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Disney Cruise Line
Spring of 2014
For the past 5 months have been working on Disney cruise line.
The idea of working on a cruise ship came to me a couple years ago, and after researching it, I decided it would be a great way to save money and travel.
I applied to several different cruise lines last fall. I got lucky and was contacted by Disney.
After 3 months of interviews and screenings, I was on my way to work in the children’s program on the Disney Fantasy. The Fantasy is the newest and largest of the Disney fleets. It stretches over 1,100 feet and is 14 decks high. It holds over 4000 guest and 1,500 crew members.
I thought back to my last trip to New York; passing thousands of people on the sidewalk, knowing I would never see any of them again, feeling so small in what seemed to be chaos.
That’s how it felt.
I was flown to Disney world, put up in a Disney hotel, and for three days underwent “Disney” training. On the third day we were let out early and given passes to the parks.
The next morning we got up unreasonable early and boarded a bus to Port Canaveral.
As we drove into sight of the Disney Fantasy, my heart turned upside down inside me. The ship was massive, so much bigger than the pictures, and in just a few hours we would set sail, making futile any second thoughts.
I don’t like the idea of being stuck somewhere. Especially in a place where so much of my life is out of my control. I would be at their mercy; The details of my job, a roommate, the food, working with people from over 70 countries. It seemed such a big risk.
But I boarded and was thrown into a whole new world.
The first two weeks consisted of unrestlessness training; Safety, shipboard standards, policy’s, certifications, more safety.
My job title as Youth Counselor was under the classification of Petty Officer, which meant I had certain privileges other departments didn’t have. I was free to roam the ship at my leisure, use the spa, pools, attend movies and entertainment.
This also meant however, that I was considered a First Responder, and in the event of any emergency I would be given special safety/evacuation assignments.
I was trained on how to assemble and deploy life rafts, how to use the survival equipment and personal survival techniques, and how to ration out the small amount of water that was kept in each of the rafts. We were made to watch videos of great ship disasters in history and had to participate frequent safety drills.
The worst was the wet drill which involved jumping off a high ledge and into freezing cold water, instruction on how to swim away from a sinking ship, and each of us flipping over a massive 70 person life raft. (which was in case of the event that the raft was ever flipped upside down by the water or wind.)
Wet drill may have been the most intense workout I have ever done, as my body hurt for days afterword.
Finally after two weeks I had finished all the training and was made an official Lab Counselor.
(The Lab side of the youth activities space was geared for older children, and the club side for younger.)
I thank God I was put In the Lab!
The YA space was typically open from 9-midnight, taking in children ages 3-12.
On an average week would register about one thousand children, but the most I ever saw in our space at once was just under 400.
The hardest part for me was the overstimulation. We would have about 5 programs all going on at once; multiple movies, computer games, video games, blasting music, magic playfloor (which was basically a giant floor ipad) character shows and activities, CHAOS.
You could barely hear the children, much less play with them.
On port days we would have a much smaller crowd, as most of the families would bring their children with them off the ship. Sea days were the worst, sea days were torture.
I did luck out greatly with my roommates.
Mayara was my first roommate and was from Brazil. She was dark, exotic and had a lot to say. It seemed that there were many boys smitten by her. She was enchanting, I admired her greatly.
Halfway through my contact Mayara left for her vacation and i was assigned a new roommate, Angela.
Angela was petite, very friendly and was from California. We seemed to always be going through the same emotional/boy issues. Angela however, unlike me , was very rational and level headed. She taught me a lot about being open and staying true to yourself.
The food was awful. On special occasions we would load up on chicken nuggets and shrimp otherwise it was salad, white rice, chicken on the bone, some sort of pasta and steamed vegetables.
On a few occasions I got sea sick, although the roughest times were at night. I would wake from the rocking or from things falling off the shelves. A few times I actually wondered if we were going down, but I was so deliriously tired, I would whispered a plea to God to spare us and then fall back asleep.
It was common to get sick and stay sick. For weeks I had a terrible sore throat that hurt so bad I couldn’t eat without pain meds. After about a month of this however, I found that if I slept with the heat on, my throat improved considerably. Whereas if I slept with the air conditioning on, I would wake much worse. I blame the air ventilation system, which if it worked at all, was polluted.
After my body finally adjusted to the rigorous schedule, and I overcame all the sickness, things became easier and more routine. It was still hard work, and staying healthy was always a struggle. It seemed there was only enough time to work, eat and sleep.
We worked as early as 730am and as late as 2am (not including the frequent time changes). A typical day would be 10am-midnight, with an hour lunch break and a two hour break in the afternoon.
I sometimes went days without stepping outside. You had to work hard to have any outside priority.
Port days are what got me through it, getting off the ship and being free for a few hours.
Setting foot in Mexico for the first time ever, snorkeling, the breathtaking views of St. Thomas.
Port days were the days you loved your job!
After the first month however, visiting the same ports got old. And with a 70 hour work week and an average of 6 hours a week in port… I was soon looking for a new reason to stay.
Our ship employed citizens from over 70 countries, and for most of them, the reason to stay was the money.
To go back to South Africa and have your money multiplied by 9, or to be from Zimbabwe were the unemployment rate has reached 80% , some people just wanted a chance to visit the US.
There was a waiter I met, from a country Id never heard of, who was nearing his 6 week vacation. He was ecstatic, so excited to go home and see his family. His family that he supported by working away at sea 9 months out of the year. He told me the money he earned from his previous contract he had used to build them a house. Now he had finally saved enough to go home and finish the roof. He said he would stay with the company for maybe 10 years.
It was usually the Americans who would go home for vacation and not return for another contract. We were also the ones that frequently complained, showed the least amount of work ethic, and were known for being promiscuous.
Try as i might to beat the stigma, it felt somewhat futile. Stepping into an elevator as the only caucasian and seeing looks and smirks exchanged. being called barbie, being strait up ignored and avoided.
I found myself avoiding the different social scenes, not that there was much time for it anyway after an 11 hour day.
Alot of my friends were into the bar scene, (which I guess is notorious for most cruise lines) and though I think I only went to the bar twice, I was a huge fan of the deck parties. There really are no parties that will EVER compare to our deck 14 parties.
Deck 14 is the highest deck on the aft (back) of the ship. It is for crew only and is usually used for tanning, smoking, and simply air for those not allowed to wonder the other parts of the ship. On special occasions however, the bar scene would be moved up to the deck, complete with bartenders, food, and dj’s. It was so high up and the wind so fierce, no one ever bothered to do their hair. So dark and so far out at sea, the whole sky lit up before you. Music so loud, drink so free, free time such a luxury.
It felt like magic (ever before the alcohol), it felt like we were all inside the ending of a Disney movie.
Another perk was free port adventures. Port adventures were activities in ports that the guests would sign up and pay for. Though it was rare to have a schedule that would actually give one the time to do these activities, if you lucked out and planned weeks in advance, you could do them free of charge.
I took more time and effort then most people and was able to do three; swimming with dolphins in Mexico, horseback riding in Puerto Rico, Visiting Mayan Ruins and going to a beach resort.
Another memorable experience was one day when a friend and I took a cab from the touristy port of Costa Maya, into the actual town. As we drove away from the port and closer to the town, we passed tiny little huts with palm thatch roofs, half naked children in the streets and homeless dogs in search of water.
Then later as we had lunch on the beach, peddlers come up to us trying to sell us things. Friendship bracelets, knick knacks, junk really, but it was heartbreaking because you knew that was their livelihood.
It was culture shock. It was what I would have experienced had I ever taken one of those church missions trips to Mexico.
On that drive back to the port, I told myself I would never again take my life for granted. I am a white (now blond), middle class American. What right do I have to NOT make the most of what I’ve been given? What reason is there for me not to do something great with my life?
And this is why I will not be returning to Disney Cruise Line.
Disney taught me to follow my dreams, and my dreams are taking me somewhere else…