I was challenged by Jimmy to try writing in longer format. He suggested I write about my first day on board of cruise ships. Here it is.
I had never even been on a cruise. This thought was weighing heavily on me as I was preparing to board the ship for the first time. I had never even spent more than an hour or two on a boat prior to this, and now I have signed up to spend six straight months working on board. Would I get sea sick? Would I even like it? We were about to find out!
In the days prior to signing on, you imagine everything that you are about to experience, from the living situations, to the ports, and the people on board. You also imagine the ship itself, and how big it will be, however, you never fully understand the size of these things until you see one of them for the first time. From blocks away in downtown Charleston you can see the top of the ship rising above the buildings, and it only seems to grow as you get closer and closer. Once you get into the port and can see the ship in its entirety, it is truly an impressive structure. It’s as if someone took a Las Vegas hotel, flipped it on it’s side, and placed it in the water. And once you get inside, you learn that this isn’t too far off of the reality.
Upon boarding the ship, you are immediately herded into a small hallway directly across from the gangway used to board. Crammed into a small space with all your belongings for the six months to come, the ship all of a sudden feels much smaller. In this hallway you are handed your 15 page contract and are instructed to sign and initial each page. Reading this contract now, is out of the question as you are told that you are already running late for your vessel familiarization course, but you’re given a copy of the contract to read later, though that seems moot after signing the original. Once you turn in your signed copy, you receive your room key, and your on board expense card. At this point I was collected by the onboard musical director, instructed to leave my suitcases and guitar in the same public hallway, and taken down many narrow corridors, and into a very undersized elevator which lead to another small room, for an hour long class explaining the safety procedures on board. To say that this is an overwhelming experience would be an understatement. You are fed fact after fact in a very difficult to understand Italian accent, and are told all information must be memorized by the end of the first cruise, as there will be a test on the subject. As I am sure that I am missing half of the information being said due to the instructor and my language barrier, finding out I will later be tested on this information is quite worrisome, not to mention that this is the information I would need in order to survive an emergency situation, God forbid.
Once the class is over, I finally have time to get my things and head to my room for the first time. Though, I don’t know where I am going, I see people heading the direction I think I came from. I ended up taking a steep staircase, and a corridor that i’d learn later was different from the original, but by some small miracle i was reunited with my belongings. After asking multiple people directions to room 563 and receiving different answers from each, I finally find my way down a winding and steep staircase, and a few rooms down the narrowest corridor yet. I opened the door and stepped in, which is almost all the walking room it has. The room has exactly three things, a standing closest, a bunkbed, and a desk in the corner. This accommodation also has a support beam directly in the center of the room. I’ll hit this pole in the middle of the night multiple times before learning the lesson.
I begin to unpack when a phone I hadn’t previously seen rang. It is brilliantly placed behind the bunk bed support. I answer and am invited to have dinner with my Musical Director, Conor, and drummer, Patrick in the staff mess, I agree. Though, now I have the task of locating this next, but not last, hard to find location on board the ship. The dinner hall has a window looking outside. It is the first window I have seen on board, and I now realize that we are out to sea, I had completely forgotten that I was onboard a ship, or that we had even left. I can’t see land so it seems that we had left port hours prior. I guess this answers the sea sickness question. I couldn’t even tell the difference between land and sailing. I am also reminded that I promised my mom I would call before we left. I wonder how cell reception is out to sea?
After dinner, Patrick and I decide to explore the ship. We quickly realize that we don’t know how to get to the guest area. We walk the main crew walkway, accurately named the I-95, all the way to the front of the ship where we find a staircase. It’s our only option so we take it. Walking up a few flights we find the room where we had the vessel familiarization, I hadn’t noticed previously but it is labeled ‘Crew Bar’, and I had just memorized my first walking route on board. Awesome. Across from the Crew Bar is a door labeled ‘Guest Area’. We found it!
The guest area, as I previously described, is nothing short of a Las Vegas Casino and Hotel at sea. It is guest rooms, casino, restaurants, and tacky 90’s neon lighting. Nevertheless the ship is beautiful, and impressive. There is entertainment on board to keep the guests occupied all day. From the pool during days at sea, to the night club once the sun goes down. There are even Vegas style revue shows in the two level theatre that seats over 1000, and lounge bands and solo acts playing around the clock in the other venues all over the ship. A few decks above the pool we discovered a mini golf course, a running track, and of course never out of your eye line is a buffet line to hop in, or a bar to grab a drink. After reaching the top of the ship, and knowing that we got into the guest area in a very indirect way, our plan was to just head down until we found the all familiar I-95, a mere 12 floors below us. Finding the I-95 this time almost felt as if it were on purpose, though upon entering the crew area we were stopped because we were thought to be guests. Maybe we looked lost after all.
The late night thing to do on board is go to the Crew Bar. This is where the crew go to escape the constant wave of guests needs that come through every dept. The crew bar has highly discounted drinks, and great places and activities for socializing. As a first timer in the crew bar I don’t yet know anyone, and am falling victim to the 21st century problem of checking my phone for texts, tweets, and updates every 30 seconds, and each time I reach for my phone, i remember I am far removed from cell service, however, this wont keep me from checking again 30 seconds later. The cell phone no longer is a permanent extension of my arm while on board. Hanging out in the crew bar is like going back in time to before cellphones killed socializing as we know it, and it’s actually great. At any given time a cruise ship employs people from 60+ countries, and you have a wonderful opportunity to meet people from different places, and cultures from all over the world. And with the freedom of not being able to see what people you’re not with are doing, you end up connecting with some really interesting people. Putting the cell phone away, by choice or not, you re-learn to socialize, connect, and enjoy the company of people that under normal circumstances, you’d never have the chance to meet.
At the end of the night I take the route I earlier memorized, down the steep staircase, through the narrow corridor and down the I-95. I walk by the small hallway that I was initially herded into, and by the mess that I had dinner in. I head down one more steep and winding staircase and one last narrow corridor. I enter room 563 and fall into bed. It was a long day of travel, a long day of learning new information, verbiage, and policies. And most importantly it was a long day of getting acclimated with my new home. Laying in bed it occurs to me that I boarded the ship on ground level and then went down one flight to my room. I live below sea-level. Oh yeah, I’m on a ship.