Updated: Jul 25, 2019
As you might imagine life on cruise ships is quite different from life on land. Some of the differences are obvious while others are small details that you wouldn’t have thought of unless you’ve experienced ship life yourself. I’m sharing with you some of the differences, some of them make life on ships easier, others make life harder and others are just a matter of getting used to. The list is in no particular order and more posts about this topic will follow.
Cities at night
It depends a lot on what ship you’re on, but most ships don’t do any overnights in ports. Which means that you dock in the morning and set sail again in the afternoon or early evening. This means you never get to see a city at night; no car lights flashing, no buildings with their lights on, no street lights. To you it might not be something special but to me seeing a city at night is a very special feeling. I enjoy the lights and the darkness around it.
At least we get a nice view of the nights sky.
Back onboard time is usually half an hour before the ship sets sail. It’s an important piece of information and you never leave the ship (or try not to) without knowing what time back onboard is. Also, it’s important to always use an analog watch because some places are in a different time zone than the ship and back onboard is always ship’s time.
Whenever you leave the ship, even when you’re super drunk, the back onboard time is always on your mind. After a few contracts you get used to the feeling of this, but at first it can be quite exhausting always having to check what time it is and planning ahead of time how much time you get to spend in a place. Being late for back onboard can have serious consequences for crew including termination and a self-payed ticket home.
You live and work in the same place. Depending on where your cabin is and where you work it can take you anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes to get to work. That’s awesome, but there are no more excuses for being late to work.
Most cabins don’t have a window. That’s a really tough one to survive. To check how the weather is you have to turn on the tv and find the channel that shows the ships camera. No daylight in the cabins. You can wake up in the middle of the night and think that it’s morning already or sleep the whole day without realizing that it was actually daytime. These things happen but they’re not as much fun as they might sound.
This was on my first day with a port hole. I was so excited to have sunlight in my cabin!
Some positions have the privilege of having a port hole, a window or even a balcony. As musical director I was one of the lucky ones who got a cabin with a port hole and it made a huge difference in the quality of life and sleep on the ship. The only downside was that at that point I was so used to ship life, that one of the reasons to get me off the ship was to see sunlight would just take care of itself and I would stay on the ship for longer periods of time without feeling the need to get off the ship.
Living on a ship can really disconnect you from the ‘outside’ world, meaning life on land. On the ship internet is slow and not reliable. Also, you have to pay for it. When I first started on ships in 2013 almost nobody was using the ship’s internet; too expensive & too slow. But with time Carnival started to drop the prices and a couple years ago they introduced a variety of internet plans. When I started you could only purchase internet minutes. Now Carnival offers plans like a social media plan, 100 or 450 minutes, mucho taka taka etc. Different plans for different needs. The social media plan is the one that is used most often and it’s also the one slowing down the internet the most.
Since the introduction of the social media plan (24h for unlimited social media) everybody buys that plan and is constantly online which slows down the ship’s internet. Anyways, the internet sucks. That’s also why crew members run to restaurants and bars with good WIFI when off the ship. Most crewmembers try to stay in touch with at least a couple of their friends on land and of course family. It’s very hard though because there’s a big disconnection between the stories a crewmember wants to share and what a regular person on land can understand.
A plus of bad internet is that on the ship there’s really no reason to be on your phone and you can actually talk to people and have great conversations without being disturbed by somebody checking their phone. There’s also phone cards, they’re reliable but expensive.
Being home on vacation is can be really exciting just for the fact that you can use the internet now pretty much wherever you go. If you want to google something or watch a video online you can simply do it. That's something that's almost impossible on ships and you pretty much forget that it is something that exists, internet 24/7!
My cabin on the Carnival Miracle. The shelf has a crossbar and bent over edge.
All furniture is fixed. The ship is constantly moving and we can’t have tables, closets, amplifiers, lights etc. just standing there like it is the case on land. Everything’s fixed and secure. That also means that in the cabin all shelfs and desks have an upwards bent edge to prevent stuff from falling down. Shelfs in the bathroom and cabin also have a crossbar for increased safety. I can still feel the effect of those safety measures when I’m on land. I always double check if an item on a shelf is secure and won’t roll off.
Clocking in & out
Whenever you go to work you have to clock in, when you finish work you clock out. Easy. It’s a huge deal on ships though. Some positions work an insane amount of hours and they have to keep exact track of all their working hours because the cruise line has to comply with international work hour regulations and keep track of every crew member’s hours.
The guitar hero Federico Gironelli and myself in front of one of the many 'FunTime' machines that are used to clock in & out.
When I was on vacation between contracts in 2015 I spent my time in Switzerland. One night I went out with friends and got a few drinks and then walked home. On my way home I wanted to double check if I was clocked out before going to bed. And I walked towards a machine. Of course I was on land and had no reason to clock in or out, also the machine I tried to clock out on was an ATM. Ships really brainwash you.
Before leaving the cabin you must put on your nametag. The nametag has three different pieces of information: name, country & position. Nametags play an important role in the ship’s security system. With them crew and guests can quickly recognize who’s part of the crew and who isn’t.
While living on the ship you always check with a simple move whether you’re wearing your nametag or not (for me it’s always my right arm goes up to my left chest to check if the nametag’s there). It’s something you get so used to that when you’re back on land you automatically check your nametag as soon as you leave a place even though you’re on vacation.
Many more points like these are coming in a next post. Make sure to subscribe to not miss it.