SS Norway – 1986

Here I go off to Miami to Norwegian Cruise Lines to work on the biggest cruiseship in the world at that time with 2000 passengers. I had been watching too many episodes of Love Boat while getting in a rut working as Bar Manager in Montreal so having finished my Hotel Restaurant Management Program thought it best to move on to something more exciting.

Boy did I move on to something more exciting! This ship was huge. It only had about 12 bars and 2 huge dining rooms that did two sittings at 5oo each so that all 2000 passengers could be served.

I was working bartender in the lounge so when we set sail I was the bar that was filled first while the ship was leaving port. People and people ordering every drink you could imagine. All exotic drinks too. I was elated when someone would just order a beer. Talk about up to your knees in it. Drinks and more drinks. You see on a ship there was no cash transactions. The passengers just used to sign and pay the bill at the end of the voyage.

The thing was you would expect to make money with all the volume but the SS Norway had a system where you would work serving the guests one cruise and you would get credit for all the 15% gratuity added on to their bar tabs then the following cruise you would be working service bar and get no credit for any sales rung under your key. The waitresses would get it all.
So to get paid more than your $1100 monthly salary your 15% gratuities would have to add up to more than $1100 and only then would you be paid more depending on how much more your gratuities were. For example if you had a month of earning $1200 in gratuities they would pay you the extra $100 to bring it up to $1200 what you earned for the month. Sneaky bastards!!

All that for working 80 hours a week because as well as work in your regular bar you would also spot someone so they could have their lunch break where they worked on the pool deck. So you would be sweating buckets outside serving drinks for about an hour and a half while they took their break during the day. Then there were the boat drills , loading , and on and on.

One Saturday just as soon as we woke up we had to go into the wine cellar and change the entire wine inventory so we could have the wines ready for dinner at 6:00. We started at 8 and finished at 5:45 just 15 minutes before service.

The food was absolutely brutal! I was losing so much pounds because the food was all from Asia and although I do like Asian food there was the presentation aspect that really bothered me.I felt like I was in a food bank getting handouts. It was the same over and over again. I longed for some North American food so I used to sneak into the officer’s eating area after they left to grab some food off their beautiful buffet. There was no way they were going to eat food served to the service personnel.

The room I had was horrid. As well as being dank and damp it was across from the showers where when you entered the bleach would be excruciatingly repulsive. You would choke on it literally. It was not a good time.

After the first few weeks they switched me to work in the dining room as a Sommelier probably so I could be guaranteed I could get one good meal at the end of service. I liked it better there but it was still crazy.

We had our own glasses given to us and we had to label the glass rack with our name lest our glasses disappear before the next service. Our section was about 60 passengers to serve drinks and wine. What I didn’t know was that you had to pay the dishwasher some money so when he would clean the glasses he would return them to your rack so you would have them next service. If you didn’t you were hunting down your glasses on the other Sommelier racks in a hurry to get your tables set before the first sitting.

It was so bad that I met another Canadian on the ship on a Thursday so I asked him how long he had been on the ship. He mentioned 4 days and he was getting off Saturday. He couldn’t stand it.

I was losing weight and was not enjoying it at all. As a sommelier I had the pleasure of serving the Mamas and Papas one week and actually made money cause they were just ordering Dom Perignon that lifted the 15% over the $1100 for the month.

I spent a lot of time in the crew bar where the action was fast. That was one thing the cruises were crawling with single women. So much choice. I drank and partied. Scavenged for food leftovers and worked constantly.

After about 2 1/2 months I reluctantly had to call it quits and return to Montreal. I was losing tons of weight , run down , and sick. Before returning I spent a week in Fort Lauderdale to relax and unwind. It was a let down of course but like they say if you do not try something you would have never known.

Between that September when I returned to Montreal and January I was unemployed but was interested in moving to the States. I had a job interview at a Hilton Hotel in Natick outside of Boston and they were going to do my papers and everything but in the end I changed my mind. They were looking for people and I guess they thought with my age and experience I could have changed things around there as it was going to be a good management position.

Instead I stayed home in Montreal and figured that was it for me that now I would stay in Montreal and settle down for good. The Love Boat it wasn’t and I was going to stay put and stop thinking about moving so much.

Yeah right……….


  1. hey, Steven, like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz… there’s no place like home! It took me many years, parties and grey hairs to understand the concept. I once worked with a Turkish fellow who had worked on the Greek Cruise Lines…. talk about tough, the greeks absolutely hate the Turks and vice versa … and the captain of a ship is god-like… but that’s another story.peace, mTw

  2. the end there is no place like home. I just kept on going till I had enough.

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