Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

The second most frequent question cruise ship passengers ask the crew is, “What are your living quarters like?” (The most frequent question is, “Can you say that again—this time, in English—please?”)

Working on a cruise ship isn’t easy. You’re on the clock up to 14 hours a day, every day, for six months to a year, with few—if any—days off, all the while being whipped mercilessly by cat o’ nine tails. Fortunately, you can have all the banana nut bread you want, so the whippings are definitely worth it.

The secret to thriving in such a demanding environment is getting plenty of rest. And the secret to getting plenty of rest in a crew cabin is to die in your sleep. Because, dying in your sleep is the only way you’ll sleep for eight hours straight on a ship without being wakened by your door-slamming, belt-buckle-jangling, peeing-with-the bathroom-door-open, playing-video-games-at-all-hours-of-the-night roommate.

If you’re young and healthy like the majority of crew members, dying in your sleep might pose a bit of a challenge. No problem. Just snore your butt off and sooner or later your roommate will kill you in your sleep. Every crew bunk comes with two pillows: one for sleeping on and the other for smothering your snoring roommate.

Although sharing a tiny cabin with a complete stranger is the greatest suffering I’ve ever had to endure for my art, some crew members don’t mind at all. These are usually young people just starting their careers who aren’t bothered by noise or lack of privacy. These kids are the worst roommates you can get: because nothing bothers them, they assume nothing will bother you. These are the roommates who’ll crank the TV up to full volume at three in the morning or make long distance phone calls in staccato Spanish while standing right next to your head or decide to use their hair dryer to blow dry their laundry just as you’re falling asleep because they forgot to leave the crew bar in time to snag an open dryer in the crew laundry room.

You generally don’t get to choose your roommate. That’s the job of the crew staff administrator, who puts a lot of thought into cabin assignments by throwing darts at a dartboard.  The good news is, if you wind up bunking with someone you can’t stand, she’ll let you borrow one of her darts.

All double occupancy crew cabins feature bunk beds. Each bunk comes with a reading light, a little book shelf and a wraparound curtain that’ll provide you with complete privacy whenever your 20-year-old roommate—always the ship’s apprentice deejay—decides to throw an after-party with a half-dozen drunken friends at 4:00am after the disco closes.

The first rule of cabin etiquette is the new guy gets the top bunk. You’ll usually have to wait several months for your roommate to move out before you can take the bottom bunk, in which case you’ll want to mark your territory for your new roommate by conspicuously placing personal belongings on your bunk such as your laptop or barbed wire.

Another pain in the butt is we have to store our luggage in our cabins. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a cabin with a big spacious corner ( two feet by four feet), where there’s plenty of room for me to stack my suitcase on top of my roommate’s 10 suitcases. If I get a small cabin (six feet by eight feet), however, I’ll wind up spending 10 months with my suitcase sitting smack dab in the middle of the cabin, tripping over it in the middle of the night when I get out of bed to pee. Remember that old American Tourister TV commercial from the ’70s in which the gorilla threw a suitcase around his cage? He was just pissed he wasn’t allowed to put it in storage. (Even though that ape’s cage was larger than the typical crew cabin!)

Every month, there’s a cabin inspection to make sure you don’t have anything in your cabin you’re not supposed to, such as blenders, hot plates or privacy. They key to passing a cabin inspection is knowing when an inspection is. And the key to knowing when an inspection is writing yourself a reminder after they tell you exactly when  the inspection is. What happens is Security tells your department head when the inspection is (usually the last sea day of the month), so all you have to do is unplug your power strip, space heater, moonshine still, centrifuge for enriching weapons-grade Uranium, and hide everything ingeniously by—wait for it—putting it in one of your drawers.

Except for your pillow. That’s one deadly weapon you can leave right out in the open.

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Leader of the Pack(ing)

packing-a-suitcase

It’s great to be back home in Cleveland. This is the first time I’ve seen snow in seven years. Unless you count the time I picked up the wrong suitcase in Mexico.

I’d have preferred to remain in the Caribbean for the winter, but I was arrested for throwing eggs at the ship next door and drag racing on a Rascal Scooter (the Lamborghini of mobility scooters). They were going to deport me to Canada, but they found out Cleveland was colder due to the “lake effect,” which is meteorological jargon for “freezing my nads off.”

Although six months is a relatively short contract for me, I couldn’t wait to pack my bags because the only thing more fun than living on a cruise ship for six months is figuring out how to get all my accumulated crap into one checked bag and one carry-on. It’d be easier to get Chris Christie into a Speedo.

After spending half my life traveling for a living, I have packing down to a science. Unfortunately, science was always my worst subject. But, according to Wikipedia, the first law of luggage-ology is: “Objects at rest will weigh precisely one pound over the airline’s fifty pound limit once you get to the airport.” It doesn’t matter if the only things you pack are a jock strap and a duck call, once you get to the airport your suitcase will weigh exactly fifty-one pounds, in which case you’ll be expected to pay a $100 overweight luggage fee. (Unless the airline associate feels sorry for you, in which case she’ll only charge you $125.)

Actually, it’s not that hard to pack a suitcase correctly after half a year at sea. All you have to do is follow five simple steps:

1.  Create a packing list: Make a list of everything you need to pack into the suitcase.  Leave nonessential items at the bottom of the list. That way, if you run out of space you can throw those items away, give them to your cabin mate or leave them in the charity box down in the Crew Internet Lounge. (Central American orphans can never get enough extension cords or Tom Clancy novels.) Thanks to OCD and my predilection to hoarding, my packing list was a breeze to make:

Nonessential Items:

  1. The ship.

Essential Items:

  1.  Everything else.

 2.  Separate large and small items: To pack a suitcase properly you must first make room for large items like suits, sweaters or your cabin steward (making your own bed at home sucks!). Once all large items are situated small items (like a shorter cabin steward) can be fitted into the empty corners or crevices between large items and around the edge of the suitcase.  Instead of folding the big items try rolling them up. Although this won’t save any space, it’ll leave you prepared should you decide to spend part of your vacation in either Colorado or Washington state.

3.  Make your suitcase bottom heavy: (Insert your own Kim Kardashian joke here!)

4.  Pack socks and underwear last: Don’t pack socks and underwear with the rest of your clothes because they’ll take up too much space. And don’t wash them either. Instead, once you’ve packed your suitcase, slip your smelly socks and crusty underwear into the flap of the suitcase so they’ll fall out easily and put an abrupt end to any Customs or TSA inspections.

5.  Ship home non-clothing items: It’s easy for crew members to accumulate lots of books, DVDs and souvenirs such as that wooden figure of Justin Bieber riding a donkey you bought in Cozumel after one too many Coronas—stuff you won’t need as soon as you get home but don’t want to leave on the ship because where else are you going to find a wooden figure of a donkey being ridden by a jackass? Shipping this stuff home is usually less expensive than paying for an extra or overweight suitcase. (If you ship your cabin steward make sure to leave a snack in the box.)

Well, that’s all the time I have for now. I’ve been home for a whole week now and I should probably get unpacked.