After rolling into my hotel as a hot a sweaty tourist with 2 large suitcases and a raging headache, I showered and took off on foot to start discovering all that New Orleans had to offer at 5pm on a Sunday. Too see my adventures getting here take a look at Adventure is now… and for a bit of background on me check out Solo Female Traveller on the Move
I arrived at Chicago union station at just after 6pm on the 4th of June 2016. I checked into the first class waiting lounge as I had booked a sleeper for the trip. I rearranged my hand luggage for the train and then checked my suitcase. In the lounge they had complimentary drinks and snacks. There was also free Wi-Fi!!!. my headphone batteries had died on the CTA ride over and so I purchased some new batteries and a few snacks, a bottle of sparkling water and a Cosmo magazine for the trip. At 7:30pm we boarded the train, I am staying in Roomette 004 which is smaller than the pictures lead me to believe, but is perfect for 1 person.
After I dropped my stuff off I headed over to the dining car for dinner, which is included in the price of my ticket. Dinner was a cold sandwich. I had the turkey and Swiss on whole grain “ciabatta”, it came with potato chips and a pickle??? America is strange y’all. I also had a root beer, which is caffeine free because I am dying for sleep at this point. I diner with a few other people, each table seats 4, I met a really nice couple and a guy who was travelling on his own. All heading to New Orleans for vacation.
After dinner I met my room steward, a lovely girl called Keisha and she turned my room into a bed for me. By this time it’s 10pm and it is finally getting dark. I looked out at the scenery for a while before it got too dark, set my alarm for 8am and I finally got a good night’s sleep. I woke up several times throughout the night partly from jet lag and partly from the trains whistle.
I woke up in the morning around 6am, I dozed on and off until the first announcement came in at 7am, after which I grabbed some coffee and headed off to breakfast. This morning I had a cinnamon roll with yogurt and fruit cup and several cups of coffee. I was joined by a really nice guy and his son, who had just spent 2 days in Memphis doing as much as humanly possible and then a bit more before heading home to Baton Rouge.
After breakfast I headed back to cabin with another cup of coffee to watch the world go past and to edit my blog until lunch time. I’m finding my cabin Is quiet chilly and the air con dial doesn’t seem to have any impact on the temperature so I asked Keisha to leave my room made up as a bed till lunch time in case I need another nap and so I can have the blanket.
It seems to be mostly farm land which the odd small town along the way, these towns are small capsules lost in time. Picturesque farm house or ghost town main roads with abandoned shops and houses going to ruin and slowly begin reclaimed by nature.
This was pretty standard for the rest of the trip. I got off and walked around at the Jackson stop, singing Johnny cash in my head the whole time. After we got back under way I headed in to the observatory car and chatted with my new friends Emma and Glen. Lunch was probably the best meal of the lot lasagne.
All the meals are pretty much airline food, pre prepared and pre-packaged items, mostly cold sandwiches and what not. Definitely not what I was expecting when the website said “chef prepared”. There was also no Wi-Fi on the train either.
After lunch we had an hour and a half till we arrived in New Orleans, I waved good bye to derrick and his son at Hammond and then packed up all my things to get ready for our arrival.
After arriving in New Orleans, I had to wait for the luggage to be unloaded. I had checked my big suitcase and I’m glad I did. The room on the train was not as spacious as I had anticipated. Certainly perfectly sized for 1 person but very cramped for 2. If going on a longer journey, I recommend getting a full on family room.
With my luggage in tow I headed on down to my hotel in Lee Circle. After checking in jumped straight into the shower before heading out to explore my new city.
So I’ve been toying with the idea of this post for a while now, but I think it’s time I breached the subject. So stay tuned and read on for why I left Disney.
So I officially stopped working for Disney Cruise Line January 8th 2016. I has decided I was not going back to the ship about 2 months into my last contract. This is largely because I didn’t like who I became while I was working/living there.
Working on a ship;
My life while working on the ship became eat sleep work. This is not so different to life on land, but the main difference is you are mostly trapped on board. You can’t just pop to the shop or get delivery pizza or basically feel like you left work at all. You are stuck 2 mins from your work with a group of people who are on board for a bunch of different reasons and you don’t always like or get along with them either. You are never off duty.
I worked an average of 70 hours or more, most often more just to try and punch my pay check up. Your average day is in 2 or 3 large chunks. With between half an hour and 4/5 hours break between the chunks of work time.
I loved my job, if I could do the job but on land and for 40 hours per week would do it in a heartbeat. It is literally customer service at its finest. You met amazing and inspirational people from all over the world. You get a new challenge with each new person and it teaches you problem solving, empathy, and resilience. One of the things working for Disney had taught me is to be yelled at all day (in multiple languages) and still be able to sleep at night because I don’t take it personally.
While you are at work you are expected to give 110% on day one and more and more everyday while you get less and less sleep and with no further incentives. You start to play roulette with yourself to see what is more important to keep you sane.
On my first ever day on aboard my training officer told me I would give up food for sleep and I laughed, I LOVE food I wouldn’t give it up for anything!! Oh no she was so right on a good day I would have at least 1 meal in the crew mess. Most days however consisted of various amounts of coffee and sugar and n real food because I could find the energy to go to the mess when instead I could eat the snacks in my room and then pass out for 3 hours till my next shift.
I didn’t realise when I agreed to the job at just what I was agreeing to. 70 hours’ minimum per week, over time is paid out at like $5 per hour. In America I know that this is maybe more than the average waitperson gets paid, but I was unable to accept tips to buffer this amount of money.
In New Zealand when left minimum wage was $13.50 it is now almost $15, I was earning about half working twice if not three times as hard.
However, I will mention while you are on aboard your food, board, uniforms and their cleaning and utilities are covered. The only things which you need to pay for yourself are: internet around $20 for 500mbs, any snacks or alcoholic or speciality beverages read drinkable coffee.
Life on aboard;
When you work in guest services you are one of the only departments, and the only one guest facing that is open 24/7. This means you very rarely can get time off in port, you often find yourself unable to go to the crew events because you’re working. So you start to decide what is more important rested and getting enough sleep to function at work or stay up late to have a few drinks with your friends and let off some steam so you can stay sane while trapped on a hunk of metal in the middle of the ocean for 6 months at a time.
For my first contract for the first 3 months I cried in my cabin at night, I txt my mum and told her how miserable I was. I had no friends I was working way to hard and I had no energy.
I eventually made friends and started going to the crew bar, but the fun and joy I had of spending time with people was also met with a bitter lack sleep and early mornings. There is little to no balance in this life style and you have to work very hard to find time to remember why you are or find someone to make you feel wanted and appreciated because you don’t get it anywhere else.
On top of working 11-13 hours per day at top speed, you are also expected to be willing to save the ship and sacrifice your own life for the good of the guests and other crew. I was a first responder while on board, this consisted of weekly drills which no matter your shift when the alarm sounded you had to be fully dressed and presentable and at work to answer phones and help at the desk. Every second week was a full drill this meant muster stations and pretend evacuations.
So when I was on night shift I would work 10pm – 9am with no breaks, then at 10 the alarm would sound and I would have to go back to work for an hour finally at 11am the day was done.
At the end of my first contract I looked at why I wanted to go back
- 1 year at Disney Cruise Line on my CV
- Experience a dry dock
- Try and get a step up position
All of these reasons pooled together into my decision to return to the Disney Dream.
However, I accomplished all of these in my second contract, I became the guest services coordinator, I hated dry dock with a passion. I lost respect for a lot of my managers and I watched perfectly amazing people lose sight of who they were under the mounting pressure of not being enough to fill the gaping needs of the company.
When it came time to look at whether I wanted to return for a 3rd contract there was only 1 reason which was friends, all the step positions had been filled for the next 6 months which basically mean there would be no opportunities in my next contract, I would be stepping down and losing everything that made the rest of my last contract bearable. I had stuck it out for a year and now had 2 years at Disney under my belt. Id decided that for my own sense of self I would not be returning to the Disney corporation.
Personally my feeling is Disney is a great place to vacation, they treat guests better than any company I’ve ever experienced. The magic is truly real when you are a visitor, but that does not extend to working there.
It’s been a couple of months since I was supposed to go back to Disney, I miss my friends like crazy they are spread around the world and every time I see them on Facebook I feel like I left a piece of me with them. But I would be so unhappy to still be there working alongside them.
I have since moved home, and while I can’t say I’ve found the perfect job, I have definitely found a new challenge and this one is only a 37.5-hour week and treats me (mostly) like a human and not a machine.
I don’t regret my time working on the ship, but it definitely wasn’t what I had dreamed about. So I am once again adrift looking for my next dream and trying to accomplish everything I set my mind to in the mean time.