It all started in my interview, when they show you this awe inspiring, elaborate video montage of 'life at sea'. It almost makes you want to be picked for that lifestyle so desperately that you feel so god damn priviledged to be chosen when you are. A lot of people have amazing experiences onboard and dont get me wrong, I am one of those people, but there are defnitely some hidden realities that you cant understand before you have fully immersed yourself there.
Picture Perfect- All those amazing photos that you see, are in fact taken during the few hours you have off the ship when it is in port. Having travelled extensively for a long period of time before ships, this part frustrated me a lot. 'Travelling' for me does not involve visiting a resort for an hour or two, eating a meal so fast you hope you make it back on time before your ship sails away and your given a warning and need to make your own way to the next port of call.
The heartache of arriving to somewhere youve always dreamed of going only to realise you are either not off work that day or you are 'IPM' (In Port Manning, meaning you are restrcited from leaving the ship that day, on a rotation basis). If you arrive somewhere with a tender to the mainland and the weather turns out to be too bad so the port day turns into yet another day at sea and not to mention to terrible seasickness you may have to endure (whilst working).
Being restricted to crew areas only (from my experience on two 6* vessels) meaning you can sit on the small top deck, your cabin, crew bar or... well thats it... Both of my ships restricted crew to any of the guest areas which made you feel even more of a prisoner than usual.
Being in a relationship onboard is extremely hard. It reminds me of the big brother house, lots of drama, heartbreaks, cheating, fights, walk of shames, awkwardness etc in such a small space. If you do however find the man of your dreams (like me), be prepared that spending quality time is almost unheard of. You either drink in the crew bar after work until the wee hours just to have a conversation, you whisper silently in each others cabins as to not wake the others cabin mate, or you try and catch 5 minutes here or 5 minutes there with your loved one inbetween guests or on a break. And when you work almost opposite schedules its even worse. My boyfriend and I have been together almost 6 months now and we have proven that if you can make it through ship life, man, you can make it through anything.
Food- On my ship we coudnt eat in guest areas, so what you were given in the 'crew mess' was it. On my first ship the food was so bad that i would make food in my cabin or not eat. Luckily when i met my chef boyfriend things changed (just a coincidence lol). On my second ship the food was a lot better including lots of fresh foods, lots of variety and many vegetarian options, even delcious ice cream daily and lots of nice treats.
Fitness- This can be done of course when you have the time but the trick is finding the time, and the energy when youve worked a 70 hour week. The guest gym could be used by certain crew and the crew gym for everyone else.
Hours- Each department is different but our company that hired for the spa and fitness centre employed us to work 70 hours a week on a commission basis with a very low basic wage. Some people would cringe at this and say that has to be illegal, which i would have to agree, but if it was, would they still have thousands of people willing to chop an arm off to work for them.
Time off- As a spa employee we got 1.5 days off in a 7 day week. Baring in mind a normal day for us was 7:30am-9:30pm. Depending on your manager you can sometimes have a full day off or three half days. I never knew a full day off until i joined my second ship. In my opinion to fully relax and destress, an employee NEEDS a full day off to rest.
Bar- On both my ships we had one crew bar, extremely small for 300-400 crew. Cheap drinks and okay music but nothing to write home about. Once in a while you would have the best night ever though it was all about the company you kept. On my first ship our crew bar was like a smokey gentlemans club and the second ships bar was brand new more chic but way smaller for even more crew.
TV- Our tvs went from being a set sequence of channels which played the same movies over and over, to a new interactive tv complete with the newest movies and tv shows. Not to mention wifi, we were lucky enough to have free wifi on our first ship but then went back to the crew wifi plans on my second ship which racked up your ship tab.
A collleague of mine once said to me on my first week at work- Life onboard cruise ships is really just a glorified prison. As we shuttled our way into the town we had stopped in, she said- Look at us being transported into town for our few hours on land before we are ushered back on time for the curfew, only to get back to work or go back to your cell.. I mean cabin...
Ship life is not all bad, every ship has different rules but its still worth preparing yourself for.... And one thing I have to say is, i will never take freedom of choice, chilling with my boyfriend or working a 40hr week for granted again.