Things only crew members say

A glossary of cruise ship expressions and their meanings

A glossary of cruise ship terminology and their meanings

If you know what I mean when I say “your paisano got a banana for some kakaria to do with washy washy but he doesn’t give a bomba-clodt” you've probably worked on a ship. When you put 60 something nationalities together in an environment where they have to work and live in close proximity, a whole new culture forms. In that culture, people use words and phrases repeatedly - sometimes in their language, sometimes poorly translated from their language - and they tend to catch on. Here’s a brief list of some of the expressions and terms that are commonly used amongst crew members, and their meanings: 

- Gossip or senseless talking.

- Elaborate nonsensical crap/bureaucracy/policies that make your life more difficult.  Politics of any sort.

“Next cruise”
- An expression used by crew members in an elevator to a crew member left standing outside the elevator if there is not enough time or space for them to get in. 
- Another way of saying “it’s probably never going to happen”, i.e. “ask me again next cruise and by then I’ll have another excuse”.

Washy, washy
- Hand sanitiser. It’s everywhere on ships. (And in Cape Town now too, but on ships, there’s a song.)
- The first part of the expression: “Washy washy, happy happy!” It means sanitise your hands so you don’t get sick and ruin your cruise. (Why talk to the guests like they’re adults?)

“Plenty like rice”
- Lots

“Run like chickens”
- Basically running around a lot or being very busy, like on embarkation day.

- An expression adopted from Caribbean people referring to what? I have no idea. But, it’s something you might only give if you cared, i.e. “I don’t give a bomba-clodt!”

- A fool, or idiot.

Sexual Harassment
- Nope, never heard of it. Everyone wants to be treated like a piece of meat, looked at in a way that makes you want to take a shower, and referred to as “Baby” in a working environment, right?
Actually, it’s included in the title of training we have to do: “Preventing sexual harassment” which is more about just how much inappropriateness people can legally get away with. (Plenty like rice.) 

“Watching DVDs”
- It means “Netflix and chill” for those of us who only have access to expensive satellite internet where Netflix is not an option. Not that watching any form of film or television is necessary for this couple’s activity. 
(And, for my mom who still doesn’t get it, it basically means “having sex”, mom, it means “having sex”.) 

- On cruise ships, it refers to people who are inherently your friends because they are from the same nation as you. They are also assumed to automatically form part of your “mafia”.

- Anyone who can get you access to something that most crew members don’t have access to (like guest food or amenities). Someone who can perform some other favour for you that makes your life on the ship somehow better. 

Opening water-tight doors
- Literally: Opening the doors between the watertight compartments below the waterline, and a great way to get a warning if you are not permitted to do so (like if you are trying to smuggle alcohol to your cabin after crew bar hours). Such action would normally result in a crew member getting a “banana”.
- Figuratively: A great way for a female employee to get a promotion. (Again, mom, it means “having sex”.)

- A talking to / a verbal warning. Basically, getting into trouble with your boss or any authority is referred to as “getting a banana”. I think it’s a shortened version of saying “getting a banana shoved up your ass” as I can imagine that that would equate to treatment that one would not want to receive from their boss. No literal bananas are actually exchanged as people generally like bananas and they are usually in demand in crew areas. You would probably require “mafia” to get a literal banana. 

Day off
- I’m just kidding! That’s definitely not a cruise ship term. I have no idea what this means. Maybe I should ask a musician?

I'm sure I have missed quite a few cruise ship expressions. If you can think of any others, feel free to mention them in the comment section below? 

In other news:

Rodrigo and I are back at sea
This time around we're cruising between Miami, the Bahamas and Cuba. 
I'm hoping to tick off "Dance salsa in Cuba" from my bucket list and Rodrigo is inanimate so he's quite indifferent about visiting what will be his 53rd country.

1 cruise down, 51 more to go (They're short)
Trainings I've had in the last 3 days: 9

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For other Sharonicles on what it's like being a cruise ship crewmember, click here.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this until the bit that said 'I don't know what a day off is....ask a musician." You know we practice, right? 4-5 hours a day? Yes, we work less hours than some people, but I started playing piano when I was 8. Maybe after putting in all those hours, days, weeks, months and years practising to the point where I can meet the standard needed to get a gig on cruise ships, maybe one day per cruise not performing is justified. But i doubt you'll ever agree with me.

  2. Hi Miles.
    I mean no disrespect. I have a lot of respect for you and how hard you work at your craft. I know because I've dated lots of musicians! Seriously, I could form a band from my exes. I guess that line was a dig at them. I also know that musicians on ships get to sleep for at least 8 hours in a row a night, I have rarely have had that luxury in my time on ships. And, I know that there is a big difference between practicing 4-5 hours in your own time and working 8-12 hours a day (sometimes even more) on a schedule that you have no control over. I'm not saying you don't deserve the privileges you've worked for, I'm just saying you have privileges that others don't.

    1. The difference is that most musicians and dancers have 10+ years of unpaid experience/training. Or more precisely, 10+ years of training they PAID to get (private lessons, university degrees, etc.). In addition, in my nearly 20 ship contracts with RCI, Celebrity, Azamara, Regent Seven Seas, Carnival, and Holland America, I usually travelled with $15,000 of equipment—purchased at my own expense. Can your position compare with that?

    2. The grass is always greener in the next hallway.

    3. I did enjoy much of your article, however. Almost makes me wish I were on a ship right now sharing a tiny room with another guy so I could become intimately acquainted with his particular boquet of flatulence and the buzzsaw cadence of his snoring. Good times.

    4. Thanks for your comment, Sax Dude. In all honesty I have an honours degree in Dramatic Art (that took four years and lots of money to get). I also spent many years in singing lessons and ballet classes to get into university to study Drama. Then I spent seven years applying for my job as cruise staff before I actually got it. All to work much longer hours than you for probably less than half what you get paid. So yes, my position can compare with that, and actually, I think I win.

      Secondly, in my time on ships I have met many ridiculously talented Filipino singers and dancers, who have the talent to work in the production shows but are in party bands or other departments because (for reasons that may or may not equate to racism) the cruise lines, to my knowledge (and please correct me if I am wrong), never audition in the Philippines. Basically, not everyone has had access to the same opportunities that you have.

      But again, as I said to Miles, I'm not saying you don't deserve your privileges, I'm just saying you have them and others don't.

    5. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your line about your roommate's "particular boquet of flatulence and the buzzsaw cadence of his snoring" cracked me up. Have you read my post about crew cabins?

  3. Fair enough. Thanks for your reply.

  4. What about 'Mama Gallo'? (I don't know how to spell that) Like when you pretend to work but you're really just wasting time.

  5. I am a bit late on this one... However, is the ‘f’ verb not in us anymore ? 
    To fix : to screw, to steal. What about babaloo (a dufus, a stupid person) 
    and a bati-boy (a male homosexual).

    I was on a RCCL ship in the mid 90’s.... those terms might have fallen into 

    Examples :

    Your paisano is short on French dressing. You fix it from the nearest 
    station (preferably from the station where the busboy and/or waiter is/are 
    neither part of nor related to your mafia).

    You need a day off. You buy one from one of the staff of equal position as 
    yours. The guy manage to blag his way to one pr more of your passengers and 
    convince them, somehow, he also deserve some sort of gratuity for this one 
    lunch he covers for you. The bombo-clot just fixed you.

    You are not particularly friendly with the central american mafia and defo 
    not with that one dish washer/porter. Obvs, you always make sure you are in 
    the galley before your cutlery and glasses basket are out of the washing 
    tunnel... except for this one time where the waiter is clearly behind and, 
    because you are a nice busboy (and are keen to keep him and his Filipino 
    mafia sweet because one day they might come handy), you decided to help him 
    a bit. Problem :  the baskets are out and, miraculously, half the glasses 
    are gone. The porter just fixed you by giving your glasses to a busboy who 
    probably pays him more than you do at the end of each cruise to ensure he 
    gets all his wares covered and safe after each sitting. The busboy also 
    fixed you. That calls for retaliation.

    Italian waiters and busboy were the lowest in the dining room staff pecking 
    orders. First dinner of the cruise calls for two minutes brief with my 
    Jamaican waiter : i am top dog with top station and top passengers feed 
    back.You need something for my passengers do not waste time in the galley, 
    fix it from the Italians babaloos first.


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