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March 17, 2012
Behind the scenes

Katrina, who works in one of the onboard shops, is from Great Britain. Kat is one of our new “adopted daughters.”

We wrote previously that the Star Princess has been on “red level” for much of our 30-day cruise. This is a precaution to prevent the spread of the highly contagious norovirus, a form of stomach flu. For the passengers, it means extra hand washing and controlled access to things such as silverware and condiments. But it’s even worse for the ship’s staff and crew. It means that when they are not actively working, they are confined to quarters.

It was a great relief for all when “red level” was finally lifted in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The best benefit is that we are now able to interact much more with the staff and crew.

We have made a special effort to get to know as many people as possible. Unlike most other passengers, we constantly wear name badges so everyone knows who we are. We try to address the staff and crew by name and engage them in conversation. As a result, we have made many, many friends.

We have written before about getting to know several of the entertainers. We have also spent a lot of time with the various stewards and servers, especially the photography staff. After we learned that they have a numerical quota of photographs they are required to take, we have gladly posed for many, many pictures – on formal nights and port arrivals.

We have posed for formal photographs with our stuffed rodents (Happy the Hedgehog and Gail’s new guinea pig). Russell is now known as “that guy with the hamster on his head”. We have even posed wearing each others’ formal attire. (Sorry, we are not posting any of those photos. Suffice to say that walking through the ship’s busy piazza was a very interesting experience.)

One of our key photography connections is Korli, who runs the Signature Studio aboard ship. This is like a private sanctuary, tucked away next to the casino. Unlike much of the rest of the ship, it is quiet, dimly lit, and furnished with a fireplace (artificial) and soft music. This environment is meant to enhance the mood of people who come in to have higher-end photographs taken.

At the urging of the photographic staff, we scheduled a sitting with Korli early in the cruise. We had to reschedule due to Gail’s illness. Halfway through the cruise, we finally had our sitting. We liked Korli so much that we scheduled a second sitting with different clothes. We ultimately bought a package of artistic black-and-white photos that will be delivered to our house in a few weeks.

Korli, who manages the Signature Studio, is from South Africa. She is near the end of her contract and wants to pursue digital video.

Our goal was to become Korli’s favorite passengers ever, and we think we have accomplished that. We have gotten to know just about everyone on the photograph team: Carlito, Liz, Lisa, Ally, Haezel, Greg and Scott. We met everyone for drinks late one night in Skywalker Lounge, where we got to hear many hilarious stories of what goes on behind the scenes.

There is an entire world that passengers never get to see. Imagine spending 10 to 12 straight hours doing the same thing over and over again – taking pictures, serving drinks, cleaning rooms. Now imagine doing that seven days a week. Now imagine doing that every single day for six to nine months.

The work is very difficult and demanding. While workers may get a few hours off on some port days, they never get a full day off. Aside from the professional entertainers, they are not paid very well and there are no retirement benefits. Yet some of these people have worked on cruise ships for 10 to 20 years.

As Korli says, there are two reasons that people sign up to work on a cruise ship. Either they love to travel, or they are running away from something.

We have come away with a tremendous amount of admiration for these people, many of whom are young and aspire to greater things. We have unofficially “adopted” many of them. Vicente (room steward) and Nemanja (buffet waiter) want Russell’s ninja tee shirts. Korli wants a tee shirt that we bought for our son Cameron.

Fortunately, in the age of Facebook and social networking it is much easier to stay connected. We have exchanged contact information and hope to stay in touch with our new friends. The Star Princess is scheduled to return to San Francisco several times over the next few months, and we have already made dates to come back up and say “hello.”

Two more of our “adopted children,” photographers Carlito (from the Philippines) and Liz (from Australia). They call us “mom” and “dad,” which greatly confuses the other passengers.


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