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Cruise Photography Aftermath

6 Jul Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

It is Thursday, and I have to re-adapt to a world where this (and the time of day) are meaningful information. The first novelty after returning home was the simple fact that the day consists of three meals, and none of them is rushed. And when I require additional sustenance, I can simply grab a snack item or a glass of water from the kitchen. And when I need to sit down, I sit down, and continue working. Things that are so normal for most folks, and are usual even for employees in any sweat shop or burger parlour, these things are virtually impossible during work hours with ABC Cruises.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

Cruise advertisement is usually full of blue skies and greeen lanscapes. The actual job, however, is not.

I am happy to leave ABC Cruises behind, not just my position as cruise photographer, but the entire ordeal of working for a company that puts financial profit above everything else, be it physical health, public perception, or simple integrity. I worked for one of the biggest cruise companies worldwide, and probably the fastest growing one. Their impact on sea tourism is beyond measure, yet they seem to lack the basic ethical responsibilities necessary to take a leading role for the market. The officers are almost exclusively Italian, indicating that it is nearly impossible to acquire a high-ranking position without kissing ass. You can think of that what you like, but I doubt that being a great kisser qualifies anyone to lead the fate of a multi-Billion Dollar company, and particularly that of its hundreds of thousands of employees.

Now, why am I even writing this blog? (Why do you keep reading is the more interesting question, but that’s none I can answer.) My motivations are three-fold: 1) I use writing as a way of stress-relief; 2) I want to warn people who are toying with the thought of becoming a cruise photographer about the actual perils involved in the job; 3) there is a slim chance that someone at ABC Cruises will read this, and improve working conditions for their crew, as well as care for their paying guests.

To date I wrote more than sixty blog posts about my experience as cruise photographer, over eighty pages of text contemplating my existence, and that of my chosen path. It was an interesting ride, but I am glad that it’s over. In order to provide a comprehensive overview over the reasons for my decision to stop working for ABC Cruises I hereby provide you with my complete list of pros and cons for signing off.

Spitsbergen is not actually THAT cold in spring. But tensions aborad the ABC RypMeOff chill most photographers to the bone.

The working climate aboard the ABC RypMeOff was often frosty

Reasons to sign off

  1. The pay is inadequate to my work load and stress, and much lower than promised (I am paid about one quarter of the original figure).
  2. The food is of mediocre quality. Too often the healthy vegetarian choices are limited to options such as rice and fruit, which lack the nutrients and minerals that I need to sustain a healthy body.
  3. Spare time is often scattered throughout the day, due to training sessions, buffet times, drills, laundry visits, and other small jobs that require my attention, and are badly synchronised with one another.
  4. Job time, however, is filled with boredom, as I stand in my photo studio for hours, waiting for hotel guests who don’t even want their photo taken.
  5. Similarly, I am sleep-deprived, because I go to bed after midnight snack time (2 A.M.), but get up around 7 A.M. to enjoy port time, or get ready for work.
  6. Overall, I lack exercise, physically and mentally. I spend six-hour blocks standing in a portrait studio, only interrupted by two short food breaks. My knees hurt really badly as soon as I try to actually bend them. After six weeks my legs joined that club of complainers, because I don’t get to stretch and exercise them often enough.
  7. Internet access is so bad that I rarely get to successfully send an e-mail, particularly when I try to send attachments. It’s also expensive. Which I understand, because otherwise crew would likely abuse the narrow bandwidth provided by the satellite dish; but there are other ways to limit bandwidth that would not make the web experience ridiculously slow and unreliable.
  8. The crew predominantly converses in Italian, Portuguese, or any Balkan language. Barely anyone speaks the Queen’s English, making it difficult to communicate, or at least have a halfway pleasant conversation.
MSC Preciosa 72

Behind all the glamour with ABC Cruises there are rather dirty work practices.

Reasons to remain with ABC Cruises

  1. More trips to Iceland are coming. (With many repetitive Norway cruises in between.)
  2. I could go spot some whales with Stefanie. (But only if I am actually allowed to leave the ship, and spend more than two consecutive hours outside, which there is absolutely no guarantee for.)
  3. Maya Buffet is really tasty, and offers a great choice of unhealthy food items. (But hugely interrupts the flow of the day, because to me it is only available on port days, and only for a narrow time window.)
  4. I learned some interesting things about portrait photography, and would undoubtedly learn more. (But rarely get the opportunity to practice those skills.)
  5. See the world (and watch it through a cubby hole, because we are not allowed to show ourselves aboard the ship when we are not working.)


As you can see the list of reasons for staying with ABC Cruises is not only much shorter than the leave-list, it also features hidden obstacles in every positive argument. I am a realistic person, so you would naturally expect a certain degree of negativity, but ABC Cruises really seems to be bent on making you labour and suffer for every positive experience. I just have too many good alternatives to consider any cruise job that is not labelled “musician”. In Germany I could flip burgers full-time, and not only make more money than I did with this multi-Billion-dollar tourism trap, but also have more time for myself, AND spend that time any way I please. The concept of individuality seems so foreign to my former bosses that one wonders if any of them ever was descended from a human being, or whether cruise managers are cultivated in a special lab in Geneva. Given these ludicrous working conditions I made the executive decision to leave ABC Cruises behind.

Invergordon via MSC 2-31

Cruise Photography is dead to me. But maybe it still sounds like a challenging work place to you.

According to our more seasoned colleagues the working conditions aboard this vessel are particularly dreadful, and previous contracts featured better management as well as more spare time. Thus, there is hope that things might improve, if one was to skip ships. Mateja actually has similar doubts about her occupation as I, but she first wants to try a transfer to a different ship before quitting the job completely. I had that option as well, but leaving the ABC RypMeOff was relatively easy for me, compared to other vessels of the same company. Their other ships cruise around the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or make five-day cruises around Japan. That would be interesting to see, but ABC Cruises demands that every employee who terminates their own contract should pay for their own trip home. In Germany that cost is a €50 train ticket. In Japan that would be a €1,000 flight. That means, pulling out early was way cheaper than trying to fumble my way through the peculiarities of a different ship, with a different team and manager.

I have little doubts that this was my last encounter with ABC Cruises, because I put little faith into my application as cruise musician. For the moment, I am just glad to be back home, where I am able to eat and live a healthy life. And photos I take only for pleasure. My own pleasure.

Farewell Cruise Photography

5 Jul low tide at the port of Invergordon, Scotland

I awake from dreamless slumber, knowing about the pleasures that this day holds for me: sweet release from heavily monetised tourism. I try to sneak out of the cabin in order to let the lab technician sleep. However, sneak options are limited, considering that I have to pack up my residual belongings that are scattered throughout this cell, while I also have a pile of laundry that needs to be returned to the Pakistani towel mafia.

First things first – let’s storm the staff mess! Being a clever lad, I bring my camera bag, and fill myself two plastic bags with bred rolls and fruit, and also fill up my water bottle with the apple juice substitute that the buffet personnel provides. Breakfast is as short as ever, for as always the buffet is lacking green vegetables or tasteful marmades. Bread and tea it is, for the last time in a long time.

Vegan breakfast for cruise crew

Farewell weirdly restircted choice of food items!

While I brush my teeth I simultaneously pack up my last things, and cram them into side pockets of coat and bag. I’d love to stuff them into my suitcase, but the latter was sealed shut by security last night, and reopening it would mean another long security check. And so my last little pile of personal belongings has to go into a shopping bag, and I am once more glad to leave the ship in Hamburg, from where I can take the train home, and don’t have to answer intriguing security questions at an airport.

ABC RypMeOff - crew cabin

Farewell tiny cubby!

Victory celebrations are cut short by my mandatory visit to the main office. Even though I am third in line it takes nearly an hour until I finally get to exchange my signed paperwork against my passport and sign-off note. It’s not that complicated a process, but it actually takes some fifty minutes until someone finally feels responsible for the growing line-up of crew members that block the hallway nearly halfway down the length of the corridor. Most of these people have a flight to catch, and it would be in the best interest of ABC personnel to move things along fairly quickly, but apparently nobody planned for this grand departure. In order to maintain order and happiness we decide to stage a hallway party, loudly celebrating our victory over fraudulent job advertisement by yodeling Irish drinking songs and stomping the appropriate rhythm into the metal floor. Since few of my crew members appears to have any positive relationship with rhythmic movement, we quickly have a scene at hand that looks like a friendly gathering, and sounds like a war zone. The terminal result is astonishing, and after nearly an hour of pointless waiting we all get processed fairly quickly.

My last conversation to any regular crew occurs on the gangway, where I meet one of the tourist managers, a mid-aged woman from Germany, whose accent is so thick that I expect her to wear a dirndl made from sausage and pretzels underneath her creased uniform. One of the Brazilian girls actually knuckles into our conversation, and says that she finds it funny to hear us talk in English, when in fact we are both German. The rebuke of my new manager friend includes words like “respect”, and “disgrace”, which are also words that I always thought of employing when talking about those Portuguese and Spanish conversations onboard, but always refrained from, because most of ABC personnel would just refuse comprehension.

I don’t care anymore. All the officers converse mostly in Italian. Most of the managers talk Rumanian. And the crew rarely speaks anything but Macedonian or Purtuguese, which pretty much excludes me from most conversations aboard. A bloody disgrace, if you recall that we are an international tourist hotel, and supposedly converse in English with the majority of our guests. As usual it is up to the Germans to teach the rest of the crew respect. And it’s up to the crew to refuse that lesson.

A good book and nurishing food . great travel combination

A good book and nurishing food . great travel combination

While I sit on a cold bench on the lowest level of Hamburg Central Station, a stiff breeze fluffing my hair, I feel the warmth of freedom and homeland slowly filling my lungs, and spreading out to my hands that grab another muffin from my stuffed photo bag. The two pears and a bag full of chocolate buns are the last physical reminder of this photo adventure. Most of the remaining baggage is emotional, so at this point it would be worthwhile to address everyone’s concerns about me deciding to leave a lucrative job. But I’m not going to; that’s a subject for tomorrow.

Today I celebrate my freedom. With a long train ride home. A good book in one hand, and the other in my bag, searching for more food that I retained from the ABC Staff Mess. Over the past two months I have tried myself on an almost regular job. But no matter how much certain individuals have tried to make my life aboard more comfortable, this adventure was cut short by the daily trudge, the corruption, and the general work attitude of ABC Cruises that values profit over people. This is not a healthy work environment; it’s not a job that I could embrace full time, and certainly not something that makes me happy. Considering what tiny value the company attributed to me, I made the executive decision to leave this job behind.

Mountains of Alesund, Norway

These views are something I will miss. But I am just not willing to pay the ABC Cruise Price for it.

I am German, Academic, Artist, skilled with my hands and my mind. I have other options to acquire money than by grinding my way through a tourist-powered mill, and I pity the people who don’t have my options. My search for employment continues, and if I ever return to the business of cruises, it will be as musician. Tomorrow I will wrap up this whole two-month ordeal with a blog post concerning my deeper considerations of staying or leaving, so that others might benefit from my process of thought. Or just laugh about it. Whatever you prefer.

But today: we celebrate. I’ll make a big Hullabaloo upon returning to my homestead. (My parents have no idea I am on my way home five months early.) I will play with the family dog, eat green vegetables, look out the window, take a nap when I feel sleepy, sit down where other people can see me, and not be bothered by any cruise officer insisting that I should not behave like a human being.

So long people, see you tomorrow for the final summary!

Almost free of cruise jobs

4 Jul Jurassic Park - A Fallen Kingdom

Even on our very last day the managers won’t give us time to breathe between photos. Granted, with four photographers leaving the ship there is a distinctive pressure on this department. We can’t uphold regular services with one quarter of the team packing their bags. Still, security will stop offering pre-checks around midnight, so we actually need to get packing very soon, if we don’t want to spend the next day in port, waiting for two of the security lads to come around checking our bags.

Since I already booked a train ride home, I am bound to a certain schedule, so the lack of diligence displayed by Manager Ash is unnerving me. Around 21:30 o’clock he finally judges that I bugged him often enough, and with a confused look on his face he sits me down to explain the ratings in his evaluation sheet. I don’t actually care what it says, because I will never return to this company as a phototgrapher. However, in order to maintain my hiring options with other departments I have to give him the impression of being deeply involved in the process.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Oh, how I will miss this tristesse, the daily idiocy and chaucinism of the cruise …

With great delay I am released to return to my tiny cabin, where I pack up the photo gear that still needs to be returned and catalogued. Since I am a well-organised person, I simultaneously pack up my own luggage, despite being unable to pack some of the practical gear, such as my pyjama, or any of the food supplies. Those will all have to go into my carry-on luggage, not just because I still need that stuff, but because deep frowns will crease the faces of security personnel, if they find food, and several of the other items in my suitcase. Please recall that opened food packages or even fruit are not allowed in personal possession.

Anyway, about a quarter to midnight I manage to drag my suitcase down to the security hall, where personnel opens and deep-checks every bag we bring. Apparently they have plenty of comrades ready to work on my luggage, because I am one of very few crew members left. Most of the other departments gave their crew members considerably more time to pack & check than our photo manager. But I won’t hold that against him. Just note that once again the photo department draws the shortest straws possible.

After about ten minutes of searching I am released, which means I spend until half past midnight re-packing my suitcase. (The security goofs literally peaked into the tip of every shoe.) My family load of undergarment, shoes, and uniform pieces barely fits into this case, especially with all the add-ons that I had to purchase aboard. Finally all the hours that I spent on the lavatory pay off. Playing Tetris on my old Game Boy was an excellent preparation for this task. In any case, security is somewhat happy, and tapes my suitcase shut with some of the most sticky tape imaginable. The world would be free of mosquitoes, if you applied even one role of this guff to an African village.

View from deck of the ABC RypMeOff

I thought about pulling a “civilian prank” on my last day at work, and just launge on deck with the passengers. I did not have time for it, though.

And off we go – civilian Goemon is back on track, ready to take a last sleep in his funky old cabin, dreaming of freedom, and peace in our time. The ladies that are leaving our department are off to the Crew Disco, for a last night of smoking and drinking. I for my part am happy to never again having to fake interest in that smoke-filled mouse hole that all the sleep-deprived addicts seem to be so crazy about.

Stavanger, and a quality rain

3 Jul Tightly packed houses and overgrowth in Stavanger, Norway

Life aboard has become much more enjoyable, now that I stopped caring about how the managers perceive my work attitude. Admittedly, their interest in me has also dropped dramatically, once they realised that this was my final cruise. They rarely bother me with their flatulent demands anymore, and even the South-African nut-job Henry has lost interest in “helping me” to fit in with the job.

Thus, I am more relaxed than usual when we arrive in Stavanger this morning. Even though it is raining quite heavily I have set out to enjoy my stay in this picturesque Norwegian town. After all, this is the final port along my journey as a cruise photographer. I told our managers that I hope to return to ABC Cruises in the foreseeable future, but as usual I concealed the greater truth from them. I simply don’t want them to write me a bad report, because I want to maintain the option of returning as a cruise musician. However, I have no intention whatsoever to return to this laughably stupid work as cruise photographer. The discussions I had during these past few days have only added to my conviction.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is a nice enough place to work at, but after two months I am really sick of this sight.

For example, a few days ago our managers discovered the topic of Image Counts. Well, more likely the topic was pressed upon them by the fleet managers, but nevertheless it is now a subject of great dispute. Image counts are now officially a measure of success. The overall image count per passenger is rather poor in our team, compared to that of other ships in the fleet. One reason might be that nobody in this team gives a shit anymore. The company treats us so poorly that even the veteran shooters have stopped spending any real effort in attracting passengers once they reached two hundred photos, which is pretty much the minimum requested by the bosses.

This is just another kink in the penetrable armour of missing logic that surrounds ABC Cruises. Quantity over quality. I think Stavanger knows this already, and instead of greeting us with real quality weather, it gives us a quantity downpour. That is a bit disappointing, considering that even our passengers have barely twelve hours to inhale the beauty of our last Norwegian stop. But I guess Norwegian flowers need water, too, and so I endure the cold wetness of my socks without complaining.

Tightly packed houses and overgrowth in Stavanger, Norway

Tightly packed houses and overgrowth in Stavanger, Norway

Stavanger rewards me with some of the most beautiful parks and cemeteries in my memory. The lush green meadows are lined with rows of flowering shrubs and stout brown trees, which stands in stark contrast to the crowded rows of picketed houses. The inner city, in particular, shows little sign of greenery aside from the odd moss that infests the walls and cobblestone roads. The white houses stand back to back, with their front door on the sidewalk, and barely enough space between them to see the sky when you lean out the window. No wonder Norwegians are such a happy people – you can’t enjoy greenery without visiting the park. And because all the other townsfolk live with the same perilous lack of greenery in their non-existent back yard, people are bound to meet, socialise, and promise each other to not commit suicide over the extensive length of the dark winter. Since half the parks seem to be cemeteries this should also level people’s expectations towards death.

Anyway, even on a cold and rainy day Norway features plenty of fancy houses, cute ducks, and green lawns. If you don’t believe me: I got photographic evidence. Look at my photo album of Stavanger!

Bergen, and the hardship of pasta

2 Jul Aerial view of part of the port in Bergen, Norway

I just have to give a shout-out to Marcio, our Human Resource Manager, who takes every complaint serious, and tries to resolve it in a professional manner. (The fact that such behaviour is noteworthy provides should actually be enough of a reminder of how terribly distressing life is aboard the ABC RypMeOff.) A month ago I wrote Marcio a short essay in tightly-lettered words on the back of a complaint form (the front was too short), discussing six points in which the chef of the staff mess fails to deliver nutrition and quality, and naming a few possible fixes. After two weeks we had a meeting with the head chef, and ever since then it’s been pasta time.

You know me as a constant complainer, so you’re not even surprised about the length of my letter. However, Marcio was not prepared for my onslaught of words, so he went through great lengths of political yarn to find a solution. My main concern was the general lack of vegan meal options at the buffet, as well as in the crew mess. Half the meal options contain meat, most of the rest is fried in butter, just to add that extra level of salt and cholesterol. On top of that there are rarely ever fresh and ripe fruit available. The head chef tried to comment on my perceived misery, but did not quite persuade with his arguments.

Aerial view of part of the port in Bergen, Norway

Bergen is a nice place. If you like fish, you will love it here.

Firstly, both the ingredients and the recipes for the various kitchens aboard are prescribed by cruise management in Geneva. The head chef just passes on the orders, but apparently is not allowed to change any of the routines. That means we are stuck with the salty, fatty menu that ABC Cruises provides; it won’t change in the foreseeable future. I guess the people that prepare our meals have about as much experience as chefs as I have as a photographer, meaning that upon applying for the job they had enough confidence to microwave a lasagne, but not enough to eat it.

Upon hearing about my perils of finding a decent meal aboard this vessel the head chef granted me the gift of making special requests to the staff in the crew mess, who would then grab me a meal right from one of the kitchens that supply the restaurants. I only utilised that possibility once, because the restaurant times don’t align with my schedule, making it all but impossible to acquire a meal from there within the half hour dinner break I am given. A bloody pointless solution, isn’t it?!

Instead, ever since that meeting with Marcio I have been eating pasta and tomato sauce, for nearly every lunch and dinner aboard. That particular menu item is readily available, because the kitchen can cook it up in about five minutes, so it is a very reliable alternative to the beefy sausages and buttered potato cream that the mess usually provides. Since this food source is nutritious as well as delicious, literally half the photo team has joined me on my quest. There it is, the culinary delight of the cruise photographer: pasta, with tomato sauce.

A bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The restaurants of the ABC RypMeOff all look very fancy, but the food in the staff mess is far less glorious.

But why did I even have to write a complaint for this? Why can’t ABC Cruises just offer decent food three times a day? This all feeds into the main problem with employment aboard the ABC RypMeOff. [Here we go again. Stuff your ears everyone; Goemon found a reason to rant.] My overall criticism with ABC Cruises is not that life aboard is so difficult. I certainly had demanding job positions before I started working for this company. Rather, this job is needlessly difficult. It would not take much to improve on the food situation, yet nobody seems to care enough to even complain about it. The manager could offer words of advice and reassurance, instead of calling the entire team an “embarrassment for cruise photography”. Security could improve comfort by enforcing the smoking ban, instead of smoking in their own cabins. ABC Cruises could order the chefs to heat the dishes at the buffet to anything above room temperature, instead of asking its crew to meet every complaint with a smile. Just imagine how many passengers are not even complaining anymore, because they know from experience that the company does not give a penguin’s poop about customer concerns!

Anyway, pasta is cool, ABC Cruises sucks, and Bergen is a cool Nordish town. Here, have a look yourself in the updated photo gallery!

Geiranger, Tender Boarding, and Assembly Line Photography

1 Jul Moss-covered houses in Geiranger fjord, Norway

Oh, Geiranger. What a beautiful sight. All those mountains, waterfalls, and cloudy peaks, green meadows, and moss-covered houses. Truly this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. On my fourth visit to Geiranger fjord I am still amazed by this view. Normally I get bored very easily, so my prolonged interest in this hikeable paradise is worthy of mention. Unfortunately, our visit today is cut even shorter than usual, so I will take this opportunity to rant about tenders.

Moss-covered houses in Geiranger fjord, Norway

Even towns that explicitly live off the fine commercial art of cruise tourism often don’t have a harbour that is big enough to support more than one of those huge cruise ships. Geiranger, in particular, has the capacity to receive the gangway of only one cruise monster. Since the ABC RypMeOff is the second ship the port is harbouring today, we have to stay half a mile off shore. Instead of simply walking off the cruise vessel passengers have to board the little tender boats. Those are then lowered to the water, and drive us into the harbour where we celebrate our luck of not having sunk to the bottom of the fjord.

Tender access is a bit more adventurous than the regular gangway, because we get to drive around the port for a while, and thus actually get to see a bit more of the raging waterfalls that make this place so special. However, it also steals another hour from our day. The tender boats are only supposed to leave when they are crammed full with passengers, so including the double security checks you may spend some twenty minutes from your arrival at the terminal to actually heading out into the fjord. Obviously, passengers take priority over crew members, but to make things ludicrously worse there is a three-hour moratorium for crew, meaning that for the first three hours after anchoring we are not allowed to leave the ship, even though the passengers are mostly gone after an hour. It’s another one of those cases where the captain makes sombre plans based upon experience and circumstance, but fails to acknowledge that any situation is subjected to change. I said this before, but it certainly bears repeating: crew does not matter to the management of ABC Cruises. Requests for change are irrelevant, if uttered by paid employees.

Hotels surrounded by scenery. That's Norway.

This is a pretty nice environment to work in.

Fortunately, I am on duty this morning, and my duty requires that I leave the ship early. Lolek’s wife and I dress up in some ridiculous costume, and Rob shoots us with his camera when we pose for pictures with the passengers. Since we are anchored in Norway our costumes were tastefully designed after the fashion of the Norse. While Lolek’s wife wears the traditional garment of the Nordic elk herder, I myself am clothed in a wild leather outfit that reminisces the trading Vikings of days long past.

Nah, just kidding. Both costumes were bought at a British Halloween store for ₤9 each. The lady’s choice is a cheap attempt at a farmers dress from the early 1800s, while my statute outlines are cursed with some failed crusader mail made from cheaply painted plastic. My own moustache is a better costume than this bad excuse of a cleaning cloth. Alas, ABC Cruises does not have a budget for costumes.

Together we stand around the harbour, at the single access point through which all the passengers have to pass on their way to Geiranger. Whenever a tender sheds its humanoid load onto the planks of the port we ready our wits, waiting for the passengers to funnel through the security check. They usually approach us single-file, like the cattle in a slaughter house, giving us ample time to smile and wave, preparing them for the assault that is about to happen. As soon as they reach us, we both sling our arms around one shoulder of the next passenger in line, smile into the camera, and Rob takes the picture. It doesn’t actually matter that half our victims don’t smile, and the other half looks anywhere but towards the camera. Image counts matter, costumer satisfaction does not. That is one of the few key lessons that management really pressed upon in these past few weeks.

Buskers in Geiranger fjord, Norway

We are not the only ones working the peer. These Norwegian buskers were awesome, too.

Be that as it may, we make really good progress with our three-person approach, and very few of the passengers seem to mind. Since the set-up of each picture is identical Rob never needs to change any settings, and we never stop any passenger for more than two seconds. That work is as easy (and monotonous) as it gets for a cruise photographer, so we procure a great number of photos with rather short bursts of action.

Overall, I am quite happy with our performance. We get fresh air, sunshine, plenty of smiles, and a guaranteed pat on the back for our great service to the company. The only downside of the morning is the constant whining from Lolek’s wife. “How long do we have to be out here?” “Can we go back now?” and “I am tired” are her most frequent concerns of the hour, none of which is bound to improve the mood of onlookers or coworkers. It is the bane we live with, the one complainer that every team needs to level the general mood and expectations of everyone else. Not a day goes by without Lolek’s wife leaning against a gray corner, collapsing into a heap of misery, and complaining about the work she signed up for. After nearly two weeks she still does not understand that no whining will ever free her of labour.

Two days ago we had the task of shooting passengers on deck until 10 A.M. Even five minutes to ten she was still coming up to me, asking if we could go now, humming the old mantra of cruise photographers: “nobody wants to take pictures!” I’m not sure why she consistently asked me, considering that I myself am quite new to the job. I don’t know what that says about her intellect, but five minutes is certainly not a stretch of time I would risk a warning for. And my advice to her was always the same: “Gal, just walk the deck for a few more minutes, and enjoy the view. If anyone asks, you can still claim to have done your duty, even though you were actually just having a walk.” How is the boss ever going to trust you, if you can’t fulfill the simplest of tasks without taking offence in your personal situation?

Predatory salesmen aboard the ABC RypMeOff

ABC Cruises breeds gruesomly agressive shop keepers. – Just kidding, these are friends of mine, being funny.

I don’t even know why it bothers me so. I will be gone in a week, and the rest of the department (plus four newbies!) will have their chance to explore the gruesome depths of her melancholy. Who knows – maybe the manager will finally grasp the hardship that Lolek’s wife has to undergo, and free her from this life of trouble and strife. Miracles happen.

By the way, it seems that I “forgot” to punch out after work, again. Seeing that I wasted the first three hours of the day on work, I did not return to the ship just to punch my time card, especially with those bloody tender boats in between. Instead, I stayed ashore, and only boarded the tender about half an hour before my evening shift started. Saved myself over an hour of waiting time, all for the cost of signing a sheet that corrects my time stamp “error”.

Also, here is the final update to my photo gallery of Geiranger Fjord. Have a look!

The Good, the Bad, and the Cruise – my evaluation of sea tourism

30 Jun A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

What is the ultimate promise of a cruise; what’s to be gained? Some people pay thousands of euros for a single cruise ticket, even before eventual flight costs. You can book a one-week holiday, all-inclusive, for four people in a cabin near the Mediterranean Sea, for about €1800. So, there must be something incredible about the cruise to make it worth the three-fold costs. Today I will examine what cruises offer, and what they actually deliver.

Don’t worry, I won’t go onto another rant about how awful ABC Cruises treats its crew. You have read enough blogs about that. Today we are anchored in Molde Fjord, and the imaginative scenery makes it rather difficult to wrestle up enough negative energy for a decent rant. Upon leaving the ship you are immediately surrounded by lush greenery and cute Norwegian houses in various building styles. The town itself offers various small parks, and the odd museum or traditional housing installation along the road.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

This view of Molde Fjord is certainly worth a journey. But why travel by cruise ship, instead of taking the plane?

The only point that bears loud advertisement is the traditional village core, where people are bustling about to set up a folk music festival. Apart from that, the whole town is relatively quiet. No market vendors crying their wares; no coppers chasing their man; no tour guides yelling at passers-by to book a trip around the freeway. Whoever wants to book a tour has to do so in advance, and a long line of buses at the cruise terminal ensures that every one of the four thousand guests aboard the ABC RypMeOff is able to visit the sight of their choosing.

Since we are only anchored for half a day in every port there is rarely the chance to book a bus trip upon arrival. You either do so in advance, or you have a nice walk instead. Thus, the whole holiday feels much more relaxed than a tourist trip to Italy or Morocco. The streets are not filled with gullible tourists, so there is little money in hawking out souvenirs. You just buy your gifts in a regular gift shop. Like people used to do back in the olden days.

The regular tourist hassle returns once you are back aboard your swimming hotel. Lollipop holders walk around with flyers for guided tours in future ports. The staff of bars and restaurants asks you to buy beverages that are excluded from your all-inclusive list. Photographers nag you about sitting down for a dozen pictures in their studio. And shop clerks try to up-sell you on their duty-free goods. ABC Cruises knows that you have money in your pocket, and they do their very best to relieve you from that burden, although you already spent five thousand euros to be rid of the regular tourist hassle.

Port café in Molde Fjord

Molde is a pictouresque town that is not yet burdened with hoards of hawkers crying their touristic gimmicks.

If you want to spend your holidays removed from the ordinary pick pockets and pendant hawkers, there are not many alternatives to a cruise. Our guests can genuinely have their quiet time aboard, even though it is frequently interrupted by the luxury department digging for additional money. It rarely makes for an obnoxiously intrusive experience, although for the kind of money people spend to be here I would have expected more professional distance from the shop keepers. Still, it’s infinitely more comfortable than being yelled at in a bazaar in Turkey.

Let’s get back to the pretty sights, though. There is a new port every other day, and Norway’s coast offers many breathtakingly beautiful places to visit. It’s basically an upscale version of the old bus tour. You get hauled around the country side, you sleep in a comfy bed with a questionable view (cabins with windows are very expensive), and you get to watch the cattle prance on the meadows while your hotel changes location. Some people love a new sight every day, and a cruise certainly fulfills that need. Sleep or dine when you travel, and enjoy maximum visiting hours as soon as you have reached a new destination.

This is the part I will miss about my job as cruise photographer. Every day you get a new chance to hike up a mountain, paddle through a fjord, or visit a traditional fish market. You get the whole variety of Norwegian coastal sights in one travel package, and you don’t even have to clean up your hotel room. There are faster ways of traveling, but there probably isn’t anything more comfortable or efficient than boarding a cruise ship, and enjoying the view from the poop deck as you make your way through the endless sea.

Fjord Town Geiranger

A cruise journey takes time, but it rewards with great views and formidable travel comfort. You don’t get this with a bus.

This is also the point where ABC Cruises often fails, though. Instead of announcing the most famous peaks or waterfalls for the viewers on deck, the cruise manager often just plays gentle music from tape whenever we approach or leave a port. At rare occasions we are sided by a group of dolphins, or trailed by a family of whales. But is up to your fellow passengers to spot the unusual sight; our cruise manager just doesn’t care enough to announce those tourist attractions.

I often get the feeling that this could be so much better an experience, if the managers just cared a little more about the guests than about their money. To draw this discussion to a close – cruises are valued for the opportunity to travel a vast stretch of countryside without rush or hassle. You only need to unpack you bags once, and you can still visit a good number of vastly different places. There is always food in abundance, so with the right package deal you won’t even have to worry about provisions for your field trips. (Just don’t let them spot you when you pack up your lunch.)

The Cruise View of Molde Fjord, Norway

A crusie ship provides a wonderful viewing platform. Often enough it gets crowded with tourists, though.

However, if you do book a cruise, I encourage you to seek out the cheapest options. You don’t need a cabin with windows, because you will probably spend most of your waking time sitting in a bar, standing on deck, or swimming in the pool. You don’t need to feel bad about not buying anything aboard, even if the cameras cost 10% less than in your local electronics market. You don’t need more food or drink than what you get from any all-inclusive package. Water, beer, and soda will do. Don’t give in to the capitalist luxury goods.

You can book a ten-day cruise for about €1000. That’s a bit more pricy than a tourist trip to Spain or Greece, but you also get to see a lot more of the country, and you are overall much more relaxed. Just don’t buy any of the extras. There are a lot of luxuries up for purchase, and none of them are needed for a great holiday adventure. In my two months aboard I have not seen a single port where I felt the need to book an excursion on my first visit. (Except for Reykjavik. That town was immensely boring.) So, take it easy, and try not to see EVERYTHING on your first go. If you have the money, give cruise a try.

The port of Reykjavik at night

Saying Good Bye will be quite easy for me. However, as a regular tourist you can have a lot of fun on a cruise.

PS.: The final composition of the photo album for Molde Fjord is done. Have a look, and see why people travel to Norway in the millions.

Good Bye ABC Cruises, Part 4

29 Jun deck of the ABC RypMeOff

As time moves on it is becoming clear that Ash is not much better a manager than his predecessor was. He has the brains and the determination to make the photography department deliver a great revenue stream AND good costumer reviews, but the people sitting in higher management basically keep him from making any discernible progress. We still don’t get a payment bonus for our great efforts. We still are performing minor tasks and services when we could be outside, refreshing our spirits. In fact, we even receive less spare time than we had under previous management.

MSC Preciosa 72

Shooting on deck is a pretty happy task, especially with a sight like this one. But lately we rarely do that anymore.

According to Manager Ash the heads of other departments are jealous of the great amount of spare time that photographers are allowed to spend in the field. Mateja and I are usually off the ship as soon as the gangway is down. I don’t know if anyone particularly watches us go, and thinks “wow, what a fabulous life”, but according to Ash the other departments are jealous at our great freedom.

Thus, he has added certain restrictions to our schedules. Every morning, after the ABC RypMeOff has reached port half of us have to perform some minor task, such as cutting paper frames, or polishing aluminium poles. We follow those tasks for about an hour, just enough to really mess up our mornings. Since we do those things in public, we have to wear uniform to do so, which means we are effectively losing two hours of light, by performing one hour of depressively mind-numbing labour. Like the prisoners of an internment camp we labour away, carrying rocks around the block, until the camp director decides we have suffered enough. Get up early, dress up, perform a task that a monkey wouldn’t be worse at, dress down again, wash hands – two hours gone!

Already the other photographers from the department are talking about leaving this job behind. In fact, on a quiet evening as tonight, as soon as the managers are out of sight, even the rank-1 photographers slink down in their studios, and start chatting amongst themselves. It was only a week ago that my colleagues were constantly pushing me to greater performance, and now they resign to the notion of resentment. Every other day we are told that we don’t care enough about our jobs, and that we are too lazy to deliver a good quality and quantity of pictures. Now even the most steadfast amongst my coworkers have enough of the daily punishment. If we are belittled every night, the least we can do is to make sure we deserve it.

Life aboard the ABC RypMeOff is grand

Life aboard the ABC RypMeOff is grand, and so is the price on the crew.

Meanwhile, good old cheerful Jennifer sprained her wrist (again), so that judgement of the cruise doctor prohibits her from shooting photos. Manager Ash took that as an excuse to take her off the team entirely. She still joins the meeting every night, but otherwise he forbids her to participate in any photo job, or even leave the ship. Any reasonable manager would give her a job that does not involve both wrists, like counter clerk or gallery look-out. We constantly have one or two photographers running around in the photo shop, helping people to find their pictures, and preventing photo theft. If Jennifer was here, we could have one more photographer out shooting pictures.

Jennifer even requested being put to work, but Ash flat out denied her request, although the doctor assured her that standing around would not strain her wrists too much. There is no liability involved here, so he really just wants her to suffer. “Either be back full-time, or don’t return at all” is his massage, regardless of what pressure it puts on the rest of the team.

He reminds us every night that any one of us could be replaced at a day’s notice. Apparently there are “dozens of photographers waiting for their chance” for every single one of us who is “too lazy to do their job”. I guess that means the department will rejuvenate and rejoice when four of us leave the ship, at the end of this cruise. Because for the four of us who are leaving there will be a few dozen people scrambling up the gangway, fighting over our wonderful jobs. Somehow I doubt the reality of such image.

Crew Bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Imagine you are promised the world, and then your employer keeps you confined to these colourless walls. How long could you fake compliance?

Costumer’s Choice, Photographer’s Worry

28 Jun Sea gulls by a lake in Tromso, Norway

It’s a rainy day, here in Tromso, Norway. A curtain of clear, cold water is draped over the city, making even the vast lake in the North of the town look gloomy. Still, Mateja and I decide to take a walk along the shore, enjoying the fresh air that blows the vague smell of wheat and damp air into our faces. Cruise life is always busy, so these extended walks take a lot of weight off our shoulders, pacing our schedules down to a manageable amount. It also adds the much needed physical exercise that we so dearly lack in our nights of standing around on board.

One of the trees by the lake is filled with sea gulls, and I wonder if this is just anyone’s favourite spot during a Norwegian drizzle, or maybe the lead gull decided that this would be the place to rest, and her whole flock of followers joined her. Or “him”. Who knows, maybe sea gulls have male leaders. That sounds strange, considering how lost I felt aboard the ABC RypMyOff, if it wasn’t for the lady photographers providing a sensible counterweight to the sheer hostility and insanity of the photo men.

Sea gulls by a lake in Tromso, Norway

Tromso was clouded in mist (much like the mind of my coworkers), so the sea gulls stayed close to the ground.

Anyway, people tend to move in groups, and the voice of the many always matters. To some degree. On the other hand, the individual appears to have little power over his or her situation. Take our cruise passengers, for example. Barely a day goes by without one of the passengers telling me that they much prefer my approach to cruise photography to the loud and obnoxious advertisement of the other photographers. I understand that. During every cruise we receive various complaints from passengers claiming that the photographers make them feel very uncomfortable, because we jump them with our camera and flash light on nearly every occasion.

Yet, when we look at the image counts there is a clear reward for this apprehensive behavior. Those photographers who hassle the wits out of the guests shoot four or five times as many pictures as I do. Many passengers even promise me that they will return later for a shooting with me, and an hour later I see them in the photo booth of one of my colleagues, although they told me “in earnest” that they detest their constantly nagging attitude.

This would be really disheartening, had I not already given up on this job. People come to me complaining about my coworkers, but then go to my coworkers to have their picture taken. It’s not just brutally dishonest, these passengers also actively choose their own shitty photographer. Sour pot Henry surrounds and plagues people until they give in, and because of that he shoots five times as many photos as I. So, who do you think management is going to keep, and who will be fired?

Predatory salesmen aboard the ABC RypMeOff

ABC Cruises breeds gruesomly agressive shop keepers. The sheepish customers are merely fertilizer.

As a paying passenger you have the choice of what behaviour to support, what kind of costumer service to receive. If you only purchase whine from the terribly pushy bar tenders, then only the pushy bar tenders will ascend in the ranks of ABC Cruises. After a few years of promoting people with a sales pitch only the intrusive type of salesman will be left on board. Not because we would not try a different approach, but because you, the costumer, decide over success and failure, and obviously it is more successful to constantly run around your table, and nag you about consuming something.

You, the paying people, have a choice, and the power to enforce positive change. You can either sit on a barren tree and crow with the other sea gulls, or get your feathers in the dry, and allow the nice German photographer to take your picture. The decision is yours, and it is mostly you who has to live with the consequences.

Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

In May the botanical garden in Tromso is still a hodgepodge of rocks and shrubbery.

PS.: I previously showed you the city and botanical garden of Tromso. Today I added some landscape to the photo album. Have a look!

Peace and Pleasure in Honningsvag

27 Jun Open sea near Honningsvag, Norway

When I awake from peaceful slumber we are already anchored in Honningsvag. We’ll be here all day, so there is no need to rush. For a change I take my breakfast roles in the staff mess instead of packing them up for my hike. There is plenty of day time left before I have to return to the ship for the lunch buffet up in the guest area.

Honningsvag has always treated me well, even during the snow-covered days. The wide spread of the town allows for scenic walks around the mountains, and pretty views of picturesque cubbies. Today I decide to walk along the sea-side coast instead of crawling about inland. The icy wind would chill my neck, had ABC Cruises not provided me with a very comfortable jacket. I have to hand it back when I leave ship in a week, but until then I plan to make ample use of the resources provided.

Open sea near Honningsvag, Norway

Even with the clouds and mist blocking out the sun Honningsvag remains a beautiful patch of green

And so I have a peaceful walk, far away from the bullying coworkers, distressed managers, and noisy guests. Just a chill wind blowing across my base cap, and the call of sea gulls hollering across the vast open waters, periodically interrupted by a car speeding past on the nearby highway, shadowed by looming gray clouds. Salty air fills my lungs, and rocky ridges fill the view finder of my camera. Every now and then I bend over the rough-edged brown rocks to examine the scattered remains of plants and animals.

Apparently the sea gulls had a busy week. They wait for the low tide to pick up sea urchins from the low lying rocks, and drop them onto the higher cliffs. When the outer shell of the sea urchin is cracked they peck a whole into the deeper part of it, and dine on their gonads. You can have a similar culinary experience in Japan, where sea urchin testicles are one of the many delicacies. I would argue that not every biomass that can be scratched out of another animals’ abdomen is a welcome food source, but one better not question the feeding habits of those cranky Asians.

Anyway, I have a nice long walk along the shore, and pick up various sea urchin shells that start to bleach out in the sun. I give one to Mateja, just for the look on her face as she realises that small wonders still lie scattered across our rocky path.

sea urchins from Honningsvag, Norway

Here are the ABSea Urchin shells I picked up in Honningsvag. You can see where the sea gulls pecked out the gonads.

Since the passengers and the other photographers are out for a visit to North Cape, I have a rather relaxing time shooting portraits in the atrium. The manager was so kind as to provide me company in the form of Lolek’s wife. She’s only been with us for about ten days, so I try to divide my time equally between helping her with the portraits and listening to her rigorous complaints about the imagined hardships she has to suffer. When Manager Ash asks me why Lolek’s wife has shot three times as many photos as I, and she refuses to acknowledge that the guests I hauled in mostly added to her image count, I just smile and apologize for my lack of enthusiasm. After all, I will be here for another week, and the full depth of her incompetence and sulkiness are far more entertaining if Ash discovers them for himself.

There still are a few days left before I can claim freedom from this clumsy charade of cruise clownery, but I don’t intend to stick out my neck for anyone but myself anymore. Maybe Mateja or Marina, but I certainly won’t lift a bloody finger to push anyone else in this department along their path of self-destruction.


Honningsvag, Norway, seaside view

Honningsvag is not always draped in mist. But often I wish my mind was.


PS.: There are some final updates to my photo album of Honningsvag and North Cape. It’s worth a few looks.