The Romance of the Cruise Ship Work
Denys Bulikhov, former worker on Carnival Cruise Lines
Reproduced with permission from
Three dates of the retarded
The sun… White,
hot wound in the sky, burning everything around it. Irresistible
flaming spot. I look at it for just few seconds and, crying, shut my
eyes as much as I can. Pain makes it almost impossible…
Squinting, I look around me. Incandescent wooden deck. Red-hot
handrails. Striped white and blue beach chairs. Small, almost empty
pool with boiled water. Rubbered dirty slide. Melted people in the
chairs… Who am I? What am I doing here?..
I have had this feeling for three weeks already. It doesn’t go away. I
still question myself. And the answer is always there. Waiting. Simple
like the sun. Money. I came here for it.
The ship is not a bad place. Not at all. It has restaurants, nice
cabins, attractions, casino, lounges, theater, pools, spa, decks,
shops, morgue and even prison. I compare it with the city. I am not new
in that comparison. I heard it from somebody. This somebody told me
that the ship has all the attributes of a real state - president,
government, police, and population. There is only one difference:
population is divided in two parts - aborigines and aliens.
I am one of the aborigines. I live here. I work, eat, sleep, relax,
chat, study, and hopefully, have sex in here. Oh, sorry… No sex. I’m
married. She is waiting for me at home. With the money.
Home… This is the biggest pain. It is too far away. Everything that I
love is there: my wife, my parents, my friends, my city, my place…
Trying to forget, I want to get “hammered” by alcohol until my mind
will be free, but I can’t. I start at 6:00 AM every single day. If I
start my shift drunk, I will be fired. I cannot get fired. I need money.
…Aliens do not live on the ship. They come only for one week. Sometimes
two. They are the total opposite of me. They are relaxed. They do what
they want. They do not work. I work for them. And other aborigines also
work for them.
Do I hate them?
No. They are on vacation. Why should I hate them? At least, not at
I clean after them. I scrub and shine my small part of the deck eleven
hours a day seven days a week. I pick up the glasses and plates, pack
and unpack the chairs, clean water drains, shine the brass on the
steps, wipe the mirror ceiling and windows, and scrub the pool and the
slide. Do I like it? No. But I do it. And I will. Because,… oh, I
explained that already!..
I have to smile. That is what I was told. It seems totally impossible.
How can I smile? I work like a horse, sweating and getting crazy under
this impossible sun; there is nothing here that I love; there is almost
nobody who can even understand me. What should I smile about?.. But I
have to. No smile – no promotion. No promotion – no… you know that
My supervisor is from Guyana. His name is Edroy. He is stupid. Totally.
But he is a very nice person at the same time. I don’t understand him
at all. He has a caribbean-british accent. He sounds all the time like
he wants to sing. I never understood a word from English songs.
My department manager is from India. His name is Cirilo. I couldn’t
believe at first that he speaks English. His speech sounds meaningless
for me. He has a monstrous accent.
Same story with the captain. Probably he thinks about Italy, when he
speaks. When he tells about weather over the loudspeakers, I see pizza,
pasta, Coliseum, mafia, Roman hills and Napoli’s nights… Did he say
something about weather? Oh, my, I missed it!..
The ocean is my only friend now… So blue… I can spend hours just
watching sky-blue waves with curly white hair lazily rolling into each
other. Watching flying fishes. Watching hammer-head sharks. Watching
seagulls… I can even forget about home…
…At the end of the work shift totally burned, melted and boiled in my
own sweat, I drink as much as I can. This is the first thing I do
entering the conditioned crew dining room. Crew “mess”. I drink so much
that I cannot really move after that. And I don’t want to eat. I just
want to sit and relax. Catching myself falling asleep, I decide that I
have to eat. At least a little bit. Rice, some vegetables and fruits.
Just enough to stop the remorse that I’m killing my body. Ok. Just a
…Covering myself with bad smelling blanket, I’m crying. May be it is a
shame, but I do cry. It looks like I cannot take it anymore. It looks
like I will crack. But I know it will not happen. Even if I want.
Unfortunately, it is not enough to force me to step back. I know that I
will come to work tomorrow, and everything will be fine. I know that I
will get through. I just need to stop pitying myself. I wipe my eyes
and lay straight on the bed. I have to rest. I have to prepare myself.
Prepare for my date. With the sun…
Date two: Corridor
My first date with it was quite pleasant. I was tired from the sun so
much, that any change would be pleasant; so much, that I didn’t go out
from the steel womb of the ship for almost two months…
The corridor is long. It is around three hundred yards. Two sides and
two decks; altogether it is close to a mile. Only doors, walls, ceiling
lights and carpet. And me, pushing or dragging the trolley with towels.
I deliver towels to stewards’ sections. After they finish cleaning, I
pick dirty towels up. I have a master key from every steward locker, so
any time I want I open one and grab some complimentary mint chocolates.
They are sweet, cooling and little bit… disgusting… I’m chewing them
almost every minute of my work…
The trolley is a big cart in a yard width, one and half yard length and
more than yard height. When it gets loaded with the towels on one foot
higher than my head, the funny ride through the long corridor converts
to a hard physical work. Everybody has to get their towels before 7:00
AM; I have less than two hours to deliver all of them to 20 sections.
That is why I almost never have a pleasure to push only one trolley
with towels. To be on time I have to connect three, sometimes four of
them together and drag them behind.
When I have my “train” behind me, I always remember people called
“burlaks”. In old times in Russia burlaks were dragging the ships up on
the river against the flow. A bunch of them were connected to the boat
with special belts. Pushing the belts with the shoulders, they were
moving the ship inside the river… Impossible work…
My mood always goes up when I remember that. Especially when ship
rocks. When the deck dances under my feet, the train always wants to
kill me by kicking my legs or dragging me back bumping against the
walls. The work becomes so ridiculously hard that I hysterically laugh.
Burlaks were moving ships. I cannot move the stupid towel train…
Sometimes it is funny… But usually not…
The corridor is extremely narrow. Two trolleys cannot pass. One and
half. My train always bumps the walls. I never care. I cannot care. All
I think about are towels. And time. And money.
…First thing I do after shift is going down to crew mess to drink.
Quarter of gallon at least. I sit on the chair and close my eyes. I
relax… But not for too long. I can go sleep now. For almost two and
half hours. No, I have to go sleep. On this job I count every minute of
…Picking up towels is more “entertaining”. I dive in the corridor
again, but now I see people. They are working. Cleaning, scrubbing,
washing and wiping. Complaining. It is never enough towels, and of
course it is my fault. I don’t want to deliver more, because he is
Asian, she is black, they are rude, somebody is Romanian, and
bla-bla-bla… Everyday is the same. I don’t answer anymore. Useless.
Just nodding, smiling and doing my work…
…After lunch and two hours sleep circle repeats. The corridor, me and
my towel train. Getting ready for evening service… Night pick up… I
enter my cabin by 10:30 PM. I take a shower and go to bed. Read little
People say here
you become crazy after five months of work. Inadequate. Strange, but I
feel that I have been retarded all the time here. Mind and thoughts are
straight and short. Short sentences. Phrase, period. Word, period. Two
words, period. Like a robot. No people. No home. No happiness. No me.
Just towels and corridor…
I close my eyes and try to fall asleep. I am ready for the next date.
With the corridor…
Date three: Toilet
seven hundred sixty. Amount of a life time. It is how many toilets I
will clean during eight months contract. Forty per day, seven days a
week. Eternity is broke. God does not exist. The toilet bowl is a path
It’s pretty fast. Usually it’s around five-six minutes for each
bathroom. Sometimes three. While steward cleans the room and makes the
bed, I perform “Formula 1” competition in the bathroom. Wipe the
shower, wipe the sink, wipe the toilet, put the towels, fold the
“hospitality corner” on the toilet paper. That is it! Next cabin. Wipe,
wipe, wipe, put, fold… Next! Wipe, wipe, oops, tooth brush fell in the
toilet, wipe the tooth brush, put, fold. Next!..
No rags. All cleaning I do with towels. Everybody does. Used towels are
get used again for cleaning, only after that they go to the laundry,
and come back on the next day clean. Or… not so clean… Disgusting? No.
It is life. I have to clean with rags, but I don’t have them.
Management says we do. They always say that. But we don’t have them. No
rags. The cleaning has to be done. Somehow. Fast. This is difficult
puzzle for me. I don’t care. I just clean.
The guest cabin is small. Much smaller than in the advertisement. The
bathroom is just tiny. That is why, when I come in, the first thing I
see is a huge toilet in this tiny bathroom. I think, I’m getting
obsessed with the toilets. They are white and shiny. They are elegant.
They even don’t smell if I clean them every day… Yes, I’m definitely
All days are the same. I do only four things during a day: eat, sleep,
clean toilets and sit on the toilet. Did I go crazy? I’m not sure.
Probably. When I eat, I see sometimes a toilet bowl instead of my
plate… I guess, I did go crazy. Or, may be, I’m just retarded…
dates with the toilet bowl every single day… It is a lot…
Enough to make me crazy…
…The end of my
contract. I cannot believe it. I leave the ship with deep sadness. I
don’t feel like going home. There are no dates at home. With sun,
corridor and toilet… No work… Just rest…
Definitely the ship affected my brain. I do not feel like myself
anymore. There is some alien personality inside me addicted to sun,
corridor and toilet… I hope I will never go back to the ship. But I
know for sure I will. Because I need money…
Being a family man is not an easy task…