Join me on my round-the-world cruise during the COVID19 lockdown
I’m planning to visit more than 50 countries. Virtually. Actually, I re-visit them in writing, and I hope you’ll join me on the journey. But first things first, who am I? And why should you tag along? I’m a German filmmaker who directed a lot of shorts and several feature films. However, being a film director is only a lucrative proposition for a very few, and you have to stay long enough in the game to actually make it to that selected circle.
Back in 2013, after returning to Germany in 2011 after some years abroad, things looked bleak. I had tried to break into the business in Berlin for two years. Unsuccessfully. I concluded that my career — I didn’t study film but went to art university instead and then lived six years in Asia — might have been too exotic, or maybe my attitude just wasn’t right, not wanting to start unpaid at the bottom. Anyway, I decided to avoid welfare and look for exotic jobs instead, if I couldn’t find a normal one. 24 hours later, I was signed up as a filmmaker on a cruise ship.
In the following one and a half years, I travelled around the world, literally. My first cruise was through the northern half of Europe: The Baltics, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Iceland, all the way up to Spitzbergen. My second contract was a round-the-world cruise. I boarded the ship in Portugal and left in Dubai. The tour went over the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean islands, through the Panama Canal, then the Pacific Ocean until we hit the South Sea islands. New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and finally Dubai. My last trip, in comparison, wasn’t really noteworthy: a short-term contract. It was for 6 weeks, travelling the Mediterranean islands, while the average time of a contract is close to 5 months, I’d say.
Shortly after, I embarked on a new adventure, becoming a mother. With that, the cruise chapter in my life came to a natural end. During the travels, however, I’ve seen a lot, laughed a lot, and cried a lot. And I believe some of this is worth sharing and remembering. So, if you have ever dreamt of being on a round-the-world cruise and you need to decide where you want to go exactly, or if you ever wondered how life is for the crew on those cruise ships, or even if you hate cruises altogether and you are just bored during the current COVID19 lockdown — this series might be for you.
The beginning: Work on the cruise
I’ve worked on smaller German cruises, with a guest count ranging from 250 to 650, four- to five-star ships. I cannot remember the exact crew count on all the three ships I’ve worked on, but for the round-the-world cruise, it was about the same as the number of guests: 250 to 300; for the bigger vessels that carried up to 650 guests, it was in relation a bit less, I believe 450 crew members or so.
My first contract brought me to Northern Europe. I had to board the ship in Monte Carlo. I was flying to Nice, France and had to take a taxi from there to Monte Carlo. As a video crew member, I shared a cabin with another young woman who worked in service. The crew cabins are tiny, and you sleep in bunk beds. No window, and usually you have to share with someone you don’t know if you are new. I had met my cabin mate before during the safety training in Rostock, Germany, that each crew member has to take part in before boarding a vessel.
The photo and video team consisted of three members: one photographer and two videographers. Over the next months, I grew very close to my video teammate, who felt something like a little brother. Or at least that’s how I would describe the relationship with Jonathan. Having somebody to bond with is when the work on a cruise ship can be really fun.
However, working hours and conditions are, well, not really great. You have to work seven days a week, on average 10 hours a day to get the job done. The service crew and boating professionals usually have a bit of free time during shore leave, but the tourist department and the photo and video crew are especially busy then. As part of the video team, I didn’t have a superior really, which means I could plan and work on my own account, which I think is a big plus.
Our job was to accompany the guests on their booked excursions. Guests can either go out and explore the destination on their own or book all sorts of trips, ranging from the standard bus city tour to more exotic adventures. As a videographer, you then join and collect as much footage as you can, while also trying to single out potential buyers for the film and getting them on video, to increase the chances that they’ll buy a DVD at the end of their trip. Because the tourist department is often understaffed, or there are limited seats on the excursions, the videographer also makes sure everything goes smoothly, de facto being the representative of the cruise. There is, however, also a local guide usually doing the tour. It’s great if you can catch a sound bite from him or her to intercut with your video later.
After shore leave, back at sea, the videographer then edits their own material. In our case, we usually conceptualized the segments ourselves, doing a write-up for narration, which, in our case, was done by the cruise manager. For example, with Monte Carlo, I’d write a bit about the city and combine it with cruise-related facts, e.g., that this was the starting point of a 10-day trip. A typical video piece was around two minutes. For most destinations, both videographers created one segment, which resulted in a final film ranging from 60 to 90 minutes for a 10-day trip. The video team also did the sales and authoring of the DVD.
Looking back, it was a crazy amount of work for, well, shitty pay. If you are young and want to see the world, it’s definitely something I’d say you can consider. You have to close both eyes to making a living from working on an ecological shit show: cruises are really not environment friendly. It was a very interesting period in my life, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it; it was extreme, challenging, fun, and definitely better than living on welfare. But I don’t think I could enjoy a cruise trip for a holiday ever.
Next up: My first weeks. Getting accustomed to life on the ship.