Disney Cruise Line: A Cast Member in Training Part II

By Kim Button, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 3, 2007 Issue #393 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

In my last article, I gave you a taste of what it was like to be selected as a crew member for the Disney Cruise Line. Now, let's step onboard the ship for the first time as a crew member and experience the unique world of living under the water level on a cruise ship.

After days of land-based training, my training team was brought by van to the Disney Cruise Line's crew area. We gathered our luggage and followed our Human Resources leader to the security gate, where we were cleared through and were soon walking across the cargo loading areas to the crew gangway, which leads into the lower decks of the ship. For most of us, the anticipation was overwhelming. Few people really know what life is like on the crew levels of a cruise ship, and we were about to experience it for the first time.

Boarding the ship from the crew entrance is definitely not the same as boarding through the guest entrance. The gangway leads into a no-frills bay, which is usually loud and bustling with crew members scurrying through the crew quarters, cargo being brought onboard, and plenty of security and immigration personnel overseeing your every move.

Our first stop was the Crew Office, a really tiny room on a lower deck of the ship where paychecks, room assignments and benefits are handled. Even though the Crew Office is a central part of every crew member's life while onboard, the space was ridiculously small. A maximum of three people could fit in the space behind the counter, so bringing in an entire training team meant that we were standing in line in the hallway with our luggage, eagerly anticipating our room assignments, crew IDs, etc. On paydays, the Crew Office would invariably have long lines with crew members trying to cash checks or pay bills. Crew members soon learned that if you needed to take care of financial problems or any other type of issue that the office handled, you'd need to go late in the night unless you wanted to waste a lot of time. It was sort of like the DMV, only for a ship.

After much waiting, we were finally given our room assignments. Crew members are typically roomed with someone in the same department. Most rooms sleep two people. For instance, dining staff would be roomed together and housekeeping crew members would be roomed together, but chances are a dining crew member and someone from housekeeping would rarely, if ever, be in the same room. This is because of the odd work hours on the ship. Typically, crew members working in the same department would have comparable working and sleeping hours, and would be spending the most time together. Who your roommate is depends on who has an empty space in their room at the beginning of your contract. As crew members' contracts end and begin over staggered times, there's a continuous flow of empty rooms.

As a member of the Cruise Staff, I was part of the Programming Division. Since our staff only had about eight members, we were combined with the Children's Programming staff, which was considerably larger. My room assignment was with Allison, a Canadian who worked in Children's Programming.

The number one question that I'm always asked about working on the ship is, "What were the rooms like?" Let me tell you, the first time I opened the door to my crew room, it took my breath away (not in a good way, either!). I don't think it's possible to imagine how tiny a crew room is without actually seeing it! Seriously, your mind can't even fathom such things.

When I opened the door to my home-away-from-home for the first time, the door swung into the room and immediately took up half of the interior space. To my left was a wall that had two narrow desks, each with one shelf above with metal railings so your items wouldn't fly off during rough waters. We had a television on one of the shelves, which broadcast the guest television channels as well as an additional movie channel for the crew.

Immediately in front of me were two bunk beds. I don't think they were even full-size twin beds, they were so small. Thankfully, though, they each had a curtain that could be pulled the entire length of the bed so that you could sleep while your roommate had the lights on. Though we each had two closets, which would hold about eight hangers each, most of the storage was in and under the bed. The headboard and footboard could be lifted up for some small storage and we each had a drawer under the lower bunk. That's it.

If all of this wasn't depressing enough, I hadn't even stepped inside the "bathroom" yet, which was being hidden by the opened room door. Crew bathrooms are very reminiscent of airline bathrooms, only with a really tiny shower in the corner. The shower is in the shape of a triangle, and you can't lift both arms up at once without hitting the shower curtain and having it cling to you. The toilet and sink were crammed in there, too, with very little storage space.

The room was entirely too small for one person (although more senior members of staff did get single rooms), but imagine putting two people in it at the same time — there was no room to even move around, since we had about nine square feet of open floor space. When my boyfriend sent me a bouquet of flowers on my birthday, the flowers ended up taking up so much room that we had pollen on our clothes for about a week, since the flower arrangement consumed about half of our usable walking area by the door. At Christmas, my family wanted to send me a small tabletop tree to decorate. They just couldn't comprehend that there was literally no surface space to set a tree on.

So, that was to be my living arrangements for the next six months. I would soon learn that I was directly under the luggage loading area, too, which meant that every debarkation morning, the walls would literally start shaking at about 5 a.m., as passenger's luggage was being carted off the ship directly above my head. Thankfully, my room was right next to the elevator because I never did learn to navigate my way through the maze of rooms that created the crew quarters. Every single room looked the same, and countless times I got lost trying to find my way back from the laundry room.

Doing laundry on the ship was a new experience, too. Because of strange work hours, I would have to put in a load of laundry before heading off to host a dance party, and hope that no one was messing with my clothes as I was doing the twist and the hand jive in WaveBands. In between shows, I would run down to the crew area to put my clothes in the dryer, and then run back up to the guest area to socialize with the guests.

I didn't have to do too much laundry, though, because all crew members are fitted for costumes as soon as they get onboard. You never have to wash your costumes; you just bring them down to costuming to exchange them for clean clothes, hopefully ones that are actually your size. The costuming area is hidden away among the lower decks, where the heat and steam from the industrial washers and dryers creates agonizingly miserable conditions for the crew members whose job it is to wash bedding, towels, costumes and linens all day.

Each crew member has a series of costume pieces, depending on their position. I was taken to the back of the costuming department and measured for a wide array of costumes that I would need during my varied job duties — a formal nautical outfit for standing in the embarkation greeting line; slacks and a blazer for standing behind the Guest Services counter; polo shirts and shorts, as well as pants, for walking along the deck and hosting deck parties; shirts and shorts to be worn on Castaway Cay, as well as a bathing suit; silk shirts and dressy pants for evening activities; plus an outerwear jacket and belts that corresponded to each outfit. I also received two nametags, the defining moment when you know that you are truly a crew member. Sure, signing the contracts and getting a crew ID makes you feel like a crew member, but for me, it was official when I had the nametag that was to be worn at all times so that guests could identify me as part of the crew.

The last pieces of my costume were my favorites. We hosted two themed dance parties on each sailing, a 1950s party and a 1970s party, so we had to have appropriate costumes. Those weren't to be found in normal costuming, though. We got those from theater costuming. It was so exciting to go behind the stage of the Walt Disney Theatre to the costuming department, where racks upon racks of fanciful show costumes were hanging. A seamstress dedicated to keeping up the costumes for the theater productions also fitted the Cruise Staff for our specialty costumes. Since the girl I replaced on Cruise Staff was the exact size that I was, I didn't need to have a costume specifically made for me, but we went through the paces of measuring me to make sure that we had the perfect fit. I was assigned a green felt poodle skirt with a crinoline underlay, a cardigan sweater and gauzy scarf for the 1950s party, and a lime green pantsuit for the 1970s party.

So, now I have my ID and nametag, I have my room, and I've been outfitted with my costume wardrobe. What's next? Join me next time as I meet the other members of the Cruise Staff and start crew member training onboard the Disney Cruise Line.


Read Kim's first article in the series at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue389.htm

Kimberly Button is the author of The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook. For more information, to read an excerpt, and to sign up for a monthly newsletter featuring Disney-themed activities, visit www.disneysurvivalguide.com

Purchase Kim's book via: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi