Disney Cruise Line: A Cast Member in Training Part VII
By Kim Button, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the March 4, 2008 Issue #441 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
In my last article, I talked about the frustrations of trying to phone family members and friends while living and working as a crew member onboard the Disney Cruise Line. Though phoning home had its own trials and tribulations, receiving mail and even sending emails had their ups and downs, too.
When I was a crew member, the Internet was not available on the Disney Wonder, so times have changed, thankfully for the better. One of the only public places for crew members to check their email was at an Internet cafe somewhere on Nassau. I never did visit the cafe, because I never had time. Remember, it's really difficult for some crew members to have enough free time to do any errands off of the ship. Since we stayed late in port at Nassau, many crew members would head to the cafe at one or two in the morning.
For the international crew members, email was the cheapest and easiest way to keep in touch with their friends and family. However, all of the cruise lines that docked in port had crew members who were all competing for the computer terminals at the Internet cafe. Just because you had the time and the money for a taxi to travel there, it didn't necessarily mean you were going to be able to check your email.
If you weren't using a pay phone, cell phone or email, your communication with the rest of the outside world relied on your postal mail… if you got it. Since we were living on a ship, mail only came twice a week while we were in port. Our mail was sent to a stateside address, then delivered to the heads of each department on the ship. For instance, all of the Cruise Staff personal mail was delivered to our boss, who then had to hand it out individually.
For me, mail was mainly cards and letters from my family and boyfriend, but some crew members relied on the mail to receive credit card bills and other important financial matters. If there was a delay in the mail, it could really mean trouble, especially since the outgoing mail had to wait until you came back in port several days later and then had to pass through the chain of command once again. Mail delivery was one of the highlights of my week, since it was one of the few ways I could keep in touch with my family. If they sent pictures, I would immediately tape them to the walls of my bunk bed. I kept every single card and letter. I was ecstatic when I would get a small gift in the mail. The mail system was my lifeline to the life that I was used to back on dry land.
Luckily for me, I had friends and family in the area who wanted to drive to Port Canaveral to see me, so I was really able to stay in touch with people. But it's not like a crew member can just walk off of a ship to see someone that has popped in to say hi.
In a previous article I mentioned the crew "windows" that prevented crew members from leaving the ship in Port Canaveral whenever they chose to. That made seeing my boyfriend, who would drive an hour each weekend to the port to see me for just a few brief hours, really difficult because if I missed a crew window, I wouldn't see him again for a week. In fact, one weekend the crew "windows" were never opened and we were not allowed to leave the ship. My boyfriend was waiting on the dock to see me, and my cell phone had no reception in port. Even the onboard satellite phones that cost about $8 a minute weren't working because we were in port, so there was no way to let him know that I wasn't going to be allowed off of the ship. "Frustrating" isn't even the word to describe what it feels like when you can't see friends or family who are so close, yet so far, in the bureaucratic red tape of sailing in international waters.
Another time, my aunt and family surprised me by driving to the port to see me, not realizing the legalities that were involved with me getting off of the ship. They were in the boarding terminal and somehow got a message through to my boss on the ship that they were there. I was ecstatic, but I couldn't leave the ship. Thankfully, my boss was able to somehow pull some strings and get the appropriate paperwork together for me to simply step off of the gangway into the boarding terminal so that I could see my family. By that time, though, so much time had passed doing the paperwork that it was a very brief reunion.
To get around all of the red tape and spend some quality time with me, my boyfriend surprised me on Thanksgiving by booking a stay on the Thanksgiving sailing. The entire lobby heard me scream when I saw him walk off of the gangway into the main lobby of the ship. While I was so happy that I would be able to spend time with him, once again the intricate laws of the cruise line would limit our time.
Just to be able to have dinner in Palo's, I had to request special written permission from one of the heads of the dining department to be in the restaurant, because I was a crew member. My schedule for the sailing had already been made, so there was no way to get a few extra hours off. During my limited time off, I just really wanted to relax and enjoy a decent meal so we ordered room service from his stateroom. The room service waiter recognized me and nearly refused to serve us the food because I was a crew member, even though it was ordered by a paying DCL guest. While it was clearly obvious that I was forbidden to be in guest areas to socialize when I wasn't on the clock, it was also forbidden for any guests to enter the crew quarters, so the complexities of trying to find a time and place to visit a personal acquaintance were quite frustrating.
Though trying to stay in touch with people back in the U.S. was my biggest frustration of my DCL career, my time on the ship was one of the best experiences of my life. In my final article, I'll tell you about the unexpected joys that Disney Cruise Line guests bring to the crew members and what it's like to find yourself on dry land again.
Read Kim's first article in the series at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue389.htm
Part II is at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue393.htm
Part III is at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue398.htm
Part IV is at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue404.htm
Part V is at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue412.htm
Part VI is at: http://allears.net/cruise/issue419.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