by Emma Jones
In the last eight months I've been to places most people only dream of, I've made good friends from all over the world, partied more than I did at university and saved over £7000 in the process. All onboard a cruise ship.
I don't know where the thought came from or whether it was perpetuated by people's distaste at the idea but whatever the catalyst was for me boarding that plane to LA I'll be forever grateful. I wouldn't exchange my experiences onboard that ship for anything in the world.
Just one week after my interview in London, Royal Caribbean rang and asked if I could fly out to join the 'Vision of the Seas' in 8 days. So just a fortnight after my initial meeting I stood at Heathrow ready to fly half way across the globe.
I'd never been outside Europe before and I'd never even seen a cruise ship. Ten long hours later I landed in LA
The first thing that struck me about America was how big everything is. The roads are huge, the buildings tower above you and even the cars all look like monster trucks. I was to be no less amazed by the enormity of the ship itself. It's like a huge floating hotel comprising space for 3000 people, two swimming pools, a spa, four restaurants, a 900 seat theatre, 7 bars and a nightclub. For the first week I was totally overwhelmed by everything and got lost everywhere I went, but that soon faded and the fun begun.
It is impossible to look at positions on ship as a job, you have to view it as a lifestyle. The environment onboard is intense. Ships have their own sense of time. A day feels like a week and a week feels like a month. You work, eat, sleep and socialise in the same place and you can't avoid people like you can on land. Whereas you may see someone twice a week at home you see them three times a day on ship. On the plus side though this confined atmosphere breeds close relationships and I have made friends I know I will keep forever.
I feel like I've learnt more through my experiences and friendships on the ship than I ever did in education. For one, it has improved my geography considerably. Suddenly the relevance of places escalate when your friends live there. And I know it is a cliché but it has broadened my horizons more than I can explain. I was working and living with people from over fifty different countries and learning to adapt to their approaches and attitudes.
There is a culture of tolerance and acceptance on ships which is refreshing. Race, religion or background are forgotten and when you walk up that gangway you are accepted for how you present yourself from then on
There are a lot of rules on ships and this can be difficult to get used to. The two distinct categories are crew and staff. Crew refers to jobs such as waiters, bar staff, cleaners and maintenance. Whereas staff takes in casino, spa, entertainment and retail. The crew are not allowed to be in passenger areas when they are not working and are restricted to socialising in crew areas. Staff however can use passenger facilities such as the bars, nightclub and gym. The two groups even eat in different dining rooms. This segregation is strange to begin with but you soon learn to accept that it is just the way it is. However I had the privilege of being staff. If you are intending to go an as crew this is a consideration.
The job I did, Cruise staff, is an all encompassing role. You are basically there to make sure the guests have a good time whether this is running sports activities, socialising at parties or dressing up for a theme night. In some ways the diversity of the job is what makes it so good. It couldn't be any less 9-5 and you don't get bored as your schedule and duties are always changing. However it can be this irregularity that becomes taxing as you have to be prepared to work at anytime and schedules are liable to change at the last moment.
To be cruise staff it almost impossible to have an off day, or if you do you can't show it. The guests don't realise you only got 4 hours sleep last night or that you've worked every day for the past 5 months. For them, this is their only week onboard the ship and they want you to be as excited and energetic as they are. You are there to be the life and soul of their cruise. This can be difficult but if you are a bright and bubbly person at heart then you soon get used to it and learn of ways to deal with those days when your really don't want to smile at anyone!
So here I am, sat at home eight months later. I've been to California, Mexico, Hawaii, Canada and Alaska. I've swam with dolphins, watched the sunrise in a volcano, surfed and snorkeled, been to Hollywood, seen glaciers and icebergs and got a fabulous tan. I always said I would only do one contract but then initially so had everyone else I met out there. In 6 weeks time I fly to Miami for just one more!
To apply write to: Royal Caribbean International, 1050 Caribbean way, Miami, FL 33132-2096 To work as cruise staff you have to have an entertainment background. Earnings for this position are about £1300* per month plus room and board. Before you join you will have to pay for a medical and your initial flight to join the ship.
More Information at: Royal Caribbean International Careers at Sea
* wage rates may have changed since this article was first published