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Why do they work on a cruise ship?

By John Toth

The Bulletin


When I worked my way through high school and college, one of the jobs I had was at a summer camp in New Hampshire.


I returned each summer, not because the pay was so good, but because it was a great way to spend a couple of months outside of the real world.


I couldn’t tell you what day it was most of the time, except, of course, if it was Tuesday, because that’s when the camp cleared out for Trip Day, We got the day off - sort of.


It was the same job all the time, with an instant social environment and limited opportunities for those of us without a car to venture outside of the campgrounds. There was a lot of safety in that type of existence, and each summer I dreaded returning to the real world with real responsibilities, such as signing up for classes and resuming my education.


When Sharon and I started cruising, I noticed that the vast majority of ship employees are of this mindset - except they sign up for six to nine months at a time and don’t have to return to classes. They do have families and send money to them, but it seems to me that they are drawn to the cruising life, as simple and repetitive as it may be. It’s an emotional magnet as well as a job.


Crew members are mostly from other countries, but they must speak English to work on a ship. Some of the entertainers and maybe the cruise director could be from the USA, but for the most part, when you step onboard a cruise ship, you’re in many foreign countries. That’s not necessarily bad. It makes for interesting conversations and experiences.


Crew members get paid and are provided free room and board. Unless they spend money on excursions, they have to spend very little money onboard, if any at all.


Crew members work 12 hours a day or longer. Many go for weeks without getting a day off.


One of our dining room servers on a ship said that the next day would be his day off, and he planned to go onshore. When we met up with him the day after, he said he never made it off the ship and chose to get more sleep. He didn’t act like he minded it. He was in a safe world, far away from the daily problems that onshore existence entails.


An American female comedian kept repeating in her act how safe ships are compared to the outside world. So far, all stand-up comedians we have seen on ships have been American, middle-aged and single.


She was right about safety. Compared to other places, cruise ships are very safe. No one goes onboard without passing through a metal detector. If there is some sort of altercation, it is settled with a fight, not a gun. Passengers onboard do not have access to guns.


But I have not seen any sort of physical violence on a cruise ship, maybe because many passengers buy the drink package, and by the time they break even on the daily cost, the best they can do is make it back somehow to their cabins and go to sleep.


I began thinking that there must have been a reason why this comedian kept bringing safety up. It was not like the subject was that important to her act. Even so, one mention would have sufficed.


Maybe after a late night show in some city, she was attacked and hurt. Perhaps that’s when she sought out a safer workplace, where that would never happen. Maybe a club owner stiffed her after her act. Cruise ships transfer salaries into crew members' bank accounts.


Few Americans work on cruise ships - they can earn a lot more elsewhere. But for those who are used to getting paid much less in their home countries, working on a cruise ship is a good deal financially. I saw a British casino host on Youtube who revealed his income. His annual YouTube income was more than his ship salary. But he does get to travel the world on the ship’s dime. That’s another perk.


As hard as it was for me to leave my summer camp job after two months, it would have been that much harder to leave it after a longer period. It was my escape.


Cruise ship work is not just a job. It becomes family. It is repetitive, but it provides security and structure. And, despite sharing a small cabin with a roommate, it becomes home.


Maybe even more of a home than home. That’s what the New Hampshire camp was to me.

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