Book Review - Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline: Where the Crew Lives, Eats, Wars, and Parties. One Crazy Year Working on Cruise Ships
This book wasn't on my radar screen until I happened to see a Twitter message referring to it. After looking it up on Amazon, I knew I had to read it... Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline: Where the Crew Lives, Eats, Wars, and Parties. One Crazy Year Working on Cruise Ships by Brian David Bruns. My wife and I cruise quite often on vacations, so the chance to see some "behind the scenes" views of how the crew lives is always interesting to me on a number of levels. After whipping through this in about 24 hours (thank you, Mr. Insomnia!), I was all ready to go on our March cruise and view the experience in a different light.
Part 1 - Trainee (The Plunge): Strange Bedfellows; Global Warning; Under the Water; Denizens of Babel; Nobody Parties Like Sailors; The Midnight Bahamian Toga Bash; Ship Life 101; Creepy Conch Fritters; Graduation; The End of the Beginning
Part 2 - Waiter (Promotion): My First, and Only, Clingy Lingerie Model; Pancake Darwinism; The Crew Bar; My Heart Will Go On; The Infamous Filipino Elvis Massacre; Great Whites; Dining on Ashes; The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Assumption; Stripping in the Dining Room
Part 3 - Assistant Maitre d' (Demotion): Bogo; Enemy Mine; The Other Sexy Bitch; Tattoo Goo; The Torture of Funship Freddy; Hunger Pains; Viral Infections and You; Something Sweet at Midnight; Showdown and Breakdown; Jamaican Deep Blue
Part 4 - The Legend (Destruction): How to Fix an American; Legend; Tongs over Escalators; Frog and Onion; Ice Pirates; The Boatyard; Lost in Panama; The Four Temptations of the Apocalypse; Toast Master General; The Suicide; The Miracle; Epilogue
Part 5 - Appendices: Glossary of Ship Language; Provisions for a Cruise; Stupid Questions
About the Author
I've read and researched enough to know that working on a cruise ship is not at all the glamorous career depicted in ads. You work seven days a week, at least 12 to 14 hours a day, live in really small cabins, and don't make very much money (all things considered). This is why you mostly see nationalities other than Americans working the ships. These wages are often quite a bit higher than what they could earn back home. Bruns tells his story of being the first American in Carnival's history to serve out a full contract in food services without quitting, transferring, or getting fired. He got used to the phrase "are you stupid or crazy?" being asked by most of his coworkers. :)
Bruns got assigned to Carnival's Conquest as he wanted to be with his girlfriend who also worked for Carnival. Very few believed he was actually going into food service because he was an American, and Americans couldn't do that job without cracking. He was determined to prove them wrong over his eight month contract, knowing that he had been "promised" a promotion to management and the assistant maitre d' position by the end of the assignment. But what's promised and what actually happens can be two different things. His relationship with his girlfriend was rocky at best on the ship, as they were both working 14 to 16 hour days, and she was hanging around with fellow Romanians during the off-hours. Bruns was still in love with her, and was determined not to fall into the trap of sleeping with any and all the attractive women coworkers, even though the opportunity was there on a daily basis. After she transferred to another ship, he had to decide whether his career as a cruise worker was worth the trouble of trying to maintain a long-term relationship, especially given the discrimination he faced from fellow workers when it came to stereotypes and perceptions. Surprisingly, he stuck it out and ended up in a situation far better than he would have hoped for.
Bruns is an excellent writer who is able to show you raw emotions and the nasty underbelly of what goes on. It's not meant to be an expose so much as a personal story of what he went through and what he learned in the process. It's hard to believe that anyone could survive the parties, alcohol consumption, and sweatshop conditions that exist behind the "Crew Only" doors. Even though I was laughing in quite a few places, I also (re-)discovered how difficult that life is, and how much we the customer just take things for granted. I'll definitely remember to be much more considerate of the crew next time, as well as keeping my eyes open for the things I'm not supposed to notice.