Tours Travel

What foods do the cruise ship crew eat?

Food prevents crew members from fully integrating, perhaps more than anything else on large ships. Access to “food from home” at sea varies dramatically because “home” varies dramatically. Some cruise lines have more Indian, Eastern European or Caribbean dishes, depending on the composition of the crew. Fortunately, cruise lines take crew food very seriously. It’s the real deal, unlike, say, the food court in the old mall. Sure, it has Mexican, Italian, and Chinese food, but only through Taco Bell, Sbaro’s, and Panda, respectively. And those, of course, are hopelessly Americanized. Before international corporations, I doubt that native Mexicans, Italians, or Chinese would have recognized such foods as “their own,” especially after eating them. But I digress.

Interestingly, the ships cater to American tastes below the waterline, despite a dearth of them on board. The irony is complete when you realize that almost 100% of those Americans are artists who eat nothing. Why? Because hot dogs and hamburgers don’t lend themselves to attractive bodies. So why do the boats bother? Because hot dogs and hamburgers are cheap. Even better, they can both sit under a heat lamp for hours and you’ll never know. Or at least one guy from Indonesia wouldn’t. Mystery solved.

But every day on every ship on every cruise line on every seas is an Asian day. Large quantities of steamed white rice are always available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, bowing to the preponderance of the East Asian crew. I will never forget my first trip to the crew mess, in Carnival Fantasy. As I piled a couple of strip steaks on my plate, being an American myself, my colleagues opted for a pile of white rice topped with a ladle of fish head soup. This explained our radical weight disparity and, perhaps, our temperament.

Fortunately for me, I am deeply interested in food and found that different cuisines from different cultures are a benefit. Many did not. Considering how hard we all work, the desire for a comforting, family meal was understandable. Furthermore, most of the crew came from rural backgrounds with limited diversity and limited interest in it. Just as a small-town boy from, say, Kansas may not be as interested in foie gras as a native of New York City, a small-town boy on an island in the Philippines may not be interested in foie gras. microwave burritos. And after working more than 80 hours a week? May the poor man have what he wants, for crying out loud!

But the real reason foreign crew members hesitate to integrate is not the food: it is their eating habits.

Food is not allowed in the crew cabins, although all types of crew sooner or later sneak a bit. Many keep a ready supply of dry goods, some of which are even allowed occasionally. Asians, for example, tend to hoard whole shots of instant noodles, and who’s to know about a secret hot dish, which allows for a late-night snack? But this food-restricting maritime discipline was enacted for good reason. Two, actually, because there are roaches on some ships.

The real reason food is denied in the crew cabins is because it invariably ends up in the bathrooms in the most non-biological way. Ship toilets are very, very sensitive. The gang? Not that much.

When we worked on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, we had to deal with this last problem to the extreme. Fishbones accumulated in the sewer system so frequently that the entire aft crew deck smelled of feces. Literally. What killed me was that getting rid of illicit food evidence was the only time many flushed the toilets! I still shudder to see overworked zombies brushing their teeth next to the brim-filled toilets, their eyelids wide open. Equally confusing to me was why a member of the crew threw a shoe. This resulted in a backup of the entire ship’s waste systems, and none other than the hotel manager was forced to search the cabins for the culprit. There will be more on that later, but I will add that he cursed a lot that day.

Despite all this, some of us on board have access to room service. However, that doesn’t mean the crew is happy to provide it to you. One night my order for several sandwiches (I was throwing a party) resulted in bread so deeply impressed by the thumbs of an enraged chef that I could almost see his fingerprints.

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