"At the Captain's Table" is Cruise Critic's original series of stories penned by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis. Joyce knows the ins and outs of life onboard -- both as a cruise ship staff member and as the wife of Celebrity Cruises' venerable Captain Adamidis -- and offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on issues facing cruisers and the cruise industry.
On one two-week cruise, the Spanish flamenco dancer was seeing the Captain. One Belgian hostess was, for a time, sharing the Italian band leader's cabin (then later, the one occupied by the American host) and the English female singer of the duo was with the Italian saxophonist. An English male singer was with an American hostess, one Australian telephone operator was substituting for the wife of the Greek chief electrician and the other English operator was engaged to a Greek steward.
Romantic interludes, whether temporary or long-term, run rampant on cruise ships.
There will always be onboard affairs -- from the Captain's quarters on down -- deck by deck, department by department. The constant day-in and day-out life onboard is a veritable melting pot. Combine tight living quarters, long working days, and months of duty (often with few days off) that keep crew away from established friends and families -- and the pot bubbles and steams, stirring up heated dramas and dramatic scenes. For crewmembers, romance is unlike anything folks experience on land -- where you start off in separate living quarters and can take a "time out" by going to work or seeing pals. Onboard ships, time and space exist in the same, well, time and space. Until each staffer's contract (and they range from three months for the most senior officers to up to a year for some junior workers) is up, a break is non existent.
And even as ships have gotten bigger, and crew have become more spread out (with different positions being housed, in some cases, in various parts of ships), the basic positives and negatives of onboard romance have stayed the same.
The Real Scoop
On my first contract the ratio of women to men was 5 to 100. As a result, females could really pick and choose ... and were often the subject of relentless pursuit. One of the oddest dynamics was a scramble that occurred every 14 days or so (my first ship sailed two-week voyages); the cast of characters would change as contracts ended -- and others began.
Today, the score is about even between women to men with more diverse ages and nationalities to heighten interest. But it's still the same old three-ring circus (whose performances tend to be fairly continuous). It's easy to understand why: With 500 to 2,000 crew living in one place -- and with the job's natural byproduct of being months away from home at sea -- people naturally seek out companionship as they miss family and friends.
Once you've become, er, fond of someone, gaining their attention is easy since most work regular shifts, eat together in the crew mess, celebrate together at parties and enjoy the gossip. Each ship literally is an island (and like island living, privacy is nearly impossible to achieve). It isn't like you can meet up with a new crush at a bar at home (with no one knowing) or for dinner. In fact, candlelit dinners and movies away from "home" onboard are almost un-gettable luxuries. That's why time together is pretty much spent in respective cabins -- or in front of co-workers.
And as a result there's generally no shortage of commentary -- pro or con -- from fellow crewmembers who get to watch your relationship play out.
Other Potential Pitfalls
What's oft amusing is that an onboard relationship is like pushing fast-forward on a remote control. Though time passes quickly, not for a second is time wasted. On land, relationships are considered normal with slow development; on the ship, it is accelerated. If you are not compatible, you promptly move on. For some who have never been lavished with such attention, it can all be somewhat overwhelming. It takes willpower and strength to hew to your priorities.
Often, crew romance is filled with pratfalls. Affairs can become variations of Shakespeare's classic Montagues and Capulets (or the more contemporary Hatfields and McCoys). Flaunting a relationship is not recommended -- it's neither diplomatic nor, in some cases, safe in such a confined environment. I'll never forget the interplay, so to speak, between a Bulgarian girl and two competitive suitors, having witnessed her being taken over by a Greek safety officer and then taken back by her Bulgarian boyfriend -- with a hatchet.
The safety officer found safety only at the next port and left the ship.
Jealousies are the worst downside. An ex of my one-time beau actually entered my cabin, pulled one of my formal gowns (my favorite, naturally) from the closet, and ripped it apart with scissors, scattering sequins everywhere. A Canadian co-worker once threw away the work clothes of a Honduran woman because the Honduran was developing a close rapport with my co-worker's Polish boyfriend. One night, a Jamaican singer found out that his secret affair with an American singer was not so secret when her Italian band member boyfriend broke down the cabin door and beat him up.
One interesting byproduct of today's international crew is living among people from other cultures. That definitely leads to some uncharted territories when it comes to having relationships. With a mix, literally, of 50-plus nationalities, traditions, cultures and differences there's both a positive and a negative affect.
The positive is having a respectful appreciation in learning the ways of others, building friendships. The negative is trying to blend two cultures. The Indonesian Muslim and the Filipina Christian who had spent four-and-a-half years together, secure in the tolerance and the support of the crew, ran into a glitch when the parents were at last told. Each then wanted the other to convert but nobody could, neither did, and they broke up. I remember an Orthodox Greek man who fell in love with an Irish Catholic girl. Again, they were beloved and supported by co-workers. But on shore, each yielded to their own upbringings. He married an Orthodox Greek woman; she was wed to an Irish Catholic man. They have, however, enjoyed a tryst each of the past 22 years. Neither was able to say goodbye to the other.
How Do Cruise Lines React to Onboard Romance?
At most cruise lines, "policy" so to speak is vague (though some are more tolerant of requests by long-time and committed couples to cohabitate than others). Basically, it's frowned upon but since no one is around from the line's corporate office to tell crewmembers it's a no-no, it's not a huge deal. However, crew department heads do keep an eye out to make sure it does not interfere with work.
Universally, if one of the crewmembers has a spouse at home, they'll be in disrepute for violating "vows"; when it's two unattached individuals the field is theirs to play. If any relationship develops into problems, one of the two or both may be transferred or dismissed. And ramifications can be severe; a crewmember can be sent home for creating disruption.
These are not permitted at all but of course romance ignites between passengers and crewmembers from time to time. My favorite story is the couple who met up on their ship's helipad one night for a bit of pleasure without noticing they were spotlighted from the bridge. This story actually has a happy ending; they're married today and have three kids (the first a result of the unforgettable night).
Less positive stories of passengers who've taken up with crewmembers (and vice versa) have ended with the crewmember being forced to pack his/her bags to be sent home immediately. Sometimes regret has popped up with one or the other claiming they were forced upon. For all concerned, this takes on very serious implications and different directions.
A Word About Passenger, Er, Moments
Of course the close confines of a ship can inspire passengers to find a romantic outlet among their fellow cruise travelers but I hope you'll trust me when I say -- be discreet.
Once, during a safety drill (the entire passenger base was on the open deck), I heard what sounded like someone in pain. Imagine my surprise when I found a buck naked couple in the life boat, during the drill! And my favorite is a couple who couldn't go to their individual cabins because, they claimed, their roommates were sleeping. Their only option, as they saw it? The late-night service elevator. Guess who walked in?
In the end, the romances I remember are the ones that lasted, those that survived the process of adapting from ship to shore. My own story is one of these; ironically, it didn't start out looking too promising. Though he was ruggedly attractive, my flame didn't spark the necessary fireworks on first impressions. As well, he was my boss (well, the boss of the whole ship as he was its captain) and being forced to see him day and night -- and having him pick on the smallest of details while offering constant assessment -- was, shall we say, no aphrodisiac.
Ultimately, I was drawn to his extreme honesty and high integrity; he sharpened my curiosity, cooled my temper and dared me to meet the challenge. He being a macho Greek and me being a typical outspoken American, we clash in all respects, from politics to everyday life, but amazingly we continue to find our way, having transitioned from onboard to off. My American passport is stored next to that of my Greek husband.
Others too have made it work from crew days to a new life and have been enriched by the combination. Happy marriages were made between friends with different cultures and backgrounds, like a Canadian friend and her Swede, a Filipina co-worker and her Spaniard, a Japanese acquaintance and her American, a Brit and an Israeli. The list of unifications goes on....
And the best thing? Our traditions are intact and enhanced by the addition of the other culture we embraced.