Friday, January 13, 2012 thoughts

My friend Emily and I went on a quick, 3 day Carnival cruise from Miami to Nassau last weekend. It was a great time, the weather was sunny, the drinks and food were delicious, and our room on the ship was small but very comfortable. This isn't really about the cruise itself. It's about how I feel after finishing the cruise. When I got home, I read a book called "Cruise Confidential" by Brian Bruns. The book was supposed to give me additional insight into the lives of crewmembers...including where they live, eat, and party. I was fascinated during the cruise to learn that everyone working on a cruise ship is from another country.
During the cruise Emily and I made friends with two bartenders (or to be more exact, a bartender and a bar waiter). Daniel and Igor shared a bit about life on the ship.... including some of the crazy things they've seen.... and how hard they work. After the cruise, I was feeling like things were okay. The two of them were fun, and I hoped that we entertained them with our shenanigans as much as they entertained us with their stories and straw art. I felt like Emily and I were very low-key and didn't ask for or expect anything crazy.
Then I read the book. After reading, I remembered one of the bartenders telling us that they sign an 8 or 9-month contract, and generally they work about 75 hours a week. Think about that for a minute.... working 75 hours a week for 9 months...without one day off? I know that they are probably aware of what they are getting themselves into when they sign the contract. But I can't imagine feeling like that job is my only option for making decent money for me or to support my family.
The book did say that most of the staff members party.... hard. I can't say that I ever saw anyone looking less than sober, but I don't know that I was looking. I will say, after reading certain parts of the book, I can understand that if you worked that hard, you'd need to unwind quite a bit, and it sounded like Carnival knew how to facilitate the staff parties for a maximum amount of fun. My liver hurts thinking about it...then again, maybe I'm just a lightweight.
The book shed some light on the way that we as cruisers treat the staff. I generally think I'm pretty low maintenance (especially compared to a certain two people we ate our last dinner with). I'll order something, and then eat it. I'm not going to ask for special treatment...or ask for something that isn't on the menu. Apparently Emily and I are in the minority on this issue. We were both appalled at the behavior of some cruisers who feel so entitled, that they will forget that the wait staff are people.
I think when I really think about it, the cruise left a bad taste in my mouth because of how American's are portrayed (probably accurately so). I just don't like being grouped in the same company as people who feel that they are better than the wait staff, who talk louder to someone who might have an accent because English is their fifth language (especially when you can't even speak English correctly), or who are away from their family to try to earn enough money so their children can have a better life.
I regret not tipping our bartender friends extra. I regret not leaving a little extra cash for our room steward. I regret not finding a way to tip each and every waiter who waited on us, cleaned up for us at breakfast, or served us drinks on the deck. Basically I am feeling guilty for being lucky enough to live and work in the United States.
As someone who has traveled to many other countries, and seen poverty.... I’ve never felt this guilty for all I've been privileged to have. Needless to say, it will be quite some time before I go on another cruise. And if I do.... I’ll be bringing lots of small bills to tip everyone a bit extra (even if it is against the rules!)

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