everything else outside is somewhat irrelevant.

The company has been really lovely to us and took care of our needs pretty well. We had a pickup from the hotel in Honolulu to the ship and there were people at the immigration point waiting for us to bring us to the ship. We got to the crew office and the managers from our department took us to our rooms and once  everyone arrived we were handed over to our trainer.

It was a complete  whirlwind from that point onwards – getting our uniforms,  going for training, getting lost around the ship, getting our crew IDs, flu shots…it was really nice of the company to  organize the training for us, especially those who are new to ships. We learnt our emergency signals, what to do during a fire or when we feel sick as well as stuff about the company. We also made plenty of friends and it was really nice to find people you have things in common with. Kinda sad that we’re all transhipped to different ships now, some of them are still together but well,  not me.

I’ve read some horror stories about the food in the crew mess and let me tell you, the food in my ship was amazing, at least to my  standards. I often have to fuss about what to eat and this is a nice change from having to settle my own meals  to being fed with yummy, proper food. I’m trying to take less portions as I am in danger of getting fatter and fatter.

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One of the meals I had in the staff mess.

The ship that I was in is relatively small and could hold about 2600 passengers. It wasn’t super hard to navigate once you know your way.

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The Wardroom or officer’s bar. Apparently staff are able to come here as well. I never went, only during our training.

 

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Some of the activities planned for the officer’s bar.There’s also a calendar of activities for the crew  recreation room which I didn’t take a photo of.
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Casual top which I probably will not be wearing in future as my role requires formal wear on a daily basis.

I’ll be going on my new ship tomorrow and I’m pretty nervous about it. What if I get a horrible cabin mate? What if everyone’s nasty? Well no point worrying plus the itinerary is going to be awesome. I’ll be doing Caribbean for 2 weeks and will be sailing off to the Baltics from April onwards! Perhaps I should focus on that thought…

#Shiplife Series: Applying for a Cruise Ship Job – Part Two

Hey lovelies!

10 more days to go til  #Shiplife! I’m super psyched yet super stressed out with all the packing I have to do! Haven’t done much but everything has to go! Plus I’ll  be working during the weekends to provide a handover to the girl that will be replacing my role. Sooo tired but sooo much to do and so many people to meet before I leave!

I’ll be having a farewell dinner with my colleagues later in the evening, followed by dinner & drinks with my uni mates on Saturday night. Plus another few dinners with friends on Sunday & Tuesday! Ending it all with a bang with our annual dinner on the 23rd – as well as my last working day!

So here’s the second part of my cruise job application experience!

 

I’m  feeling a little bit delirious thanks to the lack of sleep,  still plenty  to do and loads to buy. Cheerio & I’ll update again soon!

#Shiplife Series: 14 Days to Go!

Two more weeks. 14 Days and I’m freaking out because who wouldn’t?

I’m allowed 2 pieces of luggage so long they’re within 62″ linear. So I went and bought another medium sized Delsey luggage (equivalent to a 24″  I think). After putting the two bags together, I felt they might be a bit too big for a teeny sized cabin.

Take away one bag and I’m left with a very full suitcase (could be over the limit of 23 kgs even). How?! I don’t want to bring something too bulky and make my room mate hate me. But the  guidelines did say 2…(huge dilemma here). People online advised to pack light (eg. bring a rolling duffel, not too many clothes etc.) but a rolling duffel most lightly won’t be as durable compared to the standard luggage plus since I have no idea which ship I’ll be transferred to once  I finish my training – it might be somewhere hot or cold so I’ll need like summer wear & sweaters.

I’ve been slowly putting stuff into my “To Bring” pile and it’s definitely getting bigger. Plus so much stuff I’ve yet to buy – work shoes, stockings, belt, medicine etc. Oh lordy!

On top of that I’ll have to pack everything as I’ll be leaving KL at the same time which adds a huge chunk of stress to my already stressful situation lol. Okay, super sleepy and tired after stressing myself over I’m just going to sleep now.

Talk about being excited.

#Shiplife Series: Applying for a Cruise Ship Job – Part One

Hi guys!

Just made a video on my experience in applying for a cruise ship job. This is just the first part  where I shared how it all happened so do watch if you’re interested!

It gets kinda lengthy due to my rambling which is why I split the whole thing into parts, wouldn’t want you guys to bleed from your eyes and ears!

Do drop me a note if you have questions, would love to hear them. Cheers!