The Yachtie Glow: by Angela Orecchio
My first job at sea was on The Pride of Aloha cruise ship in Hawaii, working for Norwegian Cruise Line America. I was a waitress and worked 12 hours a day or more without a day off for six months. The ship was 850 feet, we had over 2,000 passengers per week, and approximately 800 crew. We did a weekly cruise from Honolulu to the major islands in Hawaii, then back to Honolulu to start all over again the next day.
Safety and health were taken very seriously by officers, and we were given a warning or fired if any of the rules were breached. We were frequently breathalyzed coming aboard, and if you had alcohol on your breath you were escorted to your cabin to pack up and then taken ashore. Oddly enough, we had a crew bar, though, and were allowed to drink on board as long as we didn’t seem drunk or stand out in any way.
Crew amenities also included a smallish gym, a computer room and a crew mess, where we were served a buffet three times a day. The cabin I shared with three other girls had four bunks, one small locker each and a small head. We had very strict cabin inspections every Friday. If we didn’t pass, we couldn’t get off the ship during our breaks.
The ship was normally docked or anchored by about 6 a.m. I worked the breakfast buffet in the morning — wiping tables, sweeping floors, stocking and restocking food and dishes, and serving drinks or whatever else guests needed. Then there was lunch in the main dining hall. After serving lunch, I often left the boat…er…ship (I was told over and over it’s NOT a boat!). A few of us would rent a car, drive around, swim, eat lunch and shop. At about 6 p.m., all passengers and crew were back on board, and we’d start cruising again.
For dinner the ship had two main dining halls with a galley the size of a football field between them. I’d receive the food tickets from my head waiter for any amount of tables and make my way to the galley, where I’d stack as many covered plates as I could onto a large oval tray. I did this with drinks as well. I’d drop them off at the station, only to find another stack of tickets waiting. By 10 or 11 p.m., it was time to clean our stations and get ready to leave. We had a three-bucket system for cleaning top to bottom, inside and out: one bucket with hot soapy water, one with sanitizer and one with hot water. I remember being so tired once I slept in my uniform — only to get up the next morning, brush my teeth, change my shirt and head off for my next shift.
The training facility where we did our “silver service” and STCW was in Maryland. We arrived with a group of people who became our “class.” I was in Class 29, and we did all of our studying together. We couldn’t leave the facility at all, and they had the same rules as they had on board the ship to prepare us for life at sea. There was zero tolerance for alcohol, and strict sanitation and safety rules. We stayed in dorm rooms similar to the ship.
The pay wasn’t great for the hours we were working. However, we only had a few hours off per day, so saving was quite easy. Contracts were normally for five months. Then we’d get five weeks off, with the option to return for another contract. There was a better chance of being promoted after making it through the first contract. New recruits were definitely picked on and tested by management. They really wanted to weed out the crew who could not adjust to living life in rank and being treated as a number. It took a lot for any good work to be recognized by management. It took very little to be given a PIN (Performance Improvement Notice). I had chapstick in my station drawer in the restaurant, for example, and was given a PIN for a health and safety violation. If you collected three PINs, you had to meet with managers, who would decide whether to fire you or give you one more chance.
Yes, life on board was strict, exhausting and a bit difficult at times — but I made friends and, in hindsight, we still had a blast. My only regret is not enjoying it more; we often took things too seriously. Personally, I feel life is much better working aboard yachts. Depending on your boat, there is usually more freedom, better pay and a higher-quality lifestyle, and you get to travel to different places more often. However, there is something about working on a cruise ship for the experience that I wouldn’t rule out entirely, especially if you only want to do it for a season.
To apply for a job on a cruise ship apply directly through the company website or find a job fair they might be attending.
Angela Orecchio is a chief stew, certified fitness instructor and health coach. This column was edited from her blog, Savvy Stewardess, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Yachting (www.savvystewardess.com). Comments are welcome below.