Ever wonder what it’s really like to work on a cruise ship? Then Cruise Confidential is for you! Brian David Bruns was the only American in the history of Carnival Cruise Line to survive a full contract. And he did it working in the restaurants, probably the most stressful place on a ship. Because cruise passengers EAT. A lot.
It all started with a woman…
Bruns meets the beautiful Bianca, from Transylvania, during one of her breaks between her own eight-month Carnival contracts. Completely smitten, he decides to use his 10 years of restaurant experience to get a job on her ship, figuring he can be with Bianca and see the world at the same time. Really, how hard can it be to serve 3,500 guests every night…and breakfast…and lunch…and endless buffets?
Bruns has much to learn about the realities of feeding the masses. He shares his many, many lessons–from disappointments in the dining room to the politics of paisanos--leaving us both impressed and amazed that cruise ships manage to make us think the overworked crew has all the time in the world to cater to our every whim. And that we are completely unique and fascinating. (Guess what? We’re not.)
The life of a cruise ship staff member
Of course, if you’ve ever been on a cruise, you soon realize that you see the same crew members all day, every day. That’s because they run on four or five hours of sleep, seven days a week. Besides their unfailingly cheerful interactions with you, they also have “side jobs” that require them to clean, scrub, sort, patrol, or anything they are asked to do. Finding Americans who are willing to be chronically exhausted for less-than-minimum-wage is impossible. Bruns sticks with it only because of Bianca–who is on a different ship and schedule the entire time.
I was intrigued by the dining room operation. Once you read this book, you will never look at your cruise waitstaff the same way. Nor will you order multiple entrees or ask for a second appetizer instead of dessert. You will appreciate the fact your server has bread tongs and a butter dish. You will cringe when they lead you in the Macarena.
And those buffets? “While cruise ships enjoy teasing the public about the overwhelming amount of food they consume, the reality was that most food was thrown into the sea. Americans in particular demand their buffets to be fully stocked at every moment. Each guest must feel as if first in line, even if the buffet closes in two minutes. Therefore at the end of every shift a full buffet is discarded.”
Free time? What free time?
After a 15- or 18- or 20-hour day, what would you do first? My answer would be sleep! But there are still things to do. Do laundry, iron your uniform, check email, get a haircut…and drink! The amount of alcohol consumption by crew members left me with a mental hangover. And with all that drinking comes the “loose” behavior you might expect. Bruns describes the international get-togethers that happen in the below-water level crew areas during the wee hours. Whatever your imagination can conjure up, triple it.
Occasionally, crew members do get a few hours off in port. Often, that’s spent drinking, too. Or lolling at a beach, always mindful of when the next shift starts. On a really rare day, there might be six or seven hours free.
It’s a crazy life, punctuated with some genuine laughs and development of true friendships. However, the stress is too much for some, especially for those who leave their families to work on a cruise ship for eight or ten month stretches. Bruns describes the people he meets, as well as their stories. Some are sweet, others are heartbreaking.
Goofy questions from guests
At the end of Cruise Confidential, Bruns lists some of the questions he was asked during his year. Here are just a few:
- What do you do with all the beautiful ice carvings after they melt?
- Can you purchase ice carvings in the gift shop?
- Does the crew sleep on the ship?
- Why don’t you tell people it’s hot in Jamaica when they book the cruise?
- What time is the midnight buffet?
- Does the captain have any training?
- Do these steps go up?
Cruise Confidential is a fun read, whether you enjoy cruising or are just curious about how ships operate. I’m always in awe of people who are brave and patient enough to work in the travel or hospitality industries. And we all love those insider, tell-all books. Brian David Bruns won a couple of awards for Humor Writing with his book. He now lives in land-locked Las Vegas.
More secrets from travel and hospitality authors:
“Heads in Beds”…Hotel Secrets from a Front Desk Agent
Anthony Bourdain: He Inspired Travel
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