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The ebb and flow of working on a cruise ship

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TALI FEINBERG

He is one of many Jewish people who have opted to work on cruise ships for a finite amount of time. “I can’t imagine my life without having gone to sea,” says Codron. “It was the best eight years of my life.”

While it may seem luxurious to work on a cruise ship, Codron says that it’s actually the opposite – especially for a ship’s doctor. “The job is seven days a week, as a cruise ship doesn’t stop. You get hours off, but not days off. Especially being the only doctor on a smaller ship, you are on call 24/7.

“You do clinic hours in the morning and afternoon, and it’s busy as people don’t want to be sick on holiday. It can become exhausting, especially if there is an outbreak of flu or gastro. You can’t refer someone onto another doctor!”

But when he got to port, Codron was able to leave and explore, although always with his phone on. “Once you’re in port, someone can be referred to a hospital in an emergency.”

It was these periods of downtime that were the highlight for him. He visited 88 countries in total. His favourite place was Antarctica, because of the natural beauty, and he recommends that everyone take a cruise there.

Why else would someone choose to work on a cruise ship? “It’s like living on a kibbutz! If you do your job well, everything else is done for you,” says Codron.

“You don’t have to cook or clean, and all your expenses are covered, so you can save a lot of money. Your travel documents and visas are all organised for you. 

“I used the time to study and write exams, I read a lot, I met a lot of people, and got an amazing international perspective. You work with people from all over, and usually there are about 50 nationalities on board.” 

Codron says the cruise-ship life would not work for anyone who is frum (religiously observant) or anyone with a family. “No ship would allow you not to work on Shabbat and chaggim (Jewish holidays), and kosher food would be difficult.”

However, Jewish guests can get kosher food, and Jewish staff can host Shabbat services for themselves. Codron was once even allowed to do tashlich (casting off the sins of the previous year) and throw crumbs off the side of the boat, even though throwing anything over is usually strictly forbidden.

He recommends that people work on cruise ships at the beginning or end of their careers when they are not tied down by family commitments.

“It’s not a typical career choice for a nice Jewish boy from Cape Town. When I told my parents that I planned to work on ships, they told me ‘we don’t go to sea’.

“Yet, it turned out to be the best training for my career, something that my parents are proud of and people are simply fascinated by,” he says. He now lives in Alice Springs in rural Australia, where he works as a “generalist” and heads up an entire hospital – something he says he could never have done without his training on ships.

“I’ve traded a life of sea for life of sand,” he quips, about living in the middle of the Australian desert. “The experience of living on a cruise ship is something I would highly recommend.”

He advises parents to allow their children to work on a ship if they want to, even if it’s not a conventional career path.

Haylee Pincus worked on a cruise ship for a year as cruise photographer. “I always wanted to have a gap year after university and travel, and working on a cruise ship was a clever way to earn great money and travel essentially for free, as well as meet interesting people from all over the world,” she says.

For her, the most challenging part was the work hours. “The working hours are incredibly intense and long for everyone on board. You’re working and on your feet anywhere from nine to 12 hours a day, every day, for six to nine months.”

But being able to travel places she would normally never get to visit was a highlight. Her favourite memories are interacting with rescued dolphins and sea lions in Atlantis, bobsledding in Jamaica, lying on the pink beach in Bermuda, and zip-lining through the forest in Honduras.

She would absolutely recommend working on ships to anyone who is a “people person” and willing to work hard. “Working on a ship far away from family is difficult. It was definitely a bit of a wakeup call, and a shock to my sheltered system. It makes a person grow up really quickly; and it made me independent and strong. The ship is a demanding space, but if you do what you have to do work-wise, you will be rewarded with the spoils that ship life has to offer.”

Sian Cohen worked as a stewardess on a luxury cruise liner in 2010. “I attended to ten guest rooms every day and night, cleaning the rooms, managing the guests’ personal requests and needs, and making a Noah’s Ark of towel animals!” The ship was split almost 50% guests, 50% staff. “It meant we delivered an extremely personal experience to each guest, right down to knowing their first and second names.”

Although Cohen had an advertising degree, she had no experience in the hospitality industry, and it was a challenge. “With cruise ships, you have to work your way up. Management needs to see how you attend to your role, and your general attitude. Working seven days a week with only hours off was difficult to get used to. It was all dependent on how fast you worked. Sometimes girls on the same floor would pair up to move through the rooms quicker.” After this, the crew were allowed to socialise: “You feel exhausted 24/7 because you work so hard and party just as hard for months at a time.”

One funny memory is of meeting a lovely Frenchman who worked in room service. “It was the perfect match: I got fresh cappuccinos and croissants every morning while I was attending to my guests rooms, and no one knew the wiser. The guests also always loved a good love story, and tipped us well. It was always very strategic!”

Her favourite destinations include Scandinavia. “The little sea-side towns we visited were something out of a fairy tale. The Norwegian Fjords are breathtaking, even while cleaning the balcony of one of your rooms.”

Cohen wouldn’t think twice about recommending working on a ship, “but it’s important to know the good and the ugly about ship life, and decide if it suits who you are, and what type of experience you are seeking. Be prepared to work hard, but have equal amounts of fun.”

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