Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?
Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.
Welcome to the third in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story.
PART 3: Working and sleeping aboard a small cruise ship
By Elise Lentz.
It takes a special relationship to work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with your spouse. Some may even venture to say it takes a “lobotomy.” In a previous post, I mentioned that Tim and I spent 14 months “full-timing” across the USA in a 24-foot RV. That adventure allowed us to test the waters of cohabiting in small quarters for an extended period of time. After surviving that journey, we asked ourselves if we were ready for the ultimate test of our marriage. We knew there would be a lot of challenges ahead of us. We would be entering a brand new career working in foreign countries we have never been to before and leaving the security of the family and friends we knew. The only thing that was a constant, in all of this, is we had each other.
Could we work side-by-side and live in small quarters, 24 /7 for seven months? And could we do it without killing each other? It turns out, we did not kill each other (though we had our moments…).
Spending the last 15 years together, on the high seas, many people remark that we are living their “fantasy.” With that, I’m often asked, what is it like to live and work onboard a cruise ship. First off, it’s important to understand that there is a dramatic difference between working as crew and working as a tour leader — and we have done both. As crew, you are hired by the cruise line and live and eat in crew quarters and your work schedule is 7 days a week for months on end. As a tour leader, you are hired by a tour operator to manage their group onboard. You are classified as a passenger, so you sleep in a passenger cabin and dine in passenger restaurants and, in general, you get some down time during your assignment.
With that in mind, “life on board” can best be described in terms of Clint Eastwood’s movie — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
When we started working for Windstar Cruises, we were hired as crew and our positions were classified as officer status. I would equate ship-board life as similar to being in the military, where your rank defines your amenities. Tim and I shared a cabin together and, thankfully, it had its own bathroom (The Good). Other crew members bunked together in smaller living quarters (sometimes 4 per cabin) and used a communal bathroom down the hall (The Bad). The crew mess hall had a separate area for officers, which meant the officers mess offered less fish heads, rice and hot sauce and more curry dishes. The one thing they both had in common was an abundance of cigarette smoking (The Ugly).
Crew areas are your “home away from home”
The size of the ship determined the amenities available, where some “larger” small ships offer a separate crew bar, gym and lounge. But no matter the size of the ship, Karaoke can always be found (Which can be The Good, Bad and Ugly). OK – you get the drift….
I had no idea what working (on average) 16+ hours a day, 7 days a week for 7 months would entail. Being “on,” in front of the public, all day long, for months on end, takes a lot of energy, patience and self-control. Being only human, there are just some days you want to curl up under a blanket with a cup of coffee and a good book. I remember one such day about five months into my contract. We docked in a small Caribbean port and I was at the end of the gangway greeting passengers as they disembarked for the day. A lady approached me and asked the following question: “How should I walk?” I politely replied to her: “Well, normally I walk right foot then left foot then right foot then left foot.” I will be the first to admit, it was not one of my finest moments, and she made sure to note this in her comment card by writing: “Hostess was a smart xxx.”
It was at that time I realized my own physical and mental limits. For me, working in such a high profile position, in the public eye for 7 months (without a day off), was not healthy. So while I loved what I did, I needed to find a better way to do it.
During our tenure on the ships, we would often meet tour leaders who were responsible for a group they brought onboard. It may have been with a corporate incentive group or an organized touring group. The tour leader, in essence, was a passenger working on board. As crew, I couldn’t stop thinking about this. As I explained previously, they were assigned to passenger cabins and dined in the passenger dining rooms and had days off. (The Good… The REALLY GOOD).
From Crew to Tour Leaders = Cabin Upgrade
We were finishing a four-month contract in the Aegean, when we were approached by a tour operator to join their organization as a husband/wife tour leader team aboard their small-ship cruising programs. After working as crew for five years, this was an offer that was hard to turn down (refer to The REALLY GOOD above). We would now be “working passengers” on board some of the finest small ships and leading groups on luxury tours around the world.
However, despite what some may think, just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean those serving you are also on vacation. People will ask me — “So how do you get a gig like this?” I often reply, jokingly, that #1, you need a big bladder because you are the last to pee, and #2, you need a small stomach because you are the last to eat (The Bad). The reality is, to make sure your vacation runs smoothly and appears effortless, takes a lot of “behind the scenes” work for the tour leader. But… I can now do that work in luxury passenger areas rather than crew areas (The Good) and I know that I don’t have to wait four-to-seven months before I get a day off (The Good… The REALLY GOOD).
Our time spent onboard ships over the past 15 years was not without its challenges, but it also offered us many memorable moments. Want to hear a few??? I bet you do. OK. Next time….
To read past installments, click here:
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