Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What is Behind Door #1?

If you are like me when you travel, you always have wondered what is going on behind the scenes at various places. We all want to know what is going on behind the scenes after we wave goodbye to our luggage at the airline check-in counter; sometimes we regret we didn’t spend a more quiet intimate moment with those bags during that goodbye as we later discovered it would be the last time we would ever spend time together. So naturally our minds try to guess at the mysteries that take place in the area where us mere mortals are strictly forbidden. It is like trying to sneak a peak at Oz.

Well...that same wondering takes place every time I step foot on a cruise ship. I have often wanted to see and hear of the goings on behind those doors that plainly read, “crew members only.” How is it that a cruise ship can feed thousands of patrons every night with such speed and accuracy? How can thousands of beds and staterooms get tidied up while we are gone for what only seems like a few minutes? It is like something out of an “I Dream of Genie” episode. We know that what makes a cruise a real vacation is the attention to detail by the crew and the royalty treatment that we all receive that helps us all escape some of the stresses of everyday life for just a while.

But I am afraid that many have forgotten that it is the back-breaking work of each crew member that makes a cruise one of the best vacation options available. We lose site of that because we never get to see what is going on behind those closed and forbidden doors, that is until now.

Warning...sometimes reality can alter perceptions. You can now get an idea of what it is like to be an employee on these floating cities that we call cruise ships when you pick up a copy of Cruise Confidential,” written by Brian Bruns. I just picked up a copy of this book the other day and I am losing sleep because I cannot put it down. I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive at first. I was not sure if I was ready to see the truth of what really goes on “below deck,” as I will refer to it. Was I ready to know how the employees are actually treated? Was I prepared to learn of the hours that each crew member is required to work during each cruise? Did I even fully understand how each crew member is compensated and did I really need to understand that?

The book is a must-read in my opinion for anyone who has made cruise vacations their primary means of getting away from it all or even for any future cruiser. It is brutally honest, not only of what life is like working on a cruise ship, but also honest of how cruise vacationers are perceived by the crew, especially Americans. Now before you discount what is said of the American tourist, please know that the book is written by an American crew member. He let’s us all see how many are viewed when it comes to our consumption of food, or should I say the over-consumption. The book has helped me understand the everyday struggles that a crew member must work through, but also helps me see that we (the passengers) can make their struggles much greater by the way some act and treat them as if they are their indentured servants.

As Brian states in the book, each food service employee is required to work all day, breakfast, lunch and dinner with virtually no breaks in between. The tips we all give them at the end of the cruise is the majority of their income. So don’t think for a minute that you are over-tipping someone with the standard $10 per person per day recommendation. And don’t think, as some do, that just because you only ate in the buffet each night somehow relieves you of having to tip any of the dining help. Each person you see, the person getting you water or tea at the buffet, the person clearing your plate after you ate lunch by the pool, the person keeping the buffet lines full of plates, every person there relies on your tips as their main source of income and they are working VERY hard to earn those tips (80+ hours a week on average).

The book also gives you some insight into the mass of international humanity that is below deck. Every crew member, with the exception of the rare American like Brian, is from some other Country and speaks at least 2 if not 3-5 languages. They all have to know and speak English when they are “above deck” where the passengers are. The book will help you see how we all should be patient with the crew since they are having to switch between their own native tongue and English just for us. And for those who have the idea that they should speak English because they are in “our Country,” uh...they are not actually. Just because the ship has its home port in the U.S. does not make it a U.S. territory. It sails you and me to FOREIGN Countries where we are the minority along with the crew members so just chuck that line of reasoning right out the window and be respectful. We are all a part of the human race are we not?

In summary...the book did a great job in helping me understand more of how it all works behind the scenes. Knowing how it works may alter some of my decisions as far as how I order in the dining room and how much extra I may tip those that went above and beyond to make sure I had a great time. The book will help me be more patient with any crew member in any situation where I may think something is not going as I had planned or expected.

So I encourage you to pick up Brian’s book and realize that knowing the truth of what does happen behind the forbidden doors can help us all have a better overall vacation experience.


Anonymous said...

The racist comments that Bruns uses to describe a couple of the non-white crew members rather turned me off. As did his rather arrogant attitude and sense of entitlement that permeates throughout the book like the stench of ten-day old raw fish. said...

I have read a few reviews from other readers who commented on what was perceived as a bit of arrogance and he may be in fact...arrogant. Hard to know what is reality versus just a form of writing style to make the book more interesting etc.

It is also interesting to see how some Americans might view a comment or 2 of his as racist when it seems that racism was more show to him for being a "white American" on a ship made up os sooo many Nationalities. Not sure any of his co-workers would view him as a racist as much as some in our Country would. I can't judge if he is just based on what he wrote.

I do appreciate your comment and thanks for reading my post.