Nobody warned me about these little ship life side-effects.
1. Your knowledge of popular music goes out the window. This goes for movies, TV shows, celebrity gossip, you name it! Think about it. You’re out in the middle of the ocean in a giant tin can with the spottiest wifi of all time for the vast majority of 6-9 months. It makes sense that when you finally get back to the real world people will look at you like you’re from outer space when a really popular song comes on the radio and you’re the only one in the car who has never heard it before. Luckily, I had many ship friends that were talented in the art of online movie thievery, so I was pretty caught up on that end, but music? There’s still a huge chunk of Top 40 music from the years 2013-2017 to which I’m pretty sure I’ll never know the lyrics.
2. The ringing of ship phones will forever haunt your dreams. I don’t know what it is, but every phone on ships is piercing, and terrifying, and they give me nightmares. Whether its the deck phones (cellphones from the 90s…like the ones that you can play Snake on) that I was never highly ranked enough to have or those white devil cabin phones from hell that wake you up from your deep, dark, cabin sleep with a shrill unrelenting shriek that can only mean that you are late for work. All of the phones on ships are the worst. This one might just be me…
3. You can go entire cruises without seeing daylight. This isn’t typical, but I’m embarrassed to say that once or twice I’ve gotten to day 7 (or….idk….10?) of a cruise and realize that I haven’t been outside since embarkation day. Whether it was a week full of busy days of work or I’ve just been a lazy piece of you-know-what and I’m sick of tanning (yes, its possible), I’m not sure how it happens. Usually its completely unintentional and once I realize it I go running up to the outside crew area and just stare up into the sun, baking myself for as long as possible to make up for lost time. Great idea, I’m sure.
4. To go along with #3, some companies will require you to do Port Manning. I’ve worked for two different companies, one made us do this and one didn’t, but I’ve heard it might depend on the size of the ship? I’m not sure. Basically, what this means is that you and everyone else in your “Port Manning Group” is required to stay onboard while in every port throughout the cruise. I never knew this was a thing before beginning my second contract, but there I was, manning the port every few weeks, staring out into New Orleans, Cozumel, or whatever port we were in that day dreaming of good wifi and some real food while my laundry was drying (and probably being stolen) downstairs. The real fun comes when it’s a cruise with really good ports, maybe a route we don’t normally do, and this huge black-market network ensues as people are offering all kinds of crazy trades and bribes to get I.D.’s in order to leave the ship. Hilarious. Cut-throat, serious business, but hilarious.
5. Sleeping in a windowless cabin is like crawling into a deep, dark, abyss from which you may or may not ever emerge. I did have one miraculous contract in which I had a magical unicorn of a cabin with my very own porthole. *sigh* However, the rest of my time on ships I had little black boxes bestowed upon me into which I was shoved and told to live. Ok, so its not that bad. Although, from someone who has always been notoriously known as the early bird amongst my friends, I went through a bizarre slumber transformation in my new floating vessel of a home. Waking up in the pitch black, looking at my phone and seeing 2:00, of course I would assume that meant AM….nope. I don’t know what it is, but your body just gets no clues to wake up and there you are waking up in the middle of the day in the most confused and bumbling state. Is it raining outside? Who knows. Better turn on the TV to the forward camera view before you even try to attempt emerging from your cave and beginning the day.
6. You’ll consume so much alcohol. Ok, so this one is not that unexpected, and obviously it depends on the person. However, in my experience, there can be a lot of alcohol involved in ship life. Show is over, shall we drink an entire bottle of wine in your cabin? No boat drill tomorrow morning, head to the crewbz for a bevvy? Formal night, how about judging guests’ questionable decisions while sipping vodka at the club. Days off consist of: drinking on the beach in the morning, drinking at the pier before you back get on the ship, pre-gaming in someone’s cabin, having a few cheap ones at the crew bar, maybe a martini while we watch the band, how about a glass of wine at the piano bar, comedy, sure I’ll get the beers, aaaaaand back to the crew bar we go until it closes at which time we buy as many drinks we’re allowed from the aggravated bartender and take them all back to someone else’s cabin where we more than likely wake up their roommate and have security called on us. What else are you going to do when all of your friends live down the hall from you? I’m going to go out on a limb and say its probably not the healthiest way to live, but its like college without the classes, and you’ve never experienced FOMO until you can literally hear the party happening a few doors down while you’re “trying to be productive” or whatever. (This post is brought to you by: Run-on Sentences Anonymous)
7. You’ll acquire a lot of really strange professional photos of yourself. Picture this, you’ve had a few cocktails, you’ve been out with your friends all night, and then it happens. You stumble upon about 15 professional photographers and their booths trying to lure guests into having overpriced photos taken. Cut to two minutes later, when you and 12 other crew members are crammed in front of a backdrop of some fancy living room or cheesy beach scene. You’re wearing sombreros, you’re sporting mustaches, someone found a boa at the James Bond themed booth next door. At least they’ll come out better than ones taken at the crew party photo booths…
8. There is so much training. When I signed on as a singer, I was pretty sure my main job would be, oh I don’t know, singing? NO NO, HONEY. I can now manage crowds, politically correctly address any individual, identify distressed crew members, evacuate theatres, load lifeboats (supposedly), and there is photographic evidence of me in a pool somewhere flipping over life rafts. There are hours and hours of corporate and safety training involved in working on ships, but usually they provide coffee and pastries so its all good.
9. The Phantom Banging. No, not that kind, you rascal. Get your head out of the gutter. Imagine this: you’re finally back from a particularly long, hot, possibly hungover boat drill, you’ve got a few golden hours before you have to start getting ready for work. So you close your door, turn off the lights, crawl into bed, and just as you begin to fall asleep…..TING TING TING, BANG BANG, BOOM BOOM BOOM! (Or something along those unruly lines.) It is incessant, it always comes at the very worst times, and you have absolutely no earthly idea where its coming from. I’m guessing its maintenance working on some remote part of the ship and the metal just carries the sound? I have no idea, but it is the worst.
10. You now have couches to sleep on all over the world. I’ve already visited ship friends all over the place and it’s the best! Catching up with your mates in the real world is so great, and what better way to travel than with a local as a guide? The family lifestyle is so real onboard that I’ve even stayed with my ship friends’ parents before (shout out to you, Steve & PJ!) I might not know anyone in my hometown anymore, but I’ve got places to stay on almost every continent. I’ll take that any day!
11. You might just fall in love onboard. Its happened to me, its happened to almost everyone I know. Its beautiful, its challenging, and it can be completely real even though sometimes it feels like a dream after you’ve both packed your bags and gone your separate ways.
12. Ship life is amazing (even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way in the moment.) I had a moment of clarity this morning. I remember sitting in my cabin on the ship so many times dreaming and yearning so much for my car and the freedom of just going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Today, as I sat in 90 minutes of Atlanta traffic on the way to band rehearsal, getting honked at and rudely gestured to by rude drivers, all I wanted was to be back on the ship living the carefree, strange, and totally unique life that is ship life. The moral of the story is that the grass is always greener on the other side. Ship life has its ups and downs, but in the end, its an unforgettable and unbeatable experience that I’m so grateful I’ve got to have.