Behind the Crew Only Door

June 12, 2017 -

John Heald

Here I am once again bringing you a look behind the crew only door on this blog. A lot of people ask me what it is like to work on board a ship and, after almost 30 years of doing so, I wanted to share some of my experiences.

In a future post I will tell stories of my years as the best looking and most hilarious Cruise Dir ———- OK, my years as the ugliest Cruise Director and one the guests found as funny as a stubbed toe.

Right now Carnival has 30,000-plus crew who are, as we speak, serving, entertaining and feeding 94,000 guests. But speaking of food, what do the crew eat? Many people ask me this. So there are several employee dining rooms on most of our ships. One for the group we refer to as crew which is where the waiters, stateroom stewards, cooks, etc., eat. Then there is the staff mess where the entertainment staff, shop and spa staff, casino staff and others eat. And, finally, we have the officers and captain’s dining room where the senior officers and captain enjoy their meals.

The crew mess is self-service and mostly the staff and officers messes are waiter service. It is important to remember that none of us, not your waiter or the dancer or the engineer, have hours to linger over a meal because there is work to be done and most of us spend no more than 30 minutes over any meal.

In days gone by there used to be a separate menu for each of the dining rooms. There would be a menu for the crew based on where they were from with local Indonesian, Filipino, Indian and other ethnic recipes. Then there would be a staff menu and, in the old days most of the staff was either western European or from the US in the case of the entertainment staff and musicians, and so that menu was meat and potatoes based. And finally we had the Italian officers and senior officers all of whom were Italian and so the menu was based around the traditions of Italy and that meant cheeseburgers and Pop Tarts…….bugger……I mean pasta.

However, over the last 10 years we have changed a lot with our crew and staff coming from so many different countries and so it was decided that for this reason and other operational reasons we would combine the menus with all the officers, staff and crew eating the same menu.

So, the crew all eat the same food although the chef still prepares daily pasta specials for the Italian officers and the captain and that’s very much appreciated by them. Oh and one last fact: The most popular dish for the crew at breakfast, lunch, dinner and their midnight meal is rice. Yep, rice. In fact the crew have a saying that sums up just how important rice is to them. It simply says: “No rice no power.”

And now I would like to share a story with you about when I was a Cruise Director back on the Carnival Breeze in ummm…….1492. My cabin steward was named Ketut which is one of the most popular names in Indonesia. It means Great Man in local culture. My name is John. It means toilet.

Anyway, Ketut was so happy all of the time despite having to wash my underpants…….by hand.

He really was a wonderful guy, full of life and always singing when he was cleaning my cabin. One day I remember noticing that he wasn’t singing. I asked him why? Life on a ship can be lonely, very lonely, and sometimes the crew tend to keep their troubles to themselves or they are too busy in their work to find time to talk about what’s on their mind. I should say that they are encouraged to always talk to someone whether it is their department head or someone from our human resources team. Anyway, Ketut eventually sat with me in my cabin and told me that the home his hard work had provided for his mother and his sister had been totally destroyed by a cyclone.

It was a home that Ketut had helped pay to build by working for five years on our ships. He had lost his house and yet he had carried on cleaning the senior officers’ cabins.

Had Ketut mentioned this to someone, we would have arranged a flight home but he knew that what he wanted to do was to keep working so he could keep sending money home, to start again, and to help his family who needed the dollars now more than ever.

I helped him with some extra money because he was and is a truly extraordinary person. You see the one thing our crew have in common is that they are all working on our ships to better the lives of their families back home in countries where the US dollar is so very valuable.

It’s an opportunity that provides families with an excellent standard of living, one that these men and women could not likely provide if they worked in their home countries.

On your next Carnival cruise please take the time to talk to our brilliant crew. They are the foundation of our brand and they all have fascinating stories to tell and they will, for sure, make your Carnival cruise vacation an unforgettable one.


Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.