Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Iamboatman Book Review: "Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline"

UPDATE:  I guess the author liked my review (below).  You can also read it on his website:  http://lovebruns.com/Templates/Review_GoldringTravel.html.

I just finished reading a very light, but interesting, book entitled: Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below The Waterline. One Crazy Year Working on Cruise Ships. It is probably worth a few hours to read it as it does put into perspective some of the ups, downs, trials and tribulations of training for, and working in, cruise ship restaurants.


While the author of this non-fiction book, David Brian Bruns, seems to place himself as the virtuous, never straying, deeply devoted boyfriend chasing his Holy Grail girlfriend, Bianca...and, of course, while being the best waiter ever to have served on the seven seas, for pure voyeuristic enjoyment and as a vehicle to tie all the craziness together, without it having a total feel of a trashy novel, it works.


Without ruining the book, Mr. Bruns discusses (exposes?) the relatively - OK, absolutely - wild, sleep deprived, cramped, smoky and sexually active lives below deck. Not unlike the yachting industry (only more-so due to the horrific number of hours/weeks/months worked without a real break), much of the focus is on sex being used as a tension release rather than for intimacy. I say this upfront because you need to read through the regular references to it in order to find the real nuggets of information and perspective.


One of the starkest realities is that most of the ship's waitstaff (and, to be sure, others) simply do not understand the general American philosophy or approach to many different things. This goes far beyond the concept of as an American we tend to think of owning a car and having a private home (rented or owned) as birthrights while some crew will work years on a ship just to be able to buy a used car.


Some things really make you think. A negative example: Why do we require the buffet to look as if no one has been there before us even minutes before it closes? (The amount of needless waste created as a result is shocking.) A positive example: Why do many of us actually care about those serving us; asking about our waiter's family and life at home? (Many cultures are such that waitstaff should not even be acknowledged.)


So enjoy reading about how the staff is trained and what they are actually trained for (it is not just about serving food), realize the hours it takes to put together all the things and time needed for a breakfast or dinner service (and the differences between them!), appreciate the working of 15+ hours a day without a break for months, ponder how and why the supervisors are so tough in a "survival of the fittest" world, and enjoy the descriptions of the Eastern European beauties and Turkish and Caribbean musclemen...or just the need for a tattoo.


But remember this is book about one American's experience on Carnival in the days when they were The Fun Ships, where cheap cruises and huge amounts of alcohol were the rule...apparently both above and below the decks. I am sure much of it remains valid today, for as I have said, I have seen similar (but not quite as wild) behavior on superyachts, but I would suggest that when you board a Seabourn ship you will see far fewer bloodshot eyes and encounter far fewer with slurred speech from the crew party the night before.

And, ironically, understand just how profitable it is to be an art auctioneer aboard a cruise ship. (See my last post!)