Things About Ship Culture That Should Be Normal Everywhere

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

Working on a ship is a totally unique experience. You live and work with the same people, many of them who don’t come from the same country or speak the same native language as you. Some things are totally weird and others are things I miss now that I’m back on land. I think the world would be a better place if these things were normal on land!

1) Being Bilingual

At LEAST! I’ve worked with people who speak more than five languages! In America our school system doesn’t place a huge emphasis on learning other languages, partly because English is standard almost anywhere you go. Anyone onboard who speaks English fluently is usually fluent in at least one other language as well. I’m fluent in Spanish which definitely helped me make friends onboard, and Nathaniel was the only American on a team of Filipinos, so he picked up quite a bit of Tagalog. If making friends seems hard across cultural lines, try moving heavy equipment during a set change! You’d better know what they’re yelling from the other side of the rigging. Even if you’re not fluent in Romanian, Portuguese, Tagalog, or any of the other languages that flow through the I95, chances are you’ve picked up some slang and one or two curse words in several of these. Ships have their own kind of language built in that borrows from Caribbean, Asian, European, and Latin cultures. These key phrases are traded comfortably between people of all nationalities. It’s a big melting pot below deck!

2) Staying Home When You’re Sick

OH MY GOD isn’t that what all of last year was supposed to be about? I can’t count how many times on land I’ve gone to work with a cold or even full on bronchitis, or had to share a microphone with someone who sniffled and said “sorry, I’ve got the flu” before passing it over to me. I’ve had jobs that would literally write me up if I called in sick! On the ship it’s the total opposite. You can get fired if you try to work while you’re under the weather. Any sign of illness and you’ll be sent to the medical center to get a diagnosis and then some quarantine time in your cabin to rest until you’re well again. This stuff is no joke. If you’re on medical leave they’ll bring your food to your cabin, usually your roommate has to be in isolation as well, and there’s absolutely no contact with anyone outside. This is because ships are small confined spaces where illness can spread rapidly if we didn’t take these precautions. When I see a guest onboard sneeze or sniffle I remember how normal it is to carry on like normal when you’re sick and potentially contagious. Even now, with the protocols in place to prevent it, people in my part time job come to work with fevers and coughs constantly. I wish this was normal, everywhere. Stay home if you’re sick! You’re not doing yourself or anyone around you any favors by muscling through it.

3) Free Food

Ok, this one probably isn’t going to happen but dang I miss it. Depending on your role onboard, you may only have access to crew mess, or be able to use the guest buffets and dining rooms as well. On my first vacation I went to a restaurant, finished my meal, and was just about to pick up and leave before I remembered, “oh yeah, food costs money on land!” We may have more limited options, but pretty much anytime you’re hungry there’s an opportunity to fill up your plate. I’ve tried so many different things at our crew mess buffet. I miss it every day. I miss free food. Ugh. I didn’t know how good I had it!

4) Almost Free Alcohol

This one is self explanatory. Beer should always be $1 and a bottle of wine should never cost more than $5. That’s what I would campaign on if I ever ran fro president. It’s what the people want!

5) Travel!

I was so stunned to find out how many Americans don’t have a passport. Our country is so big, you can see mountains, deserts, three oceans, great plains, almost anything you want inside of our borders. But, there’s nothing like getting out of your comfort zone and visiting somewhere with a totally unique language, culture, flavor, sights, and sounds. It’s enriching and opens your mind. It will change your perspective. Seeing our country has been such an amazing experience for me, but just a short trip away lie so many treasures waiting for you to experience them

6) A Super Diverse Workplace

I was very often the ONLY American on my team. One glorious night in my Cruise Director’s office our entire team was playing some games and having some pizza, when one of the girls, a South African, pointed out how many countries were represented. India, China, South Africa, Croatia, Serbia, Jamaica, The Philippines, Grenada, Colombia, Brazil…. the list goes on. All on one team, working and living together, for months on end. It gets frustrating at times. As an American I’m very direct and don’t have a problem questioning authority which has led to some misunderstandings in the past, but by recognizing and understanding each culture you can avoid these little disagreements and create a really strong team thats fun to be a part of.

7) Change

Cruise ships made me comfortable with change. Every home port day, usually once a week, there are hundreds of people leaving and joining the ship who are going to be the new faces you see in the mess, the bar, the atrium, and maybe even sharing your cabin! On my first contract I had four different roommates from three different countries. Your teammates and bosses cycle in and out, until it’s your turn to sign off and later on again. Along with those changes, the guests are thousands of moving pieces as well! You’ll be visiting different ports, hosting different events, to a new audience, with a new DJ and cohost, and have to perform like you’ve done it all a thousand times before. Not many things are constant in your life onboard, so you have to be a confident in what you’re doing and highly adaptable.

8) Preparedness

With the unsettled state of our world today I’m finding this to be something that really has me nervous. Most people and places are entirely not prepared for an emergency. For example, at our last park I inquired about fire evacuations. We were camp hosting in the Bay Area during those orange sky days, and our park was so dry that you could snap a blade of grass in half. There seemed to only be one exit because all the other gates around the perimeter were locked. I found out that we had no plan to evacuate our trailers, our campers, ourselves! Huge propane tanks sat around the property, emphasizing the danger if we ever had a fire spring up on our property. Up north, where we currently are, storms and tsunamis are the major dangers, and we’re far better prepared than our last park. If you’ve taken a cruise you know that you start each sailing with an emergency drill that tells you how to proceed if anything were to go wrong. These drills are mandated by SOLAS, the organization that protects Safety Of Life At Sea, which was formed as a direct result of the sinking of the Titanic. We do them for a very important reason. You never know what could go wrong. If you’ve been on a ship, chances are an emergency popped up and was handled so expertly that you never even had to look up from your mojito. I was a station leader onboard, and therefore one of the last ones in a life boat, so I took my role VERY seriously. We also have drills especially for the crew, usually when you’re off in port, to practice our individual jobs. Every week is a new scenario, so we’re prepared no matter what happens. When I start a new job I ask about first aid kits, AEDs, evacuation plans, all of it! Just in case. Try to notice where the fire extinguisher is on your way into a restaurant, or where your closest exit is. Be prepared! You never know.

9) “Vacation Mode”

I love people on vacation. I’ve worked in tourism for my entire adult life, even now in a kind of roundabout way! I love people on vacation. Cruisers, especially, seem to be able to let loose in a way that no one else can. One of my primary jobs onboard is game shows, like ones where you have to truly embarrass yourself onstage in front of hundreds of strangers with camera phones, and I have people lining up to get the chance to try! I also host the parties every night where sunburnt exhausted tourists will lose another hour or two of sleep to dance to their favorite 80’s music beneath the Caribbean sky. I’ve dressed men up like Madonna to dance onstage, made women pick who’s armpit smells the worst, and found out a LOT about newlyweds private lives in front of all their friends and family. And week after week, people go nuts for it. I miss how carefree people can be when they get out of their comfort zone. I can’t even imagine all the pent up nonsense that you all have been building in these months away. I can’t wait to get back out there and see how everyone shines.

I miss a lot when I’m onboard. My coffee machine, my dog, my candles, days off….. so many things. But some cultural things about life onboard just can’t be found anywhere else! If you’re missing cruising, believe me, we are too! It seems like the day that we sail again just keeps getting further away. Until we’re back out at sea, we have so many adventures on the horizon on land. What do you miss most about sailing? Let us know!


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