Things I Forgot About Working on a Cruise Ship

The cruise director often gets on the intercom and talks about the upcoming events.  When they do there’s a calming “ding-dong” over the speakers in the hallway.  But when its a announcement that needs to be heard by everyone – go to lifeboat drill, for example – then the announcement comes over the hall speakers as well as the speakers inside the cabin.  Ding-dong.  I forgot how often there are announcements on a cruise ship.

I forgot how it feels to gently rock back and forth over the waves as the big ship pushes forward.  It rocks you to sleep at night, and if you don’t close your bathroom door it sometimes swings stiffly an inch this way and an inch that way…

We used to call passengers “cones”.  See, passengers are on vacation and they don’t walk anywhere quickly.  But since you live there and you need to get somewhere, you walk quicker.  And you end up dodging in between passengers like its a obstacle course set up with orange cones.  So passengers are sometimes called “cones” by the crew.  This also helps in that you can talk about “cones” while in public areas and the guests probably won’t know what you’re talking about.  Its code, get it?

Cruise ship stages are super hi-tech.  They are surrounded by moving intelli-lights on the ceiling and walls.  The stage usually has several hydraulic lifts.  There are fog and haze machines and sound equipment of a quality I don’t usually see.  A lot of money is spent on entertainment.

The salad bar is open all day.  So is the dessert bar.  You know you should go to one and not the other, but that never goes right.

The pools on cruise ships usually look like they aren’t filled all the way to the top.  There’s always a foot of exposed wall between the top of the pool and the top of the water.  This is so the pool water has room to splash from one side to the other when the ship is rolling and churning over waves.

The elevators are located right next to the stairs on cruise ships.  There are three sets on each deck – forward, midship and aft.  And yet young, healthy looking passengers will often take the elevator up just one flight.  These elevators are in constant use and are sometimes very slow.  Passengers will wait 5 minutes to take the elevator a distance that would have taken them 6 seconds to walk.  I mean, when you are standing at the elevators – you can SEE the next deck up through the stairs.  Its right there!  I’ll never understand it.

The interior design of cruise ships uses a lot of mirrors, perhaps to give the illusion that you are in an enormous space and not confined in a big, floating, steel box.

Everyone on cruise ships – passengers and crew a like – have cabin stewards.  They clean your room, make your bed, give you clean towels, vacuum.  Every.  Single.  Day.  No joke!  What a cushy life.

What I Miss About Working on a Cruise Ship

This might be a short list.

Just kidding. Its been so long since I was out on a ship that I forget exactly what it was that turned me off from it. I remember I felt isolated, as if, for instance, I was out in the middle of the ocean for months at a time. I felt trapped, as if, for instance, I had to adhere to a 24/7 schedule on a ship out in the middle of the ocean for months at a time.

But since I last went out I had and beat cancer, found a purty girlfriend, conducted a national broadway tour, established career connections in Chicago and New York, and grew up in other ways, too. When last I was on I was still unsatisfied or confused with my direction in life and love and I was mostly just a kid. I flirted with everything that moved and spent too much money. Come to think of it…that all sounds like it was a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

Despite my bitching and moaning all these years, there are some things that I miss about living on a cruise ship. I’m looking forward to getting back to these things in a month when I go out on a guest performer contract.

Reading a Book On Deck – Reading on the promenade, sitting in a chair and staring out at the water subtly rising and falling. I didn’t have a computer or anything when last I was on a ship, and had been naive enough to think that I might be playing piano a lot. I had generally very little to do, and I spent a lot of it reading on deck.

Getting a Tan

Always Being 10 Minutes From a Beach – and a new beach every day no less!

Desserts – Here’s an interesting story. When I was working on a cruise ship in 2004 I had cancer and I didn’t know it. I only found out later, after I’d gotten off the ship. I had been losing a lot of weight unexpectedly while on the ship as an unknown symptom of the tumor that was growing inside me. That sounds like a drag, and it was – BUT – I was constantly eating desserts on the ship and I never gained a pound! It was so great! I mean, if I had to get sick, at least I got to gorge on the chocolate pastries before I found out. My only regret is that I didn’t stuff myself more! If only I’d known that there was no way to gain weight! What a silver lining!

Top Deck at Night – Cruise ships are always in beautiful areas with amazing weather. When the area they are in becomes a wee-bit chilly, they relocate to a better area. It’s a great system. And it means that virtually any time you’re on a cruise ship, it’ll be nice enough at night to go up to the top deck without a jacket and sit and think. You can’t see the stars very well because of all of the ships lights, but its still night to stand out in the night and stare out into the black, feeling the big ship move gently underneath you.

Friends – I miss the friends I met on my ship. I still talk to a lot of them and I think about them all the time. Something about the confined space and the confined amount of time together incubates friendships faster than the real world. You know people short periods of time and you get to know them really well. Like summer camp, as L. puts it. I don’t mean to imply that this new ship I’m going on will have my old friends on it, or that I’ll make friends like that again – just that I enjoyed the time I spent with new friends on my last ship.

Adjusting to Land After a Cruise Job

I’ve been home for over a month now. Veterans on the ship used to talk with disgust about the shock of returning home from a contract. Musicians talked about the lack of gigs at home, we all talked with spite about the weather at home.

The weather here at home is terrible. Yesterday a cold rain dripped through the trees and this morning we found the same rain turned to ice, clinging to every surface. There’s no talk of outdoor activities, nor will there be until at least April or May (and not definitely until June).

Gigs are sporatic and low-paying. It’s difficult to make a living as a musician, nobody can dispute that. Pianos are out-of-tune, keyboards are heavy, and more often than not those same keyboards that have replaced the out-of-tune pianos sound as much like a piano as a bird sounds like a bear.

Life is, clearly, not nearly as easy as it was on the ship.

But life is more full and satisfying on land. Relationships are deeper, space is abundant, daily activities are now priviledges. I get to see my cousin’s kids grow up, and I get to play cards with my Grandma and her friends on Fridays. My friend Rick comes over and we play jazz just for ourselves, because it’s fun. Scheduling is difficult, and finding a real job is worse. People’s lives are complicated, and life is a worthy challenge.

I’m happy to be back to a challenging life, although I must admit that I’ve so far been unable to completely shake off the lethargy that I laid in for so long on the ship. Having spent 6 months trying to quiet my stirring mind, I’ve so far found it a little difficult to turn it back around. I’ve brought contentment and serenity back with me, only to find that neither has any place in this life.

Altogether, it is indeed a transition to come back to land. Although I’d never go so far as to say that ship life involved any sort of deprivation, it is certainly – even after a month – a relief to once again be a participant in a challenging life and to again have all the specific priviledges of such.

We used to hear on the ship that it took at least 6 months to re-adjust to life on land, regardless of how long you’d been on. The idea, I think, was to securely chain yourself to something on land for at least six months, let the withdrawal symptoms fade, and then – under the supervision of trustworthy friends – slowly unchain yourself. I know now exactly what they are talking about, but I probably came home with fewer withdrawal symptoms than most, considering my disgust with the company I worked for and the boredom I found later in the contract.

I think I’ll stick around.