Cruise ships have crew to take care of the sailing, the cleaning, the cooking, the partying, and also keeping guests entertained. Often a ship has cast members that put on various shows in the ship’s theatre – or in general places around the ship. These casts wear costumes – and there’s got to be someone to take care of them. One of my good friends on one of my ships was Jamie – the wardrobe supervisor. Being one of the only other crew members in my department with a handy phone (an onboard cell phone) we texted often – limited by our ABC texting style and 50 character limit. Jamie had the responsibility of taking care of all the costumes worn by varying cast members in the entertainment department. Since she was the only person in her position on the ship, I wanted to see a bit of what life was like as a wardrobe supervisor on a cruise ship. Here’s what she had to say about ship life.
First off, can you tell me a little about your job? What’s a day in the life of a wardrobe supervisor?
Basically my job was to take care of the costumes for the production cast and on-board characters if a ship has them. I would do any maintenance and laundry for the casts and also help dress for shows and on-board character pop ups if they needed me. Sometimes I was also charged with taking care of costumes for Magicians and/or acrobats if they were involved in a show. My day was usually dependant on the amount of laundry I had to do and whether it was a show day or not. On show days I would usually go in either early or enough time before the show to do any ironing or maintenance that needed to be done for that show, then I would have to stay to run the show and do laundry after the show. Usually I would just do the skin layers that night and then do the rest of the laundry later. On non-show days I would be doing laundry and maintenance. Laundry was done on a rotation, mostly because of time and space constraints, but also because the water onboard is hard on the costumes so repeated washing can actually damage the costumes (especially if they are beaded or sequined). And the fact that there were no dryers onboard meant that things had to be hang dried, which took forever! Mostly I was able to create my own hours and as long as I did all my jobs for the day I could get off the ship quite a bit!
How did you first hear about people working on cruise ships? What got you interested?
I first heard about working on ships when I was doing an internship in college. One of the ladies is was working with told me about how she did ships after college and loved it! I liked the idea of traveling and working with costumes so I was totally into it.
What was the hiring process like?
I was lucky to know a girl who worked for my company and she got me the contact information for the woman who runs the costumes. I emailed her during my last year of college, asking how to apply and if they were hiring. I never heard from her so I emailed her again when I was about to graduate and then again after I had graduated. Still didn’t hear from her. About 5 months after I graduated I finally got an email from her asking if I could go out in the next 3 weeks. It was a bit crazy because usually they have Wardrobe Supervisors come to their creative studio to help get everything ready, but because I had to get my medical done I wasn’t able to go. So I ended up meeting my cast in New Orleans and going out there blind. I had no idea what to expect. It was crazy!
Being in the entertainment department, I’m sure you’ve had a few exciting things happen. What’s the craziest thing to happen to you personally, or your position, while onboard?
We definitely had some fun and crazy times in the Entertainment Department, but probably the craziest thing that happened was having a cake fight in the crew bar one night! Since the dressing room/my office was in the bow (very front) of the ship, there were some times that the ship was rocking so much that I physically could not go up there. I was pretty fine on a normal day with seasickness, but if it was bad I was usually in my room or if I happen to go up there I had to lay on the floor while waiting for the washing to be done. We even had to cancel a show once because we had 4 people, including me, who were too sick. And because it was unsafe with the aerial acrobatics they were doing.
Do you get any chances to design new costumes while aboard? How does that process usually work?
Usually you aren’t supposed to design anything as a Wardrobe Supervisor, just because the company wants to keep the show in design. There are times though were costumes go down or don’t make it to the ship and things have to be done to fix them! We had a new magician come on and they didn’t send enough, or the right, costumes so I had to take a vest we had in stock and create something to work for that part of the show. It was a little stressful, but because we were in Europe there wasn’t much we could do. Everything has to get approved by the home office if anything does have to get changed.
In your free time, who do you generally hang out with? The cast, the cruise staff, the waiters?
I usually hung out with everyone, mostly other entertainment staff though. I loved all my casts, but because I was working with them all the time and in a somewhat supervisory role, it was hard to hang out with them all the time. I liked to switch it up now and again. It can get lonely on ships, even with all those people around you, but I tried to make friends with all sorts of groups!
Do you have any stories about when life was a little bit difficult or frustrating onboard? What would be a negative of working on ships?
Like I said, it could get kind of lonely, even with so many people. And you really start to miss your friends and family, and the conveniences of living on land. The things that frustrated me the most was when the company would change policies or things would be different from ship to ship. It was just inconsistent and annoying! Another negative fact was when the people that you became so close with left the ship to go home! Dating was a nightmare because you knew that the other person would eventually leave and maybe not come back!
I understand as of recently you’ve gotten a job on land. Do you miss working at sea?
Yes, I am currently working as a real estate agent on land. It’s definitely a change to be working for an hourly wage or for commission like I am. I also miss being able to see my friends down the hall and go out in different ports! Everyday things to my friends are weird to me because I really haven’t had to deal with them! Like non major holidays!
What’s your favourite memory, if you can pick one, from your time aboard?
Ok, so I am a huge history nerd and I have always wanted to go visit some of the ancient wonders of the world so my favorite memory was finally going to Athens and seeing the Parthenon. I was like a kid in a candy store, running up the steps to the Acropolis!
Do you have any tips or suggestions for anyone thinking of heading into your position?
Yeah! Make sure you are ready for the commitment of being away from home for long periods of time, for not a lot of pay and long hours! There are great perks to working on cruise ships, especially as a Wardrobe Supervisor, but you have to know what you’re getting into and everything involved with working on Cruise ships. I always tell people it’s like being in college again, but with work instead of school and with the rules of prison! They will tell you when you can get off the ship and for how long, when and where you can eat, and all sorts of other things!