Tag Archives: customer service

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.

Good Bye ABC Cruises, Part 3: Costumer Appreciation

26 Jun Sun Deck of the ABC RypMeOff

Oh, look it’s another boring sea day! Once again I am shooting portraits all evening, at my most favourite site, the starboard Plaza. The location is great because no-one ever visits. This place is so far off the beaten track that even the photo managers only drop by once or twice per night. They then check the quality of the ten photos I have taken already, and wish me luck to shoot ten more. Overall, I have so much spare time that I can easily invest in other activities.

Time to continue that list of pros and cons for leaving the ABC RypMeOff. Even though I have long made my decision, it provides me with subjects to ponder, which is pretty important when you’re tired, and bored, and you have to remain at your station even though your job is one of the most futile aboard. It also provides you, the valued reader, with a better perspective of life on board, which could be important, should you consider becoming cruise crew.

Sun Deck of the ABC RypMeOff

The Sun Deck of the ABC RypMeOff looks glorious. And indeed work aboard has a touch of glamour to it.

There actually are some pretty compelling reasons to take and keep a job as cruise photographer, especially for people like me, who had no professional experience with the camera before taking this job. Even in the six weeks that I held this position, and even with the very limited amount of practical training that the management gave us, I still learned a lot about photography. Not just the Rule of Thirds (look it up, it’s well worth it!), but framing, and cropping, and posing – I am so much more competent about shooting great pictures than I was before ABC Cruises offered me money. Imagine what I could achieve, if I stayed for five more months, gaining valuable experience every other day …

Alas, so much time passes between shootings and evaluation, and I have so few willing models that it takes weeks to see any improvement in the quality of my photos. Yes, I get paid to learn, but it is rather inefficient, which I find very problematic to accept. My inner German scientist hates that lack of efficiency. I could shoot ten times as many photos, if I stood at Berlin Alexanderplatz, and offered free pictures to all tourists. Now, I just need to convince ABC Cruises that Berlin would be a worthy target for their journey around the North Sea. Maybe reduce the size of the ship, minimize the space taken up by bars and restaurants, put some wheels under it, and call it bus. I could sleep at home, and be much more relaxed on my way to work. Come on, ABC, make it happen!

View from deck of the ABC RypMeOff

This is what the sun deck looks like wehn I yell “Photo please?” The view is still great.

Another thing I never used before are strobes. Maybe as a deterrent against drunks and thieves in Calgary City at night, but I never used strobes as a professional photography tool. Flash lights are quite useful for achieving even lighting in any type of situation. However, they are pretty useless when you want to shoot on the fly, and privately I barely do anything else. Maybe that will prevent me from ever getting a job as an “actual” photographer, so there is another career gone.

Shooting tourists is genuinely fun, and I am quite happy whenever one of the passengers comes up to me during the last days of the cruise, thanking me for my energy and support, and showing me the cool photos that I took of them, even though they never intended to buy any pictures in the first place. There is no greater ego buff than the joyful enthusiasm of a satisfied costumer. It makes me believe in myself, and encourages me to continue shooting. Even when more than half the passengers are tired of the continuous barrage of cruise photographers, some of our gusts are still new to this type of vacation, and appreciate our services.

As I mentioned before, life is more fun when you surround yourself with happy folks. Cruise life, even though it is a business first, sometimes allows you to do so. In those moments you can rejuvenate, rejoice, and learn. If you really want to learn about portrait photography, and are willing to slop through a lot of dough to reach your target, maybe cruise photography is worth a thought.

Clouds of Myst in Flaam, Norway

Views like this one make worth aboard as crew interesting. However, if this is all that lures you in, you may not be happy long term.

Alesund and Alcohol

25 Jun Houses and roads interweave in Alesund

I still don’t understand why the other photographers mess up their day by staying up late, drinking and smoking. I mean, this is Alesund. No rain, no heat, just a warm day in late spring with gorgeous landscapes full of rocks, sea, and greenery. We are given a four-hour window to explore the port, which suffices for an exhaustingly scenic hike, AND a snack in one of Norway’s oldest waffle houses. Yet, most of my coworkers prefer to stay up until 3 A.M., and sleep until noon, thus forfeiting any chance to relish the visual joys that Alesund provides.

Oddly enough most of the other photographers start their work day with a decent load of espresso, followed by various refills throughout the evening. Otherwise they certainly would use the next down time to curl up in a corner, or dangle from the next hose pipe like a seafaring sloth. I’m not trying to judge or criticise, but if it was only the money that was keeping me on the job, I would probably have quit way earlier.

Mountains of Alesund, Norway

Alesund. Can you think of a better place to vacate your mind of worries?

No wonder things get lost or damaged all the time, when people only stay awake through the overuse of caffeine. A few days ago we discovered that one whole session of photos from the last embarkation shooting was missing. Tonight I found that set of photos on an SD card that someone had dropped behind the PC. Had I not accidentally dropped my own card, we may never have recovered those missing pictures. I did not actually care at first, but when Assistant Manager Bobo entered the office and stood behind me, continuously bugging me to leave the office and start shooting, I suddenly felt determined to prolong my stay. No idea what he’s so stressed out about. I bring home some twenty-odd photos per night – two minutes in the photo studio won’t make any difference to me or my image count. Shouldn’t I rather make sure that my equipment is complete and well-maintained?!

Anyway, I sat down at the video terminal, and started moving boxes and computer parts about. I could easily do without my second memory card, especially since our department loses at least one card every week. But since Bobo insisted on me running about like a crazed rooster, I felt compelled to do the opposite. And thus I discovered the secret stash of lost memories – a pile of SD-cards and batteries that over the years dropped off the makeshift memory paddock on the video computer, and plunged into the abysmal darkness that my hyped coworkers never dared to check. Something like the Bermuda triangle for disposable electronics.

Houses and roads interweave in Alesund

Norway is a beatiful place, in various ways. You have to have a cruise job to ignore that.

There you have another reason for why I don’t fit in here: I don’t give in to the haze and the stress. I don’t “live” the cruise job. Nearly everyone else on our team is constantly filled up to the nose with caffeine and alcohol. (You read “nose”, and a c-word following, and you totally thought of an illegal drug. Shame on you!) One drug is to remember the work schedule, the other to forget it. The two substances don’t mix well together, so in order to keep the body in an upright position my coworkers have to down loads of that stuff, sometimes both in one sitting.

Of course, alcoholic drinks during duty are being frowned upon, and being drunk on the job usually gets people fired. However, since most of the staff and crew are constantly on the edge of being tipsy, nobody really notices, and certainly nobody cares. Security personnel smoke in their cabin, and bar tenders taste-test their own merchandise, so why should photographers stay sober? Yeah, I know, rules! But they don’t matter much, if you remember my previous blog on the subject. Rules aboard the ABC RypMeOff are more like guide lines for public appearance. As long as nobody is watching, rules are of no consequence to its valiant subject.

To summarise the conundrum, the photo staff is being chased about by cranky managers like banjo bunnies on a music festival. Staff drowns their worries in alcohol, resulting in short tourist days, and long coffee nights. The only value they gain is the butter girth from the crew mess, and that is not a feature that increases endorphin-levels long term. I wonder if I can stay with ABC Cruises long enough to see any of my coworkers graduate to full-time alcoholics. They have about ten more days before I leave the ship, so I may have to manually speed up the process. Maybe if I poke sour pot Henry a bit more …

Alesund, one of Norway's card fjord towns

Alesund, one of Norway’s post card fjord towns

PS.: There are some final updates to the photo gallery of Alesund. Look at all those pretty pictures!

I miss Ramadan

24 Jun

Ramadan is over. Too bad, I was just getting used to the loads of food that my Muslim friends shared around the table each night. Well, I am a well-trained academic; I know where to get more food. Still, this is another one of those rare occasions where I can report some gratitude among the otherwise miserable cruise experience.

Ramadan started on the 26th of May, and ended today. Finally the fasting time is over, and all the Muslims aboard can return to eating and drinking throughout the day. That’s actually a great enough thing to celebrate, because cruise jobs are demanding enough without having to wait ten hours for your next glass of water. As is tradition, the month of hunger and strife ends with a big buffet, so for one last day we get to bask in the glory of cruise food.

Breakfast buffet for cruise crew

This is the usual presentation for crew meals, so naturally any better selection is praised as grandeur.

For one month all Muslims had to fast; today they get to feast. Since I am a nice guy, I am invited to the celebrations. People usually only invite me for food if they a) don’t know about my extensive stomach, or b) have way more food than they can devour themselves. I’m not sure which of these options fit tonight, but I am happy to once more share the table with friends. We laugh and eat, talk and listen. For about an hour the hardships of this cruise endeavour are downed by the cherishing joy of friendship lived. It is quite ironic that greater suffering brought us together, but I guess what really matters is the happiness that we are united in.

This is one of the aspects I will miss about my job as cruise photographer – the bond that I share with so many of these people. One might call it friendship, but apart from dining together and having the odd conversation in port we don’t actually spend any time with one another. We don’t share common interests, or explore ports together. We just share a work place. And a common hatred for our supervisors. But when times of need arise those simple bonds form important connections between people. I guess this is the same force that makes poor people fall in love with each other more easily than rich people – it is easier to value what you have, if you have little else.

I am looking forward to leave this cruise life behind, but at least the connection to my fellow henchmen is something I will miss.

deck of the ABC RypMeOff

Every public place aboard the ABC RypMeOff looks grand. Unfortunately, the crew area looks quite the opposite.

Tricks for your life aboard

23 Jun A submarine in the port of Zeebrugge, Netherlands

It’s Embarkation Day! I am usually not quite that joyful about embarkation, but this is my last embarkation shooting, so there is reason to celebrate. As a matter of fact, this blog will be somewhat helpful to other people who are about to become part of the crew of a cruise ship. So, maybe there is something in it for you.

As happens so often I wake from dream-less slumber around 8:30 A.M., which is just early enough to rush for the staff mess, and acquire some bread roles and fruits for my journey ahead. I have to start shooting the embarking passengers at 13:00, and at that point already need to wear uniform, so really I should be back aboard by noon. Returning to my cabin takes at least forty minutes, because I would have to stand in line to get aboard, and stand again, to get back into the terminal. Considering that it takes some thirty minutes to get into town from the cruise terminal, this would leave me with barely two hours of port time. However, Lolek & Bolek showed me how to make the most of my port visit to Hamburg.

Hamburg retains that "Merchant of Venice" charme

For me as a German Hamburg is not actually that incredible a sight. I still want a few hours to explore, if I’m here.

Instead of rushing back to my cabin after I return from Hamburg, I actually drop my uniform in a big paper bag, and leave it with Bolek, who will be shooting the first shift. When I return from the city around 12:45 my uniform is already at the terminal, so I just slip into the bathroom, dress up, and Ta-Da! Saved myself nearly an hour of running and waiting, just by employing my coworkers as uniform mules. Unfortunately the electronic schedule will show later that I did not sign in for work, because the only places where I can swipe my time card are aboard. But that’s a minor issue; hardly a day goes by without one of the photographers forgetting to punch his/her card in or out before or after work. I know people from the Entertainment Team that NEVER punch their cards, because the whole process is so utterly futile.

Everyone aboard gets paid a fixed salary (plus potential bonus). Everybody has their own schedule. If they don’t show up for their shift, that’s immediate trouble, because a lot of other people depend on your punctuality. As long as your do your job the actual electronic clock and its synchronicity with your life depends merely on the discretion of your supervisor. I know that Ingrid from Entertainment sometimes forgets to punch her time card in or out, which results in her serving longer hours than she is signed up for, at least on paper. So every other day she has to sign a paper that sets the record straight, synchronising her work schedule with the electronic time served.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

This is the last time I gonna show this stupid photo from the embarkation shooting. Promise!

Ingrid’s work partner never punches his time card. NEVER. So, according to the records he never works. That’s fine, though. Nobody cares. It’s just when your work hours exceed the limit set in your contract that you run into trouble.

Where was I? Oh yeah, time matters. Particularly when it is limited; like when you are working a cruise job, and have a few hours to explore a port. So, use what resources you have at hand to make the most of your scheduled spare time.

Cruise Bonus Payments

22 Jun Cruise ships in Geiranger, Norway

It’s the very last day of this Norway cruise, and we are still some €17,000 short of our €61,000 goal. Thus, our declared goal for the last sea day was to sell photos like crazy, make every guest personalised offers, talk them into purchasing overprized aluminium prints (starting at €150!), and reeling in those missing 23% of the cruise target. We fell some €2000 short, which is a real downer, but nevertheless a great opportunity to introduce you to the bonus system of ABC Cruises.

A bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Look at all those wallets! As a part of cruise business it’s your job to go after their money like a dog after the saussage.

Every department aboard that sells anything, be it perfume, watches, photos, wine, or tooth brushes, has a target number for every cruise. If, at the end of the cruise, the department meets the sales target, they receive a bonus payment. Depending on the margin by which we surpass the original goal our department receives 2% to 10% of the original target value, which is distributed evenly among all team members. With a target like the present this would mean a bonus of €76 to €380 per person for this two-week cruise. Naturally, you strife to reach that goal.

It actually does not matter how you reach the target value; you just have to show that your total revenue stream for the entire cruise exceeds the number provided. So, if management would allow it, we could sell photos for half the prize, offer digital sale-out packages, and meet the requirements for the bonus payment while making our costumers very happy. However, such business ideas are frowned upon, and since the bonus would hardly make a difference for the manager anyway, he has no convincing reason to entice a conflict with his superiors over the pricing of our products.

Cruise ships in Geiranger, Norway

Geiranger/Hellesylt is a marvelous place. But if you look really closely, you may still spot a variety of commerce.

Anyway, we did not make the target, and neither did any of the other departments. In fact, nobody on this ship has received a bonus payment since we entered the North Sea, because the target values we would have to reach are laughably high. I have already seen the target for the next cruise, and it is €4000 higher than the last one, even though we will have the exact same number of sea and port days, along the exact same coast. I wouldn’t put it past ABC management if they saw how close we got to the target for the current cruise, and immediately re-evaluated their expectations for the upcoming weeks. Would be a shame to lose all that money on mere underlings, wouldn’t it?

Considering that my payment is merely one quarter of what I was previously promised, I cannot conceive any reason for me to keep this job long-term. ABC Cruises seems to be cheating me wherever that possibility opens itself. Yes, I knew that cruises are a tough business. I just didn’t consider that individual people played such a small part in it. Neither the employees nor the paying guests appear to be of prolonged interest to the managers of this company. So, why would I bother?

Cruise Teams: where individuals don’t matter

21 Jun Fjord Town Geiranger

Oh, what joy; we are anchored in Geiranger once again. I know, I complain a lot, and rightfully so. But the sight of this natural wonderland always fills me with joy, even if I have to wait for the 10 A.M. emergency drill to finish before I can grab my gear, and vanish into the thick green woods that creep up the sides of these beautiful mountains.

Photographers are actually among the few crew members who have a decent shot at taking time off during most port visits, to explore the town and surrounding area. We share that privilege with the dancers, musicians, and a few of the officers. So, yeah, cruise photographers are actually fairly high up in the food chain. We even frequently get the opportunity to join the excursions, be it to take pictures of the paying guests, guide tourist groups to their point of extraction, or just become paying tourists ourselves.

Aerial view of the Fjord Town Geiranger, Norway

Old woods on older mountains, with a side of waterfalls and pastures of sheep. That’s Geiranger in a nutshell.

Well, not all that glitters is actually gold, and not every opportunity is a reason for celebration. Oh, come on, you know my blogs, and you knew I was going to turn this rainbow into heavy snow fall. Don’t act so surprised!

Truth is, Mateja and I both inquired, independently, about receiving a more definitive schedule, so that we could offer our help to the excursion department, and become semi-professional lollipop holders. Every excursion has to be joined by one member from the ABC Crew, who will then hold a big round sign on a wooden stick, depicting the number of one tourist group. The lollipop holder is responsible for gathering his group behind him, and making sure everyone who leaves the cruise ship for one of the excursions also finds his or her way back when the day is done. The job is not very demanding, and comes with a free trip to one of the tourist sites of the day, making this position one of the most interesting aboard.

Alas, Manager Ash does not wish for us photographers to join that team, even on days like today, where we are not needed before the ship leaves the harbour. He just flat-out denied our requests, reasoning that demands on the photo department were so variable that he could not possibly arrange for a full schedule more than half a day in advance, which is markedly less than what the lollipop department needs.

Mateja had even organised a private trip, involving her own spare time and money, and merely asking for a leave of five hours, which is pretty much what we get at any given port anyway. She wanted to go canoeing with Fleet Manager Kosmos, who had initiated the brief vacation, and probably got a special deal from the tourist department for that usually booked-out adventure. (I shall not discuss the deeper implications of that arrangement, because most assuredly there are none. Or so I’ve been told.) Manager Ash briskly refused her the favour, even though it would have cost him nothing, and the arrangement even involved Kosmos, who is higher up in the food chain than barely anyone aboard.

Geiranger Waterfalls

Visit the waterfalls of Geiranger, they said. Well, it’s not like you can actually escape them. The bloody things are everywhere!

Apparently there won’t be any excursions for the photographers other than what we are ordered to do. So, as 3rd rank photographers we will never leave this ship except for a trip on foot. I know, joining the excursions is more prestigious than almost any other crew member will ever be allowed to do. But no other department aboard the ABC RypMeOff has to create AND sell their own product. No-one else is subjected to the same stress and management abuse as us photographers, so being subjected to the same restrictions as those plate polishers and cushion cuddlers is a vicious slap in our tired faces. Particularly since photographers on other ABC cruise ships regularly hold those lollipops, and never have to quibble about it.

Until yesterday I pondered whether or not I should approach Ash, and offer him to shoot the first shift of embarkation on the day of my leave, even though it would have meant returning home even later than already planned. It seemed appropriate, considering that the remainders of this team will suffer greatly from the loss of work force, particularly during the demanding embarkation shooting. But learning about his refusal to let Mateja have a glimpse of fun on her labour trip, I immediately reversed my decision.

Whereas in any regular job your boss will make it clear that you are part of the team, and contributing to the company’s success in your own special way; ABC Cruises seems to be stuck on the message that you as an individual are worthless, and can be replaced at a day’s notice. At least that’s what our manager tells us every other day during our nightly debriefing. It saddens me to see that Ash is tumbling down the same dark path that our previous manager used to destroy the team. But at least it solidifies my decision to leave this company as soon as possible.


PS.: I updated the photo gallery for Geiranger. Have a look!