Life at Sea: Cruise Ship Crew

If you had told me as a child that I would spend my 20’s living at sea as part of a cruise ship crew, I would’ve thrown my ballet slipper at your head…because at that time I was studying ballet and had big dreams of becoming a prima ballerina (spoiler: that did not happen).

Being a seaman was not top on my list of “Things I Want To Be When I Grow Up.” And even still, after having lived at sea for nearly three years:

I don’t know how to tie a nautical knot.

I can never remember which is Starboard and Port.

And despite my best efforts, I still giggle every time I’m asked to present my “Seaman’s Discharge Book”…(c’mon, you laughed)

seaman book

nevertheless…

I am a bonafide seaman.

“Bonafide” is not a word of my choosing. It’s how you’re referred to when you fly, and when you sign-on to a cruise ship vessel for 6-8 months at a time.

If you’re thinking I don’t look like a sailor, you’re got a keen eye (or not, because look at me).

cruise ship dancer

Though my job requires wearing sequins, feathers, and false eyelashes, I am also a seaman (seaWOMAN, let’s be clear).

The mental and physical struggles of living onboard are real. Through my exposure to the jobs of other cruise ship crew*, I discoveredfirst-handd a lifestyle that deserves respect and honor.

A seaman’s job is not just his job, it’s LIFE. It’s ship life.

On my recent visit to Fort Lauderdale for TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) I had the opportunity to attend a guided tour of Casa Del Marino, the Seafarer’s House of Port Everglades. I chose this tour, wanting to dive back into the maritime community because, whether I feel like one or not, I am a seafarer. This community is my community. It’s a global fraternity I’ll always be a part of.

seafarer's house fort lauderdale

crew members catching wifi at Casa Del Marino, Port Everglades

Ex-crew members are probably all around you, throughout society like silent veterans united by the rumble of the thrusters and the blare of the drill alarm. The struggles of ship life are shared by all who’ve spent nights listening to the waves lap up against steel walls.  Who I am today is a direct result of my 18 months lived at sea and the sobering emotions I felt, like:

The sadness of being so far from home and family.

The isolation of living detached from the life on land.

The fear of a rough night at sea spent sleepless amid pitching and rolling.

The tension that mounts among roommates, and the confinements of your cabin becoming unbearable. True cabin fever.

The loneliness felt as your stare out into an ocean with no visible end or beginning.

The gravity in realizing your true size, bobbing atop a world covered in blue.

ship sunset

I’m writing to shine light upon a travel lifestyle often overlooked.

IT’S NOT the life of a travel blogger, bouncing around to different luxury hotels and writing reviews in exchange for their stay.

IT’S NOT the life of the expat, living cheaply and working on their laptop as Thai waves lap at their overwater bungalow.

It’s life at sea.

cruise ship sunset bow

WHAT IS A SEAFARER?

 ..seafarers are nearly invisible to the societies they serve.”—Casa Del Marino

“Invisible,” is the perfect word for it. Consider the goods in your very own home. How did they get to your hands? Who was integral to bringing them there? What shoes are you wearing?—They probably made their way to your local outlet store by way of a cargo ship. How did you get to the grocery store today? With petrol, gas?—A tanker probably brought it here. Your cereal you ate for breakfast? That grain was probably shipped aboard a dry-bulk carrier.

The seafaring community is integral to the global economy, yet how often do you think of who drives these ships and makes international trade possible? These are your seafarers. .

If you’re sailing for leisure on a cruise ship, do you think about the crew who made your bed once you’ve disembarked? They’ve likely been cleaning cabins, making drinks, and servicing the ship for 6 months or more. This isn’t their two-week vacation, it’s their life. Working on a cruise ship isn’t a fun summer job helping them travel the world (as it often is for dancers, entertainers, musicians, and the like). Seafarers are living at sea for decades in order to support their families back home.

ship sunset selfie

Cruise ship sunset selfie before the nightly entertainment (and my workday) begins.

WHAT IS A SEAFARER’S HOUSE?

Seafarer’s Houses exist internationally, to provide solace and refuge to those trying to live a healthy life at sea.

Consider what this might mean…

Seafarers are typically away from homes for months, with no option to fly home for a quick visit. The sailors and officers on cargo or carrier ships are a small team making long oceanic crossings that take weeks. Cruise ship crew are notorious for bunking in cabins most would consider walk-in closets. WiFi is not the high-speed stuff of Starbucks coffee shops. The list of conditions that make life at sea difficult goes on…and on…And the mental strife that arises from such conditions is nothing to scoff at.

Seafarer's House Fort Lauderdale

Lesley Warrick, manager of Casa Del Marino, Fort Lauderdale’s Seafarer’s House in Port Everglades.

With an on-call chaplain and a host of services to help mariner’s feel at home (multi-faith ministry, free wifi, wire money transfer, transit to town, books, electronics, gifts), the Seafarers’ Houses are integral to keeping the Marine Industry up and running by providing service to the men and women that operate it.

We are proud to serve the international seafaring community, doing our part to improve their quality of life, serve their needs, and tell their story.”–Casa Del Marino Seafarer’s House Fort Lauderdale

Casa Del Marino, Port Everglades Seafarer’s House, was awarded by the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare as the Seafarers’ Center of the Year in 2012. Not surprising considering their passionate leadership under the direction of Lesley M. Warrick. I could imagine my coworkers finding refuge in their lounge, grabbing wifi to talk to my family and picking up some of my favorite snacks in their store.

rice snacks and pork rinds

Casa Del Marino stocks snacks from all around the world so that everyone can grab a treat that makes them feel at home.

With a large and thriving maritime community, Port Everglades’ Casa Del Marino works hard to maintain its workers’ wellbeing. You can help out the seafaring community too by being a volunteer or donating to this not-for-profit organization.


*My role as a performer on a cruise ship is far easier than other seafaring jobs, let that be clear. I lived in luxury compared to the workers aboard cargo ships, tankers, and bulk carriers. And even among cruise ship jobs, the dancer role was cushy one. Still, I bore witness to the fatiguing way of life that is the engineer officer, the deck cadet, the room steward, the mess cook, etc: a life lived with often less than 8 hours between shifts and no weekend to speak of. These men the real bonafide seamen.

Have any questions about life at sea? Ask away!

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About Kelsey

Kelsey is a dancer, wandering this world as performing artist and writing about it. She's skilled at forgetting her umbrella, getting lost, and eating too much cheese. Wend is her platform to share her nomadic lifestyle, and all the moments of beauty, grace, and hilarity that happen along the way. Join her as she finds her place in the world while dancing whenever she can.

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