Monday, March 18, 2013

Behind the Scenes at Carnival

Believe it or not, I actually had the chance to go on a 3 day cruise on the lovely Carnival Imagination about 2 weeks ago. I swear being on the Imagination was pure dumb luck, as my main reason for the trip was to visit my brother who is currently working on board. Visiting him gave me a very unique look at a behind-the-scenes view of the cruise. I stayed with him in a crew cabin, ate in the staff mess hall, and hung out with his friends on board

What lies behind these curtains?
Where does the staff live?|
Stop 1- my brother’s cabin where I would be spending the next 3 days. To get there I had to take an elevator allllll the way to the bottom. And just when I think I couldn't go any lower, there were some steps to take me further down. Now if you think your cabin is small, you haven’t see anything. I would estimate the average crew cabin to be about half the size of a standard cabin; and most of them have bunkbeds set up to accommodate 2 people. Plus the average contract of a crew member is 6 months. Think about how much you packed for 3 days…now think about what you’d have to pack for 6 months. Sadly I think I packed more for my 3 day cruise than my brother packs when he’s gone for months at a time :/

Anyway, the cabin itself has 1 desk and a TV. The staff members do get a teeny tiny bathroom en suite, to the point where I literally am simultaneously in the shower, while on the toilet. Yes it is possible. And they actually do have cabin stewards for the crew as well to change their linens. I took a few pics of his cabin, but his room would probably be the equivalent of a suite in the crew world. His position allows him a solo room where he doesnt have to share with anyway; most rooms feature a bunk bed and 2 people living there.

My bro's cabin

Bathroom in crew cabin
Outside my bro's cabin (notice sticker on the left)
I found that they staff very much operates on a hierarchy system with 3 basic groups- crew, staff, and officers. Each of which have their own dining room. It actually reminded me of that Friends episode where Ross and Joey worked at the museum and the blue coats couldn’t sit with the white coats. Anyway, crew members consist of the housekeeping and wait-staff. Staff members include the entertainment department, spa, dancers, shop workers, etc. And officers include, well, the officers.

What do they eat?

Another topic that I know I had questions about is- what do the staff eat? Are they eating in the buffet when we’re not looking? Well, there are 3 separate mess halls on deck 3 for all the staff. They do have buffets down there, but no where near the quantity and variety guests receive. The hours are also rather limiting, so it becomes important to hit the mess hall before it closes, or you’ll be SOL. There were a couple things that surprised me though.

1- They actually had a ‘midnight buffet’ every night for the staff. Though it makes sense if a lot of people are working during the evening and then need to eat afterward. I found it funny that they seemed to have more choices than guests at that hour, because as a guest I find when the clock strikes midnight I had 3 choices for food- pizza, ice cream, or pizza and ice cream.

2- Particularly for the midnight buffet, I actually thought they had some delicious looking international food choices that we don't generally see as guests either. But it makes so much sense considering the staff comes from over 40 different countries- with the highest population coming from India and the Philippines. So naturally they want comforts of home.

Crew members are also allowed to eat in the main dining room on occasion if they fill out a bunch of paper-work. Generally this is done if they have friends/family visiting (ie what my bro did when I visited!)

What do they do for fun?

For most people when they’re done working, they leave their office or wherever they work, and go home at the end of the day. That’s not the case when you work on a cruise ship. You are confined to being on that ship. But I was happy to learn that they do have a lot of ways to keep busy. They have a crew bar called the Oasis Lounge. It’s a pretty chill place with pool tables, TVs, couches, and of course a bar. And the best part (in my humble opinion) is that the drinks are dirt cheap. I got a beer for $1.25, which would be 5 times the price if I went upstairs to a guest bar.

Crew bar

Aside from crew bar, they do have activities planned for the crew such as movie nights, talent shows, and karaoke to name a few. They also receive discounts on most all of the fun things guests are offered such as 40% off at the spa or a discounted rate for excursions.

Generally, how does their schedule work?
When you go on a cruise, you know how quickly they turn those ships over. As soon as that last person leaves the prior cruise, the next batch of guests is eagerly ready to board. So when do crew members have time off?

Well, most crew members will sign 6-month contracts and pretty much work for 6 months straight. They will have blocks of time off, especially during port days. But for all intents and purposes, they dont have a full day off in 6 months. So what my brother has done in the past is work 6 months on; come home for 1-2 months; and back out for 6 months.

Well, those are the highlights. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask! And if it's something I don't know, I'll ask my brother.