Category Archives: Cruise Life

How to Survive your First Cruise Ship Contract

ship crew

Working a cruise ship chef job is quite unlike anything you’ll find on land. Living and work conditions vary with each company but in general you’ll find similar situations across the board. On your first contract, it’s easy to get stressed with unfamiliar circumstances, but you will soon discover a method to the madness.

Overpacking

Before you even leave for your port of embarkation, you’ll have to pack your bags and former cruise ship employees have the ultimate advice: pack light, but include lots of white socks and underwear. This might seem like strange advice, but once on board you will find that it makes a lot of sense. Cabins are small, particularly for those lower in the hierarchy, so storing bulky suitcases are difficult. Shelf space is also limited. Crew are required to be in uniform – typically white – while on duty so the only clothes required are for the times you are free on board and in port. The white socks and underwear come in handy for hot days in the kitchen when you need to change often. However, do carry a sweater as the air-conditioning in crew areas where you might relax after hours often gets rather cold.

Contract & information

Once you arrive, you will be given your contract and information about the ship. It is imperative to read these very carefully so you are intimately aware of all the do’s and don’ts on board, and what standards and principles will govern you during the length of your contract. The initial few days of the job for first time cruise ship staff include orientation and training in things like safety and other aspects related to the job you will do on board.

Staff Only entryAlways remember the way to your cabin when it is shown to you, as without signs, many new employees find themselves wasting valuable time searching for what is now their home. Also note which areas are meant for staff and those where only guests and officers are allowed. Most cruise ship companies take engagement with guests very seriously.

Clean crew cabin

You will be required to keep your cabin clean at all times, so it helps to create a schedule with your roommate of how this will work. Additionally, it is possible to pay a cleaner a small amount each week to clean it for you. Cabin inspections occur every month so you must also ensure you know what is in your room. You can be in severe trouble if contraband items like drugs, candles, toasters are found in your cabin, even if it belongs to your roommate.

Crew laundry

Doing laundry is usually not accounted for when planning time off on first contracts, but this is important. Often, there’s just one or two laundry rooms so it’s imperative to hold out for as long as you can, and then always stick around the room when your clothes are in the machine. Theft of clothes, or rushed crew taking your load out and replacing it with theirs, is not unheard of.

Mobile & Computer

It helps to carry your mobile phone and laptop with you, along with chargers so you can take advantage of the heavily discounted crew Wi-Fi and internet facilities on board or get in touch with your family at free Wi-Fi spots at port. Saving movies or favourite TV shows on your laptop or hard drive can come in handy during off-duty hours when your roommate might be asleep and you do not want to switch on the cabin television.

employee relation

The most important tip to surviving your first contract is your relationships with the hundreds of colleagues and supervisors you will meet and engage with every day. With so many nationalities and personality types, it is difficult to judge immediately who will be a genuine friend. It is advisable to keep your cards close to your chest and make friends at a pace you are comfortable with. Getting into arguments or heated political debates are better attempted with good friends.

Your first contract will be a breeze if you always remember to work hard, be a good person to all on board, and always put the guest first.

Also read the ultimate guide to tackling seasickness here

Cruise Ship Superstitions

Top 6 sailing superstitions

Sailing on a cruise ship is a far cry from days of yore. Centuries ago, it was mostly men searching for adventure and money who set sail in filthy conditions, the consequences and existing conditions of which sometimes resulted in disaster. Out of this, arose innumerable superstitions.

We pick the top 6 (because even numbers brought bad luck, and we’re not superstitious)

 

Women onboard ship

Women onboard a ship

  1. Women: Women might be called ‘better halves’ today but for sailors, having them on board was a terrible idea. It was believed that they would distract the crew and enrage the sea gods who would then play havoc. It’s worth noting however that having child being born on board was good luck, so the best way to take your wife on board back then was to make sure she was heavily pregnant.

    Bananas

    The Unlucky Banana

  2. Food: Strangely, bananas were one food item that gave sailors jelly legs. It was thought that sickness would pervade if a shipment of bananas was on board, either from the fermenting, methane-diffusing fruit or from poisonous spiders that made their homes there. After Spaniards realised that most ships that went missing in the 1700s had a load of the fruit on board, sailors literally went bananas if they saw it. It was also considered unlucky to pass a salt shaker directly to another or stir tea with a knife or fork.

    Pirate's Gold Hoop

    Pirate’s Gold Hoop

  3. Appearance: Gold hoops were thought to bring good luck and you could tell a sailor had crossed the equator if he had a pierced ear. It is thus assumed that pirates were particularly adventurous, given that most of them wore gold hoops in their ears. They were also rather unkempt, following the superstition that anyone who cut their nails, hair or beard brought bad luck to the ship. Tattoos, particularly of roosters or pigs, were believed to save sailors from drowning. 

    AlbatrossBlack Cat

  4. Animals: Albatrosses and gulls were sacred to ships and apparently carried the souls of dead sailors or those lost at sea. Black cats were welcome on board in the hope of good fortune, and sailors’ wives often kept them as pets to ensure their husbands’ safe return. Dolphins accompanying a ship is a good sign, but if it’s sharks you see, prepare for doom. 

    Calendar

    Some days of the week were or are considedred lucky or unlucky

  5. Calendar: Thursday, dedicated to the Norse god Thor, was not a good day to set sail. Neither was Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. It was also apparently a bad idea to leave port on the first Monday in April, believed to be the day that Cain killed his brother Abel, or on the second Monday in August when the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were supposedly destroyed by God. December 31 was not the best day either as it was believed that Judas Iscariot hung himself on that day. 
  6. Language: Wishing a sailor ‘good bye’ or ‘good luck’ would not have brought him peace as these words, along with ‘drowned’, were considered bad omens. Saying ‘13’ at sea was asking for trouble, as was mentioning words connected to terra firma – particularly ‘church’, ‘foxes’, and ‘rabbits’. And once a ship was christened, it could not be renamed without a de-naming ceremony first. After all, christening bestowed on every ship a life and mind of its own!
pet friendly cruises

Pet-friendly cruises

Pets have always been part of families, but it’s only over the past decade or so that the hospitality industry has begun recognising the potential of allowing them to be part of their guests’ holidays away from home.

The reason most pets are not allowed on board regular cruise liners is the lack of services to cater to their presence – they need special places to relieve themselves and be exercised as companies need to be mindful of other guests with respiratory issues like asthma.

Each port of call also has different regulations for visiting animals and ensuring every pet measures up is time consuming for the cruise line. Some go so far as to require a quarantine to ensure the animal does not have certain diseases, but most guests prefer to leave their pets on board while they go into port.

Some cruises only allow service dogs trained to meet a disability-related need such as blindness or deafness, and do not offer any facilities for looking after a dog left on board, thereby forcing the guest to take it along. But cruise companies such as Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 have now started pet-friendly cruising.

Even so, guests are not allowed to share cabins with their dogs or cats, who must live in an on-board kennel where dedicated staff cater to their needs. They are fed, walked, cleaned and pampered with treats and toys. The Cunard ship has designated playtime for their four-legged guests and certain hours during the day when owners can visit.

Pets are given food, and owners can also bring along specific food if needed. They can also bring along their pet’s favourite blanket, toy or bedding to help their furry family member adjust to new surroundings and get comfortable.

Pets are monitored at all times, and even have their own life vests which guests learn how to put on during the emergency drill. To enhance the experience, some programmes include a complimentary gift pack with items like a name tag and photograph with the owners to commemorate the cruise.

However, it is worth noting that some breeds of dogs are not allowed on board – such as St Bernards and Mastiffs – due to their size, and some like pit bulls due to their believed aggressive temperament. Rarely, some ships allow pet birds on board, and rabbits can often be regarded as rodents – more of a menace to staff than a pet to care for.

All pets are required to be appropriately vaccinated and sometimes have letters from veterinarians proving they comply with various regulations.

Smart Cooking To Keep Guests Satisfied

Cruise ship chef jobs vs Shore jobs

Cruise ship chef jobs are one of the many hundreds of on board positions that ensure the smooth functioning of the vessel as well as a great overall experience for guests. It’s a similar responsibility for those in hotel and restaurant kitchens on shore.

For both, the skills required are mostly the same – excellent culinary technique and a passion for cooking. But the environments are vastly different. The most vital is the type of contract one signs – cruise ship chef jobs require staff to stay on board for months at a time, away from family and friends and often work every day of the week. On shore, chefs get days off every week, and can see friends and family whenever they like – off work, of course!

Additionally, working on shore means you can enjoy the comforts of your own room at home every day. On board a cruise ship, crew cabins have restricted space and are most often shared, so there is little space for privacy.

Because work hours can be so demanding companies typically sign contracts with cruise ship chefs that last a few months – between four to eight typically – and give them a few months off before the contract is renewed. This ensures you have time off as required by maritime law.

On board, risks are higher so pay is usually commensurate with it. As a cruise ship chef you will enjoy a higher salary than your on-shore counterparts for the time you are on board, but none when you are on leave. Shore jobs offer you compensation that covers the entire duration of the contract, including a certain number of holidays and days of leave as well.

 When you work on board a ship, contract durations mean you will spend a big holiday – such as Diwali or Christmas – at home with family every once in a while. Shore jobs are not so lucky in this regard as these are the busiest times for the hospitality industry. Most holidays will be spent working.

Cruise ship chef jobs offer the opportunity to travel wherever the vessel goes, and this is often to some of the world’s most exotic ports. It depends, of course, on your duty hours if you are able to get shore leave and enjoy your time there. Onshore jobs are based in a single location. However, with hard work and at higher levels, big companies often hand select good candidates to lead restaurants at hotels in different locations.

 But wherever you choose to work, the fundamental skills are identical and working hard in both environments will ensure you do well at work.

Food habits on a cruise ship

This is the age of gratification, particularly more so when it comes to food. Eating habits and preferences are as varied as the guests themselves on a cruise ship. Being up to date with changing trends is part of a cruise ship chef’s job and knowing the subtleties of each style will impress not just guests but one’s superiors too.

Broadly, the world has classified eating habits into vegetarian and non-vegetarian, but these are far too loose for today. Vegetarians themselves are classified into lacto-ovo vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians and vegans. The first consume milk products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt as well as eggs, but no meat, poultry or seafood. The second will have milk products but no eggs, meat, poultry or seafood.

Vegans on the other hand subsist only on a plant-based lifestyle and will avoid any food with ingredients that come from animals. This includes milk products, eggs, honey and gelatin.Some are fruitarians and subsist mainly on raw fruit, nuts and seeds.

Cruise ship chefs must be aware that non-vegetarians are also sub-divided. Flexitarians eat mostly vegetables, but are not averse to trying out meat dishes on occasion. Pescatarians will eat vegetables as well as seafood and fish, often as the latter is considered a healthier meat option. Raw foodism follows a principle where only uncooked and unprocessed food is consumed. It mostly involves vegetables but can include meat dishes such as ceviche and sushi which is made of raw fish, beef carpaccio, steak tartare or koi soi.

Other prominent eating styles cruise ship chefs may come across on board include paleolithic diets, lactose-free and gluten-free eating habits. People usually follow the latter two as their bodies are unable to digest the sugar (lactose) and the protein (gluten) that exists in dairy and wheat products respectively. The former is more of a health diet in which people try to follow the food habits of cavemen in the belief that human digestive capabilities were not suited to processed foods. It involves eating seafood and lean meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and almost no dairy, grain, added salt or sugar.

 

retire on a cruise ship

Retire on a cruise ship

Spending one’s retirement years on a luxury floating hotel with amenities galore might seem like a dream of the rich. But more than ever now, this is a possibility for an increasing number of senior people with many examples of the elderly spending years on cruise ships.

In a host of developed countries, the norm is for the elderly to live in assisted living facilities, where the entire gamut of household chores are performed by staff and basic medical amenities are usually available on site. It allows companionship with people of a similar age and care when required.

For many, traveling the world as independent older people becomes increasingly easy on a cruise ship. Instances have been noted of older folk who have lived on board ships like the Queen Elizabeth 2, Crystal Serenity and Cunard cruises for seven to 12 years. Some reports suggest retiring to a cruise line is even cheaper than assisted living facilities.

How do they do this?

Sometimes, as with all hotel ventures, cruise ships have empty rooms that offer them no revenue, and companies will opt to fill these up at lower rates. The ideal person who is not bound by requirements of returning to work is the retired elderly. Cruise ships prefer having them over as they rarely, if ever, create a nuisance, and typically have standard regimens making it easier for staff to provide facilities.

For the elderly, spending their retired lives on board a cruise ship is the perfect way out of a lonely life in a city or suburb. Cruise ships offer all facilities and amenities they might want – from meals of different types, to housekeeping and room service, exercise classes and spas, movies, entertainment, and even basic medical care.

A few lucky retirees even get by for free, by offering their skills on board, such as giving lectures on destinations the cruise ship will dock at or topics of special interest.

Some cruise ships such as The World offer luxury residences at sea, where passengers own apartments – some live on board full time, some several months of the year. The average age of residents is reported to be 64, and the cruise line sails to various ports based on recommendations from the residents.

Cruise Lines International Association reported that 24 million passengers are expected to go on cruises this year, up from 15 million a decade ago. Of these, 25 per cent are between 60 and 74 years old, and another 25 per cent are aged 50-59. It appears that many retired folk find it financially more sensible to live aboard a cruise ship than in other retirement facilities in costly areas.

Cruise ships offer excellent quality, resort-style amenities, unlimited entertainment and activities to either mix up every day or maintain a schedule, no worries about grocery shopping, other needs met a few steps away, and travelling the world at a leisurely pace. With a varied age group, cruise ships also offer retirees the opportunity to meet different people of all ages – from infants to teenagers, adults and other seniors – and multiple nationalities.

Up the exotic quotient as a cruise ship chef

Up the exotic quotient as a cruise ship chef

Selling exotic locales on cruise packages happens with beautifully crafted images, but getting guests to come back over and over again, is a result not just of gorgeous places, but also delicious food. Cruise ship chef jobs are meant not only to satisfy appetites, but create interesting gastronomic experiences for foodies.

Knowing the variety of exotic ingredients available and how to use them will give you that edge over others, and offer that twist to every day dishes that will leave cruise ship guests mind-blown. One secret ingredient making waves around the world today is black garlic. It’s a type of caramelised garlic used in Asian cuisine, but its sweetish, almost-charred and complex flavour has allowed it to work with everything from ranch-style dressing to confits and even sandwich spreads, steak rubs, pâtés and even savoury ice cream.

In lieu of Tabasco, chefs are now moving to gochujang, that piquant Korean addition that has been discovered to go so well with spaghetti Bolognese, curries and fajitas. Cruise ship kitchens could be smart to stock this versatile ingredient that holds its own in popular Korean food but can slide over to the fusion section as required – used with corn on the cob, burgers, pulled pork or even a bloody Mary.

Based on which part of the world the cruise liner is in, adding locally sourced exotic meats to the shopping list can help raise the bar of the cruise ship kitchen. Kangaroo meat – relatively inexpensive in Australia – offers a delicious gamey flavour in comparison to regular steaks, and can be used in burgers, sausages and even pizza. Like kangaroo, another Aussie meat – emu – is also nutritionally valued being low in fat and can serve as a delicious option to health conscious travellers.

Stocking up on achiote in the Caribbean, grains of paradise in Africa, amchur powder in India, machalepi in Greece, fennel pollen in Italy or dried kaffir lime leaves in Thailand means you’ll get the real deal when you source it locally and also add authentic flavour to your dishes.

It’s important to read about various ingredients and have a taste when you get the chance – such as visiting a local market or food street when in port. Locals will only ever use good quality ingredients and checking out how these are used in cooking will help you develop a vision of incorporating them on board.

By tasting local ingredients on their own and also in various dishes, you will get an idea of the quantity to be used as well, since over use is an easy way to turn what could have been an amazing, exotic dish into something quite unappetising.

The key to doing well in any industry, including hospitality, is to keep upgrading your skills and innovating. Even small things like substituting an exotic spice for a regularly used one can subtly change the nature of the dish, something that will find favour with well-travelled food lovers.

chefs in kitchen

Cruise ship kitchens: A pot of culture

Cruise ship jobs, particularly in the galley, offer a great experience, not just in terms of work but also in terms of life learning. Cruise lines often have at least one multi-cuisine restaurant, no matter how big or small the vessel is. Guests come with different preferences, and this style of menu allows them a variety of choices.

Taking on a job as a cruise ship chef will be easier if you have experience with different styles of cuisine. Getting trained in a reputed culinary institute will also get you up to speed on the latest trends in various culinary cultures. But it isn’t just the dishes that are multi-national. The chefs on board come from a number of different places around the world too.

As a cruise ship chef, your colleagues and work mates could be from your home town, speaking your own language, or from anywhere around the world. It’s possible to have 20 or more nationalities working in the same kitchen every day. Working with people from your own community builds familiarity and comfort, but being with people from different places offers its own share of learning.

Most cruise companies require the chefs they take on to have a minimum level of understanding English, as this is a universal language learnt in most countries around the world. Being fluent in English is an added perk as it ensures you are able to follow instructions with ease and also communicate difficulties and issues without trouble.

Being in close quarters with so many nationalities also allows you to learn about cultures from various places. Often, throughout life, people are restricted to culture from their own communities, barely exposed to cultures even from other states in their own country. Religious norms, social life, and even hygiene practices can differ. Working with people from cultures different from your own will open your eyes to a global culture, an understanding and respect of other people’s beliefs, as well as tolerance.

It’s also a great place to learn a new language – or several if you wish! Hanging out with your chef mates from different places lets you swap treasured recipes you would never have come across even in a restaurant serving that particular style of food.

Influential American photographer Harvey Lloyd once said that “travel is like an endless university; you never stop learning”. With cruise chef jobs, this quote holds true all the more. The learning never stops – not with the pots and pans in the kitchen, or with the people you live and work with alongside.

P & O Cruises’ Ventura cruise line

Cruise ships and Godparents

It’s not just humans who have godparents. Traditionally, godparents take a keen interest in a child’s upbringing, and in many cases in times long gone, played a part in naming the child. The tradition of godparents also exists in the maritime industry, although obviously in not quite the same way.

Godparents of cruise ships reveal the name of the vessel. Ship naming goes back into history, with evidence leading even to the third century BC, of Babylon – in modern day Iraq – celebrating the launch of a ship. Many of the main western civilisations, including the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians, had a tradition of calling on their gods for protection of ships before they set sail.

But it was the Vikings who had a major role to play in modern-day ship naming by godparents. This ancient Scandinavian civilisation would have a sacrifice and mark the launch of their fearsome ships with blood. Later, the Medieval Ages changed tradition to be a little less gruesome, and offered wine instead. It was believed that the godparents would ensure the safety of the ship and its passengers.

Earlier, religious men or officials led the naming ceremony, but now it is mostly women who christen ships. Cruise ships typically have a grand ceremony for the christening with the godmother, godfather – or in some cases, godparents – appointed to officially reveal the name by smashing a glass bottle on the hull of the ship. The ship is decorated with flags and lots of ribbon, and a band strikes up with song as the bottle hits the ship. These days, it’s often a bottle of expensive champagne.

It is usually celebrities or famous people who are called on to christen cruises and become their godparents. The Queen of England was called to be godmother of P & O Cruises Britannia and her granddaughter-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge christened Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess. In both cases, a Nebuchadnezzar, a 15l bottle of champagne, was broken against the hull in celebration.

Actress Dame Helen Mirren is godmother to P & O Cruises’ Ventura cruise line. Sometimes, more than one person is named godparent of the cruise. American dance company The Rockettes christened the Norwegian Breakaway. While most godparents don’t have much to do with the cruise line after the ceremony, The Rockettes featured on a few sailings.

Royal Caribbean cruise line Anthem Of The Seas wanted to do things a little differently and had a contest to select the godmother of the ship. Disney and Royal Caribbean took things a bit further and went fairytale, appointing Tinkerbell from Peter Pan and Princess Fiona from the Shrek series to be godmothers to their cruises Disney Wonder and Allure Of The Seas.

hot galley vs cold galley

Hot Galley vs Patisserie: What’s your pick?

A cruise ship kitchen is unlike anything one has seen before. In the maze of stainless steel fridges, compartments, and cooking stations, cruise ship chefs and others in the culinary department ensure that everyone on board – guests and staff – are well fed and happy. The galley – or kitchen – is divided into sections for ease of management: usually hot galley and cold galley, pastry and bakery.

The hot galley includes all types of cooking such as vegetables, fish, soup and grill. Generally, hot, savoury items are made in the hot galley, while desserts, cakes and ice creams come together in the pastry section.

Various hierarchical positions on cruise liners mean that hard work and experience can take you places. In the hot galley, stocks that will be used in main courses, soups and broths are made from scratch. In the pastry section too, everything is made from the ground up, including the base of the strawberry tart or the filo of a specialty baklava.

A lot of cleaning and gutting goes on in the meat section of the hot galley, and it’s imperative that staff in all cruise ship kitchens keep their workstations impeccably clean. Separating kitchens not only helps with management and division of work, but also ensures that absolutely no aromas get mixed. Nobody wants their exotic dessert catching the strong aroma of garlic.

In both, cruise ship chefs need to have a keen sense of taste to maintain a perfect balance of flavours and a sense of aestheticism to allow for beautiful plating that will tantalise any guests’ taste buds.

Usually, in a hot galley, the work environment is warm and crowded as chefs attend to service requirements during meal times. Since all meals need to be served hot, they must wait until they receive the order before they can attend to it.

In the pastry section, it is usually cool and calm as ingredients such as chocolate and butter must be kept at a low temperature. Many pastry items such as ice cream, mousse or cakes can be prepared in advance and simply plated right before delivery.

Further, chefs in a hot galley often need to make meals according to the guests’ taste – some want their steaks medium rare, others would like their burgers with wedges instead of fries, or their vegetables grilled instead of fried in butter. This is rare in a pastry section – guests hardly ask for a ‘not-so-sweet’ ice cream or a cake that’s been steamed instead of baked!

That said, savoury kitchens – or the hot galley – allow chefs to tweak recipes and they do not have to be perfect with measurements. They can always add salt to a sauce or throw in a few ingredients for a balance of flavours in a soup. Pastry chefs, on the other hand, do not have this luxury. Recipes in this section rely on absolutely accurate measurements. One cannot add more sugar to a pie after it has been baked, or increase the amount of butter in a puff pastry so it flakes accordingly.