In April 2008, I had freed myself from a job where I was paid poorly and from a controller and jealous boyfriend. I had to return to my parent’s house and I was no clear about my life and what I wanted to do in the future. I just knew I wanted to go to New Zealand, but I had no money. I was looking for a job on the Internet when I came across an ad about working on cruises. I immediately applied, and I went to a couple of interviews on a Chilean agency that apparently doesn’t exist anymore —Tulio’s Marine Services— and in less than two months I was in Los Angeles, California. My idea was to save about $6,000 USD to go to Auckland. So I sold my car, paid the C1 / D visa, bought my L.A. ticket and had done the medical exams.
My parents didn’t want me to go. My mother was terrified, she thought the job was a scam and that it could be about human trafficking. It was my first time travelling just by myself.
I was applying for a job as a shop assistant for Starboard, a concession in charge of retail in most cruise lines, like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, etc. I wanted to travel as soon as possible, so I asked my agency to send me to any available ship.
I landed on the Carnival Paradise, a “small ship” for 2,000 passengers that at the time was doing short cruises from Long Beach, California, on to the Catalina Island and Ensenada, México. When I signed on the ship, a teenager looking guy came to pick me up. I thought he was some sort of “greeting member”, in charge of showing me around. But I was wrong, this cute and short young English man turned out to be my manager. We called him “Chico” and it was very hard to take him seriously. He told me “We don’t use uniforms here, so use anything smart casual”. Shit. So I went to my cabin and dressed up as a serious person. My roommate wasn’t there. I went to Chico’s office and he sent me to a bar to meet the rest of the team. Nobody even looked at me. There were some few eastern Europeans and a couple of Indians. The women were over dressed like they were going to a wedding. They barely spoke and they had a bitter expression on their faces while they smoked one cigarette after another one. A blonde from Belarus started talking to me and then she realised that I was a new team member. Apparently, no one was expecting me. Actually, the Belarusian girl thought I was an Australian singer that just wanted to smoke.
We went to the store and then I met my cabin mate, a thai girl had learned English watching soup operas. She talked like she was reading a telegraph and the passengers were not really happy interacting with her. She was about 30 years old, but she would only talk about Kunfu Panda.
We opened at 5 pm and the passengers started getting in. Oh I will never forget this moment. I was an ignorant in cruise ship matters and nobody advised me about the kind of public that Carnival focuses on.
Instead, the agency always talked about luxury. I could not believe it. First, I had never seen such big people in my life. Second, they didn’t care about anything, they were very rude. And third, there was drunk people everywhere! It turned out that Carnival ships are known as the Fun Ships, ideally for: bachelor parties, honeymoons, spring breaks, where everything seems to be alloud. Here, people can drink and eat until they drop. Literally. We had at least one dead person per cruise, usually heart attack’s victims.
I think I was in shock during most of the day. But there was not way back: I had spent all my savings in that flight ticket. Now I had to work hard. And I was happy to do so.
After closing time, we went all —except the thai girl— to the crew bar. Big and amazing was my surprise when I found out that one Corona beer was $1 USD, or that one Tequila Sunrise was $2. In this bar I had the most amazing parties. I’m more into rock music but the crew was all about electronic and euro pop and I actually started liking it, until I met a South African guy that was more into rock and roll, like me.
One month later, I’d already met the whole crew and I was completely into this new world, but I have to say that spending six months doing this cruises and working with those passengers was a very hard job.
Particularly tough was the last month on board: my boyfriend was sent to another ship and most of my friends had finished their contracts and where already home. The good thing is that the ship went for dry dock for two weeks in San Francisco. Us, the shoppies, had to work a couple of days, re arranging products. The rest of the time we were free to do whatever we wanted. Spending my birthday in San Fran was one of the best things of my life.
I reached my goal and I saved more than $7,000 USD. But I didn’t go straight away to New Zealand. I was already infected with the crewmember’s disease and I wanted to go back for more.