6 Snapshots of Life as an American Working on a Cruise Ship

Life is so much bigger than your backyard.

I’m completely guilty of it: getting comfortable in life, content to live and stay in your own little bubble. I used to be a teacher and one of the core concepts in my classroom was that foreign language education was necessary to become a citizen of the world. That idea always stuck with me, and I always yearned to be that ‘global citizen’… but I never actually went anywhere. I was working in the same ten mile radius as where I’d graduated college and high school.

I never even considered doing something like a student exchange program or a semester abroad. The idea of moving somewhere else – city, state, country – was not even on my radar. All of that was a big, if not the biggest, factor in my decision to quit my job, pack up my house, and leave the country behind to work on a cruise ship. It expanded my world view, made me closer to who I wanted to be, and exposed me to new places, people, and ideas.

I only worked on cruises in the Caribbean, although I would have loved to go to Europe or Oceania or… anywhere, really. It doesn’t matter; it was still beautiful and mentally freeing. People-wise, these were friends I would have never met in a million years if I hadn’t explored beyond my back yard. I’m grateful for the opportunity and happy to report that my Facebook connectivity heat map (not a real thing) touches on six continents, now.

Like this but actually for realsies.

The rest of the world was watching the U.S. Election.

I’ll try to keep this as un-opinionated as possible.

I was unfortunate enough to be working during the campaign months of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Every time I met or engaged with a crew member whom I’d never spoken with before, they almost always asked 1.) what I thought of Hilary and the Donald and 2.) who I was voting for. An uncomfortable question, but it was illuminating to the way the rest of the world viewed the shit-show of an election.

A surprising number of the crew insisted that, given the opportunity, they would vote for Donald Trump. I didn’t understand at first, given Trump’s less-than-warm attitude toward non-Americans. However, I kind of ‘got it’ by the end of my contract, and the reason is this: the U.S. is an anomaly when it comes to politics. For a depressingly high number of countries throughout the world, corruption within politics is the rule and not the exception. What would be scandalous and worthy of national head-lines in the U.S. is just kind of par for the course in a lot of other places.

For example, I was on board when Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office. I asked one of my Brazilian teammates about it because, you know, that seemed like a big f**king deal. He just shrugged and said, “Corruption or something” and that was that.

I seemed to always be having the conversation about politics and corruption with my Filipino coworkers. They were usually the ones expressing the most interest in the subject, as this was also during the time of the 2016 Presidential Election of Rodridgo Duterte in the Philippines. If you have four minutes to spare, have a watch of John Oliver’s brutal run-down of Duterte; you’ll understand why Filipinos were very interested in the outcome of the U.S. election.

In the end, I guess it made sense that an extreme, non-politician for President was preferable in some regards.

It’s surprisingly easy to pack your life down into one suitcase, one carry-on, and one backpack.

My contract was for seven months. I was strongly and repeatedly advised to pack lightly as I could anticipate a laughably small cabin with one roommate. As far as clothing went, I was going to be wearing a uniform for most of the time, so that cut down the space my wardrobe took up considerably. Outside of the necessities like toiletries and shoes, the only ‘extra’ things I took were my laptop, a notebook, and some pens.

And it all fit. I even had room to spare.

It felt like I must have been missing something. How could I pack up my entire life for over half a year and have room left over? After all, I had packed up my house into two storage units. My suitcase should have been bulging. I couldn’t think of anything else I ‘needed’, but I had the dread that without all my worldly possessions, my life would feel stretched thin to the point of extreme discomfort.

As it turns out, it was surprisingly easy. I waited for that horrible realization that I missed my ‘stuff’, but it never came. In fact, life was easier without it; I felt more mobile and that, as long as I had the necessities, I could travel to any corner of the world in an instant. The only non-necessity I truly missed was having a bathtub, as the bathroom in my cabin was about the size of a broom closet. To shower, you literally had to press yourself against the wall. It sucked. Oh, plus the chlorinated water killed the texture of my hair.

I missed my people more than I missed my things. And by that, I mean my dog. I cried when I hugged her for the first time after seven months.

6 snapshots from an american working on a cruise ship
WTF, why did I ever leave her???

Mayonnaise isn’t as hated outside the U.S.

I’m from the Midwest. A magical place, to be sure, but a place where mayonnaise generally gets a passing grade. I know the rest of the states don’t feel so inclined toward it, which I get. If I think too hard about it, I get grossed out. More often than not, if I order a sandwich from a restaurant, mayo will literally be dripping from it. I like mayo… just not that much. (Apparently I also say it incorrectly: ‘man-naise’ vs. ‘ma-yo-nnaise’)

Imagine my shock when I saw my teammates using straight mayonnaise (or sometimes ketchup and mayo mixed together) as a dipping sauce to anything and everything. Fries, pizza, fish and chicken, vegetables, bread… you name it, and I saw someone eat it with mayonnaise. I don’t even think it was nationality-specific, as my teammates were Dutch, Brazilian, Italian, Scottish, etc.

Ew. Or yum. Or both. IDK anymore.

I toed that line… and then I just gave in entirely. Toward the end of my contract, I was regularly putting mayo on my fries. I reasoned as a Midwesterner, it’s expected that I love ranch. However, there was almost never any ranch in the crew mess. Mayo is just ranch without the buttermilk and spices, right?

Don’t judge. I didn’t continue the habit of using mayo as a dipper after I came home, and I honestly forgot about it until I started typing out this article (repressing the memory, maybe?) And, I’ll probably never do it again, if I’m being honest… until the next time I’m outside the U.S., that is.

So much Corona

6 snapshots from an american working on a cruise ship
Corona and rum. This is just one palette of the many palettes of rum.

However much you think that vacationers would imbibe during their cruisecation, double it. And then, double that number to arrive at how much the crew drinks. Part of it had to do with how cheap the drinks were. I think they had to be cheap because there would literally be a mutiny on the high seas if they tried charging crew members $6.95 for a f**king Budweiser (and $13.95 for a cocktail).

Over seven months, I drank a metric shit-ton of Corona because they were $1.85 per bottle. It wasn’t just me. I swear I only ever saw people drink Corona. I don’t know why – it’s definitely not my favorite beer, and there were plenty of others to choose from. According to our provisions master, Corona is the single fastest-moving beer on board. Not just on our ship and not just in the Caribbean, but on every cruise line across the world he’d ever worked for. That may or may not be 100% accurate, but I did work on the largest cruise ship in the world, and he was the one ordering the booze for everyone. I’d say he had a good idea.

Yes, people die on board

I mean, it’s not like you can’t die on a cruise ship. The first ship I was on, my cabin was literally a few doors down from the morgue. Lovely. I don’t think it was ever occupied when I was on board, but when I was transferred to my second ship, someone died the very first week I was there (read: I was not the cause). This guest waited until the morning of debarkation to have a heart attack, which I personally thought was rather clever: he got his money’s worth for his entire week-long vacation, and then he didn’t have to wait in line to exit the ship, where he’d have to wait in line more to get through customs and immigration in the cruise terminal. He (or, his body anyway) and his family were the first ones off the ship.

Morbid? I know. But, like the mayonnaise thing, I tried not to think too hard about it.

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1 Reply to “6 Snapshots of Life as an American Working on a Cruise Ship”

  1. On our Carnival Cruise, we had to stop near Florida so a helicopter could rescue someone off the boat and at their private Island, I saw a woman being resuscitated. Needless to say I think the average age on our ship was 80. We had kids with us, we were definitely Unicorns.

    As far as a world view of politics, I would also say that “Clinton” is a well known name and generally viewed as more corrupt than Trump, given the Clinton foundation.

    I would also add that if you go to any foreign Country, they have a much less warm attitude to foreigners, particularly illegal ones, than Trump or the US does, so it’s all relative. Mexico has very strict rules on immigration, and will deport you in a minute if you aren’t there legally (except the US, they love the US dollar so if you over stay your visa they will look the other way).

    Mayo rocks, they used it Germany on french fries and I think that’s a great idea. My daughter uses it on everything as well, she doesn’t know any different.

    I also find Western Europeans to be very arrogant in their world view. They think you must know a European language to be of the world and they really mean European, when they mean the world. If you don’t subscribe to Western European views, you are narrow minded (let’s just ignore Asia, Africa and Australia, and the Americas).

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