When you purchase your cruise ship ticket, it says in the fine print that you are agreeing to being photographed. Photography is the only service offered on board that passengers do not ask for, but it is a huge cash cow for the cruise-lines and thats why they have it.

All the photograpers “jobs” go by rotation, and by your rank. This includes, printing, photoshoots, galleryshifts, inventory, costume shoots, and D&P (which is printing passengers photos…)

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Cruise-lines pay photographers a pitiful amount, and more and more cruise lines are hiring photographers from places like India and Mexico. They pay them even less then the British, Canadian and South-African photographers (for the same job). The cruise line claims its because of the how much the dollar is worth in those countries….but by that rational shouldn’t I as a Canadian photographer be paid more then what i had been, considering the Canadian dollar and USD are almost at pare and the cost of living in Vancouver?? That is the main reason I quite ships, after the Canadian dollar started to be worth 80+plus to the USD, I quite. I was like… why am I working in a place where I am tried like a second class citizen for no money?

Anyhow back to the photography aspect. During a cruise your job as a photographer is pretty much to harass the passengers non-stop, some cruise-lines are worse then others for this.

This is your typical cruise as a photographer.

1.) Embarks: shooting all 2000+ passengers coming on-board , usually using a cheesy backdrop. You start shooting at about 9 and don’t stop till everyone is boarded. The passengers board pretty fast so you have to be ready, being quick to exchange batteries for the flash, and changing memory cards is essential, it was even harder back in the day when I had to use film. Some people are grumpy from having to line up for hours, others are exited about starting their cruise. Its not the most flattering picture but it sells because people like that it has the date and ports of call on the photograph. If you screw-up embarks for whatever reason you just end up doing it over and over again until the manager is satisfied.

Out of all the Embarks I had to shoot, Steward Alaska is the worst. You start at 10 and you finish at 9, and your in a stinky tent all day as people trickle through. One Australian photographer I worked with ended up lighting insents and playing music to pass the time (did i mention he was a hippy?). And when the PSD (passenger service director) saw this he flipped out and gave him a verbal warning.

2.) Next day is usually a sea day, so you spend the whole day in the gallery selling the embark photos and telling people where the bathroom is or where the buffet is. Later in the day you start setting up for formal night, The photographs bring out all the heavy lights and poles set up all the back drops for portraits around the central ship area. But the back drops are partly rolled up so people can see what kind of backdrop it is with out it being fully exposed …or else some idiot will take pictures of himself with a disposable camera in front of the backdrop and or possible step on the backdrop causing it to collapse. After the photographers are finished setting up, they usually spend an hour getting dressed up in their formal gear, have a quick smoke and psych themselves up for the formal night.

portrait.jpgAs a photographer you stand in front of a backdrop all night photographing a huge line of people, saying the same-thing over and over, trying to make people look good in their portraits. You either end up staying at the backdrop all night or depending on which ship your on, or you end up in the restaurant. The restaurants hold up to 200 hundred + people and you have to photographer all the tables.

You photograph each couple, trying to avoid the waiters (who hate photographers) and plus all the ugly crap on the table, and the candles, then you trying to get half of the table to stand up and move behind the half of the table to get a group shoot. This is so fun because people love having their dinner interrupted. You get a lot of comments like “i cant have my photograph taken, that’s not my wife, I’m wanted by the FBI,” and so on and on and on……

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Now every-manager wants you to get as high roll count or as many photos as possible because it means $$$$ revenue, and it goes to the managers bonus, (you as the photographer get a “shitty” commission, which remains pretty much the same if you make budget or not.)

After your finished with the restaurant your back out to your backdrop to continue doing portraits. sometimes if your a new photographer you just stay in the restaurant all night.

(the manager usually collects all the roles or memory-cards and prints them while your still shooting,)

To survive formal night some photographers, carry a flask with them or hide drinks behind their backdrop, or sneak quick smoke breaks. If your in the restaurant and you can make friends with one of the waiters they will sneak drinks to you. Its always fun to watch the photographers work who are half in the bag.

Some of the male photographers would create challenges or games for themselves. The would approach a table or a couple at their backdrop, take a picture extreme close up of some womans clevage and say something like….”oh sorry that one didnt turn out” and take another. So the manager would get all random pictures of boobs. Or the photographer would take his camera into the bathroom take a picture of some poo… so the manager would be printing away and would getting a nice image of shit.

After your done shooting its back to the gallery, to put up all the photos you just finish shooting. your done formal night usually at 12 midnight

Day 2 (if your lucky its not a sea day….seadays are boring and they suck!!!)

Horray, its a port day! If your turn to shoot gangway you have to wake up at around 6, to be one the gangway when the ship docks to photograph everybody getting off the ship. Your usually done around 11? or whenever you make your roll count quota, if you don’t have enough picture (say like if its raining) you have to stay out longer. If its your turn to print you say on board for a couple of hours printing.

Some ports like Alaska you have to stand out there in a bear or moose costume, and if its sunny your sweating your ass off in a old bear costume that smells like farts and if its raining your in a damp musty bear costume that smells like farts. In any case its smells like farts. The only good thing about the costumes is nobody can see how hung over you are….until you puke inside the costume.

If your not in Alaska and your in a Mexico, and if your lucky enough to have an jerk as a manager he will make you dress like a stereo typical Mexican…..Mexicans just love seeing pasty white photographers dress up like that, I’m lucky i wasn’t lynched!

Every port has a gangway shoot! Its on rotation amongst the photographers so you may or may-not have to shoot it!

Depending on where you are in relation to the word will dictate what photo-shoots you have to do,

If your in Alaska , you have to shoot decks, you wake up again at 6 and photograph people standing on the decks in front of the glaciers, this can be a trying experience because its always a cluster f*ck, and very crowded so you have to be able to move people around. However it does make for a nice photo and they do sell very well.

Decks in Panama is a different story, your sweating your ass off and so is everybody else, the view is cool but all the passengers are over weight and in bathing suits so you have to throw a life ring in front of their guts just to make it look half decent.

During the evenings, you have to do more costume shoots, either dressing as a pirate or god forbid a lumberjack and attack people as they come out of the restaurants. When you do that sorta photo shoot your completely tanked. A photog who’s a friend of mine “mentioning no names” after he had finished drinking a bottle of tequila gold he replaced the tequila with his urine, so he was being photographed with passengers with his bottle of his piss.

So after a week or so of gangways and casual portiats and deck photos, its a final formal night which is wrapped up by champagne waterfall photo shoot..

The final sea day is all about selling, you have a big line all day people buying the photographer complaining about the prices, 10 bucks fro 8×6 and 20 for and 8×10 and that’s just the people who actually buy them, every grandma and their sister just ends up stealing a load of photographs. And whatever doesn’t get sold ends up being burnt in the incinerator.

When I started working on cruise ships everything was printed 8×6, in privious years it was 4×6 and 5×7, but over time Cruise lines got greedy and now almost everything is getting printed 8×10 and has nasty looking borders.

My biggest pet peeve was the coupons. Travel agents would had out these coupons for two free 8×6 pictures. They would try and use them for portriats with the managers wouldnt want because the managers dont want to lose money. Or people try and redem the coupons for cash (because apperantly they never had ther photo taken) thats “SOL” ….because they have no cash value.

still want to be a ships photographer????

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I often get asked what is my favorite place I’ve visited. That’s a hard question for me to answer because there’s so many.

I love the beach and I’m a water baby. My favorite beach is definitely Grand Cayman. The water is crystal clear, and the sand is immaculate, however it is a very developed island so forget privacy.

Crane beach in Barbados is also and amazing beach, it not as busy but there is usually someone there to sell you coconut juice or weed.

Maho beach in st Marten, is a nice beach, but you go there to see planes fly close over head, which is cool…..until you get blasted by sand from the draft of a 747.

Bondi beach in Sydney is also a great beach, it busy, but also fun and pretty chilled out, plus all the women are topless.

I think Curacao is my favorite island, it has nice beaches, and it has a distinctly European feel, it is a Dutch island and full of kinky shops, and it doesn’t feel too touristy.

If you have had the opportunity to work for a large company, you might have gone through this.

We had just left Lahaina , Maui and we were docking in Honolulu, Hawaii, when they had sprung a surprise drug test for a third of the crew.

How it works is its is required the a certain amount of crew members must go through the test from each department. But none of the managers are made to do it, or any of the high raking officers, but from my experience they are the ones who are usually on drugs, in particular the restaurant manager (who are always coke heads).

so early in the morning while docked in Hawaii, we all lined up. and your not allowed to flush the toilets or use toilet paper. and you go back into line with your piss with everyone else, you spend a couple minutes comparing you piss with the other employees, if its pale, brighter, or milky looking.  Then your finally able to hand it off to the drug testing people, and that’s that…. but of all the piss they collect they really only test a percentage….unless they suspect you of something and want you fired.  For-example half the casino staff got fired because of the test, because they all partied the previous day in Maui wowie.

But like i said its the managers who are the real drug heads, because they are the ones who can afford the eightballs and the weed.

And incidentally after that drug test we left the united states, and went to the south pacific and got high as fuck in bora bora because we knew we were safe from testing for awhile.

And it was true,  we never got tested for another six months.images.jpg

ca30muc5.jpgI feel like I’ve been a little too negative in the past couple of blogs. So in light of this joyous season I’m going to reflect on the good things about working on board.

1. Can’t beat the veiw. I used to love walking outside on the deck seven promenade, specially in the Carribean, the aewsome sunsets , the warm air, it was fantastic!

2. Cheap smokes and booze, a dollar for a pack of smokes and 80 cents for a mix drink or beer??? It was like being back in the 60’s??

3. An fantastic gym that hardly gets used by the passengers and all new equipment with tv’s.

4. 24/7 salad bar. Is it so wrong that I want jello at 2 in the morning? I think not.

5. Free massages and facials from the spa in exchange for photos.

6. Everything is duty free.

7. There’s a party at least once a week.

8. Great ports of call. I love swimming in the ocean, so i liked being in the tropics the best, specifically the Grand Cayman islands.

7. Fabulous people from south Africa and Australia and other countries.

8. Room stewards that clean your room and make your bed.

9. Not having to pay rent.

I recently watched the movie North Country staring Charlize Theron for those who haven’t seen it, Charlize portrays a women working in an iron mine, her case broke legal ground with the nation’s first class-action sexual –harassment lawsuit. In the film she is forced to go through an invasive medical where they check to see if she pregnant before they would hire her. Once working in the mine there was some vicious name calling and subversive activities and the women were attacked on various occasions.

    Sounds familiar, I’ve already mentioned in previous blogs about the contract/waver women employees must sign that states if they get pregnant they loose their job.  As a women at times you do feel uncomfortable working on board, there’s always some lecherous group of men sayings perverse crap (in what-ever language) when you walk down the hallways or lining up in the crew mess, its just unavoidable.

But it goes further then that, there are many rape cases on cruise ships. Other then the few that involve passengers, many go unreported.  It is Princess’s and other cruise companies polices, that if you are an employee and are raped and had any amount of alcohol in your system Princess is not liable for the incident and will not take action against parties involved.

I heard of one particular Canadian photographer from Toronto that had a couple of drinks during new years and when she was returning to her cabin she was attached and gang raped by a small group of Romanian males in one of the escape fire stairways.

She was so distraught she couldn’t finish her contract, but Princess wasn’t will to pay her flight home (as they are obligated to when your finish your contract), fortunately she threaten to sue the company and go one every TV show and news show in Canada if they did not help her, so they flew her home, and fired the men responsible.

    There has even been a captain that was fired for sexual harassment. This surprises me, not because he was sexually harassing someone, just that they were able to prove it, there’s a pretty strong Italian “mafia” on board.

 

The hierarchy as follows;

• Crew- smallest cabins usually on desks 2,3. Four people to a bathroom, no deck privileges (aka not allow in public areas other then for work) the “crew” are the bar tenders, waiters, cleaning staff, galley staff, and all of the grunt workers.  They most likely to drown in an emergency because of the location of their cabins and the water tight door that trap people and cut of appendages.

• Staff- cabins usually on decks 4-6, two to room with bathroom included, staff have deck privileges, but your only allowed to dance at the disco if asked to by a passengers and must be in uniform, and allowed to use pool at night or at port, staff includes, photogs, shoppies, Steiner’s/spa, techs, casino.

• Officers- on decks 4-12 depending on rank, sometimes private room with window, must be in uniform at all times, full deck privileges, has a nicer dinning area separate from crew and staff, and get free cappuccinos. Photogs call officers French fries because of the gold stripes distinguishing their rank, a captain is four French fries/

• Entertainment staff- sometimes they have private rooms if they are a star of a production, they don’t have to wear uniform, they have full deck privileges, easiest hours, and no duties.

At no time are crewmembers allowed to be intoxicated at any time…….yeah right.

That’s why bear and sprits are less then 80 cents a glass, actually it’s the only reason why people put up with cruise ship life, the lack of privacy and personal space and the loss freedom. The random drug test, the weekly cabin searches the fire drills every other cruise. I once asked my close friend Alex which he found harder? Being in the army or working on cruise ships. He said crews ships “ at least in the army you get to take control once in awhile, on cruise ships you have to be nice and smile all the time even if the passengers is a jerk.”

I remember one particular evening there was a bunch of staff and officers hanging around one of the outside bars on deck 15 (there is 10 bars at least on every ship). As staff we are really not allow to be in groups larger then four because it intimidates passengers. Any how, a couple of the photographers were getting very drunk, and when the Captain showed up a south African photographer named Jason started mouthing off to the captain (who was in full uniform) and it wasn’t till he read his name tag that he realized what he’d done. All staff/crew were effectively banished from all public areas. But this isn’t an isolated event; previously the same photographer got drunk on his last ship and jumped into the pool fully clothed during Island night.

visto022.jpgBeing in the customer service field you get a load of unusual questions and remarks. This is one of the most famous stupid comments of all time.

A Passenger comes up to the pursers desk complaining that he paid all this money to have a beautiful ocean view and doesn’t have one. The pursers desk replies “sir wait half an hour till we leave the dock and then you’ll have an ocean view”

Another time, A Canadian photog is shooting embarks ( people coming aboard) , she wearing a maple leaf and her name tag clearly says she Canadian, when a couple comes on board with similar maple leaf pins, she says “smile your Canadian”. Next day they leave a comment to the pursers desk. ” photographer is racist towards Canadians”

some other annoying comments

“can you use the skinny lenses” “sorry no pictures I’m wanted by the FBI” “that’s not my wife” “when does the 24 hour buffet close?””Why isn’t the hot chocolate free?” “What do you mean I can use my on your background”……I really hated it when people would ask me to take a picture of them using there camera, or some A-hole is taking pictures behind me while I’m doing portraits. Your not allowed to do that crap in professional studios. I felt like saying I don’t come to your work stand behind you and try and rip you off do I?

princessdawncruise7_small.jpgThere’s a huge Filipino population on-board ships, unfortunately they get most of the really shitty jobs and work 10 month contracts or longer. But don’t be fooled if you think the Italian officers run the ship, it’s actually the Filipinos. I seriously would think twice before pissing them off, and if you want something done you’d bet know how to bribe them. It’s like prison house rules.

 

 

 

Some common Filipino jobs onboard are:

 

 

The laundry dept on decks 1 and 2, is hotter then hell, noisy and cluster-phobic.

 

 

 

The cleaners or ACATS, they have to wear these repulsive pink shirts while they clean up your garbage all day and move luggage on and off the ship.

 

 

 

The room stewards have an equally hard job. Often cruise ships have very obese passengers who have a hard time to taking care of themselves hygienically. The room stewards end up having to deal with shitty undergarments and bed sheets not to mention all the other gross bodily fluids. If you are a passenger and you didn’t tip your room steward prepare for the worst, I’ve seen “accidents” to luggage happen. For example, a syringe full of bleach gets stabbed in to your suit case and all your clothes are ruined.

    When the Miami and for Lauderdale harbors were recently drugged, they found tons suit cases at the bottom, that were “accidentally” dropped there from the gun ports of cruise ships.

 

 

 

 

THE GRITTY TRUTH

 

If you wash your clothes yourself using one of the crew laundry rooms, you’d better sit and guard your clothes like I did, Filipinos on cruise ships are notorious for stealing panties! I’m not sure if they were keeping them as souvenirs or to sending them to their wives. I’ve also had stuff taking by my room steward, like a silver Mexican bracelet my dad gave me and, showed up on my steward’s wrist. I didn’t really care because I didn’t care for that particular bracelet, but several other personal items went missing as well.

     They always know when your contract is ending, my ex boyfriend a short-British officer always seemed to have a pair his diesel jeans stolen days before the end of his contract, they love anything with name brands because most of the stuff they have in Manila is all fake. When a couple of my favorite dress shirts went missing at the dry cleaners on deck one, I went down there and freaked out at the head laundry master, crying and balling my eyes out, mostly for effect, immediately my clothes were returned.

 

    Sometimes these delicate relationships are put to the test. Ship Idol, was a huge competition for the crew, no one takes singing and music more seriously then Filipinos, they love karaoke almost as much as they love casinos. And when a Filipino didn’t win Ship Idol it was a huge upset, all the Filipino’s on board were furious, they trashed the bar and there was random fights and vandalism. You have to admire their passion.

dtheater.jpgIf you have had a chance to read my previous blog this will make more sense.  I am jumping a bit in time here to my second contract on the Dawn Princess, but this story has to be shared. 

If watch the news you’ve probably heard of the
Norwalk virus.  Its fun little intestinal illness that is very infectious causes you to have explosive diarrhea and vomiting for a 48 hour period.  The easiest way to prevent Norwalk is to WASH YOUR HANDS.  If there is a break out on a cruise ship there’s a formula which they must follow.   I can’t remember the exact numbers but if 15% of the crew gets sick and 40% of the passengers, the ship must be docked, quarantined and completely sterilized inside and out.  This costs the cruise ship companies millions of dollars.  
 

Princess Cruises takes Norwalk very seriously.  To fight Norwalk the ship had organized a group of cleaners called the HIT SQUAD, whenever anyone gets sick in a public area you dial a number and the hit squad would arrive and disinfect the area immediately.   

One particular morning on the Dawn princess, I was working shooting passengers coming down the gangway from 6 in the morning till about 11.  We were in the hot sweaty island of St.Thomas, when we were all called in to princess theatre attended a large crew meeting to learn how to prevent Norwalk.  The crew had to be split between two meetings because there’s approx 1000 crew.   So 500 crew members filed in the theatre and was addressed by the Captain.  (I don’t remember the Captains name but I think it sounded like ravioli.)  In his best broken English he began to tell us how to fight Norwalk “we must focus on the hit squad”,  but it came out sounding like “ we must f*ck us on the hit squid”  and he keep repeating this “ f*ck us on the hit squid” over and over. 

Well I must have been dehydrated because I found this hilarious, I couldn’t help gigging, I wanted to laugh so hard but I couldn’t.  Captains do not have a sense of humors and DO NOT LIKE to be made a fool, so I was trying to hold it in.  Tears were streaming from my eyes, I put my head between my legs, trying to avoid the Captain seeing me,  but laughter is infectious.  The photogs (photographers) beside me we cracking up too, partly because of me and partly because of the “f*ck us on the hit squid”,  and same with the shoppies (shop staff) there was a whole section of Canadian/British/South Africans staff that was hearing the same thing I was .   Anyhow, I don’t know what the Captain must have thought, but I’m sure he must have wondered what the heck was going on?  I did see that same Captain a couple contracts later, I avoided him like the plague.

crew4.jpgFor all those people who have had to work for a monster company and put up with their corporate brainwashing.  Whether it was cheesy credos or lame posters pasted all over the staff areas, this blog will be a treat. 

 

Im sure you are all familiar with the old adages, THERES IS NO ( I ) IN TEAM,  AND WE ARE ONLY AS STRONG AS ARE WEEKEST MEMBER.   Well princess has very own collection of horrid acronyms and mottos

 

My personal favorite is the C.R.U.I.S.E program, which according to princess means Courtesy Respect In Unyielding Service Excellence.  But ask any crew member and they will tell you another story.

C.R.U.I..S.E

  1. Can’t Really Understand Italians Speaking English (All the senior officers on Princess are Italian and you would be hard pressed to make heads or tails of anything that they may try and say in English.
  1. Can’t Rest Until I Shag Everyone. (no need for explanation on this one)
  1. Ain’t nothing finer then waking up next to a Steiner. (most of the spas on cruise ships are operated primary by Steiner, and if you work in the spa, you are a Steiner.  Steiners are usually beautiful fit young ladies that have nothing better to do all then primp themselves all day.
  1. Only English must be spoken in passenger areas.  I would guess only 15% of crew member native tongue is English.  Occasionally a couple of crew members will be in the buffet discussing in how fat and disgusting the passengers are in TAGALOG or some other language and someone will understand them and the SH*t hits  the proverbial fan.