Life was good for a girl in her twenties. I was a freelance beauty therapist who worked Tuesday through to Saturday lunch. A brilliant customer base with generous regulars, I was never short of a tenner in my pocket.
Even though I was content, I craved adventure! I longed to just pack a bag, book a flight, and go explore. However, like most young adults with the same desire; one predicament stood in my way, money! Then one day it struck me, I could go and work on a cruise ship! I would get paid to see the world with the security of a temporary home.
My mind was made up. Before I knew it, I’d filled out an application form, got a job interview and after a presentation; selling my skills as a beauty therapist, I got the job! The world was my oyster and I intended to collect a few pearls along the way!
Six weeks later I waved goodbye to my friends and family, as I boarded the London bound train, for my training course; with a suitcase in one hand and a purse with £500 in the other. On arrival, I excitedly jumped into a black cab and gave the address of the youth hostel, which would be my digs whilst training. My excitement soon turned into panic; reaching for my purse to pay, realising I’d left it on the train!
I still remember the taxis drivers rage, “what am I going to do now you can’t pay!” Followed by my frustration, “You! What about me! I’m stuck in London without a penny to my name!” In the end, he softened up (he didn’t really have any other option) and I checked into the youth hostel. Upon check in I was given a long list of rules. It was a tad rough, so in fairness I understood the need for the iron rod ruling.
My roommate was lovely. She lent me £20 to see me through till my friend arrived a few days later, bearing £500 from my Nan. I paid back my roommate followed by the taxi driver (much to his surprise) I felt back in control again and ready to tackle my training. Luckily training ran without any glitches. Once completed, I received my first post on board the ‘Grand Princess.’ This time with a firm grip on my purse; I flew to Milan with a connection to Venice, where I would be meeting my new home for the next nine months.
As I looked up at the vast ship, it dawned on me; I was all alone! However, my wobble didn’t last very long. As anyone who has worked on a cruise ship will know; you are thrown into work straight away and must adapt very quickly! A quick tour of your cabin and staff quarters. A quick meeting with your manager and spa set up, then it’s all ‘open for business!’
I soon discovered the pressure for sales was huge; wages were a flat 7% commission, plus tips. If it was a quiet week and you didn’t sell, you didn’t earn! The cruise schedule consisted of ten days sailing around Europe. Stopping in various beautiful Mediterranean cities; Cannes, Sorrento, Istanbul, there was little time left at sea. Therefore, it was hard to convince customers to stay on board and have a spa treatment.
Each spa staff member was designated one treatment they would specialise in, mine was an inch loss wrap and micro currents. Inches would come off during the one treatment and then I finished the treatment by selling on a rather expensive care-home package to maintain results. Given my experience, I was in charge of a huge potential money earning column. Although, in my heart I knew the treatment just expelled excess water; so, I never did well at selling my treatment, much to my manager’s frustration.
I worked long hours, 8am till 8pm, with one and a half days off every tenth day. Even when the spa wasn’t busy we were kept busy in various locations around the ship giving ten min scalp massages, in the hope of finding more sales.
I lived for my days off, were I could disembark the ship and sight see the wonders of Europe. However, daily free time was spent mingling in the staff dorms or crew bar enjoying a tipple or two. Crew discos were plentiful and luckily, they used to always fall on the night before my day off, although even if they didn’t I’d usually stay until the end. With drinks, as cheap as $1.75 a pop it would have been rude not too; plus, I was young and could manage back then on less than 5 hours sleep! If it wasn’t the next day I was very good at getting a bout of sea sickness!
Crew turned around quickly and friends came and went, leaving parties every night before turnaround day and it wouldn’t be long before a shocking leaving party for me.
As I said I never excelled in the sales of my treatment column. I just cannot sell anything I don’t truly believe in. After much frustration from my manager he decided to move me to a more holistic treatment. This treatment involved a massage with essential oils and algae wrap. I loved it as I have seen true results using aromatherapy so naturally started doing well. Most passengers who I treated walked away with home-care products. The pressure was off at last.
Then unexpectedly, my Manager pulled me to the side “I’m sorry to tell you this but you are moving to another ship. You will leave tomorrow” He seemed sorry but he actually wasn’t and to this day I think he had something to do with my transfer. I was in fact very excited about jumping ships. The Grand Princess spa was very negative and the ship was one of the oldest in the princess fleet. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy my time on there, I was just ready for the change
The next day I disembarked and was put on a transfer bus to Houston airport Texas. Solo again I flew into Miami Florida and checked into a Holiday Inn. I had 2 nights and 1 full day in Miami and I wasn’t going to waste a minute of it.
I walked around South beach and for hours amazed at the art-deco buildings and the white sands of South beach, where like the movies people were playing volleyball. I went on a tour called The Duck Tour which was a cool yellow bus that entered the water and turned into a boat. I had a meal with some new found crazy people then went to a beach club called Nikki’s beach until 2am.
The next day I again embarked my new ship. This time The Coral Princess. I really enjoyed my time here. It was great to have a fresh start and with an energetic team. The ship was smaller and we were granted more freedom like own clothes when we weren’t working. We also had a shorter turnaround and as we were now sailing in the Caribbean many passengers hoped on and off the ship for treatments on port days.
We ourselves often worked until 10 pm in exchange for a two-hour lunch break to soak up the sun in Mexico or Grand Cayman.
Days off in the Caribbean were relaxed. Tours around The Vatican were traded for Tequila and sunshine. The most I did was to tour the Mayan pyramids, Water fall trekking in Jamaica and visiting a banana plantation in Costa Rica. Most times we partied on beaches away from passengers.
I was woken up once on a beach by the sound of the ships Horn. Up I jumped and ran towards the ship. First stopping for a Quesadilla to bring on board. I was intoxicated and needed food at any cost. I managed to get to the ship just in time, food in hand and only a stern look from the officer in charge at the crew gangway.
Funny to think passengers were told not to venture in taxis or tours unless organised by the ship as it was deemed dangerous but crew did it at every stop. Most crew must be adventurous to work on a ship in the first place so of course we wouldn’t think twice.
Contact with home was very poor on my behalf. My family had no way to contact me unless by letter which took weeks and I had the option of a phone card which was very expensive to use and the crew internet cafe which consisted of 10 computers and maybe an hour wait in line to use. I suppose these days crew would have tablets or mobiles with a special roaming rate but even Facebook wasn’t heard off in my day. I would contact a family member once a month if I was lucky.
Before I knew it, my time was up. A whole 9 months at sea had finished.
It was strange going home. I felt I had done so much, my life had been on fast forward and when back home everything seemed so slow! I wasn’t used to having an hour spare or even all day on my own.
That’s when I moved to Turkey!