Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Cruise Ship Photographer: An update :)

April 6th 2011 6pm

For the first time in almost five months I’m writing a blog post in advance of having some internet access. This is my third day off sick from the job, and as my head has a moment of clarity between sleeps I really feel the need to write. I hoped I would be able to fully document the life I’ve been having but it’s none stop and has proved impossible.

Being off sick is a BIG problem, it’s going to take a couple of cruises for the team to stop resenting me for the extra work they are putting in as I write this. That is how high the tensions are with this little team on it’s tough short cruises but I get the impression every ship is different so I’m not completely put off and find relief in friends from other departments when I can. Having been here so long now I’ve seen a lot of people leave, this a huge part of ship life, not just contracts finishing but people resigning and even getting fired.

For my first three months I was managed by a BM (business manager) and AMS (assistant manager of sales) who have since been fired. So much has changed since then, particularly when Sanda our current BM came onboard. She is teaching us the right way to run this crazy business and really explaining HOW it works so we can all have a common goal and understanding. I still hate being targets driven and think it’s quite ridiculous that I should feel bad for getting 330 images in my studio rather than 350 but if everyone misses 20 then it adds up as she says. On a whole targets have been lowered though as Sanda is re-teaching us quality images over quantity. In the times of my previous manager we would never have moved to make sure the background was nice as we could’ve got 3 more images in that time and we used to split families into just kids and single ladies to create roll count all the time but now get told that’s not the way (except in the dinning room oddly).

Sanda is also really driving us within the company, me and Antonio are now photog3’s although it was a real push and I’m not feeling 100% on the lab stuff, I worry that if I was transferred to another ship I wouldn’t be the photog3 level they thought they would be getting. I’m photog3 ‘sales’ though and do feel very comfortable in the gallery (where we display and sell the photos along with cameras, albums, accessories etc). I’ve learned a lot about customer service since being here and I thought I already knew quite a bit, but these Americans are a completely different beast when it comes to service! My most important lessons are firstly really be sure of what you’re saying to stay in control, if you’re not they’ll find a way round and it’ll be too late for someone to fix, for example if there’s no discount then there’s no discount, you don’t bring in a manager every time someone asks the question whatever their reason for needing one. Secondly is ‘own the problem’ one of Royal Caribbean’s own standards, it doesn’t matter who caused the issue the guest has, if they’ve come to you, you don’t pass it back, if you can’t solve it there and then, you will get back to them and never pass it on. It can be tough to find the space in your brain to balance what you’re doing and all the guests you need to remember but you HAVE to do it, I learned the hard way!

So here I am with 6 weeks left, still learning and doing new things. It really has been a rollercoaster even though we’ve been traveling the same route over and over, and that’s why, unlike many of the people I went training with in Croatia unfortunately; I’m not planning to get off it yet. Sanda is applying for me to train to do Deep Blue Studios on my next contract, which is terrifying and exciting at the same time. DBS is separate from the main photography team on the big, new ships offering private packages to guests. I would have my own studio just for me! ‘Fresh/Modern photography’, Sanda is recommending me after seeing my portfolio and what they do is very similar to the images I enjoyed making before and I would get to do the post production that I love but I’m not sure I’m good enough technically. We’ll have to see what comes out of her application for me. But this is the thing, if it’s not that then it could be AMS within the next contract, so as long as my job keeps changing I don’t see a reason to pack it in.

I know this blog is supposed to be about my photography but it was always a personal indulgence and everything is the correct context because this is me now, a professional cruise ship photographer and this is the stuff on my mind! I must get some samples of my work doing the Lifestyle studio, that’s about as creative as this ‘McDonalds’ photography gets. However now I’m photog3 it’s time for weddings and this flipping illness prevented me from shadowing one last embarkation, hopefully I will step up to wedding/surprise engagements and other private events now and find my old style or a new one.

I spoke to my mum today as well in the things you do when you’re off sick list. This is only the third time we’ve spoken since I’ve been here so there are many gaps, it’s difficult to fill and I look forward to catching up in person soon. However of all the things she wanted to know she wanted to know about British guests, yes there are British guests and they do often find me and have a chat, find out why I’m here, but it’s no different really to the chats I have with American guests now I’ve been here so long. However British amongst the crew is a different matter, in fact any English as a first language speakers do seem to congregate together for support and a lot have left recently and it’s tough. I ended up dating a guy from the Philippine’s for a bit, which was a culture shock and then some (!) but he got transferred with 2 days notice, such is the way of ships, I don’t think I’ll ever see him again actually, it was lovely while it lasted but I don’t see how you can keep these things going. If I date another photographer that would be different but I’d prefer to avoid that as I see it being very tough on the job, I need relationships to provide an escape. My heart has hardened here (or maybe it got like that before I left).

I don’t really miss England. I’m in touch with the most important people even though it’s crazy difficult, thank god for Facebook! I’m missing birthdays all the time though, sorry guys (Uncle Paul I hope you had a good low key 50th, cousin Linton’s birthday will probably have passed before I post this and then Sue E, Eleanore and Bex at the end of the month, I’m thinking of you guys). My biggest regret is putting pretty much all the weight back on, those of you who know, know what this really means and I’m really ashamed of it and wont actively be slotting myself back in with my old crowd when I return, I can see that, for this reason and others. I think 6 weeks vacation will fly by anyway, there’s a lot I want to do and buy to ensure I survive contract 2!

I think I’m very lucky in the fact that this final six weeks on the Navigator have a real sense of ending for me. We have one more full cycle of the 5 day, 5 day, 4 day to do after this one, so as I type we’re leaving Laberdee, we only go there one more time now, same with Jamaica tomorrow (there’s four more Cozumel’s but that’s good as I’m really not done there yet, it’s become a real home from home). Then we do the transatlantic crossing where apparently the ship will be half empty and we should all get a whole day off! There will be seven sea days in a row and my birthday is in the middle before we get to Tenerife of all places! So obviously the transatlantic will have a real sense of ‘going home’ for me and then I’m doing one cycle of the new European cruise, just to see it, before coming home. Sounds good, lets hope it is!

And if you bothered to read all this and fancy a catch up with me when I get back let me know, because otherwise I won’t know. Thank you ☺

(Since writing this my amazing manager has been told she will be transferring in 10 days again with the ship’s life, can you see why I’ve hardened! Please bring me a final manager as encouraging and empathetic…)