We have taken dozens of cruises, but we never knew what happened behind the scenes. We interviewed a cruise industry veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, to provide some insight.
How long have you been in the cruise industry?
I worked in the cruise industry for 20 years, holding various positions. I’ve traveled to various countries and cities for work and pleasure.
What types of positions have you held?
I’ve held several positions. I was originally hired as a temporary receptionist/secretary and after a couple of weeks, I ended up running the office. Not even a year later, my responsibilities quickly changed as this industry does, and I began placing and confirming food and beverage orders with various vendors as a temporary buyer in the food and beverage department. The company later decided to stock its own inventory and move me to gift shop supervisor (warehouse distribution). After various complaints from the vessels regarding deliveries, I changed positions again to commodity inspector confirming quality and company specifications from supplies. I received training including HAZMAT to ensure the proper handling of food and food preparation. My last position was as supervisor of logistics ensuring all cargo distribution to 21 ships in the fleet including that of a different class ship and company.
People seem to either love cruising or stay away from it because they have a bad impression. What would you say to someone who is considering a cruise for the first time or who hasn’t cruised in years?
I’d say to those who have never cruised or heard stories of cruising from people who remember the Titanic or Sea Escape that ships are not built like in the past; they are bigger with better the latest technology. The feel is like a hotel and city on the water. Be open-minded and take a short trip first, but go with a proven company, not just the cheapest. I’m not sure since 9/11 if they still give tours of the operation but ask the purser if you can learn more about the vessels capabilities if you need the reassurance. Most times they are happy to brag.
Many people don’t realize that cruise companies own many lines or classes of ships. How does that affect the cruise experience?
There are really only a few owners. Most of the cruise brands are operating somewhat separately, but Carnival is the largest owner of various brands. When choosing a cruise you have to determine what you expect to get from it. There are exceptions, but generally, for example, Disney is known for its activities for children. Carnival and Norwegian are known for fun & young. Holland America and Princess have lots of balconies. Each brand promotes their strongest class, which is the level of service. Most people don’t know that cruise lines are very accommodating if you have a special request (kosher meal, disability etc). If you have a problem, the ship will make every effort to solve within reason. So don’t just complain, inform the staff of your issues.
How can people avoid getting sick on a cruise? We just returned from one where we were sprayed with sanitizer every time we walked in the buffet area and we could not use the same dish twice. Yet, by the end of the cruise, it seemed as though several guests and staff members were sneezing and coughing. How can people stay healthy?
Remember cruises are comprised of people commuting from all different places via planes and sometimes trains. There are lots of unwashed hands, and the key is to keep your hands washed and sanitized. I usually take an Airborne prior to my cruise. If you use vitamin C take it daily. I was on a 10-day cruise and passengers were getting sick, I never once had an upset stomach. You would be surprised if you sit and watch how many people will not sanitize prior to entering the buffet. Did they wash them prior to arriving there?
How do cruise lines keep food safe?
Food safety is a top priority on a ship, and the staff is hazmat trained on storage and preparation. Expiration dates are checked prior to receiving goods from the vendors, also the FIFO (first in first out) system is used to ensure quality. Inspections of the kitchen are done at almost every port via coast guard and F&B officials for cleanliness. Ask for a tour of the kitchen on your next cruise. Some vessels are glad you are interested.
What do cruise lines do with the waste? When we flush, where does it go?
The lines have some amazing operational equipment. The filtration system below deck is top of the line technology, and the system also gets cleaned and flushed at a designated ports.
Below deck 4 is a huge compactor which crushes and boxes up the waste to be dropped off at a designated port when the vessel arrives.
What tips do you have to prevent seasickness?
1. My advice to first-time cruisers is to ensure your body’s equilibrium is balanced prior to getting your sea legs. The day of the cruise have your breakfast, then have your lunch. If you get to the ship 2-3 pm, have something to eat prior to the vessel moving.
2. If you don’t know if you will get seasick, you can ask your doctor for a motion patch, goes behind your ear.
3.If you prefer to bring the Dramamine, take it prior to the vessel leaving and every day before you hit the floor take the tablet.
4. Stay hydrated
5. The ship’s doctors also have injections for motion sickness.
What happens when passengers die on board?
There is a morgue on the ship and bodies are kept there until the ship reaches the port of embarkation.
Many passengers get angry when they see extra charges on their bill for gratuities and other items they didn’t expect. What are typical daily charges and how can people save money on cruises?
First, know that the staff works hard to ensure you have a great cruise experience. Part of the service staffs’ salaries is made up of tips. If you get good service, you want to reward that person. For years customers were given the option to tip and didn’t for whatever reason. Only some staff was being tipped. This new process uses all the collected monies and divides it amount all staff in a position of service (dining room, deck, housekeeping) and they all thank you. I understand if you are not aware of the gratuities because the cruise lines only implemented that a few years ago. However, you can speak with the purser and ask to have some or all of those charges removed. Most times they will accommodate.
Is it better to organize an excursion yourself or use the ship’s vendors? How should a passenger decide?
If you are a first-time cruiser, I suggest going with the ship. I usually take a tour to get the information especially if I may come back again. All tour companies have been checked and verified by the line. Many are locals anyway who are glad to advise you for your next adventure on a local level.
How many cruises have you taken and what is your favorite destination?
I have been on only a couple of lines but over 20 cruises of 7-15 days each. My favorite was 7 days in Alaska in July with a balcony. My selected excursions were great and the weather was too.
What are some other facts that may surprise passengers?
Another reason cruise lines require a passport is is to ensure your citizenship in case of an emergency. If you need an airlift, you won’t be flown to a hospital if they can’t prove your citizenship. The lines also want to prevent felons from fleeing. If you owe back child support, you can’t get a passport, and that can also prevent you from traveling.
Any other advice for novice or experienced cruisers?
Don’t decide on your first cruise by cost alone. The value is in the destination, accommodation, and recreation!
Also published on Medium.