Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.
"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.
A Letter to Home
Often I have been asked: What is a typical day in the life of a shipboard crewmember? The best way to express our feelings is in writing a letter or an e-mail to our families back home. These dispatches tell of the highs of cruise life -- making friends onboard and learning new skills, not to mention visiting new places -- and the lows -- long hours, cramped quarters and months away from loved ones.
Here's a letter I might have written when I was a member of the cruise staff.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know it's been at least a month since I've written -- many apologies. Life passes so much more quickly onboard! Still, my time is running out, and I feel ... bittersweet about that.
Goodness, five more weeks and home. I'm so tired. I can't wait to see all of you, my dog, my bed and my friends. It is getting hard to be nice anymore. Whether I'm annoyed with my friends or with the passengers, who knows? But I'm exhausted. Concerning the passengers though, they are on vacation; it isn't their fault, it is just that I'm coming to the end of my contract and feeling wiped out.
Get this -- I was sleeping so hard one night that I woke up with a sudden start believing I was dreadfully late for work. It was a marathon to get dressed. With my heart leaping out of my mouth, I navigated the corridors to my work place; only, to reach my destination with no one there. It was 4 a.m., not 9 a.m. My timing is so off kilter.
And yet there are still great days. Today, we arrived in St. Thomas, and after six hours of duty, I had nearly three hours off to venture ashore for some fresh air before the ship sailed and evening activities began. While many of my fellow staffers had already taken off for the day (or, alas, were stuck onboard working), I was able to pair up with one of the singers in the show who was still around, and we went to Magen's Bay. When we got there, we found a beach full of white sand and aqua color water to jump in. Too, there were crew from the casino and gift shop, as well as a couple of engine room officers, so we joined them and shared gossip and stories. While I was swimming, I saw a few passengers from the ship and went over to say hello and then went back to my towel to get some color. Often going out we will run into passengers, and though we may want some downtime, it's really important to at least say hi.
Coming back in the taxi, I was thinking of all the places I have been and what I have been through in such a short time. I've visited 18 countries, watched 3 medical helicopter evacuations, viewed death, experienced 4 hurricanes, visited 3 glaciers, tossed about on rough seas, met movie stars and 62 nationalities -- and still have an absolute desire for more. It is awesome.
I suddenly realized I have to get serious about packing. After 10 months here, you can't believe how much stuff I've collected -- mostly clothes and shoes. But I also have a new camera, a new computer and a new DVD player. Figuring out a way to get these things home is going to be a huge challenge, but it's hard to resist the shopping impulse when the ship visits duty-free places like St. Thomas, Aruba and St. Maarten every other week! The prices are just too good.
And I bought some amusing souvenirs for you guys, like paintings by Caribbean artists, some wooden figurines, linen and ornaments for our Christmas tree. As crew, our luggage allowance is 70 pounds instead of the normal 50, but it still isn't enough room. I want to keep everything my friends and the passengers have given me -- it is all part of my experiences. I need to decide what to keep, what to give away or what to send home.
Some T-shirts and things I can give to the orphanages in the ports of call. In some of these ports, a group of us have helped to clean beaches, painted an abuse center and delivered gifts to an orphanage -- the kids were overwhelmed with giddiness. These experiences have opened my mind in a lot of ways. Kind of hard to explain, but I guess I have found a more caring side of myself than I knew existed.
I have met some really interesting passengers. They ask us a lot of questions of where we are from and why we are working on the ship. One couple asked me if this was a real job! I don't have to think about that one. Of course it is a real job (and -- at times -- then some). We face the same stresses and challenges as everyone does at work though of course most people don't live where they work.
The best part about getting to know passengers, most of whom speak English to some degree, is to learn about their lives. Conversations always begin with "where are you from?" and sometimes the answers are so fascinating we don't get much beyond that! I'm encouraged to learn more about places like Scotland, South Africa, China and Japan. And they in turn are quite intrigued about working on a ship -- and want to know about behind the scenes details. But it's important to remember that they're here to relax. Many are just trying to get away from their busy lives at home. Some have confessed that they simply want to drink and not have to think about driving. Others lose their shirts in the casino, and others are taking total advantage of the spa, still losing their shirts -- but all in all, these are the people who wind up with the best stories. There's always a tale to tell.
I've met some characters too that I would like to keep in contact with because they were just fun to be with and made it fun for me to work.
In spite of feeling happy and excited to be going home, I'm rather sad too. I'm so used to this job; the traveling and meeting people are the highlights for me, as well as the fact that I really like what I do. I haven't the stress of commuting every day (at most, it's a five-minute walk to work!). I like that the scenic backdrop of my life changes every day. But as you know, the toughest part is the long hours for long stretches at a time without a full day off. A close second to the biggest challenge is I miss you both and I miss my friends at home. But I have friends here, too, and it's sad to leave them.
On this ship, I've become especially close to two women. One's from England, the other's from Canada. Our enforced close quarters -- whether working or playing -- means that we get to know each other very, very well! I don't want to think that I might not see them again or only communicate with them by phone or letter. And there's been a romance! I've been dating Rafael, a very sweet man from the outskirts of Bucharest; he's a waiter. We've had a marvelous time getting to know each other, hanging in the crew bar after work, taking walks off the ship on short stints of in-port downtime.
What happens when my contract ends and I leave the ship? This time around, I already have a contract in hand to come back after a few months off, but they don't know what ship I'll end up on. The Caribbean's been great, but I have asked for a ship that goes to Asia as I have never been there before. On the other hand, my Canadian friend doesn't even have a contract in hand, even though her current assignment is winding up. Once home, she will have to call the office several times to push to see where they want her to go or if they will hire her back. That is the scary part of it.
Once we walk off this ship, there is just a sudden end to it all. Of course we'll stay friends, but it won't be the same.
We're all wondering as well if we'll continue and come back for another contract or not. But there's always the "what if" series of questions to contemplate: Will our relationships continue? What if we are separated and find ourselves on different vessels? That's a likely scenario, but it sure makes it hard, particularly with Rafael, to maintain any kind of relationship momentum if we never see each other.
Still, you know how I am -- regardless of all my end-of-contract worries, I know that once I've been home awhile and have rested, I'll find myself aching for the sea again. It is rather a mystifying life.