In Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain showed us that in order to be a respected chef, one had to be a relentless zealot who craved insane hours, low pay, peer abuse, and borderline alcoholism. I, like Tony, am generalizing, but the fact of the matter is that chefs are some of the hardest working women and men in industry today. Now triple those long chef hours, half the pay, and take away the freedom of being able to sleep in your own bed at night, and you get a cruise crew member.
In this Cruise Critic interview with the author of “Cruise Confidential”, we get to see how grueling it really is to live onboard a mega floating resort and have to put on a smile for eight months straight. Crew members typically work 14-15 hours a day, without days off, for six to eight months at a time. Waiters serve every meal and (sometimes, if they’re lucky) get one lunch off every week to see the sights at a port.
So why do people do it? Most ship crews come from international backgrounds where the pay is slightly more than what they can make at home. Some do it for the glamorous open seas and expanding of horizons. A few do it to prove a point (like the author). Regardless of the reasons why someone would choose to work on a ship, cruise operators have mastered the art of creating excellent crew morale in very tough conditions, and the lists of applicants for cruise positions are longer than ever.
Yes, hoteliers and other operators could learn a thing or two from the cruise playbook about employee motivation and morale. But even more importantly, living vicariously through a cruise crew member can unearth some of the most complex things about human nature. Why do people do the things they do? The closer we get to finding that answer, the more effective we can be as managers and contributing members of society. And the cruise underbelly is as good a place to start exploring as any.