How to Work on a Cruise Ship, Part Two: The First Day

Monday, February 15, 2016

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I feel like most people don’t go on a plane alone for the first time, especially if they’re going from Toronto to Australia. I needed to get to the cruise ship to start, and it was on the other side of the planet.

Flying for the first time was surprisingly straight forward. In my opinion an airport is like a huge, invasive bus station, and the buses are planes. Turbulence? That’s just like driving down a dirt road. I temporarily lost my wallet while on layover in Abu Dhabi, but in the process of finding it (cash disappeared) met the entire Manchester City Football Club. Pictures were taken, and they told me they won the premiere league that year. Neat.

After a 29 hour flight I was standing outside Sydney International Airport waiting for a shuttle to a hotel. It took an hour to figure out that we were told to wait in the wrong spot. The musician among our group pushed his two saxophones and bags to the hotel on an airport luggage cart. He left behind myself and a young Ukrainian woman that just flew in to join ships as a server. Don’t be like this sax man: It was his first contract, he had never been to Australia, or outside of America. If your employer hears this, which they might because the gossipy nature of ships, you may not get on the boat and you’ll have to pay your own way home.

The next part is a fatigued blur. All of a sudden it’s the next day and I’m on the Sydney Harbour Bridge looking at the Sydney Opera House. Then appears one singular, huge cruise ship. I’d later learn this is one of the smallest in the fleet, but it’s still a 12 story hotel and mall floating on the ocean.

Drop off luggage, sign papers (including ones that say you’re in good health) and get on the ship. I felt fine, just fatigued I thought. It feels like a very confusing, exciting, field trip. For some reason I got left behind in the cruise ship terminal at first. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I remember my mind was lagging for some reason. From this point on it’s important to note that you’ll be living and working with every staff member you meet for up to six months, so try and make an honest and authentic impression. I say honest because if you go for anything other than yourself, that façade will be stripped away faster than you can say, I love Chaucer.

Met a bunch of people, my main boss is a cool Canadian lady, fell in like with a Canadian shoppie (retail employee on ships) met the head of HR (also Canadian, from my neighborhood), and landed in orientation.

I’m on my feet. Looking desperately for a washroom. Find a washroom, throw up. Return to class. Sweating, confused, wanting to make a good impression, entering a state of delirium. I press on.

Canadian HR lady is talking about the spread of viruses on ships. Next thing I remember an officer is showing us how emergency doors work. Back to class. Fading. Class over.

“I’m sick, what do I do?”

HR lady leads me to the medical bay. Stop to throw up in the men’s washroom. Don’t remember getting to the med bay.

Woke up to a tiny, white, South African woman asking if I was feeling okay. The answer no, I was feeling like garbage but I was conscious. She explained to me how I got there, exactly where I was and what I likely caught to make me feel this way. Some kind of flu virus I encountered while on the plane, and sabotaged any chance I had at making a good first impression. Also white people are in South Africa, like a lot of them. They’ve got a near-Australian accent, and if you’ve passed out in Australia, on a ship and wake up in the med bay this will be startling to you if you don’t know.

Turns out no one forgets the guy who throws up in the men’s and women’s washroom on the first day, and gets put in med bay for two.

I finally met my director supervisor, let’s call him Fèla. He was kind enough to pick me up from the medical bay on his birthday. This suave, model of a man from Argentina would be my mentor, and closest advisor while I strived to figure out what ship life would be about. Tall, blonde ex-pro volleyball player turned video producer, this guy knew ship life well. I was eager to start working, but it was 9 pm and in typical cruise ship fashion celebrating a birthday of a beloved supervisor and coworker in the department was top priority.

After the meal Fèla showed me our edit suite, and we hit the open deck for the first time. I was green, literally and figuratively. Sea sickness is a thing, it will find you. Fèla told me not to stress. He explained that ships are like a village and things happen. He could sense I worried about my awesome entrance, but made it clear that it’ll pass if I don’t let it bother me. Maybe it was his cool accent, or experienced demeanor, but I believed him.

I left Australia behind, without so much as seeing a Kangaroo or meeting an Australian person. I’d later realize the majority of the passengers were from Oz, and I’d be spending the next 162 days with them as we literally sailed around the world. Ahead of us were eight sea days, no stops until we reached Singapore.

You might feel small the first time you look into the ocean from the 12 deck, but it’s a big world and you should feel small, so embrace it. I made it this far, and past the wooziness, inside every aching part of my body, I was excited for what would come next.

- Zoey Ross

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  1. Posted by: kube on Apr 13, 2016 @ 1:52pm

    Hey.. I'm into a travelling kinda engineering student, but never been on a cruise ship in my life, by reading the things you wrote, it made me feel like I was experiencing it the things. (Bytheway Im originally from a tiny island called Srilanka, which you probably might have passed it)

    Good luck & have fun

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