Disney Cruise Line: A Cast Member in Training Part IV
By Kim Button, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the June 19, 2007 Issue #404 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
In my last article about working onboard the Disney Wonder, I mentioned that getting used to my job duties was easy, but getting used to the living conditions was more difficult. Surprisingly, the hardest aspect of cruise ship life for me was the strange sensation of feeling like I was living in a foreign world, even though I spent so much time in Port Canaveral and on a Disney ship full of Americans.
As I mentioned before, I was one of only a handful of Americans to be working onboard the Disney Wonder. My immediate boss was also an American and had worked at the Walt Disney World Resort, too, so we had a great deal in common and I had someone that I could easily talk to. Everyone else, though, was from a myriad of different nationalities. When you're living and working with other people in a very close environment, cultural differences tend to become much more pronounced.
Though everyone on my team came from an English-speaking country, our phrases and vocabulary definitely weren't the same. There were many, many times that our conversations seemed to need an interpreter, even though we were all speaking English. I know I wasn't the only one feeling this way, because many guests would come up to me and say "Oh, you're an American! I can actually understand what you're saying!"
Of course, language was just one of our cultural differences. Throughout the ship, everyone had a different style of dress when they weren't wearing their cruise line uniforms, different political views, different work habits and ethics, different ways of dealing with the opposite sex… everything seemed to be different. It was as if I was living in a foreign country and dealing with culture shock, yet twice a week I would sail back to port in my home country and yet not feel like I was home at all.
One of the biggest cultural differences of all was the food. In the crew mess below decks, the cafeteria is a display of multicultural tastes. Never in my life had I seen broths served with every meal, yet apparently this is common in many countries, so there was always a large vat of some type of broth liquid available. Rice is also a mainstay, and there was plenty of it. There were more hot teas to choose from than I had ever been used to before. Yet, for all of the nods towards other country's culinary tastes, there was rarely a supply of "American" food, such as sandwiches, hamburgers, pastas, etc.
This might sound like a blessing in disguise, since American diets are traditionally too heavy with too many calories. Yet, when you're working for 18 hours a day on your feet doing very physical activities, you need some substance to get you through the day and we were definitely NOT getting it. The food situation became so bad that my boss, knowing my journalism background, asked me to write a letter to DCL management to increase the foods available and their quality. The lack of edible food in the cafeteria was a situation affecting everyone.
Though there are plenty of places onboard the ship for guests to get a quick snack whenever they want, it was not like that for the crew. The crew mess was essentially your one-stop dining destination, and if you weren't eating food there (especially when they were closed periodically throughout the day), then you had to rely on food you bought in port. The problem with that, though, is that you actually needed time to get off the ship, get transportation to a store to buy food (which has to be prepackaged and not fresh fruits, vegetables, etc. because of Customs rules) and get back to the ship. With our work schedules, that didn't happen too often. And if you remember my description of our crew rooms in a previous article, there was no room to store food even if you were able to purchase it.
Perhaps during a cruise you might have seen some crew members dressed in work clothes eating in guest areas. As officers, you are allowed to do that, and as a member of the Cruise Staff, I was a very low ranking officer and had that privilege. However, my boss didn't think it would look appropriate, so we weren't even allowed to go to the snack bars, even though it should have been one of the perks of my job.
With the lack of food that I was willing to eat and the heavy amount of physical activity every day, I was soon losing weight at a rapid pace. By the end of my time with the DCL, I was stick thin and my clothes just hung on me. I was already wearing the smallest size costume that was available, and even those quickly became too big, even the bathing suit. It was a serious medical problem that guests would find hard to believe with the extravagance of food in the guest areas, yet the lack of food for the crew was a problem nonetheless.
When I was able to get off the ship, my only concern was finding a place to eat. To this day, I still consider a Subway sandwich that I bought in Nassau to be one of the top ten food highlights of my life. Before you start questioning my taste, I also consider Artist Point and Victoria and Albert's at Walt Disney World to be among the tops, too, but I had been so hungry for so long and just wanted something "American" that every single bite of that sandwich tasted like a little bit of heaven to me.
You might be wondering to yourself, why was it so hard to get off the ship to get food? After all, guests can come and go whenever you're in port. In my next article, I'll tell you about the crazy schedules of a crew member, the sheer joy of receiving mail, and the unique challenges that crew members face in trying to stay connected to loved ones around the world.
Kimberly Button is the author of The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook.
Purchase Kim's book via: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.