Now you are surrounded by uniforms and Cruise Ship Staff. But how do you tell who is who? Let’s meet the ship’s Captain and Staff. Of course, the first give away is the name tags. They usually tell you what kind of officer they are and even what country they hail from. The true clue to the level of power or authority they have on the ship is by looking at how many stripes are on their epaulettes.
Four stripes is the top of the power chain! The stripes start at the four and change depending on their rank. The top are Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Manager, Staff Captain and Staff Chief Engineer. Then it goes down from there, three stripes, two and a half stripes, two stripes, one and a half stripes to one stripe. There is nothing more embarrassing then talking to a crew member for a few minutes only to realize after that you are talking to the Captain!
Marine Staff versus Hotel Staff
Imagine that the jobs on the ship are split in two. One side is the actual working and sailing of the ship, the marine side and the other side is the one that keeps the passengers happy, the hotel side. Everything that is important to the running of the ship is handled by the marine staff. From engine to electrical, navigation to itinerary changes, the Captain and his staff oversee this.
Now, when it comes to the rest; the entertainment, the cabin upkeep, the Cruise Staff running bingo, the dining room and all the food, this all falls under the Hotel side of the ship. However, Captain trumps all! In the end, the Captain is responsible for the security of his ship and the satisfaction of his or her passengers. So, the Hotel Staff will always defer to the Captain when it comes down to any major issue.
When you are on a ship where the staff is happy it makes all of the difference in the world. A Captain friend of ours on one of the largest cruise ships in the world once said that he told his staff they need to say hello to each other every time they pass in the halls. This taught all of them to have respect for every stripe and every position on the ship whether a one strip or four stripe. It was the friendliest and happiest ship we had ever sailed.
The Ship’s Captain and Old Time Cruising
There is nothing for us more important than trying to hold on to the traditions of classic cruising. We have noticed that the larger the ship’s get the harder it is for first time cruisers to understand what that means. So we would like to share it here so that you can truly enjoy the beauty and elegance of cruising. Take time to get to know the staff. Whether it is the Captain, Hotel Director, Chief Engineer, if you see them around the ship say hello.
In general they are quite friendly and relish a passenger that knows their value onboard. Who knows! You may get a special invite to dine with them, or get a private tour of the bridge! Remember, you are on a ship, not in a hotel. Wardrobe! To really feel a part of classic cruising, try and show respect in the dining rooms and on Captain’s Night by upping your wardrobe. Even if that means just blinging out your nights with accessories, do it!
Getting chosen to dine with the Captain
It is an old time cruising tradition to invite a few passengers to dine with the Captain, or Master of the Ship, on every sailing. One challenge is that the Captain usually only dines at the Captain’s Table a few times on each cruise. So with only 20 people given this opportunity on any given sailing and having 3000 or more passengers onboard, how do you win that lottery? Each cruise line has a different way of choosing the guests on each sailing.
Quite often the Cruise Line pulls the guests off of their roster of repeat passengers. The more you have sailed, the bigger chance you have of being chosen. Okay, we are spoiled. We have sailed so much and gotten to know the staff on so many ships that we are often given this honor.
Other times it could be given to a group leader who has brought a large group aboard. It is the thank you to them for their patronage. Another time it might be a lucky couple celebrating their 50th anniversary! Usually it is the Pursers Staff, Guest Relations, or Ship’s Hostess that invites the guests. You can ask your Travel Agent to send a special note to the cruise line to request this honor for you. No guarantees, but it’s worth a shot. Or once you are aboard, seek out the Chief Purser or Hostess and ask if it is even possible. If you don’t get to dine with him, you may still get invited on a bridge tour.
Dining with the Captain – Protocol
The elegance and protocol of dining with the Captain is like no other experience on the ship! It will usually start with either a small cocktail party with only the guests attending so they may meet each other before being seated, or they will gather you all together outside the dining room a few minutes before dinner. The reason being is that you will be led into the dining room and to the Captain’s Table in style.
All the other guests seated nearby will be watching to see who is seated with the Captain. On one sailing we were all led by the Captain down a huge winding staircase in the center of the room as the piano played. Talk about an entrance! Next the Hostess will seat you in the exact seating arrangement they have chosen. If you are dining with the Captain and you are a couple, do not expect to be seated next to your mate. It is customary to split up couples around the table to ensure a more inclusive conversation. Then the Captain will arrive if he was not at the cocktail party before. They will have everyone rise until he is seated. Of course once you are seated, they may get you right back up to take a group photo! A ship’s photographer will place everyone where they want you to get a memento photo. It is usually done at the very beginning of the meal while all of the napkins and the table still look untouched. Then comes the wine and ordering.
Expect a lovely menu with all the Captain’s favorites. Do not take a sip of the wine until he has made his welcome toast. This holds true for starting to eat your bread or the courses yet to come. Remember to not start eating any course until everyone has been served their plate. When in doubt of any proper protocol watch the staff member dining with you and you will not make a fool of yourself! You will know what to eat, drink and when. Sometimes even the Captain will watch the Hostess to be signaled what to do next. If you are given this amazing honor, remember to send a thank you note to the Captain the next day. Etiquette!
Dining with other staff members
Though you may not be asked to dine with the Captain, you could be invited to dine with other Staff Members or Officers. This is equally an honor! Often the Staff Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Director, Chief Purser and more invite guests to dine with them. The service you receive from the dining staff is spectacular. And the envious looks from the other guests are momentous. But most of all, it is a chance to experience the human and personal side of the people who work so hard on the ships. You learn about their families and what it is like to be away from them for so long. You hear cruising war stories and get to experience the “insiders view” of cruising. We have been very lucky.
Many Staff that started as dinner hosts to us became our very good friends. So often we would sail with our Hotel Director friend that it was like going home to family. One of our favorite moments was when we boarded a ship and a Staff Captain we knew greeted us in the hall so excited to share that he was now Captain! Needless to say, we dined with him on that cruise! Often when you meet a staff member it is like a snowball effect of amazing opportunities you are offered. Bridge tours, backstage tours, special wine and chocolate covered strawberries delivered to your cabin and invitations to private events. Get to know the staff. It will change your cruising experience! But mostly, you will make some new friends.
Buying the staff drinks
The next great opportunity to get to know the staff is to invite them for drinks one night. There are certain staff allowed in the guest lounges and others who are not. This tends to break down between who are Crew and who are Staff or Officers. The Cruise Staff, Pursers Staff, Shop Staff, Salon Staff on most ships are allowed in the lounges after a certain hour at night. The Captain’s Officers are always allowed. It is fun to find the lounge that they congregate at in the evenings. There is always one!
After dinner, cruise the lounges until you see a group of “Stripes” together. Say hello. If you are really generous send drinks to them. There are cliques of staff that socialize together. You can spot them a mile away. The Dancers and Entertainment/Cruise Staff are the liveliest and often found in the music lounges, or comedian’s shows. The Officers are reserved and usually spotted in a classy, quiet lounge. Get to know them, without infringing on their time off. Respect their space, but say hello. It will make your cruise truly memorable!
Notes or gifts for the staff
We always drop a note to the Captain and Hotel Director on boarding day to say hello and tell them we are happy to be sailing with them. All you have to do is take it to the Guest Relations or to the Purser’s Desk (depending on what the ship is calling it) and ask them to deliver it for you. Very often we bring small gifts that represent us, or where we are from! Gifts can be something special from your home town, or from your work.
For years we brought home made Rum Cakes! All of the ship’s staff got to know us as they shared it at night. “Oh you are the Rum Cake people”! That changed when the restrictions on the Captain’s drinking came into play. We realized we had been bringing rum cakes for the Captain and he was not able to eat them! One year we brought Girl Scout cookies for the staff as they can’t get them at sea. Another time we brought books on the old Classic Cruise Ships. We have seen people bring taffy from their home town, or chocolates from their favorite shop. Whatever it is, know that it will be appreciated.