What day is it today?

The title to this post, “what day is it today?” is the question I asked my co-workers whilst inhaling our food at the crew mess before rushing to work. Out of the five of us, not one of us knew. Why? Because every day is the same, it’s Groundhog Day. My body calendar is controlled by laundry day which falls on every second day. Watch the above video for a day in the life of an assistant waiter onboard a 6 star Antarctic cruise ship.

My body clock is all over the show as I wake up and go to sleep three times a day. Sometimes when that droning beep beep beep brings me from my dream land where I’m frolicking naked in a field of daisy’s back into my dark coffin like top bunk it’s not until I look at the time I realise if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

On one occasion I turned up to the crew mess before work, my immaculately groomed and dressed head waiter approaches me and says “Mark what’s wrong with your shirt?”. I thought he was talking about the fact my shirt was missing a button so I start on a big rant about how my shirt came back from the laundry missing a button and how I hadn’t been able to find the tailor to fix it etc. He just smiles and says “Mark it’s dinner time, you’re wearing your lunch uniform!” – classic, I totally thought it was lunch time, awesome I just gained half a day!

Our days are totally dependent on the expedition landings ie if we are at sea or if we are in Antarctica and the guests are doing outings on the zodiacs which can start as early 5.30am. We start breakfast between 4am and 7am, and this goes for 3-4 hours. For lunch we start work at midday and work another 3 -4 hours. For dinner we start at 6.45pm and work 5-6 hours until around midnight. This schedule is very taxing as it takes up the whole day. I have worked the oil rigs and Australian mines where I worked 12 hour days, but it is a shift, 6am to 6pm and you can have coffee breaks etc during the day, and then at the end of the day I had 12 hours off, I had time to relax, go to the gym, watch a movie etc. But with the cruise ship lifestyle my work is spread over the whole day and at most I will have 6 hours continuous sleep.

When I’m at work, I work! There is no relax time, there is no standing around the water cooler or making a coffee. You start 30 minutes before opening preparing everything for the guest’s arrival, everybody is rushing to be ready for when the doors open, then the 132 guests are there and everybody is stressed trying to meet the orders. Then the guests leave and everybody is going flat out trying to clean and finish up so we can have more time to sleep.

In this job you take whatever chance you get to sleep. The lifestyle is a work/sleep lifestyle, and any landings you do, or crew parties you attend come at a great sacrifice to sleep. In this job there are no days off. You get a breakfast duty off roughly once a week, so you will finish dinner service at midnight, you have breakfast off, but you still have to start back at midday, so a “day off” is only 12 hours off which isn’t much if you want to tidy your cabin, do your laundry, sleep, have breakfast and get ready for work.

The lifestyle to me is a very unhealthy, you’re constantly running on empty due to lack of sleep and pushing yourself to the limit and at times it feels as though your body is shutting down. It was common for me to have a couple of ibuprofen before going to dinner service to dull the headaches and back pain (I only have myself to blame for this a I didn’t disclose my back accident in my medical- there was no way I was going to have my dream taken away from me when I was that close by failing a medical!).

For me it as though the skinny get skinnier and the fat get fattier! I have 6 meals a day because I also eat the left over’s from the dining room, and Annemarie the pastry chef is trying to fatten me up with 4 desert portions after dinner, but still I look like the Save the Children Fund pin up boy. Just check out the photo below from my polar plunge, there are two 12 year old bodies, the only difference is that one of them actually belongs to a 28 years old – haha.

Obviously the crew food is not 6 star, we get served various kinds of slop that usually takes on a different shade of brown and the salad bar usually consists of lettuce, and some tomato and cucumber if we are lucky. But I cannot complain as I said the dining room teams gets to help themselves to the left over buffets.

Many times I hear “Mark you look tired”, more accurate would be “Mark it looks like you have been on a 5 day sleepless herion bender”. But for me, bags under the blood shot eyes and looking tired is part of the uniform; it would be more out of the ordinary to be told “Mark you don’t look tired”.

To conclude this post, the cruise ship lifestyle is far from glamorous, you are made to earn every cent, you appreciate every minute of sleep in a Groundhog Day routine. The other reality is that you don’t get to see the world; you get to see the inside of a cruise ship.