50 nations in one boat

Around 1,100 people from all over the world cater for the well-being of the guests aboard the new Mein Schiff 1. What is it like to live and work on a cruise ship.

“What is special about our casino? Where is the nearest bar?” Markus Zschiesche, Head of Food & Beverages TUI Cruises, leads a group of crew members through the 15 bars on the new Mein Schiff 1. While Meyer Werft Turku is still finalising its work prior to delivery of the cruise ship to TUI Cruises, some crew members have already been on board and preparing for their assignment for several weeks. Before the Hamburg-based cruise line’s flagship, christened on 11 May, set sail for its first cruises, the crew underwent many different training sessions.

The concept ensures, for instance, that crew members in the bar section are not only familiar with their direct work environment but also know all restaurants aboard the Mein Schiff newbuild, the currently biggest member of TUI Group’s cruise ship fleet with a capacity for 2,900 passengers. Moreover, the language spoken onboard is German. “We offer German language courses for all crew members in direct contact with guests,” says Dr Imke Moje, Fleet Organizational Development Manager TUI Cruises. “These courses are popular with the crew members – as they offer them good career prospects.” Moje’s responsibilities include overall HR development on board. “The German language skills required depend on the extent of contact with the guests”, she says. However, each crew member has to meet certain minimum requirements so as to, for instance, be able to explain to the – predominantly German-speaking – guests how to get to the nearest restrooms on the deck.

Around 1,100 people work for four different employers aboard the new Mein Schiff 1 – more than ever before on a TUI Cruises ship. At around 250 different jobs, cruise ships offer a greater diversity of jobs than many small cities on the shore. The hotel and catering sections alone offer dozens of different positions from spa manager via deck steward all the way to Chef de Cuisine. However, onboard jobs also include nurses and physicians, musicians, laundry staff, electricians and IT experts. You will also find an environmental officer, a media coordinator and a florist on board. Crews are like a mini-UN with members are from all over the world, from Germany and the Philippines, China, India and Turkey or from Nicaragua, Honduras and Tunisia. Does this multi-cultural minicosm not breed conflict? “No, it doesn’t. Inter-personal problems are very rare”, says Tim Fremder, a crew member in his mid-20s. He is one of six guides for bicycle tours offered for Mein Schiff 1 passengers in the cruise destinations. For two years, the young man has been going out to sea on TUI Cruises’ ships. At the ports of call, the crew also get an opportunity to go ashore time and again. “I have already been to Asia, the Caribbean and many European countries”, he says. For Tim, seeing the world is one of the very attractive factors of working on a cruise ship, along with contact with guests and colleagues from many different countries and cultures. “Many of us share the same open attitude and mindset,” explains Fremder.

Imke Moje has not experienced any disputes among crew members for religious or political reasons or due to their sexual orientation. “At the end of the day, we are all in the same proverbial boat, and this welds us together,” she emphasises. However, so as to ensure that all crew members live together in harmony, a number of rules have to be observed in this special work environment. “To begin with, employers have to provide realistic job descriptions,” says Moje. Living and working on board a cruise ship is not the perfect fit for everyone: A crew member usually stays on board for four to nine months. Crews have a seven-day working week. “What is particularly important is for everyone to treat each other with respect and be aware that the number one priority on board the ship is to cater for the well-being of the guests”, says Moje. “In this context, we emphasise that every individual has a key role to play, regardless of whether they steer the ship or clean the windows.”

After completing their work, the crew can use the so-called crew area in the decks below the guest areas. This is where the crew cabins are located. The new Mein Schiff 1 only features two-bed and single-bed cabins. Depending on the crew member’s position, they may share a cabin with a colleague. However, the crew area does not only offer the crew a place to sleep – but also a similar variety of leisure time activities as the upper decks for the guests. Crew members can use their own gym to train and unwind from work, dance in their own “One for all” disco, or relax in their own coffee shop. Amenities also include a sun deck and a messroom reserved for crew members. “Working on a cruise ship is also attractive because of the good career prospects”, explains Moje. “Careers often advance much faster than ashore.” TUI Cruises was established ten years ago. Many of today’s crew members have been on board right from the start,” says Moje. “Around 80 per cent of the staff working for the employers on board the new Mein Schiff 1 are returners who have already worked on other ships of our fleet.” Once a crew member, always a crew member. Cruising may be addictive, not just for the guests but also for those catering for their well-being out in the limelight and behind the scenes.