Thinking of taking a luxury cruise to exotic ports of call? Dream of all you can eat buffets and vegas style stage shows? Being pampered by wonderful staff who cater to your every whim? If you do not want your dream vacation bubble burst leave here and head right on down to your local travel agent because I am about to reveal the real cruise ship vacation experience, un-edited, unfiltered or fluffed ( not in the porn film fluffing sense that would be just wrong.) The Good, The Bad and the Ugly truly ugly side of cruising today.
About my experience and provenance for writing this blog;
I have worked for 4 different cruise lines, owned by two different cruise companies
I have held 5 different positions on-board modern cruise ships
4 years of cruise ship experience with an average contract time of 4 months on 2 months off.
Over 100 different ports of call
over 7 grand in booze and cigarettes spent on-board when drinks are a buck and smokes are a buck fifty.
Sailed in 3 major hurricanes ( 2 of which were Katrina, and Wilma) 1 on-board homicide, 3 crew overboards 8 passenger over boards and 2 rafts of Cubans.
A brief History of Cruising:
We all have seen “Titanic” and or the “The Love Boat” saw the romance, the luxury, the horrible Kathy Lee Gifford commercials. Cruising changed in the seventies from a way to transport people transcontinental to a destination travel experience, thanks to cheap and fast commercial air travel.
The First to figure out that people would want to float on a hotel for days gorging themselves and staring at locals in far away ports like animals in a zoo where, Royal Caibbean Cruise lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruise Lines, Holland American Lines, and everyone's Favorite Carnival Cruise Lines.
These were ships with endless parties, food, and promises of romance and adventure. These halcyon days did not last long. In the 90's things began to change.It became all about on-board Revenue, how to separate you from your money while you are on the ship. I was directly involved in these activities in all but one of my on-board jobs and as senior management, I was responsible for the removal on money and was very good at it.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!:
You see that great ad in the paper for a 5 day cruise for 199.99 in the paper and go “Wow, a 5 day vacation for 200 bucks that is 40 bucks a day!”. Yes and No here is why;
This does not include taxes port fees (which depending on the third world country you visit can range from 20 bucks to 200 bucks a port)
Yes the food is free, kinda, let me explain. The main dining room is free, the buffet is free, burgers and junk food on the pool deck is free. The specialty restaurants are usually charging a cover from 10 to 50 bucks a head. Now they are even charging for room service after 11pm.
Drinks are free! Again kinda, water (not bottled, trust me you don't want to drink the tap water read more about this later), coffee (not Seattles best that is extra) tea and juice is free. Pop, Soda, wine, beer and booze you pay for.
Tipping some cruise lines include tips but not the average ones the 10k a week ones yes. So at least 10 dollars a day for your cabin steward, another 15 a day for your server and asst. server.
The Golden Fleecing!:
Here is how we separate you and your hard earned recession money. And we are better at it than Bernnie Madoff after a 8 ball of premium blow. Here is the true rundown.
I was in charge of on-board revenue for a ship, my job was to make the cruise profitable. The moment we pull away from our home port I knew just how much each passenger had to spend each day for the ship to make a profit, each man, woman and child.I was called (PPD Per Passenger Per Day) I knew how many times you have cruised, what cabin you are in, where you are from, and at any time what you are spending your money on. I knew just how many bottles of Corona I had to sell, or how many massages and facials I needed to push. When you board you are given a key card called a a-pass (each line gives it a special name, like “Sea Pass, or “Sign and Sail”. In short this is your photo id, charge card and room key all in one. It is also my little window on your wallet. I can see at any moment what you are spending your money on and, how many times you have cruise, cabin, and if you are on the ship or not.
Armed with this info we do the following;
Drink specials at certain times in certain bars during certain activities to drive booze sales.(don't try to bring your own booze on-board we x-ray everyone's bags and remove said booze and intern it in the naughty room *Real Name)Ships make 50% of their profit on Booze
The Casino; blackjack tournaments, poker, slots. On-Board Casino slots payout way less than their shore based brothers and sister. Laws of the sea are different than laws on land. I feel like a pirate now.
The Spa: what woman does not want to be pampered on vacation. The markup at the Spa is over 800% and the staff are forced to push over priced skin care product. We target you ladies before formal night for up doos and facials and yes now you men with onboard barbers. On some ships we even had acupucture, botox and teeth whitening.....Hear the money leaving your kids college fund yet?
Shore Tours! Just because you are leaving the ship does not mean we dont get your money!Take a tour most of which pretty much suck. Expect to spend $50 to $500 for a few hours of touristness joy and sometimes sorrow. (more on that later)
Do You Live to Shop! Are you a shop-a-holic.looking for great duty free buys on-board well we will bombard you with retail opportunities the second you set foot on the good ship lollipop.The shops on-board promise you with great deals on designer baubles and bright shiny objects. You will be drawn into them like a magpie to key fob.So Moose are there deals on-board? Yes there are but you have to be smart. Remember I am watching your every financial move. Watches, Booze, and handbags are good buys at very good prices. Stay away from the $10 store it is a floating $1 store with products made by 5 year olds in some of the countries you may be visiting on your cruise. I actually know some gift shop workers who have gotten sick from the chemical fumes coming off these products in the ships store rooms.
Art Auctions: DO NOT BUY ART ON A SHIP FOR THE SAKE OF GOD!
DO NOT BUY FINE JEWELRY ON THE SHIP! It is crap and over priced the really good stuff is on shore. I will talk about that later. We have trunk sales, VIP sales, jewelery unveilings all to separate you from your money. Ads in the ships daily paper, ads over the ships P.A. System, Pushed at shows and events by your friendly greedy cruise director. And endlessly looped on your cabin T.V. (Think of it as The Stockholm Syndrome)
One last thing in the shops to avoid at all costs! INCH OF GOLD, it is not gold and will turn faster than th French army in WW Two. (The shop staff call it “inch of mold & “inch of shit”, and hate selling it. They would rather mine salt in Siberia in a speedo than sell it.
he Ship and it's Crew!:
Today's ships are a far cry from the steamers of old ( Not to be confused with a Boston Steamer if you don't know what that is google it but do not blame me for what you see). They are now designed to separate you from your money in style and sensory overload. Ships today have, discos, karaoke bars, a plethora of pools, spas (see above fleecing), ziplines, climbing wall, mini golf and every activity under the sun. These are the fun parts.
Cabins; vary from inside no windows prison sized rooms to multi-floored suites with your own butler. The skies the limit. I suggest a balcony room so you can escape our constant need to take your money and relax. Your cabin steward or stewardess with clean and put down your bed 3 times a day ( it is amazing how hard these people work) and leave wonderful towel origami on your bed everyday
Capt: The master of the vessel and usually a drunk and cheating on his wife. (One Capt I knew died of alcohol poisoning the night before a all capt meeting in Miami). He does not care about you personally, his job is the sail the ship safely and save money on fuel. Really just an administrator with a permission to touch you in your special places.
Staff Capt: He or she is actually the working boss on board. Runs the navigation, safety and discipline on board. He does not care about you either.
Hotel Director / Chief Purser: They run the hotel end of the ship and all the hotel staff and crew They only want your money and want you to come back and give him or here more of your money. They get huge bonuses. Some hotel dir. Make upwards of 600k a year and that is 4 months on two months off.. They too are usually drunks and cads. If you want something demand to speak to the hotel director. HINT: see him after 2pm when he is drunk you will get what you want.
Cruise Director: Julie from the “Love Boat: no, Tacky sweet used car sales man / sleezy lounge act who can relieve you of your last dime while making you swoon YES. This particular breed of cruise ship personality spent way too many years failing as a actor, dancer, singer or comedian and traded their souls for easy cash and a never ending supply of young male dancers and Filipino cabin boys. They are the lowest on any ship board moral scale and usually incredibly narcissistic and can be seen preening in every mirror on the ship ( and there are tons), looking at their own head shots, going on about all the failed shows they we on, or pressing you with their fake smiles. Cruise directors can make upwards of 200k a year by emptying your wallet.
Do not trust them, believe them or remain alone with one alone in a non-glass elevator.
Cruise Staff: The minions of the Cruise Director, they run all the activities on board and all hope to someday become as greasy and fake as the boss and will generally stab each other in the back more than anyone on “Big Brother”. The girls will only sleep with someone on board who can get them ahead or has a single cabin with room service and big bed, regardless of age, looks, martial status or species. The Boys if they are straight are raving drunks and will sleep with your daughters at any given chance. They are usually not social climbers but are spending their time onboard escaping life ashore for cheap booze, sun and third world prostitution.
The Boys of the gay variety will sleep with your sons, production dancers and claw their way into the bosses seat at every given chance.
The rest of the Crew;
They are hard working, extremely hard working people from a average of 56 countries trying to make a living. Most enjoy there work and you. They usually work for 8 months on the ship with no day off.and share a cabin that is as small as most American prison cells. Service staff live or die by tips so please take care of them. I love and respect most of the ones I have worked with.
What the Crew does when they are not working:
They get stinking drunk, months of working with no day off in small cramped quarters. We drink every night because it is cheap a buck a drink or shot and twice a month a party that is free to drink. We sleep with each other like Mormon rabbits. It gets very incestuous. I promise you that. If there is ever a accident on board you better hope it is during the day because at night all bets are off. I have personally drank so much that I passed out on my toilet.
Thinking of cruising? It is better to know what you are getting yourself into it can be a fun and exciting experience that you will remember for years or a financial hell.
In Part 2 Shore Side Fun and Ports of Call.