For the last two months I’ve worked from home, kind of. To be more precise, I live at work. I wake up at work, eat at work, exercise at work and socialise at work. My colleagues are from all over the world and our office is constantly on the move. For the past two months I’ve worked aboard a cruise ship sailing the Caribbean, and what an adventure it’s been.
I’ve been mulling over how to describe such a vast experience, there is so much going on every day that my blog could quite easily become a novel. I want to do the story justice without sending you to sleep, so I came to the simple conclusion that maybe just ‘a day in the life’ would suffice. Unsurprisingly ship days differ greatly from life at home, however they start in a frighteningly similar way!
At 7.30am I burst in to a one eyed, nauseating scramble to find my alarm and shut it off. I’ve had 4 hours sleep and my mind can’t quite comprehend that it’s actually time to get up. Once I come to terms with the daunting task ahead I hop down form the top bunk and in to the shower. I’m greeted daily with a moist morning hug from the shower curtain which insists on clinging to my back throughout the whole ordeal. As you might have expected crew cabins are a little on the small side. For a tall person like me navigating the room requires levels of agility which I don’t possess. However should you want to cram nine people in there for a small party I can assure you this is entirely possible, but I’ll get to that later.
Once I’m showered and dressed in my lifeguard reds, I head down to the crew mess for breakfast. It’s small and basic but always brightly coloured, awash with all the different costumes and uniforms of staff on their way to work. The food is consistently mundane, lacking variety or imagination. It’s enough to get by on but eating becomes a chore rather than a pleasure, which for a foodie like me is hard to comprehend.
After breakfast I head down the ships main vain, the aptly named I-95. This white corridor is the crews way to travel around the ship without entering guest areas. The human highway is flooded with crew members and it’s always good to pass the friendly faces on their way to work. The floors are littered with cargo and piled high with pallets of unorganised equipment. The walls are plastered with notices of upcoming events and safety classes. Even a short walk down the busy corridor keeps you on your toes as you dodge the obstacles and avoid being run down by pallet jacks.
I rush up to the office to grab the rescue equipment before heading up to deck nine to open the pool.
Before entering the guest area I take a moment, inhale deeply, plaster on my smile and summon all the energy I can muster. Walking outside on to deck nine is a great way to begin the day. After hours of being cooped up in an air conditioned tin box there is no better feeling than the warm sea breeze on your face. The morning sun blazes it’s rays onto the deck and the cheery music greets your ears. It’s an immediate energiser, and instant reminder of why I’m here and why I’m living this lifestyle.
I spend the day on decks nine and ten, rotating between our pools and slides. The top decks are always a vibrant place. Guests use the pools, ride the slides, watch movies on the huge screens, read books and play sports. These decks are the ships playground and we spend the day making sure everyone is safe and happy, specifically in that order! Sure we may deal with stupid questions and strange requests but it’s a part of the job you get used to and it always fuels the laughs later on. It’s great to see families having an amazing time using our facilities, and rewarding to know that you are helping to create fantastic memories that will last a lifetime. The lifeguard team work as a unit bouncing off each other, keeping each other motivated and making the long days under the sun a memorable time.
As the sun goes down below the horizon, life on the ship continues in full flow. What some guests wouldn’t realise is that running the ship is a 24 hour operation. Very little credit goes to the guys who work consistently through the night to make sure the ship is ready for the guests when they wake up. Up on deck guests ride the slides and laze in the pool until 10pm. The decks are busy with guests catching late night movies or just enjoying the nighttime air. Each night the captain promises guests a calm night at sea and a pleasant overnight passage. I can only assume he means if they are inside, tucked away comfortably in the bar on deck 3. Anyone up on deck ten after 7pm will have a very different perception of the phrase ‘pleasant passage’. The wind picks up to 40 knots which is enough to double you over and the driving rain as we sail head on in to a storm is always a pleasant experience for the lifeguards who remain vigilant on stand. We have to laugh as we stand on deck like little red traffic cones soaked to the bone, congratulating guests on a good ride of the slide.
After work we retreat in to the crew areas away from the ever watchful eye of the guest. Most of us like to work out after a long day on stage. It’s a great way to unwind and let you mind drift away into some music. We meet again at 11 pm in one of our cabins. Like I mentioned earlier its possible to uncomfortably fit nine people in to these cabins if you think tactically. We stack tightly on to bunk beds and strategically arrange people on the floor. Comfort isn’t an option, we sit hunchbacked, crossed legged and overlapping to accommodate everyone. The main issue is that usually someone is placed awkwardly in front of the fridge and therefore blocking access to cold beers.
Our crew bar opens once most people have finished work at midnight. We have themed nights as a way to unwind and socialise. Salsa nights go down a storm with our Latin friends whilst 90’s nights are a hit with the ladies. The Youth Activities girls bring so much energy and always manage to turn any average Tuesday in to a night we’ll never remember. We hang out in the bar until two, making the most of the few hours we have to ourselves. These hours are so important for our sanity. The social aspect to life on a ship is vital, it breaks up the day and allows us to be ourselves, be spontaneous and somewhat carefree. Without these precious few hours the routine would be horribly demoralising. From the bar a lot of us like to head to the open area on deck 5. Here we sit at the very front of the ship watching the stars and enjoying the cool early morning breeze. Unfortunately it’s always over too quick and by three most of us are back in bed for a short nap before the roller coaster ride starts again.
Working on a ship you come across this phenomenon known as ‘Ship-life’. It’s a simple phrase which kept popping up during my time on board and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it.
If the Oxford dictionary decided to include the term ‘ship-life’ (which it wouldn’t), I think the definition would go a little something like this. ‘Ship-Life’…”the term used as an excuse for any untoward or out of the ordinary behaviour whilst living on a ship, usually accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.”
It’s basically a get out clause for the gossips, the promiscuous, the lazy, the punctually challenged and the over excited. But that’s just a definition, to me it means so much more.
Ship life is a state of mind, it’s the unwritten rules that govern life as crew members aboard a ship. It describes the bonds that are built with your colleagues that you don’t get in a normal job. When you live and work in such close proximity your colleagues become both your friends and your family. Relationships blossom at such an incredible rate because you live within each other’s pockets. Using the lifeguard team as an example, we are together from 8am until 3am seven days a week, separating only briefly to sleep. We comfort each other if someone is having a tough day, we look out for each other when someone is missing home and we laugh at each other when someone gets too sunburnt or falls dramatically into the pool.
On the ship the crew are literally in the same boat and on the same journey. We go through the same highs and lows. It’s all part of ‘ship-life’ this encompassing phenomenon that you have to experience to understand. The intensity of life on board takes some getting used to, its a merry-go-round of activity aboard a floating palace of entertainment. The energy it takes to keep the show rolling on is intense but the desire to enjoy and learn from it is much stronger. It gets to the point were sleep is the inconvenience between our work and social lives. ‘Ship-life’ more than anything, is a learning curve. Within the melting pot of cultures aboard the ship we learn as much about ourselves as we do about each other.
At the end of the day ‘ship-life’ is what you make of it, your time on board can be limited and in my case it’s over for now. But I can honestly say I had a ball in the melee of it all. From the chaos of the long days, late nights and dynamic challenges I have come away with close friends, lasting memories and a very special lady.
Apologies for the lack of format and pictures. For obvious reasons I have had to be careful about mentioning company names and for this reason I could not be to specific throughout.