NOTE: The account and views expressed are those of the author alone.
Cruisejunkie has not independently verified facts contained therein, but has provided an opportunity (when contacted) for those referred to in the abstract to respond with a written statement or account.


An important item to read for anyone thinking about working on a cruise ship ... you need to keep your head down, not care about the company, and avoid dealing with management.

Another View of Life as a Cruise Ship Worker
(or, You're Not Being Paid to Care)
(Received June 2008)

Working on a cruise ship was on my list of life goals for as long as I can remember, so I decided to quit my very good land-based job (which I absolutely loved).  My employers did not want to lose me, and offered me a 6 month leave of absence for me to pursue my dream.  “What if I love cruising so much I never want to return?” I asked.  They told me they were willing to take the chance that I might come back since I was such a valuable asset to the organization.  My husband supported me in the decision, but he stayed in Canada as he also had a good job.

January 2006
I joined Royal Caribbean (RCI) as Cruise Programs Administrator (CPA).  The CPA role is essentially the ‘right hand’ to the Cruise Director (CD).  I was responsible for the logistics of the Entertainment Division, and was also the onboard wedding coordinator. I also took care of all the office work and finances so the CD could spend more time ‘on stage’ with the guests.  I loved it.  I even loved all of the things that are normally listed on the negative side of being a crewmember – working long hours (7 days a week, 10 hours a day), my little room, my various roommates, and eating in the mess. I loved it all, and after my first 6 month contract I told my previous employer that I loved it too much to leave and officially resigned from my full-time position.

I am a computer geek with experience in building databases, so in my free time in the evening I built a database that could help me do my job more efficiently.  The more efficient I got, the more time I had to enhance my skills.  Surprisingly, the megalith company still used pen and paper for a majority of tasks.  From a technical standpoint, RCI is in the dark ages most of the time.

May 2007
I had now worked on 5 ships.  I had proven myself a quick learner and very flexible, flying to new ships on a moment’s notice.  I had trained three new CPAs, and had worked on special projects at head office twice. At this time, my husband decided he’d like to join me and was hired as Assistant Systems Manager (ASM). Now we just had to wait for the same ship to need a CPA and ASM.

September 2007
We arrived on Enchantment of the Seas.  My husband fit into ship life just as easy as I did.  We both loved it. By this point, my database had many new features to take care of the regular CPA duties. I could do my work in 50% of the time.  Most people would have used the extra time to visit the ports or lay by the pool.  I did not.  I still worked 10 hours a day.  I used the time to offer more support to the supervisors in our division, I volunteered for other divisions, and took on the additional role of Crew Activities Coordinator.

October 2007
I witnessed the Human Resources Manager (HR) doing things that seriously contradicted RCI’s Ethics Policy -- 4 separate actions/statements -- and was aware of several others (which I had encouraged witnesses to report).  At the same time, the Entertainment division was going down the tubes -- people kept resigning. Many came to me to talk about it because they trusted me.

I had worked with our CD on 2 other ships and had known him for almost 2 years. We had always had a good rapport, and I had looked forward to working with him a 3rd time, which is why I felt comfortable approaching him directly (as a friend) to discuss the crew’s concerns. I was blatantly blown off each time I raised the concerns; though, he kept demanding the names of crew that were unhappy and I was honor-bound to protect their identities.

The crew’s concerns are hard to sum up, but even head office was aware of the general unhappiness.  There is a Gold Anchor Quality Review that occurs each year, and part of that is a management report.  I wish I had taken a copy of the report, as the writer addressed where he thought some of the problems were coming from.  From a crewmember’s perspective, there was very much a “my way or the highway” top-down style of management on that specific ship (in 6 ships, I had never seen anything like it).  There were also a lot of negative messages given to the crew.  For example, every week we had a meeting to go over every single negative comment from the guest survey. It did not matter if your division had 100 positive comments – you had to explain yourself for the 2 negative comments (which happen from time to time – you can’t please every guest). There had recently been a scandal in the F&B division in which the maitre’d had been keeping a spreadsheet of the bribe money he had collected (waiters bribe the maitre’d for better sections, closer to the kitchen, etc). And there had been allegations of wrongdoing regarding $60k going missing from the Crew Fund (the money is used to improve crew areas).

Given the CD’s unwillingness to deal with the problem, I contacted the Shoreside Support Person for CPAs. I said there were issues onboard and that speaking with the Human Resources Manager was not an option. I encouraged her to speak directly with the crew. I hadn’t actually outlined the issues in the email.  It seemed that I trusted the wrong person, who forwarded my email back to the managers in question. This led to me being called to the CD’s office on Oct 29 – he demanded to know what I was referring to in my email.  I told him the truth – the crew were very unhappy, they were not getting the support they required, and they continued to resign. I cited incidents where crew had been mistreated.  He didn’t appear to care about the crew’s concerns – he only cared about his own reputation.  I was instructed to send an amended email to my Shoreside Support Person and ‘clear’ his name.  I did as he requested. To my knowledge, the Shoreside Support Person never talked to one crew member.  However she had forwarded my emails to the managers I said I did not trust.  The CD no longer initiated a conversation with me on any subject. If he absolutely had to tell me something, it was sent via email (even when his office was directly behind mine).  It is very difficult to be the ‘right hand’ of someone that won’t speak to you at all.

November 2007
News of my database spread – not by me, but by others who had witnessed how easily I did my daily tasks.  A meeting was arranged for me with two head honchos from the Marine Division, who were currently conducting a feasibility study on adding more staff in the Marine Division to lessen the burden of the currently overworked crew.  I also met with head honchos from Guest Services.   

I demonstrated that my database would save the company over $1 million in the first year it was implemented (and that was only if it was implemented in one department). The Marine Division offered to buy my program within 3 minutes of my presentation.  They also offered me a new position to implement the database fleetwide.  Life was good! The other department was also interested and proceeded with arrangements to have me demo the database in Miami.

By Nov 14, things got considerably worse (more resignations), so I requested a meeting with the Staff Captain.  Via the Marine Admin, he requested that I get everything in writing and then meet with him to go over the report.  I got everything ready and typed out a full statement of the events that had occurred. We were to meet later in the week.

On the morning of Nov 15, the Enchantment experienced significant engine failure.  As a result, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale later than scheduled and the debarkation process had been delayed; the embarkation of new guests was also delayed.  The problem also meant there was no air-conditioning in the middle portion of the ship. A large group set to board that day and decisions were made to ‘land’ these guests – they would be put up at a local hotel for the week, as we could not offer them suitable accommodations onboard. We also changed our itinerary because there wasn’t sufficient engine power to get where we were going (this continued for weeks, with every subsequent cruise being rerouted). We were not allowed to tell the guests about the change of itinerary, which meant we had to continue smiling and answer questions about ports we wouldn’t visit, and we processed orders for shore excursions that we knew would not happen.  The day was absolute chaos and it was clear I would not be meeting with the Staff Captain.

In the midst of the chaos, I was instructed by the CD to meet him in the HR Manager’s office.  I thought they were going to find some ridiculous reason to fire me. There are so many rules onboard a ship, all they needed to do was find some obscure rule that no one knew about, or one that was rarely enforced.  I had witnessed that done to numerous other crewmembers that had gotten on the ‘bad’ side of a specific manager. On the way to the meeting, I stopped by the Marine office and requested it be on record that I had a meeting arranged with the Staff Captain PRIOR to me being called to the HR Office.  Although I didn’t know what was going to happen at the HR meeting, I knew that anything I reported after would look like a bitter employee seeking revenge.

I was 'interviewed' by the Human Resources Manager, with the Cruise Director present.  The first question the HR Mgr asked was “Why do you feel you can’t approach the HR Manager about onboard issues?”  it was clear he had been sent a copy of my email to my Shoreside Support Person.  It seemed inappropriate to be interviewed by the same person I previously reported for unethical behaviour. I asked for a neutral 3rd party to be present, which was denied – they said, “your supervisor and the HR Manager are already here.  Who are you going to call?” With the Marine Division dealing with a very serious engine issue, I did not want to bother the Staff Captain, so I said we could proceed.  It was easily the most intimidating experience I have ever gone through ... but I wanted to be strong, and prove that they could not threaten THIS crew member. I recounted only one of the times the HR mgr had violated our Ethics Policy.  He admitted to it, gave a lame excuse and apologized for his actions. I personally don’t feel there is any excuse for what he did.

I then discovered how far they had to dig to find a rule I had broken.  Item of the Administration Policy (an addendum to the Communication Policy) states that an employee cannot transmit via email any negative comment about another employee. I was told it was a “terminateable offense”.  I had been copied on numerous emails in which people had said absolutely inappropriate things about crew members (many from the Cruise Director himself). My email was not comparable. I had never mentioned any names in my email, nor had I included any details.  As well, I had contacted my Shoreside Support Person only.  It was not as though I was making nasty, hurtful comments to random people.     

I knew exactly what would happen after that.  I, mysteriously, would start getting written warnings for ridiculous things.  I had seen it happen time and time again, on almost every ship I had ever worked on. I wasn't gong to go through that, so I tendered my resignation the following morning (I would have had to resign anyway, in order to accept my promotion).  I still went to the Staff Captain with the report, but when I told him about the 'so-called-interview' he almost jumped out of his seat. As he was due to sign off in a few days, he said that he would not have time to fully investigate.  He called the Hotel Director and demanded that he investigate fully. The Staff Captain told me that if this did not get fixed immediately, he would "take it all the way to the Captain".  It seemed this wasn't the first time something like this had happened.  To this day, that Staff Captain and the witness that was at our meeting are the only 2 people I trust.  Perhaps they were just putting on a better show than everyone else, but I still believed them.

I went to the Hotel Director’s office to arrange a time to meet. He said he was busy and that "we would speak later". However, it came to the day the Staff Captain was signing off.  I saw him on the gangway and asked him what I should do, since nothing had been resolved yet.  He was surprised to hear that the Hotel Director had never spoken to me.  It was then that I figured out the Hotel Director was involved as well (or at least willing to cover up with the others had done). I had always had a sneaking suspicion, but now I knew for sure.

On Nov 28, the Project Mgr for my new promotion called me in tears.  She said that they were taking my promotion away. HR Shoreside had told them there was a Professional Development Plan for me for my "poor work performance".  If your work needs improvement, you and your manager sit down and put a plan (PDP) into place.  Much like an evaluation, it is only valid if it has been signed by the employee (me), Division Head (CD) and HR Manager.  Therefore, it was clear I had no PDP in place.  I had never signed anything, or even had inkling that there was anything wrong with my work performance in almost 2 years with the company. I neither had poor work performance, nor had I ever received a written warning (which has to occur before a PDP is filed), nor had I ever signed a PDP.  After recovering from crying like I had never cried before, I got all of the evidence needed to prove that I did not have poor work performance.  I presented everything to the Marine Division to clear my name.  I pretty much knew I was screwed by this point, so I started to make plans for my new future -- which, sadly, did not involve me starting my dream job.

On November 29, a Cruise Staff told me that I had been nominated for Employee of the Month.  I was stunned! The Employee of the Month nomination has to be authorized by the CD, HR Mgr and Hotel Director – the same 3 people that had seemingly made up the story about my poor work performance.  

On Nov 30 (my last day onboard), I requested a meeting with the CD and HD (who I trusted slightly more than the HR Mgr).  CD and HD denied knowing anything about the report, confirmed that I was an excellent performer, but told me that I was not eligible for promotion because I gave 13 days notice instead of 14.  I knew that was not the real reason. What kind of company would give up a million dollar program because I gave 13 days notice instead of 14???

That night, the Marine Division called me to apologize for what had happened, and to ask if I would consider accepting the promotion again.  I was told that they were trying to get the paperwork prepared in time, but I might still need to 'officially' sign off in the morning (but they would have me return to the ship before it set sail).  Worst case scenario would be that I returned home to Canada for a few days and then come back.  So, I left most of my stuff on the ship with my husband. In hindsight, it seems I was rather stupid to believe that ‘good’ had prevailed.

December 2007
I arrived in Canada on Dec 2 and checked my email (still believing that I would be returning to the ship after a few days).  I received an email from the Marine Division that only said “You are no longer being considered for the position”. No reason was given. I forwarded the email to my husband (who was still onboard).  I told him to work as long as he could stand it, save as much money as possible, and then come home so we could try and rebuild our lives.

On Dec 3, I got a one line email from a friend on the ship.  They had confined my husband to his cabin.  I was now well aware that these guys would stop at nothing to scare me out of reporting what I witnessed.  Although I knew they would try to get rid of anyone I might have told what I had seen, I was in disbelief that they would threaten to call the FBI. I knew that my husband would never have done anything illegal, but I had no idea what kind of ridiculous evidence they would have hacked together. I called my husband’s father, who got 3 lawyers from 3 different countries to start contacting everyone at the company.  After more than 72 hours in confinement, my husband was finally released in Jamaica. I later found out that while he was locked up, they had confiscated his laptop.  The good news was that my husband’s laptop never had a copy of my database on it.  Like a true computer geek, I took my laptop with me even though I was only supposed to be leaving the ship for a short time.

When we got home, I was wrecked. I just couldn't believe what had happened.  It seemed like something out of a thriller movie.  I could not believe that this type of thing happened in real life. We tried to put our lives back together, and I wanted to do whatever it took to make sure this never happened to anyone again.

January 2008
(Over one month after my husband and I left the company) There was an email in my Inbox from the Shoreside HR person that had originally told the Marine Division that I had “poor work performance”.  I had always held out hope that she would investigate after we had left the ship. I was excited when I saw her email.  Perhaps she was FINALLY investigating.  But I quickly learned I was stupid to believe that.  It was a rather threatening email accusing me of sending derogatory emails to staff onboard the Enchantment, telling me to “cease and desist immediately” in bold, red letters. Even if I had sent these alleged emails, what exactly were they threatening me with, and what law had I broken? Certainly I wouldn’t have been the only former employee to say something negative about a former boss. The best part was it wasn’t even remotely true. I had never sent any email to a company address. I had never said anything derogatory in a personal email to any staff onboard.  And despite what I had been put through, I never said anything bad about the managers onboard, never called them a bad name.  Although most people would have been spewing several curse words, I feel that would have been unprofessional (and would have made me no better than they were).

I later found out that the Cruise Director, Human Resources Manager and Hotel Director held an Entertainment Division Meeting in which our 80+ staff were threatened against talking to. The managers told the crew that I had “accessed something I shouldn’t have”.  Again, not even remotely true.  Crew were told that if they had any correspondence with me they “would be caught and appropriate action taken”.  This meeting took place just days after the meeting in which it was announced that I was nominated for Employee of the Month.  Many of the crew were understandably confused, and scared.  I’m sure it would bother those managers quite a bit to know that more than one of the crew still talks to me.  How on earth did they get away with what they did to me and my husband?  And then get away with threatening an entire room of people?

And believe it or not, this is the abridged version. You can believe what you want to believe, but I promise you this did actually happen.  Even I sometimes have a hard time believing it, and I was there for every moment.