I worked on a cruise ship after college—here’s what I learned

This time last year I was fresh out of university. I graduated with a degree in politics and economics, and was worried about my career prospects. I had been job hunting for months without luck and was beginning to get frustrated. I considered taking some time to go off traveling, but couldn’t afford to do that. I was banking close to 40 hours a week in the supermarket I’d worked weekends in since I was 18, wondering how I ended up there and when I would get out.

It was about this time that I decided to apply for a job at sea, working in the duty free gift shops, after speaking to a friend who was doing it. This was my chance to get out of my small town, to travel, and get some money at the same time. After a lengthy application process, I was offered a position on a small British ship catering to the older vacationing set. I spent six months on board and had the best time of my life, and I also learnt a lot of really important life lessons.

Working on a boat taught me a lot about discipline

While I had worked hard throughout school and at my part-time job, I wasn’t prepared for just how much you had to put in to working on a cruise ship. My first day on the ship, I worked 7 hours through awful sea sickness. The next day I pulled a thirteen hour shift, and they day after that. You get the picture. Thirteen hours was standard for a sea day, and a day spent in port meant waking up early, going out all day to see the sights, then coming back to ship and working until quite late at night.

Working in a team of only two – unusual for ships, but ours was a small one – meant we did more than just working in the shop, we had to cart around all of our stock in heavy boxes, especially on delivery days. My feet had never known pain like they felt for the first few weeks, and I had never been so tired from trying to cram so much into my time. A rare overnight stay in a port would mean a whole day off work, something which I had once been used to having at least once a week, not once every few months. But I soon became used to it.

You can become friends at sea with people you wouldn’t expect

If I look at the friends I made on the ship and the friends I made at home, they are completely different. While my friends at home are friends I made at school or work, mostly from the same age group and town as me, my friends on the ship were from a range of ages, countries, and careers. It might be said that you don’t really have much choice when your options are limited, but either way I made some lasting friendships that I wouldn’t have if I’d been on land.

Cabin fever is so real

While I spent most of my time at sea working, being confined to the ship, especially when you have multiple sea days in a row, can drive you a little crazy. My worst was seven sea days in a row travelling from the UK to the Caribbean. The days really do drag on at work but there are plenty of things to do in the evenings, from crew parties out on the open decks to karaoke nights.

If you’re lucky enough to have deck privileges as a perk of your job, you can even go and join the passengers watching shows and attending formal nights. On most ships, crew are subject to something called “In Port Manning.” This means that when the ship is in port, a certain percentage of crew have to remain on board, so every now and then, it won’t even be a sea day and you’ll be confined to the ship. On these days most crew members take the time to catch up on sleep, head to the gym, or do their laundry.

You have to efficiently split your time between sightseeing and finding wifi

It may seem ridiculous that when you’re traveling the world,  you’d be concerned about finding wifi but it’s true. When you’re away from home for months at a time – some crew members can spend up to nine months at sea – you can really miss your friends and family and you can feel like you’re becoming out of touch with your world back home. Wifi isn’t a given on the ship, and using your phone is expensive. So hunting for internet cafes becomes as important as seeing the sights.

No one believes that you actually have to work

Friends and family back home see the countless photos you upload on social media and assume you spend all of your time wondering around amazing places. What they don’t see is all the hours you put into work (because let’s be honest, who wants to upload hundreds of photos of themselves looking tired beyond belief during a thirteen-hour shift?) It is surprisingly hard to convince your friends back home that you actually have a job.

Home will be there when you’re done

Finally, when you arrive back home having spent the last six months in one of the fastest paced working environments in the world, where there are constant changes – the place you are, the people who constantly leave and the new ones that arrive – you’ll see that not much has really changed back on land. If you’ve really enjoyed your time at sea you’ll be desperate to get back, despite knowing you’ll miss all your friends and family as soon as you go.

While working at sea isn’t for everyone, I’d be surprised by someone who said they didn’t learn anything from it, even if they only lasted a few weeks. Working on a ship is honestly the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d recommend it for anyone who thinks they want to see the world and earn some money. Win-win!

Sian McGuinness is a Politics with Economics graduate from the UK who is currently seeing the world by working on board a cruise ship. She can be found on Twitter at @SianMcG or on her blog sianmcguinness.wordpress.com.

[Image via ABC]

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