Former cruise ship performer and soon-to-be-lawyer Danielle Gauer returns for another inside look at the cruise industry. You can read Danielle's prior articles about life as a cruise ship dancer here and what Canadians should know about cruising here. Thanks Danielle for another great blog:
Many cruise ship passengers wonder where the crew lives and what it's like “down below.”
Beneath the beautifully decorated lounges, restaurants, art galleries and shops is another city with its own rules and hierarchical structure. The jobs on a cruise ship are pretty much based on nationality which designates the type of living arrangement that crew member will have. Because the "lowest" jobs on the totem pole are the cleaners, those employees are usually situated on the lowest deck of the ship, in shared cabins with a communal washroom and shower to be shared with those living in that particular corridor.
The type of job also determines status in the crew hierarchy. Hierarchy determines crew privileges and the kind of unspoken social rules that they must follow. As a dancer, I was considered a “non-striped” officer. As a result I was allowed to go in the guest areas of the ship, have a drink in a lounge, go to the top deck and sunbathe, and watch other entertainers on nights I wasn’t working. My “status” also permitted me to "hang out" with the high ranking officers who lived on the upper decks of the ship.
A cabin steward would not dare to try and socialize with an officer, and vice versa. There are cases where male officers would “shack up” with low ranking employees for the duration of their contract. The officer coin the subordinate crew member as their “mistress.”
For those who followed the Costa Concordia disaster, you may recall the good captain and his girlfriend. That is business as usual.
The majority of crew members do not have any special privileges. These crew members include the cabin stewards and waiters who are predominantly Indonesian or Filipino, and who work 12-15 hours a day for little money. They are lucky to get time off in port to call home to their loved ones, as satellite calling cards on the ship can be quite expensive ($20 for 17 minutes of talk time back in 2006).
But the real question is . . . what happens after work and the passengers are out of sight?
Usually located on deck 3 or on the “I-95” (the term is used to describe the main deck or “corridor” of the crew area), the general crew bar is open to all crew members. This means that even the highest ranked officers can party with the lowest men and women on the totem pole. There is also an Officer’s Bar which is designated to only the officers on the ship.
Aside from blatant segregation, the crew bar is alive with music and cheap booze, allowing crew members to party and get “tanked” till the early hours of the morning. The bartender working in the crew bar typically works on the ship in another capacity during the regular work day, but takes on the responsibility to get his/her fellow crew members liquored up so that they can actually enjoy their time on board the ship.
With lots of alcohol inevitably comes inappropriate behaviors involving both passengers and crew members. Much of this misconduct flies well below the radar. The only concern for the crew members is when they wake up with a hangover the next morning, or they find themselves terminated following an alcohol test. With that said, this is a risk that many crew members see worth taking.
I guess the common phrase still holds true, what happens in the crew bar stays in the crew bar . . .