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Monday, November 14, 2016

Trip to Spain - A Review of my Shipboard Experience

This was my 3rd cruise.  Twice before I cruised the Carribean, but that was in the 90's.  The ship I took then was 800 passengers....miniscule compared to the 5,000 passenger capacity ships common of today.  But, I loved that size as it was enough to have a variety of areas to explore, not too intimate but not too overwhelming at the same time.

Most of the passengers were Spanish or Italians and most well over 60.  There were a handful of families with young-ens and a smattering of younger people in their 20's or 30's.

In one week's time, this ship became boring for me, even though it accommodated 2,800 passengers (of which 800 were crew).   Also, the timing threw things off a bit, too.  Being early fall, the temps were lower therefore the pools were used by...ummm...I think 2 brave people.

On cruises, you're typically assigned a place in one of two dinner seatings.  One is early (ie; 7:30pm) and the other late (ie; 9:45pm).  The venue doesn't necessarily require formal dining attire, although there's usually one night set aside for meeting the captain and the crew which requires (recommends) you get gussied up.  On this particular cruise, the dinner venue was of the 'elegante' side which means full-service at the table, several courses, and a new experience every night.

However (ahem), I personally don't like this option because I'm assigned to a table with 7 others whom I might not be all that thrilled about dining together for the next 6 evenings.  Conversations that make my eyes cross....where are you from?  What do you do?  Are you travelling alone?  WHYYYYYY?   Are you married?  'No'  WHYYYYYY??   And, as you can imagine, all kinds of lame conversations that stem from the above.  GAG!!!

So, I chose to do the nightly buffet.  BORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING!!!   The first night....ok.  Second night....hmmmmmm.    3rd and subsequent night...REALLY???   You're serving us the same sh____t as the previous two nights?  Have you no creativity?   It was chicken or slices of pork, mashed potatoes, something-something, dessert, coffee/wine/water, blah blah.

At least the GOOD part was the wine.  All filled and sitting out for the taking.  No waiting in line at the bar and vying for the bartender's attention.  Just grab one (or three).

Ditto with breakfast.  Eggs....bacon.....pastries.....pineapple/melon/watermelon/kiwi...juices....coffeee....Snooooooooze!

On the upper/outer deck was a snack bar.  EVER REE DAY....hamburger patties, cold buns, hot dogs, slices of pizza.   Miraculously, the same food would appear at a station for dinner, too.  ICK.

Sleeping.

Never slept better in my life.  Like the other cruises I've been on, I had an inner cabin (no porthole, no window, no balcony).  That meant my cabin was pitch black when the lights were off!   But, that also meant the cabin didn't gradually fill with light in the morning either.  It was easy to oversleep if you didn't have an alarm.  But, the pitch black environ accompanied by the slow rolling of the ship made for blissful sleep.

Money.

Once you've created an account when you first check in, there's no more money-handling.  Everything you may purchase aboard the ship is charged to your credit card.  It's simple and clean.  The last day of your journey, an accounting of all your charges is slipped under your cabin door.

Entertainment.

Oi Vey.

I love to sing.  I was a singer in my prior life.  They had Karaoke.  I missed the first night.  The 2nd night, when I showed up, they were done.  They said they had Karaoke all that week.  Never happened again.

Bingo.   Oi vey.  Every night they had BINGO in the most popular bar on the ship.  I was about to jump!!!

The Routine:

  • 7:30am:  breakfast
  • 9am:  Off the boat and onto shore excursions
  • 3 - 6pm:  back on board from shore excursions.  Nap, Shower.
  • 6pm'ish:  sail away from port and on to next destination
  • 7:30pm:  Dinner (buffet) or first seating in dining room
  • 7:30pm - 10pm various entertainment (ie; bingo or karaoke or dance lesson)
  • 10pm - onward:  Broadway show entertainment.
  • 8am - 9am:  Dock at new destination
The 'Broadway' theater was soooooo OFF Broadway.  Yes, they had talent, but I've seen WAAAAY better so it was painful to endure their presentations.

The Casino.

Only half of it was open at any time.  It seemed they were in the middle of a remodel.  It was lackluster, no excitement, no energy in the air.  I decided to plunk $50 into the machines.  It took only a few minutes before I was bored to death.  I kept pressing the buttons in so many random sequences that I thought I'd fry them suckers.  I just wanted the thing to eat my money so I could be done with it and move on.  It eventually did.

The BEST entertainment was a position I took on a bar stool behind the bar where I could watch everyone else.   For this cruise, FREEEEEE drinks were included.  No limitations.  I was mesmerized watching the personalities of those who bellied up to the bar to demand their rightful drink.  The bartenders were working their butts off.  There was no way to tell who was first, 2nd, etc.  People reacted with disdain if somene else was selected first over them.  Some had desperation written all over their faces.  Some would belt out their drink demands 'GIN AND TONIC WITH 3 ICE CUBES, SUGARLESS TONIC, IN A SHORT GLASS, WITH A RIM OF SALT, AND A STRAW CUT IN HALF'  (no please or thank you heard).

With freeeeee booze, the bartending staff CLEARLY was trained to pour NO MORE than a shot into each glass.  There NEVER was an overpour!!!!

While I took this back seat at the bar to observe the human beast in its environment, I noticed someone.  Ricardo.   He, clearly, was of a management level as he wore a black suit and seemed to be in charge.  Crew on the ship are identified by the outfit they wear.  It defines their role and level in the heirarchy.

Ricardo was smoooooooth.  He was a total professional.  When he walked throughout the ship, his carriage was upright and proud.  When he got behind the bar, he was always cheerful, with a smile, suave, and he could twirl a bottle or glass like the best of them.  The 'Rendevous Bar' is the one I hung out at and the busiest/craziest one.  No matter how much they were slammed with morons, he never let any of it get to him.  Smoooooooth.



I wanted to interview him.  When you're a passenger, you only see what's on the surface of the ship. But, there's the 'underbelly' most people don't think about.

Where is he from?
How long does he work on the ship?
How much time does he get off?
What are his quarters like?
How do they deal with privacy and 'personal needs'?
What kind of pay does he get?
How does he maintain any kind of intimate relationship he may be involved in?
How does he maintain a home back home?
Does he get to go off-ship to enjoy the sites like we do?
etc etc etc.

Answers:

First, I interviewed 3 people aboard the ship.  One was a cabin cleaning person, another a female bartender, another was Ricardo (bar management).  Their answers were very similar.

  • They normally work 6-8 months on a cruise (depending on role, level, etc)
  • They do not get any days off for the entire time of their cruise commitment.  EEEEK!!!
  • However, they may get a few hours off at a destination.  Sometimes they have enough time to take in the sights, sometimes it just enough to run in and buy some needed goods (ie; new underwear).
  • Most of the crew have quarters no different than what we, as paying passengers, have.  That means something along the lines of 10 feet by 15 feet.  Two separate single beds.  A tiny closet. One bathroom.  That's it.  Not a lot of room to keep personal stuff.  No separation for privacy.  Close quarters = you gotta get along.
  • I asked Rodrigo, my cabin cleaner, how does he deal with the need for intimacy?  With further clarification....especially when you're working with 800 others you probably know, and people talk, and...ummmm...pickens are limited????  He sorta blushed and informed me that it's an understood thing if you ask your roomie to disappear for an hour or so.
  • Some quarters have up to 4 people in them.  If you are married, and provide a certificate, you can share quarters with your spouse.
  • Crew are forbidden to interact with passengers on a personal level.  They are not allowed to go to passenger cabins.  Passengers are not allowed in crew spaces.
  • Unless you're an officer, you are not allowed to be seen on the passengers decks on your off time.  Unless you are working, you're always to remain UNseen.
  • My cabin was on Level 2, one level above the water line.  That meant, the majority of the 800 crew's cabins were below the water line.
  • Many of the crew maintain homes, in this case most are from Brazil, with someone who oversees their apt/home while away, or with their family (ie; parents).  Ricardo recently purchased an apartment (currently living with his parents) which he hopes to rent out while he's away on cruise assignment.
  • Ricardo is 24, but displays a far greater maturity in his role as bar management.  Another bartender, female, said she is in her 6th year working cruises.
  • When they are off (ie; work 6 months, have 2 months vacation) they do not get any pay.  So, whatever they earn working a cruise, needs to be stretched to carry them through their vacation time.
  • Ricardo and Rodrigo told me they have several amenities to keep them entertained on their off time, such as a gym, bar, internet useage, games area, dining room, etc.  I'm sorry....but that ain't enough for me to keep me sane during my off hours on board a ship (in the bottom no less) where I live for SIX MONTHS or more!!!!
Given all this, I would expect to see a lot of cranky crew faces aboard the ship.  Nothing could be further from the truth!!!   Over and over and over, I experienced crew with big smiles, saying hello to me in the corridors, helping me figure out why I couldn't connect to the internet, or getting an excurison after it had been closed for sales, or saying 'thank you' for the 273rd time when exiting the ship and scanning my ID card.   After all, I was the nnnnn-thousandth passenger they've encountered in the past XX months and their brains probably numbed....but you'd never guess it.

And that, mi amigos, is what it was like, for ME, to (as they say) 'Cruise the Med'..

Ciao!!!

....to be continued!! (there's still a few more stops!)

Dano


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About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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