So there is no short answer to this question. No, wait, that’s a lie, I always give the short answer when people ask. So I’m going to attempt to give the full answer in this posting!
If you’ve asked me what I’m doing at the moment and I tell you ‘I work on cruise ships’, there is no polite way of putting this but that’s the shortened version of the short version and I probably can’t be bothered to talk to you. Sorry if that’s you.
If I say something along the lines of ‘I’m a youth staff for Royal Caribbean, so basically I keep kids entertained whilst travelling the world.’ you are in the majority category. That is an extremely basic summary of my job but in truth, child care is my primary role but any youth staff will tell you that we are also fire fighters, first aiders, health and safety officers, welcoming committee, crowd control, entertainers, dancers and even lifeguards on certain ships. Some of the veterans of the company (Yea Pierre, SherLynn, Patty, Lana, Adele I’m talking about you) speak of the good old days before cross utilisation when a youth staff just dealt with kids but that’s ancient history and before my time!
There isn’t really an average day for us but here’s the simplistic guide to what we do: Adventure Ocean (AO) is the name given to the kids programme on board all Royal Caribbean ships. The programme caters to 3-11 year olds and is the same across the fleet, it is a free drop off service where children are signed in and out by parents from 9 in the morning till 10 at night (parents can also pay to leave their kids after 10 if they want to go get on the session until 2am). The age groups are split into Aquanauts 3-5 year olds, Explorers 6-8 and Voyagers 9-11. Generally you will have two members of staff in each room with up to 30 Aquanauts or up to 50 Explorers and Voyagers. I’ll give some details about the activities in a later post.
Teens is also free but the teens come and go as they please, opening times vary on different ships but the discos usually run until 1 or 2a.m. During high kid count the age groups will be split into 12-14 year olds and 15 to 17 year olds.
Royal babies and tots is a paid service for 6 months to 3 years old. I can’t tell you that much about it because I have successfully avoided having to work in there throughout my 3 contracts. Most babies, particularly in Asia, are terrified of me so that has helped my case but a preference for working in teens on my part has kept me there. All youth staff can be scheduled to work in any age group but generally there are a few nursery specialists, a few teen specialists and everybody works in Adventure Ocean.
There are three different styles of days whilst working on ships: Turnaround days, Sea days and Port days (and occasionally hybrid days like Port Klang which is such a crap port that it’s a port day that runs like a sea day).
All ships have a home port where they return at the end of each cruise for example Miami, Southampton, Sydney or Singapore. The lengths of the cruises vary depending on the clientele for example the Asian market prefers shorter cruises so 3/4 night itineraries are the norm where as out of the UK two-week cruises around the Mediterranean are normal. On a turnaround day the ship returns to the home port, the old guests are off usually before midday and the new guests are on by mid afternoon. So to answer a common question yes there are pretty much always guests on-board 365 days a year.
On a turnaround day a Youth Staff will be scheduled for a number of different roles:
Debark usually means waking up at silly a.m. to help the old set of guests off the ship (not good when you’ve had a goodbye party for a leaving colleague the night before)
Open house and registration is greeting parents, explaining the programme and helping them fill out consent forms which must be filled out before a child can be signed in to AO.
Gangway is meet and great with all of the new guests and answering any questions they have (about the whole ship so knowledge of all different departments is required).
YEP is handing out youth evacuation plan wristbands to ALL children between 3-11 that get on the ship (always fun in China when guests completely ignore you or think you’re trying to sell them something).
Once all guests are on-board Youth staff go around to the different muster stations (the place guests would go in case of an emergency) during the pre-departure safety drill and put wristbands on any children who were not caught during YEP or, in most cases, who ripped their bands off.
In the evening the first session of the cruise usually runs for two hours in AO and Teens will usually be open for the whole night.
Sea days are usually very straight forward but can be extremely long and busy because the kids get bored, especially on the smaller ships, and AO gets swamped. There are three sessions, morning afternoon and evening with family activities e.g. discos, trivia etc, run in-between.
Port days are what most of us are there for. Another answer to a common question: we do get chance to get off the ship and explore but in 5 months + of working we don’t get a day off. If we are lucky enough to be off during port hours, chances are that we will work in the morning, helping to sort out tour groups, or crowd control during the debark process or helping guests in wheelchairs off the ship and then working again in the evening.
AO is open at the same times as on a sea day but between sessions staff take the kids to get meals whenever the ship is still in port. So if the ship is in port until 4.00pm then staff will take kids to lunch. If the ship is docked until 7.00pm staff will take the kids to both lunch and dinner. If you are working on a port day we call it a ‘Port Zone’ which is working straight through 8.45 in the morning to 5/ 5.30 in the afternoon. These can be one of the worst things in the world if you are tired for any reason (probably you just couldn’t sleep properly). The morning session from 9-12 is usually fine as you’re running on the adrenaline of getting up, the two hours between sessions when you take the children for lunch is the killer. After lunch you feel the food coma on the horizon. So you’re struggling. And you know there is still the three hours of the afternoon session left. Killer.
So that is what every youth staff will do across every one of the 25 ship in the fleet.
Other jobs that youth staff are required to do vary from ship to ship. Welcoming guests to shows; helping sport staff with activities such as bumper cars or roller skates; or supervising pool areas/ water slides are just some of the shifts that we might be scheduled for, usually as an hour shift before being replaced by another youth staff.
Being a youth staff and working on a cruise ship really is like no other job in the world. It’s an amazing job you can love it, hate it and love it again all in one day. It can be very difficult to work every day for over 5 months and be away from friends and family for that whole time. To live, work and play all in the same place can be testing but the amazing people you meet and the stunning places you visit make all of it worth while and then some. On our largest ship, Harmony of the Seas, there are 2400 staff on board there will usually be staff from between 50 and 100 different countries working at the same time so there is the chance to meet people from all over the world and I do feel truly blessed to be able to say I have met good friends from many different countries. Other than the travelling that is my favourite part of the job!