Joining the cruise ship for the first time can be a stressful and challenging experience for every cruise ship new hire. It is not only the new working environment you need to adapt to, but the whole new world and lifestyle you have to accept and get used to.
Many of us left our families for the first time for a long time, as the contracts often last up to 7-9 months. Ship life is unlike any other lifestyle, full of changes on daily basis, and you need to be flexible in order to endure it.
In this article, I’ll try to give you some information and share my own experience of the first day I joined a cruise ship as a new hire.
Before I applied for a cruise ship job, I had worked in a tour agency in my home country (Serbia). I wasn’t quite happy with the job as it was office-based and poorly paid, so I decided to switch for something more fun and dynamic. That’s how I applied for the position of Shore excursions staff onboard a cruise ship.
I got a job soon after I applied. I passed both interviews and had the flight ticket booked by a cruise ship recruitment agency. I was supposed to join the cruise ship only one month after I got accepted.
I had only one month to quit my previous job, get all the necessary paperwork (click here to see what paperwork is required), buy all necessities, and say goodbye to my family and friends. It was the first time I was leaving my home for 7 months.
The Day Before You Join A Cruise Ship
Cruise companies are different, but most of them organize a hotel stay for their employees the night before they join a cruise ship. As dozens and hundreds of crew members are joining the cruise ships every day, the cruise companies organize shuttle buses to pick them up at the airport and transfer them to the hotel (cruise companies work with a lot of hotel chains worldwide to ensure a safe stay of their crew the day/night before they join the ship).
As I said, it varies from company to company and not always you have the hotel organized (this depends on your embarkation time, when the cruise ship docks in port, your flight duration, the place where you are flying from, etc.).
If you are lucky and your flight is early, you might get the whole day to explore the destination before you get transferred to your ship.
Staying in a hotel is a good opportunity to meet with other crew members; some of them are returning crew members, and some of them are new hires, so it is a great chance to chat with them and relax before you join your ship.
Another reason why cruise companies organize a hotel stay is that once you join your ship, you’ll start working immediately. This refers to the returning crew members, but also new hires. You need to rest well so you can start fresh the next day.
Transfer To The Ship
The transfer to the cruise ship is organized by a cruise company. It can be either a shuttle bus or a taxi, but in most cases, it is arranged by the company and you don’t have to pay for it. Even if you pay, you get reimbursed once you come to the ship.
You’ll get excited, and the first thing I did when I saw the ship (and I am sure everyone does the same!) was to take a picture of it! You’ll be amazed by how huge the ship is, and your excitement will start growing as you’re approaching.
Normally, there will be someone waiting for you outside the ship. If you are a new hire, usually it is someone from the management, and if you are a returning crew member, then it might be one of your colleagues or someone from the ship management.
Once you embark on your ship, there is always an embarkation procedure to follow: you need to get registered, get your ship ID (sea pass), cabin key, emergency card (every crew member has an emergency function onboard, check out this article to learn more: 10 Things To Know Before You Apply For A Cruise Ship Job).
When you are a new hire, normally your supervisor will walk you through the process and explain to you how everything works. You’ll be completely lost the first day, but don’t panic – we all went through that and you’ll be surprised how quickly you would learn things and get used to the ship environment.
The first day is all about the paperwork and formalities, and the following two weeks are an adaptation period; already after that, you’ll feel as if you were born on the ship and nothing will be strange for you anymore.
One of the formalities you have to do on the first day is to go to the medical facility onboard and hand in your original medical documents. Once I joined as a new hire, they measured my temperature and I filled out some papers. The medical staff took the original medical documents I brought from home (before you join the ship, you have to do thorough medical examinations at the pre-approved clinic at home) and provided a basic medical check-up.
Please, keep in mind that due to the Covid-19 many things will change in the cruise industry, especially the medical requirements.
Getting Familiarized With The Ship
Once you’d finished it, you will go sign your contract, fill out other documents, and your supervisor will walk you through the ship and show you all the main crew areas.
Crew areas vary from ship to ship, but normally there are crew mess and staff mess (sort of buffet-style canteens where crew members and officers eat), a crew gym, crew bars, a crew store, a lounge area, an internet café, and a few others.
Your supervisor will take you to your emergency station (the places where you go when the ship evacuation alarm is sounded) and explain to you your emergency duties.
There will be a lot of walking involved and you’ll be completely lost, but as I said, you’ll learn how to get around easily in the next few days.
You will get the instructions and the training schedule from your supervisor. You’ll be required to attend various training for the first couple of weeks on board. Training topics are different: from cultural diversity, environmental topics, zero-tolerance policies, crowd management, to security and safety training.
Some of them might require physical activity, so be ready for that as well (such as launching a life raft, or fire extinguishing).
Training is a great chance to meet other new hires, and that’s where you’ll make your first friends.
When you finish the first set of training, during the whole length of your contract there will be many more training to come, so be ready for constant learning and professional growth.
Getting Your Uniform
Normally, on the first day, your supervisor takes you to the uniform store where you buy the uniforms that you can keep after your contract is finished. Sometimes you pay for your uniform (several hundred dollars that are deducted from your first salary) and sometimes you get them for free. When I joined Royal Caribbean, I needed to pay for my uniforms, but when I worked for Viking River Cruises, I got them for free. It varies from company to company. There is usually a tailor on board a cruise ship, so in case your uniform needs some adjustments, he/she will do it for you.
Moving To Your Cabin
I was looking for my cabin for 45 minutes when I first joined the ship! Cabin numbers are located on Deck 0, Deck 1, and Deck 2 (and also upper decks for highly ranked ship officers), and you’ll have trouble finding yours the first few days you join your ship!
Cabin size and type depend on your job position. Management positions normally have single shared cabins, but most of the other positions get double-shared. When I first joined the ship, I shared a cabin with a girl from the department similar to mine. It was a disaster for a couple of months because we had completely different habits and didn’t quite get along.
You can always submit a request to the HR crew office to move you out of the cabin and put you with someone else, but I didn’t know that the first time I joined.
If you get a single cabin, you can consider yourself a lucky person. Having a small piece of private space onboard a cruise ship can be priceless, as there will be so many moments you will not want anyone to be around you. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury; I always shared a cabin and never had any privacy, which negatively affected my overall working-on-a-cruise-ship experience.
Meeting Your Teammates
You’ll meet your teammates the first day you join the ship. If your team is small, like mine, you’ll probably meet the whole team within the first couple of days on board, but if your team is large, it might take time to meet all of them. Your teammates are the people you’ll be spending most of the time with, so do your best to always be cooperative and friendly.
As I mentioned above, the first two weeks onboard a cruise ship can be difficult and challenging. On the first day, there is a lot of paperwork and formalities to deal with. You start to get familiarized with how the life onboard works, you get to meet your team and ship’s community.
Like in any other job, every beginning is hard, but the ship’s life is so special and unique that you’ll quickly forget about difficulties and start focusing on the positive sides of your job.
After two weeks or even a few days, you’ll feel as if it had been your job since forever. And once you start your cruise ship adventure, life on the land will never be the same.
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