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Found 5 results

  1. Survival training is an amusing label for watching a few videos on watertight doors and garbage separation, followed by quizzes on how many kilojoules of energy each survivor on a life raft was allocated per day. Still, the films are far from boring. These are shockers reminiscent of what I saw on graduation day at my high school driving class. ‘Blood Flows Red on the Highway’ becomes ‘Blood Flows Red on the High Seas.’ There were simulations of sinking ships and drowning people more intense than even James Cameron’s Titanic. Even better, fires burned the unwary, crowds trampled the weak, and pirates attacked everybody. My personal favorite was the watertight door slicing a cow’s leg in two. After the gore fest we were led up to the open deck on the bow of Majesty of the Seas, which was brutally exposed to the tropical heat of May in Key West. A bright orange life raft waited upon the humming deck. Steps led up to a platform before its opening. Atop it waited a Dutch officer. “Working at sea and serving our guests is a wonderful privilege, and it is earned by keeping their safety first and foremost on our minds. Here, you are not a cabin steward or a waiter or a singer or a cook: you are crew who safeguard the lives of our guests. That means lowering lifeboats and directing panicked people, it means man overboard training. It may even mean fighting pirates.” Aha! Mild-mannered art dealer by day, pirate-smashing crime fighter by night. I always wanted to be a superhero. I’m cool with tights. “Each of you will be certified as ‘personnel nominated to assist passengers in emergency situations’ according to the training objectives of the International Maritime Organization, Resolution A770. This includes basic first aid, survival craft basics, fire fighting skills, and human relationships training. Now, everyone into the raft!” Excepting only me and one Jamaican lady, the crew was entirely Asian. More and more bodies disappeared into the raft, like the old clowns-fitting-in-the-funny car gag. The officer kept me outside, however. This allowed me to review the life raft. It was a shockingly large thing, considering how it compressed so snugly into keg-sized canisters. The base was two thick black rubber tubes bent into octagonal shape, the top a highly visible orange tent. Grunts and complaints and waves of heat rose from inside. The officer glanced down emotionlessly at the squirming mass of flesh below him. “Tomorrow this raft could save your life!” he shouted. “Imagine this raft rocking at sea for unending hours under the hot sun.” Someone yelled back, “It is under the hot sun!” The officer continued, “This raft holds twenty-four crew and guests. There are currently only twenty-three crew inside. How does it feel?” Angry mutterings and cynical jokes answered him. “That is correct, it is difficult to fit you all in.” I was motioned to approach. I leaned forward and reviewed the inside nervously. Bodies were like sardines in a can. Those people crammed at the sides were neatly arranged, but the middle was a mosh pit. “I said this is for crew and guests,” he emphasized. “Now, what is the difference between each of you and the average American?” Alarm bells went off in my mind when the officer placed his foot on my behind. “About one hundred pounds!” I was launched into the air. Through the whistling wind I heard someone cry, “Ahh! Big Mac attack!” I landed onto the bodies with a crunch. Talk about a dramatic entrance! By Brian David Bruns Don't miss my latest cruise book, Unsinkable Mister Brown!
  2. Moving up from waiter to manager in Carnival Cruise Lines was literal: I ascended six decks above the crew who dwell below the waterline. As a junior officer I still had a cabin-mate, but things were looking up. This was the officer’s deck, after all, and I would no longer be subjected to the crew’s competing music (usually Indian vs. hip hop) long after the quiet-hours (which begin at 10PM). For the previous several months I had tried to sleep with my head and feet pressed against walls thumping with bass and plugging my ears over lyrics such as, “Yo, yo, I hate cops and bit*hes, but cops and bit*hes both want me.” Now the music had moved to the other end of the spectrum: “Let your light shine through me, oh Lord, my shepherd.” You see, my new cabin-mate, from northern India, was a Reborn Christian. When Bogo wasn’t praying out loud (while showering, shaving, dressing, or really just breathing) he was preaching to me. He had so many Bibles to give away that I had to relinquish the shelf in my bunk for the overflow. This was not a big deal, though I’m no longer Christian. Bogo was a good guy. He was probably forty-something, with a graying Persian-style mustache and shaved head. A strange series of indentations marred the back of his skull, not unlike someone pressing their fingers into a wet ball of clay. How he shaved in those grooves I never found out. How he got the horrendous purple circles beneath his eyes I found out all too well. More trying than the continual reminders that I was going to Hell were the photos of his baby plastered all over the walls. Bogo had been denied leave to see the birth of his son—no reason given—so photos were all the poor guy had. I know he wanted to experience that magical, monumental moment of birth, but honestly, I didn’t. Couldn’t he have shown photos of a two-minute baby, carefully cleaned and warmly wrapped in a blanket with Mom? Instead I was barraged with Junior’s first terrifying seconds in this world: discolored, slimy, and screaming. Bogo displayed no less than fifteen full-sized glossy photos by his bunk. They scared me so much I leapt into the top bunk like a child avoiding the monster under his bed. What really bothered me was that Bogo was an insomniac. I discovered this in dramatic fashion. In the afternoon just two days before I had left the charming Transylvanian town where I had vacationed (I carefully omitted any mention of this Pagan location to Bogo), and drove four hours to Brasov. At midnight I drove five more hours to Bucharest, followed by a pre-dawn flight to Frankfurt. Then came the eleven hour flight to Chicago (with screaming kids beside me), followed by another five hours flight to New Orleans. Then came the final hour-plus taxi to Gulfport, Mississippi. I was exhausted, but immediately put to work on the ship for fifteen straight hours, literally without even a fifteen minute break. I knew that low-level management always got the worst of it, but ships are insane. Sometime about 3:30AM I finally got off work and shuffled to my cabin. I had not slept a wink in fifty hours and countless time zones. My eyes burned, my head pounded, and my muscles barely worked. Too tired to even undress, I pulled my heavy body onto the bunk for a glorious six hours of sleep before the next shift. Ecstasy was closing my eyes, soothing the itch, watching the redness melt lovingly into cool blackness. I drifted gratefully into slumber… until a voice commanded, “Admit your sins and I will lead you in prayer!”
  3. Getting your first roommate in college (for example) can be intimidating, as any life change can be. But getting a new cabin mate on a cruise ship is particularly so. Sharing your limited personal space with a complete stranger is not something common, after all (one-night stands excepted, I guess). But when that stranger is invariably from another nation, indeed probably from another hemisphere entirely, of a different color and different religion speaking a different language (or many), you just don’t know what to expect. When approaching my first cabin as crew, I thought I was prepared for anything. Talk about a failure of imagination… B deck cabins were about twenty feet below the waterline. The corridor was taller than on the newer ships, but just as narrow. The poor lighting emphasized the lack of freshness and painted everything in a dismal, back-alley vibe. Thick veins of exposed pipes added to the feeling. The entire scene could have been a set for the climactic showdown in a bad action movie. My cabin door was horrendously scratched, dented even, as if somehow utilized in a brutal dog-fight. Adding to that impression were the sounds coming through the door: the sharp crack of hand-to-hand combat. It was surprisingly roomy for a crew cabin, no doubt due to the lack of a sink and a shower shared with the neighboring cabin (common on newer ships). But on Fantasy, those were down the hall. Inside were two narrow bunks and two wooden lockers, smudged with age and flaking laminate. A small desk was completely covered by a 13-inch television, the space beneath stuffed with a dorm-sized refrigerator. A single chair hosted a Nintendo. The air was stiflingly hot and stagnant: the vent being hidden behind a randomly-taped plastic bag that cut off air flow. The narrow access to the bunks was blocked by my new roommate. His tiny body lay diagonally across the cabin as to fill it, legs splayed wide open, each foot propped onto its own case of dried noodles. His rear sat deep into a smashed third box, and his head rested on the feet of a huge teddy bear that occupied the lower bunk. The controls of his gaming console sat comfortably on his lap. Though the Nintendo was hooked up to the TV and the controller in his hands, the screen instead blasted a very loud, very obnoxious Asian martial arts movie. And he was completely naked. I had never met a man from Thailand before, certainly not one bare-ass naked and spread-eagled in front of me. Such things would become commonplace once I got used to ships, of course. ‘Ben’, he called himself, because his real name was a whopping eighteen letters long. Upon waking he immediately mentioned his girlfriend was going to sleep with him every night. How two humans and a four-foot teddy bear could share a bunk so small—my own head and feet both pressed against the walls—was a marvel. But Ben and ‘Amy’ were quiet and courteous. The only noise they ever made, in fact, was their incessant watching of what appeared to be the same martial arts film over and over and over. “When are you going to get a new movie?” I finally asked, exasperated. “It’s not the same movie,” Ben replied. “It’s a forty-part Chinese movie I bought in Malaysia. Dubbed in Korean for Amy. Subtitled in Thai for me.” “On a Japanese TV,” I added. “On an Finnish ship under Panama’s flag, serving Americans like me.” “See?” Ben exclaimed. “You’re learning ships already!”
  4. What do you say to a group of thirty scared, exhausted, but excited people who have flown 5,000 to 10,000 miles from home to start a new job at sea? What words can simultaneously console both a macho Bulgarian man and a timid Indonesian woman? Upon joining Carnival Fantasy’s restaurant training, I heard the following spiel, more or less, and found it engaging. “Let me welcome you aboard,” said the trainer. “We are going to have a lot of fun, and we are going to do a lot of work. I guarantee this will be a new experience for all of you. It will not be easy. Let’s start with why you are here. You’re all here for the same reason: money. “So to make money, you first need to learn about serving Americans. It doesn’t matter what things were like back home. The majority of cruisers are American, so you need to learn what they like and what they don’t like. Americans are the easiest people to serve in the world. They’re not interested in fine service. They eat out all the time there, so being in the dining room is not a special occasion for them the way it is for most of us. So they don’t want a servant: they want a friend. They will ask personal questions about you and your family. They’ll ask where you’re from, but don’t be upset if they don’t know where that is. Most won’t. “This is an American corporation with American guests, which means American standards. That doesn’t mean you must eat hamburgers every day, but it does mean washing with soap and water every day. I’m from India, for example, and lots of Indians smell bad because they don’t use soap. That may be fine back home, but it can’t happen here. America means deodorant. “And ships mean English. In guest areas always use English. Even if you are talking about cricket scores in your native language, Americans will assume you’re talking about them. Nobody knows why. I guess it’s their big sense of personal identity. “Now let me tell you a true story. A waiter from the Philippines once had a table of old ladies who refused to leave after lunch. He needed them out so he could set up his station for dinner. Finally they ordered more coffee, which was long gone. He had to brew more. It meant he was going to miss preparing for his dinner guests, which probably meant hard time for the second seating, too. He stormed away swearing in Tagalog, using very bad words. He assumed he was safe. But one of the ladies was married to a military man stationed in the Philippines. She understood every word and told the hotel director. The waiter was forced to apologize and was sent home the very next port, mid-cruise. “Carnival has over sixty nationalities that get along very well. If we don’t, we get sent home. That means no money. If you fight with anybody because he’s different, you will be sent home. No money. Even if someone hits you and you don’t fight back, you are both going home. Carnival takes it that seriously. Revel in learning about the world, but don’t forget why we are here. “Look around,” he said. “These strange foreigners are all here, just like you, for the money. And though it may not seem like it now, by the end of training these strange foreigners will feel like family.” He was right. When the four weeks were up, there was not a dry eye in the class. By Brian David Bruns, author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential. Pics of the people and places I blog about are on my website and FB pages, join me! www.BrianDavidBruns.com https://www.facebook.com/BrianDavidBruns
  5. I stumbled onto this blog by “Crewbar Queen,” begun on two separate sites several years ago. She obviously held a staff position, based on the ease of her entry into ships. She didn’t see it that way. Her words, filled with anxiety and confusion, moved me. All crew can relate to her every word. Below is her only post. “It’s Sunday and I joined the ship today. I am already exhausted. I look around as I type this, staring at the four walls of this closet size cabin with four beds in it. Soon my roommates will be off work so I am glad I was able to shower before they get back. One bathroom, four beds, one tv, one other Canadian, a Filipino Girl and a Romanian. I can't remember their names yet. The Romanian girl seemed stuck up as hell. In fact, so did most of the Romanian girls I met today. “I wonder what I am doing here. From the second I stepped onboard today, I have been pulled in every direction, fitted for an ugly red uniform, thrown into a boring three hour safety class which pretty much has me fearing a Titanic-like experience now, and I have been lost three times. “I am starting work tomorrow. I will just stand alongside some girl who seems to struggle with the English language, and learn as I go. 2000 guests got off the ship today and another 2000 got on. I am feeling a little overwhelmed at the amount of knowledge I need to have. Everyone here seems so intense. The Safety Manager flipped out on me and this other Canadian girl when we were late for class today. He actually threatened to send us back home before we left port. I never realized I would need to know how many lifeboats a ship carries, or how to evacuate the passengers. Isn't there a captain and some sort of safety squad for that?? “I kind of miss home. I packed my life into cardboard boxes in less than a week and left every comfort zone I was sheltered by. The small voice inside of me that I normally ignore finally spoke loud enough to get me here, and now it's still trying to talk me through it. This is supposed to be a chance to see the world and an opportunity to grow. “Later - My roommates are back and I am sitting in bed. The Romanian girl’s name is Alina. She hardly said two words to me when she got here, but she sure is full of conversation for this guy in her bed now. All I can hear is her giggling and his deep Caribbean accent. I guess he's her boyfriend. I didn't realize we could fit another body into this cabin. Wait...is she really....what the f@#$, they are screwing! “Does she not realize two other people are in this room? Does she seriously think this curtain that closes around each bunk is sound proof?? I open my curtain and look across at the bunk next to me where the Filipino girl, Carmella, is sitting. I look at her as if to say, "is this really happening?". She smiles obliviously and keeps staring at the TV, slurping her instant noodles. Clearly, this is something she is used to. I'm logging off for the night. I'm not to used to falling asleep to live porn, I think I'll pop in some of these ear plugs they gave us to drown out the sound of the engine and try to get some sleep.” By Brian David Bruns, author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential. Pics of the people and places I blog about are on my website and FB pages, join me! www.BrianDavidBruns.com https://www.facebook.com/BrianDavidBruns
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