Diary of a Cruise Ship Girl
I was an inexperienced, dependent girl from Montreal when I chose to make a change. In the summer of 2011, I made the decision to work abroad on a cruise ship as a Seasonal Youth Counselor. When I arrived onboard the Norwegian Pearl in Seattle, I quickly realized that my lodgings consisted of three roommates living in a small room and food that was so greasy it looked like it came right out of the oil tank at the bottom of the ship. It was a new, fast-paced life that involved lots of energy and constant awareness. I came into this novel environment, having no prior ship-life experience and knowing no one. Originally, when I applied for the job, I assumed I would be ready to step outside of my box and tread water in the real world. I thought that this job would give me the independence that I needed in my life, but I was very wrong. Many co-workers immediately labeled me as the “weird new girl.” I received no eye contact, no friends, and rare enjoyments.
It was an awful first experience for a nineteen-year old: I fell ill four times in seven weeks, I had no family or real friends onboard that I could trust, and the whole summer I dreamt of coming home. That summer reminded me of elementary school children in the schoolyard, bullying another child. Not only did I acquire mental scars from this journey, but I also gained a physical scar on my ankle, a third degree burn from my roommate’s negligence of leaving her hair straightener on the floor.
For the rest of the summer, I tried to remain positive, to shed minimal tears and do my work to the best of my ability. Even with little sleep, I still managed to venture out into the ship destinations. I took the time to visit Seattle, Alaska and Victoria, B.C. and I went on some exciting shore excursions, like climbing the Chilkoot Trail Mountain and sledding with husky dogs. I spent a lot of my time alone on this contract, but regardless of the people I encountered, I appreciated the destinations and experiencing new places.
For some strange, imperceptible reason, I set off again on another adventure in February 2012 on the Norwegian Sky, heading to the Bahamas from Miami for nine weeks. I thought that this time, my ship-life experience might be different for me, and surprisingly, it was. This contract was by far my most prized one. I met some wonderful people of all cultures and languages, from different parts of the world. I had a wonderful roommate, and I spent a great deal of time with my coworkers who turned out to be really good friends of mine, and still are to this day.
One of my favorite things to do in Nassau was to take a bus like the locals down to Crystal Palace, this well known, but far away, prestigious hotel and casino by the water. My newfound colleagues and I would frequent this place whenever we had the time, and we would sneak into the beach area and order drinks while in the water. Often times, even if I was alone, I would go walking around Nassau and find a nice resto-bar overlooking the beach or water.
Since my second contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines was so exciting, I applied to work on the Norwegian Jade in Europe for the summer of 2012. I knew four languages (English, French, Italian and Spanish), and my supervisor onboard along with the head office decided that I should use them as often as possible; I would speak at the assemblies in the theatre on behalf of the Youth Club in Italian and French, and whenever necessary, I would translate for parents, children and other passengers. My languages were put to good use, and I enjoyed helping people. This contract was another fun-filled journey for me. I spent a lot of my time in Venice, Italy, which is where we docked every Sunday. One of the best things to do was to get lost in Italy, and talk to the locals about the best restaurants and bars to go to, with Wi-Fi of course. I must have eaten so much pizza that my skin became cheese-colored (just kidding!)
Something happened during my fourth week onboard the Jade…something overwhelming. One day, I woke up to nausea, pain in my stomach, and a horrible tension in my forehead. I went to work, tried to get through the day, but halfway through, I told my supervisor I needed medical attention immediately. Of course, the medical center was no one’s “friend,” and they sent me back to my cabin with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, expecting me to get right back to work the next day. When my three roommates came home that evening, they saw me on the floor, along with whatever I had eaten or consumed earlier. I was transported to the medical center once again, but this time for the entire night. They stuck an I.V. in my arm, deprived me of water and made me stay in the bed without any comfort. In the morning, they still had no idea what was wrong with me, so they sent me to the hospital in Izmir, Turkey, which was where we were docked. It was my first time in Turkey and I was touring it in an ambulance. I can’t say that all was bad from this experience; the hospital was pretty nice, and although the doctors did not speak one word of English, I had complete faith that they weren’t going to kill me. I guess facial expressions come in handy in emergencies. When they found out it was only a UTI (urinary tract infection), I was sent back to the ship, at which point everyone asked for me and consoled me.
I healed up fairly quickly from the not-uncommon European UTI. For the remainder of the summer, I spent my time jumping off cliffs (literally) into the water in Dubrovnik, Croatia; I went sightseeing all over Greece, Turkey and Croatia on catamarans and tours. I traveled to the loveliest places in Greece: Mykonos, Katakolon, Athens, Corfu, Oia and my favorite location Santorini. Another fun experience was getting UP to Santorini. Since our ship could not dock there, I had to take a ferry and ride a donkey up the many flights of stairs to the top of the island. Although it was not an easy ride, my little donkey-friend didn’t kill me, and I had a magnificent view of all of Santorini on the way up. And, don’t even get me started on the amazing food from all over. After eleven weeks of traveling and working onboard the Jade, by the end, I didn’t want to go home because I was having the time of my life.
I spent one more contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines in the summer of 2013. I was hired to work on the Norwegian Dawn, heading from Boston to Bermuda for thirteen weeks. The first five weeks of the contract were excellent. I met up with some friends from previous contracts, I enjoyed the scenery and all that there was to see of Bermuda. Bermuda was beautiful; so many islands all attached together, with tons of history. I really liked going to Snorkel Park Beach and Bar (and nightclub), which happened to be situated right where the ship was located. I also went to the Crystal Caves, known for its rich history and Mother Nature’s stalagmite crystals. Another fun beach was Horseshoe Bay Beach, with a view to die for. In addition, I had the BEST Mudslide I ever tasted in Hamilton, Bermuda at Flanagan’s Irish Pub. With other little excursions in between work, like the beaches, aquariums, museums, seeing the dolphins, and walks through the towns, Bermuda became like a nice summer home to me.
Halfway through my time on the Dawn, I was transferred to the newest and biggest ship at the time, the Norwegian Breakaway. I was not too pleased about this transfer, considering my parents were coming to visit me on the Dawn while I would be gone (but it worked out well).
Since the Breakaway was heading out of New York, I had a chance to meet up with some family that I had not seen in many years. Unfortunately, my time on that ship was not as agreeable as my other contracts. As it was the biggest and most esteemed ship, there were TOO many individuals onboard. I had over thirty coworkers working with me in the Kid’s and Teen Club alone, and it was rarely possible to have a decent conversation with anyone because it was all too busy all the time. There were over 1500 children running around at all times, and even on breaks it was tough to sleep. The problem with this ship was not that it was too big, it was that the people I worked with were not nice individuals. They were like selfish, uncaring, “popular” little children who cared only about people who would go out and drink with them every evening. The worst part of this contract was that the ship was overpopulated – my roommates and I were transferred multiple times to different rooms because there weren’t any rooms for us to stay in permanently. All of these things were major turnoffs for me. In any case, I made the best of it, and I found friends in other departments of the ship. Plus, I eventually came to enjoy the company of the individuals working with me in the Kid’s Club.
In the end, I am proud to have been able to remain onboard on all of the contracts and swim through the obstacles in front of me. However, I realized that even if I went abroad, my problems would follow me, and I would remain the same person. For the first and the last contract, I was a lonely girl in an ocean surrounded by unkind people, and there was no lifejacket. But for the two contracts in the middle, I made friends of a lifetime and saw some unforgettable parts of the world that we call home. All this to say that if you choose to go abroad in any capacity, for work or for school, there WILL be challenges, but if you keep your head up, and if you keep persevering, things do get better, and great things will happen along the way that will help you acquire a better understanding of yourself and of others. There will always be obstacles…but it’s your choice for how you want to get through them.