Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Life of the Crew and a Request for Reader Comments

WOW! What an explosion of interest in the last day!  Thank you for checking in to trumpettravels to the hear the real life story of an American trumpet player who joined the cruise ships on a whim and ended up sailing into the sunset for over ten years.

I want to talk more about the crew on the ship, but first I have a favor. I have so much information about ports of call all over the world, different lines and different ships, crew members, jobs, and the ambiance of the major cruise lines.  I would love to write about what you, the reader, would be most interested in to hear. I have no agenda for writing this blog and because I recently got a job on land I can now express how I feel about the entire industry without reservation.  Before, I could not show my feelings about everything because I was a representative of my company and it was unethical.  I certainly have no grudge against anyone, I cherish my years at sea, but if you want to know the dirt, I'm happy to layer it on.

So, READERS, what do YOU want to know about the ships?  The crew life? You know when you ask that crew member how he likes the job and every single one say they love it?  If you could get a 100% honest answer, WHAT WOULD YOU ASK someone who has done it all and seen everything?  All comments welcome and depending on volume I will try to address as much as possible as we go from week to week.

OK, let me write a few words about the crew and we'll see where that takes us.

What is the "CREW" on a ship? The crew are the ones who basically do everything.  EVERYTHING.  Officers look good in stripes and give orders, staff members have fun and have certain skills that award them privileges, but if you banged on the door of a cruise line today completely void of any skills, you would probably start at the bottom of the pecking order.  I don't want to sound condescending but most crew who are hired on the ship are completely unskilled.  Through years of service and dedication they become the witty, joking, smiling, English-speaking crew member you remember from your last cruise.  How do they do it?  Let's take an example.

Eddy has just been hired out of trade school from the Phillipines. His father and uncles have worked on cruises, so he knew someone at the agency.  His cousins have either gone to Hong Kong as house servants or off to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, but Eddy wants to be like his Dad, a retired head waiter.

Joining the ship he starts in the crew mess.  He helps run the crew dining room buffet. After a six month contract he goes home, saving half his pay.  Next contract he starts in the crew mess.  His smile and attitude grant him promotion to staff mess.  This is a sit down dinner and he starts fetching plates from the main galley for staff members.  He's now receiving tips from the staff members supplementing his income.  He's sending alot more money home now to a 30+ group of extended family members who can now start a small taxi business and a take out lunch hut near Manilla. During his contract a new build enters the company and there is a big movement to bring the most experienced crew members to that ship. Eddy isn't one, but the promotion vacuum sucks him up to officers mess.  Eddy is confident and his English is very good now.  The officers give him a tough time.  He smiles and is professional.  The officers are tipping less strangely because they make more, but that is the way it is.  By the end of his second contract, Eddy is up at the passenger buffet helping out and bringing drinks.

After one year of service a crew member like "Eddy" can move to the dining room and eventually work his way up the food chain to F&B manager if he is talented enough.  Can you imagine having no opportunities a home and having the world at your feet on a ship?  The chances are really great on the ship.

Now with the tipping on a ship. NOBODY likes to hear this and EVERYBODY thinks they know better.  I'm sorry, but I have been in this industry for over ten years. 

I used to wait tables in college.  It was at a Tony Romas BBQ Rib joint.  BBQ Rib joints in America attract a certain slice of society and that certain slice does not like to tip.  I may be prejudiced here, but it is an informed prejudice.  I worked and got stiffed there for a whole year. NOW when I go to a restaurant if a waitress drops her gum in my soup or ignores us I would seriously still tip 10%. Because I've been there and I know the pain of working a BUSY Sunday all day and walking home with $10.

Now, for the tipping. Your luggage may have been late, the ship may have iron your shirts wrong, and it is the policy of EVERY cruise line that gratuities are OPTIONAL (with the exception of lines where tipping is forbidden) - BUT it isn't right to cancel your gratuities onboard.  I know.  Suddenly I'm unpopular and I've totally lost your interest.  It just isn't right to cancel those tips.

Did you know the average salary of a worker on the ship who works for gratuities? FIFTY DOLLARS A MONTH. Seriously. $50/month.  Does anyone have any idea what it would be like to do cruise where you have 14 cabins to take care of where the passengers are very demanding and at the end make next to ZERO?  It happens. ALOT. Especially on ships with a lot of British passengers.  The Brits will spend $100 on some beers at lunch (IN ONE DAY!), but take off all the gratuities at the end of their cruise.

Everyone's heard, "Yeah, but I like to hand out the cash."  You know who says that? People that cancel the tips and walk off the ship.  Don't think I'm a pessimist.  I talked to waiters and cabin stewards for ten years and especially when we were sailing from England they were all crying to come back to the states where people recognize service.

The crew on the ship are incredibly hard working.  Are they perfect?  Of course not.  Training is a constant uphill struggle!  Some, especially the Romanian or Eastern European, can come across as rude.  Most are sweet and trying to do a good job.

Hey, if someone's service isn't up to par, let him know! Tell him, but don't stiff him.  If it is really bad and you do take the grats off, remember the grats cover your waiter and all the dining staff and you cabin steward.  Don't punish one for the other's wrong doing.  And have the balls to explain WHY you stiffed them so they don't think you're a jerk and they can improve.

Well, that's the last you'll hear of that!  If you comment on the tips, take it easy on me.  I'm simply trying to inform everyone of the crew members perspective and I hope you've got a taste of that now.

What to come next?  I think I'm going to start to talk about actually getting on a ship for the first time and finding my wat around.  Thanks for tuning in!  Why not "follow me." Have you used GOOGLE READER? Add me! Leave a comment and tell me what you think.