What the FAQ? (Ship life follow up)

Sooo. That just happened. I survived. I feel like one of the Hunger Games Victors. I feel like one of the lucky few survivors from the Oregon Trail game. It was grueling hard labor. I wanted to go to prove that could work 80 hours per week, so that if I chose to work for a start up, they would see my work ethic. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t too good for any job. What I found, was that 75 hours a week was a struggle. I could do it, but I required full devotion. The lowliest jobs had me ready to tear my hair out. I can do it, but just barely.

These bullet points are from my previous post: What am I doing with my life? (Ship life FAQ)

  • Where are you going?
    • Hawaii was absolutely gorgeous. Breathtakingly beautiful. The beaches are everything you’ve dreamed of. The sand is white and hot. The water is refreshingly luke-cold. The 4 stops we made were in Honolulu on Oahu, Kahului on Maui,  Hilo on the big island (confusingly called Hawaii), Kona on the big island, and Nawiliwili on Kauai. We could almost never explore Honolulu since it was such a busy day loading and unloading 2,600 guests on the same day. Hilo was almost always rainy, Kona and Nawiliwili were almost always sunny and beautiful. Kona is the perfect ideal version of Hawaii (aka touristy) with a big farmer’s market, beach side bars, and a long row of local shops.
  • How long are you going?
    • I did 6 months. Originally I was scheduled for 4 and a half months. After the first month I was actually enjoying it and full of vitality, so I extended my contract. There’s an employee discount to go on the cruise ship after your contract is up. Unfortunately the requirements to redeem the discount are as mired in obfuscation as the requirements to get on the ship. I was told that I needed to be on the ship for 6 months. I found out later that I needed to be employed by NCL for 6 month. Since I technically started in January for safety training in Baltimore, my 6 months would have put me at about month 3 into my contract, no extension necessary. Oh by the way, you can’t un-extend your contract. I either had to ride out my 6 months, or quit. I went to war with myself for many weeks over whether I should quit or not. On one had, I was miserable, underpaid, and lonely. I was wasting my time here. The opportunity cost was huge! I could have a real job, with a salary, without being yelled at all the time! On the other hand… I mean it wasn’t that bad. I can’t quit, because I’m not the kind of person who quits. I have an ego to protect. If I had to explain to my resume to an interviewer, what would make more sense? “I quit because I was unhappy” or “I stayed because I’m hard headed. Please don’t dare me to stop breathing.”
  • How many hours are you working?
    • The mode and max was 75 hours a week. For about a month and a half, they forgot to update my schedule, so I only worked 65 hours a week. It was sheer bliss. I napped daily. I read. Except the loneliness and getting yelled at all the time, it was just barely better than tolerable.
  • What are you doing?
    • For the first month and a half, I started as a Restaurant Steward. Restaurant Stewards are peons that you can yell at to make stuff happen. I worked in the crew cafeteria making sure the food trays were always full. It was stressful because there was a lot to do, and there were no written instructions. They relied entirely on the previous employees to train the new employees. There were so many tasks that probably should have been done, but if you ask a manager about it, then you’ve just created more work for yourself. And there were many tasks that appeared to be purely ritualistic, with no real benefit. It was like, they had all these extra peons, and had to give them something to do. Then it just became a tradition to do those things. I probably spent 3 hours a day cleaning in this job. Everything needed to be wiped down all the time. It sucked and I was ready to move to the big leagues of Assistant Waiter
    • For the last 4 and a half months, I was an Assistant Waiter. The waiter would take the order, hand it to us, then we would run down stairs, yell the order to the various chefs, and bring it back to the waiter. Some trips weren’t too bad if you had small tables. But if you had a table of 10 people, expect to carry a tray of 12 entrees. That’s at least 60 pounds on one shoulder, which you have to carry up the escalator. My arm was numb all the time. I almost never dropped orders, but I was also really slow at the beginning.
    • The whole system must have been invented in the stone age, and then never updated. My mind is blown by how outdated the method is. Here’s a crazy idea: What if the waiter put the order in a computer, and the order appears on a screen in front of the chef? WOAHHH. The entire order can be collected and waiting for the assistant waiter to bring up the escalator.
    • My schedule while I was an Assistant Waiter was 6:30am to 9:45am, then 4:45pm to 11:00pm every day. 2 or 3 days a week I’d have to work 12:00pm to 3:00pm. Looooong days.
  • How much do you get paid? Hawaii minimum wage?
    • The wage for Assistant Waiter was about $9.20/hr. I counted up all the cash tip money I made, it came to about $350. You know how much waiter’s make? $12/hr. Waiters just stand there talking to the guests. Easy money. Everybody wanted that job, nobody wanted to stick around for a contract and a half to get it. A couple of people made it from Restaurant Steward to Waiter in one contract, but it’s rare. It’s not about performance, it’s all about timing.
  • How do you feel about being union?
    • Being union limits the number of continuous hours you can work, but NCL will just give you a useless 20 minute break to circumvent the requirement. There’s basically no limit to the number of hours you can work or they can work you.
  • What about being a bartender on a cruise ship?
    • Oh past David. You crack me up. When I first started this crazy quest a year ago, I thought I wanted to be a bartender on a cruise ship. I just picked the job off the top of my head. It sounded like a good idea at the time. It sounded like fun. I’ve now worked both at a bar, and on a cruise ship, and I can tell you that neither are particularly fun. Maybe that says something about my method of choosing my next job. Maybe it’s necessary to try jobs to know if you actually want to do them.
  • What’s it going to be like living on a cruise ship?
    • Food
      • I never want buffet food ever again. I ate to excess regularly. The food was decent, and fairly decadent. Almost everything was fried, slathered in butter or grease. There was always fresh salad and toppings, but I got bored of that, and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to choose the healthy options when the delicious options are right next to it. Do I need dessert, and ice cream with every meal? No, but that didn’t stop me. Before I got on the ship, I was chiseled, and now I’m floppy. I thought I wanted free food, but now I want to prepare my own food if it means I can healthy again.
    • Gym
      • The gym is tiny. They had dumbbells, ellipticals, treadmills, and an incline bench. Expect to share it with two other people at a time, including grunty muscle men dropping the weights. This isn’t Planet Fitness. No one puts the weights back in the right place.
      • The deal breaker for me, was that I couldn’t bring a gym bag to work and hide it somewhere. Space is already at a premium. So if I wanted to go to the gym, I’d have to walk back to my room, change, and walk back to the gym. If I’m already at my room after work, I’m just going to sleep.
      • Being on the fire fighting team allowed me to use the passenger gym at night, which I did for a while. I got out of work at 11pm, so I was tired after work, and I had to start over tomorrow at 6:30am, and by the time I made it back to my room I had already decided to go to sleep instead of the gym.
    • Clothes
      • You are only allotted 3 shirts, you have to request extra shirts. Why? Why??? We’re only allowed dry cleaning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you tried to scrape by with 3 shirts, you’re guaranteed to wear the same shirt at least 3 times to make it from Friday to Monday. These shirts pick up scuffs and marks like sponges. It was stressful trying to plan for that. I’m happy to be home with my abundance of clothes. What a luxury!
      • I’m pretty sure either the laundry machines or the detergent damaged my undershirts. It’s not a big deal in the short term, but another reason I can’t live on the cruise ship
      • The crew laundry rooms had either 2 or 3 washer-dryer combos. They were almost always under repair or taken. Get ready to walk to find an available one. I bought a mesh laundry bag. That way, if I don’t come back exactly when it’s done, someone can easily take my clothes out of the way and use the laundry machine themselves. Some angels might even put my laundry in the dryer for me. That did happen sometimes. What happened more often is that I’d put it in the dryer, come back in two hours and my clothes would be sitting on the table, still damp. I thought to my self, “Ok maybe it finished, but it didn’t dry fully.” I’d put it back in a dryer, and come back in an hour. It’d be back on the table, still damp. Weird, but ok. I’d put it back, come back in half and hour, well before it was supposed to be done, and find it back on the table. I have a sneaking suspicion that people would see that it was a mesh bag, take it out before it’s done, and put theirs in instead. There were days I wore damp socks or day old socks because I ran out of socks and my laundry didn’t get done the night before.
    • Rent
      • I’m pretty sure everyone in the restaurant department gets a 3 person bedroom. There’s one bunk bed (2 beds) and one single (the “princess bed”). When you first move in, you get the top bunk, then as your roommates finish their contracts or get fired, you move into the bottom bunk and then the princess bed. I must have moved in only slightly after my roommates because I spent most of my time in the top bunk, and only had 2 weeks of my 6 months in the princess bed.
    • No car and no commute
      • It’s a solid 2 minute walk to work. Imagine parking at the farthest spot in a Costco parking lot. It was annoying. It sucked when you forgot something. There was no traffic, per se, but there were always people walking on the main path to or from work, which was also used as storage area by the engine department. You know what sucked? People trying to talk to me on the way to work at 6:30. That’s rude as far as I’m concerned. Don’t talk to me until I’ve had coffee you Hitler-Stalin spawn, oops I mean Alex. And there’s no avoiding people because there’s only one route from the cabins to work.
    • Hawaii beaches and excursions
      • The beaches were top notch. The best part was that they were usually right next to the cruise ship.
    • Cruise restaurants
      • I got out of work at 11p daily. All of the restaurants close at 10p, so I could never eat at the passenger restaurants. I got one Thursday off every 4 weeks or so, and I’d eat at my restaurant or the passenger buffet.
    • Friends and Family discounts
      • You people are welcome to buy a cruise with Norwegian. You have another 5 weeks to book it while I am still technically an employee. It’s a 15% discount. It’s worth it if you were already going to cruise with Norwegian. It’s probably not worth it if you were going with a cheaper cruise line.
    • How performance was rated
      • The scale is from 5 to 1, with 5 being the best. However, no one got 5s… ever. No one. Non negotiable. It just doesn’t happen. To get a 1, you have to really had to poo the scrooch. I had some grossly incompetent, lazy, jerkwad co-workers and I never heard of them getting a 1. A 3 means, “Meets or Exceeds”… Is it meets, or exceeds? The fact that a 3 means Meets or Exceeds should tell you everything you need to know about this dysfunctional rating system.
      • My last manager had no idea who I was. Out of 6 categories, he gave me a 3 in each, and a 4 in Teamwork, because, “I didn’t get any complaints about you.” Wut?
      • It’s almost impossible to get fired for poor performance. Promotion is just a matter of endurance. Since they promote almost exclusively from within, it’s just a matter of time until you get promoted.
      • I am willing to bet $1,000, that everyone claimed to be “a people person” in their interview. But I can tell you from first hand experience that was a straight up lie. I only met a few people, from the lowly worker bees to the top management, I would qualify as people persons. I almost never saw a manager smile. Maybe once a week.
    • Human Resources
      • I couldn’t believe how big a waste of human resources there was on the ship. They paid waiters to bus tables for 3 to 6 hours a day. There’s no restaurant in the world that I know of, that would pay someone $12/hour to bus tables. There were people who were waiters for 10 years before they got on the ship as Assistant Waiters. But since NCL hires from within, someone with 4 months of Assistant Waiter experience gets promoted before the person with 10 years of waiting at a normal restaurant.
      • My friend graduated top of his class in culinary school. He was reduced to chopping vegetables for 10 hours a day for 4 and a half months. He got a job immediately after his contract as an Executive Sous Chef at a restaurant. I know he didn’t lack the skills to do more, they just don’t have a use for skilled chefs.
      • The chef who made cesar salads, was two levels above the entry level chefs, so this guy had chops. Let me tell you how to make a cesar salad. You put romaine lettuce and cesar dressing in a bowl and mix it by hand. You put it in a salad bowl. You add exactly 3 croutons and some parmesan cheese. Did they need this elite guy to make salads? No. On the other hand, all of the food is merely assembled. They pre-cook all the sides. All you have to know is how not to burn food.
    • Fire team
      • I got to be part of the volunteer fire department! It was an incredible experience! I loved it.
        • I got a big whopping helping of prestige points for walking around in my full firefighting gear. Aww yeah. Check me out. Watch out, we got a badass over here!
        • I got out of work when it overlapped with training.
        • I learned a ton about putting out fires.
        • My fire team became a little family.
        • Training was every 4 days for about an hour and a half, and we had a fire drill every Tuesday for an hour and a half.
    • Food Safety
      • The rules for food safety ranged from “bachelor pad”, to “surgical operating room”. They were wildly inconsistent. I’m surprised they didn’t make us wear hazmat suits to deliver the food.
        • The best example is that we sometimes had to wear these stupid paper hats. They look like the hats that soda jerks would wear at drug stores. We only had to wear them if we worked in the crew or passenger buffet areas by the food. We didn’t need them if we were busing tables. Also, chefs had to wear them sometimes. When I asked why we had to wear them, I was told that it was to prevent hair from getting in the food. This was patently absurd. Bald people had to wear them. Some girls had so much hair, that the hat wouldn’t cover everything, so they pinned it over their hair bun only.
        • Food can must be served within 4 hours of preparation time. This is to prevent food from spoiling. You can’t leave a dish of Chicken Parmigiana sitting out on the counter for the same reason you can’t leave milk on the counter for 4 hours. All of our prepared food is marked with the time 4 hours in advanced so that it can be thrown away. After the 4 hour mark, it has to be thrown away. It can’t be served to people, but it can be served for the crew. In the crew cafeteria, we always served left over food from the main kitchen. My manager told me to remove the sticker and put on a new one. But I wasn’t going to complain, because the food was delicious and it’s incredibly challenging to throw away perfectly good food.
  • In review
    • The worst parts
      • The sleep schedule. 6:30am to 11pm is a long day. I needed that nap. It didn’t always happen. I had roommates who would come in and turn on the lights. The phone would ring. People would yell in the hall way. When I was a Restaurant Steward and started work at 2p, I had a roommate who would set his alarm for 6am, and then snooze every 5 minutes for 40 minutes in a row. That’s a deal breaker. I need sleep. I can survive on 7 hours of sleep a day, but I can’t thrive.
      • The managers. I prayed, desperately, to have a conversation with a manager instead of a shouting match. I don’t want to go to battle everyday. Just calmly tell me what you want. I had one manager at the end who was pretty chill, but the rest were always mad at me for something. It was stressful being defensive and trying not to be defensive all the time. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. That’s a deal breaker.
      • The food was good, too good. It was hard to control myself when I’m sleep deprived and stressed. I’d rather be stress free and make my own food.
    • I hated how crowded it was. We were all constantly bumping into each other. I had to work really hard to eat by myself, because all of the tables were for 4 people. If there was an open spot, people would join me. I’d have to have an awkward conversation of telling people to leave me the freak alone, or just suffer their company. Most of the time I just wanted to eat by myself and day dream or think deeply about something. One time, I was eating by myself, thinking deeply. Someone from across the cafeteria yelled my name, “Hey it looks like you’re really deep in thought!” Yes jerk face. As a matter of fact, I was. It was aggravating to have people constantly in my grill, all up in my business.
    • I’d recommend it to people who are suffering with depression. When you have depression, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to not binge watch Netflix and eat only ice cream. When you’re on the cruise ship, it forces you to get out of bed, get dressed, shower daily, interact with other people, and get a decent amount of exercise. It isn’t a pleasant experience, but it’s enough to get unstuck and out of the downward spiral of depression.
  • So what’s next?
    • Here’s the grand master plan: Move to New Hampshire by January 31st 2019. That date is a moving target based on how frugally I live until then. I’ve saved up a nice chunk of change to sustain me for now.
      • September is full of travel to various friends. Austin, LA, Chicago.
      • Until then, November is the month for National Novel Writing Month, the most inconvenient month of the year to write 50,000 words! I’ll be plotting through October.
      • I want to get back to practicing Spanish and writing daily.
      • I want to launch a business. The biggest contender is my magnetic chess sets for the OCD. I’ve updated my list of invention ideas, and be willing to switch tracks if someone wants to help me launch a different business, or the market research points me in another direction.
      • I want to exercise regularly. I’m just a dopamine junky and after being yelled at for 6 months, I’m ready for my next fix.

One thought on “What the FAQ? (Ship life follow up)

  1. What insight. Great writing.
    I like this idea – I want to launch a business. The biggest contender is my magnetic chess sets for the OCD.
    Until then, November is the month for National Novel Writing Month, the most inconvenient month of the year to write 50,000 words! I’ll be plotting through October. – go for it !!!!!!

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