Hi, I mentioned in another thread that I used to work on a cruise ship, and there was some interest in asking me stuff. So here you go.
In 2007 I worked for 9 months on the MV Disney Wonder, in the Youth Activities department. That means I was basically a camp counselor. I learned a lot about the cruise line, and the industry as a whole, mostly pretty awful things. I know lots of people love cruising, but I live in hope that people will make informed choices, including their vacation choices. Fighting ignorance, yeah?
While I was onboard, the ship did short 3 and 4 day cruises from Port Canaveral to Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. (Once we went to another FL port because of a hurricane, and once to Key West, when the Disney Vacation Club bought out the cruise. It was very exciting to see new ports, not just the same 3 places over and over.)
I lived on board, naturally. Everyone did. My position was considered relatively high status, so I only had one roommate. Others shared with 2 or 3 other people, or maybe more. Only officers had a room to themselves, and the cruise director and captains lived in guest staterooms. Our cabin was TINY, two bunks, two cupboards, a miniscule shower and toilet, and floor space about equal to a doormat. I also had deck privileges during my non-work hours, which means I could dress up a bit and use some of the guests’ amenities, like buying very expensive coffees on deck 9, or swimming in the guest pools. Of course, we had to prominently display our crew ID cards, so no-one could really mistake us for a guest.
I worked 10 hour shifts every day – I didn’t have a day off for 9 months straight. If I’d been ill, I could have asked the ship’s medical staff for a note, but I never felt sick “enough” to do so. Working with kids, of course, everyone in the department got sick all the time, but we just took lots of Dayquil and kept on working. It was VERY frowned upon to go off sick. Although, if we had any GI symptoms, we were to report it immediately and were confined to quarters for 24 hours. Norovirus was not a laughing matter.
The ship’s office “held” my passport. I assume I could have asked for it back at any time, but I never tested the theory. They also issued our tiny pay checks, and cashed it onboard, for a fee, of course. Some crew had US bank accounts, and could deposit their checks, but most people took cash and paid the fee. (I don’t remember much of the detail about this, but I found it pretty troubling at the time.) I came home with around $7,000, I think, so I “earned” maybe $1.50/hour.
In terms of crew, the ship was flagged as a Panamanian vessel, a typical “flag of convenience.” We had crew members from all over the world. Some nationalities were more prized in certain positions - Aussies like me were popular in Youth Activities, Guest Services, selling in the stores, in the spa. Non-native English speakers, in general, had less public-facing roles, like in the kitchens or as cleaners or servers. Within our department, there was a disgusting policy known as “right-fit talent” which ostensibly matched staff to skills required - from my perspective, it was an excuse for institutionalized racism, where only the white counselors ever had a presenter or activity hosting role. My colleagues with thicker accents and/or dark skin usually had the lower status jobs, even within our department’s hierarchy, like cleaning or checking kids in and out of the programs.
But worse, there were crewmembers that we never saw in the common areas. Most of the 800+ crew ate in one mess, but there were certain staff that we never saw. The laundry crew were all, I believe, Chinese - they spoke little English. We literally never saw them out of the laundry - not in the mess, not even in the corridors, and certainly not ashore during port days, when most crew could get a few hours leave and take the bus to Merritt Island Mall. I assume they had berths down there somewhere, and their own mess maybe? But always completely segregated from the rest of us. The laundry was on the very lowest deck, below the water line, so I assume they literally never saw natural light.
Environmentally, every day I learned something that turned my stomach. The food waste was the most obvious: the huge kitchen staff onboard produced three times the food required for every meal, so guests would always have complete freedom of choice. Some excess guest food was served to crew (yesterday’s fancy desserts look less fancy in the morning), but most of it was ground up and dumped in the ocean. During one program that I recall, the 50 or so 8-9yr old kids each made a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, which was taken away and “baked” - really, the kid-made dough was thrown away and replaced with the safely-prepared cookies prepped in cooked in the galley.
All paper and plastic waste was burned, and the ashes dumped. Sewage was treated onboard, to the lowest allowable standard, then dumped. I heard that the ship burnt the equivalent of six jumbo jets’ worth of fuel every hour, including the “sea day” of the 4 day cruise, which was spent literally sailing in circles, just so guests would feel like they were going somewhere. I watched the stars one sea day night, to prove it to myself.
The kids’ areas had lots of toys and games, as you might expect. Some of it was carefully sanitized between uses (K’nex in a dishwasher), but much of it was just thrown away. Not even thrown away, burned! Twice a week, almost-unused board games, books, dolls, craft materials… when I heard about this, I BEGGED to be allowed to donate it, we had ties to a kids’ program in the Bahamas, but was told we didn’t have an export license, so it would be illegal to remove these things from the ship, no matter what country, and too much hassle/expense to arrange for it. Ugh.
Well, that’s a little slice of my experience. I do have some good memories of my time - I met lots of wonderful people, and have friends all over the world from my short stint. Being Disney, there was some great training opportunities, specially in customer service - when I returned to Australia, I helped my next employer completely rewrite their customer service charter and training programs. The onboard shows were also great fun, and I made friends with some of the very talented performers. But overall, my message to you, o Internet, is this: if you have a shred of environmental consciousness, or if you care about social justice, please don’t support this industry. I’m more than happy to answer your questions.