The real dangers of transatlantic cruising

A guide to doing an Atlantic crossing on a cruise ship

I’ve earned myself a tattoo. When I was preparing for my role as Trivia Princess for the progressive trivia tournament during our relocation cruise, I stumbled upon this question: What body of water does a sailor have to cross to earn themselves an anchor tattoo? The answer is obviously the Atlantic. And, everyone knows that the poorly phrased trivia questions written by crew members whose first language is definitely not English, back in the day-long before there was even internet on ships, must be 100% correct, right? I do think I’ve earned myself a prize for crossing this ocean, but I’m not sure I’ll go with an anchor tattoo -or even the belly button tattoo that I still want to get on the middle of my back. I wonder what you have to do to earn a nautical star tattoo? Everyone’s got one of those these days. Man, I do miss constant access to Google. -Anyway, I’m getting way off topic. The point is: crossing the Atlantic is hard …and scary.

Six sea days in a row, one port day, and then three more sea days is not for sissies. As you can imagine, when I found out I was changing ships and doing this cruise I had some concerns. So here’s a look at the real and false threats involved in crossing an ocean like this:

What I was scared of:

Rough Seas 

I have heard that the ocean can get rocky on transatlantic cruises, and it is a little concerning to be so far away from any land that can not only buffer you from the waves but also has hopefully non-cannibalistic occupants who can provide help if it all goes wrong.  The ocean was a bit rocky but fortunately for us (according to other crew who have done this before), we had one of the “smoother crossings” they’ve ever experienced. Sometimes a moving ship can actually make my job more fun. If teaching a whole lot of older white ladies the Wobble (or Gangnam Style) isn’t amusing enough, it’s especially funny when they’re colliding with each other.

The Bermuda triangle 

I’m not entirely sure which route we took, and I still don’t have a world map shower curtain, but I’m pretty sure we went through it when cruising out of Miami. Apparently, if you skirt around the outside you can avoid too much trouble.  According to sources (I used to use that phrase all the time when working for a tabloid magazine when I was quoting other tabloid magazines who were probably making stuff up, but I’m sure this is for real), it’s only when you go directly through the middle that you go missing from the face of the earth and get sucked into parallel dimensions and stuff. So, I’m pretty sure we went around the outer parts. Sea captains are smart like that!

I actually forgot about that one until four or five days in when I went outside and it was a little bit frigid out there. (It was almost as cold as my cabin which has a broken air conditioning vent that only blows cold air full blast.) I remembered seeing that movie that they made about that ship that one time with the Celine Dion song in it, and even though it was just the big-budget product of some people in Hollywood’s imaginations, I guess it’s not completely unreasonable to imagine that it could happen in real life …just like ‘Snakes on a Plane’ or a ‘Birdemic’, right?

And let's not forget the most underrated ocean-related fear of all time: 
Giant squid attacks!

I was somewhat comforted by the thought that it was my first cruise and at least they don’t give people emergency duties during their first cruise. The bastards put me in charge of a guest muster station on my first cruise - the first day even! Nobody wants to be responsible for making sure 100-200 people don't get drowned in rough seas, frozen by icebergs (air-conditioning I can’t be held responsible for), or eaten by cannibals or giant squid! So, it was a little stressful, but those were the least of my worries. I should have had other concerns…

What I should have been scared of:

The guests 
Transatlantic cruises have a specific clientele. They’re all pretty old for the most part. A lot of old people are really nice. Some of them though, have really high expectations and can be really hard to please. Here’s a breakdown of some of the less pleasant guests we had onboard (which were the minority): 

Bridge players - Yeah, I’ve encountered them on other ships before. Usually, there are two to three of them per cruise which is really frustrating for them because you need at least four people to play. Even if there are just three of them they are determined to sit in the least interesting room on a multi-million dollar ship with all the bells, whistles, ice bars and Broadway shows that you can get at sea, greatly offended that you have not scheduled a host to oversee what should be a cruise-long competition, and made more effort to force people to play against their will for many hours a day. On this ship, there are more of them and therefore more demands, but at least there are more sea days and fewer bells and whistles so their demands are more reasonable. 

Obscure special interest enthusiasts - Some people go on vacation to rest, others come prepared with powerpoint presentations and offer to give a lecture or ten (one guy literally had ten),  “out of the goodness of their heart”. How nice! You just have to “provide the venue” (and be present to set everything up for them and make sure they have enough room, and chairs and all their audiovisual requirements are met and basically do the work of 15 different crew members in 15 minutes or less, to make sure that everyone is happy, except that there will still be something that they want that you cannot give them). Then you need to make sure you’ve printed enough copies of the reading material (out of your own budget of course). Then for helping you fill your schedule (because you clearly didn’t have enough to do that day), you should find a way to say “thank you” (because you must now give them something for the time they spent bragging to their wives and three other guests about the intricate details of whatever obscure subject matter they happen to think they are an expert in “out of the goodness of their heart but really the least you can do is make a gesture” … “no, not champagne, how about an onboard credit?” …“okay, I’ll settle for dinner at a speciality restaurant”).

…And the most feared of the demanding groups: the Trivia Nazis! - If you are a Cruise Staff who has done a transatlantic cruise, I’m sure this sends chills down your spine. Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, I also have chills down my spine …and legs …and arms. I’m writing from my fridge cabin. Trivia Nazis are people who can't be happy if they’re not right and they’re right about everything, don’t dare tell them otherwise. They come to every trivia to make sure everyone else knows how right they are about everything. Now, most of the people who come to trivia are lovely, but there’s always one or two who will argue with you about the answers to whatever question you ask. They will find some technicality or loophole to challenge you if they are wrong. I don’t feel the need to be right and I’ve already explained how much faith I have in our trivia, so usually if people argue I just whisper to them that they can have the point. Except once. And they booed me. They booed me! The question was: “What is the biggest animal in the world?” And when I said the answer had to be “Blue whale” and not just “whale” I got booed. I eventually said they could have half a point to shut them up and then all the people who said “blue whale” booed me. 

Oh well, at least we have Recreation Staff on this ship, so I didn’t have to contend with shuffleboard players!

The greatest danger for Cruise Staff during transatlantic cruises is exhaustion. -Also the temptation to murder Youth Staff roommates out of jealousy because they only have to entertain three kids for the whole cruise and therefore sleep all day …but mostly exhaustion. 

Sea days are very heavy going. You start early every day (old people like transatlantic cruises and being productive at the crack of dawn) and don’t end until 11:30/11:45pm every night after the “dance parties”. - I should explain that the dance parties are a little different here too. Forget our neon Glow parties, on this ship, most of the dance parties are ballroom themed and the 80’s party has been the one least well-attended because that was way after their time - more their kids’ generation. I haven’t heard any current music in over two weeks - Not even ‘Uptown Funk’!

If you divide these sea days up with port days it’s not too bad, but six in a row is a lot of work. Then we had quite a number of time-zone changes when we lost an hour of sleep time, and you have the ship trying to rock you to sleep all day, just to add to the fun. - Ooh! Movie idea: Zombie apocalypse at sea! (How has that not been done yet?)

And obviously, there’s the constant threat of giant squid attacks. I don’t know how we avoided that one!  -The greater the body of water, the more likely the presence of giant squid - everyone knows that!

In other news

I had a cup of Five Roses!
It was beautiful!! I still have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. When I arrived on board I was devastated to see that this ship was also using the three-teabags-to-make-a-weak-cup-of-craptastic-American-brand-“organic” tea. My heart sank. I did not know how I was going to make it another four months. 

On my first day, I met two South Africans. The next morning I saw them sitting together. When one left to go back to work, I asked the other where if he knew where or how we could organise some Five Roses (thinking maybe he knew of some South Africans coming to the ship who could bring us some). He reached into his pocket and pulled out a teabag. My eyes literally welled up with tears. He says he brought quite a few boxes. He’s my new best friend. …I think his name is… Greg?  

I also managed to get a PJ tips teabag from our Safety Officer. I then asked him if I could have another one if I got a perfect score on my safety test (whenever you are on a new ship they make you go for training on your first two days and then test you on it). I have NEVER in my life gotten 100% for anything. …Until two weeks ago. I got 100%. I know!! What have I become that I’m whoring my brain to safety information for PJ Tips?! I don’t recognise myself anymore. That is low! Right now I know a lot about safety. I also know (and maybe I shouldn’t be making this public knowledge in case it dissuades people from booking transatlantic cruises), that we do not have an emergency code or strategy for …yes, giant squid attacks! 

When we finally got to Dover in England, I set myself two goals for the day: 1. Buy decent tea …and 2. See a castle. I surveyed the locals and results showed that Yorkshire Tea was the favourite so I knew what I was looking for when I found a Marks & Spencer. The test audience was right and everything is going to be okay now. Thanks for the concern everyone. (Dover Castle was nice too, by the way.)

Rodrigo at Dover Castle

Rodrigo’s adventures. 
Before leaving our last ship we got to go to South America - for a couple hours even! Yes, Rodrigo and I spent some time in Cartagena, Colombia. Before we left the ship in Costa Rica and flew to Miami to join this ship, we also got to go through the Panama Canal which was quite fascinating. Including Colombia and Costa Rica as well as the Azores in the Atlantic (which is part of Portugal) and our new homeport in Denmark (Copenhagen), Rodrigo has now been to 29 countries. Does going through the canal count as going to Panama? Because that would make it 30. Not bad for a cheap piece of plastic!

Cartagena, Colombia

Panama Canal

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal

Copenhagen, Denmark

And that’s about it. My life rocks!

9 and 3/19ths of a cruise down, yeah, I still don’t know…


Welcome to the Sharonicles

The Sharonicles is a travel humour blog by a South African travel writer. With six years of experience as a cruise ship crew member, her travels on ships and on land have taken her to 57 countries on five different continents.  She photographs a plastic flamingo called 'Rodrigo' on her adventures because it seemed like a good idea ten years ago and it’s probably too late to turn back now. She also likes unicorns, carbs and referring to herself in third-person.

Here she shares advice, opinions and anecdotes revealing the funny side of travel from her experiences. 


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