Renee Ruggero worked as a purser for Princess Cruises for three years. She has left the industry but still cruises frequently with her family.
Hub for help
The purser on a cruise ship is part hotel receptionist, part concierge. Guests line up at the purser's desk to pay their on board accounts, to ask questions like "What time do the whales swim by?" and to complain about everything under the sun. On mega ships, there may be as many as 20 pursers, who listen to the same gripes cruise after cruise. When I worked, not a cruise would go by that a family of four didn't grumble and grouse about being squashed into a 160-square-foot cabin with nowhere to put their luggage. I empathized as much as I possibly could, but in many cases, the customer was not always right. On one cruise, for instance, a passenger accused a cabin steward of stealing his Rolex watch. After searching the man's room, I finally found the watch in his safe—it had slid under the lip in the front. The man never apologized for his mistake.
Little white lies
I've been fed all kinds of lines from passengers, such as "I'm claustrophobic, so I need a bigger cabin," and "I want to be reimbursed for this spot the laundry service got on my dress" (even though the stain looked a lot like red wine). Some guests even make up elaborate excuses—or blatant lies—to try to score a free bottle of wine, credit for purchases made on the ship, or a stateroom upgrade.
At times, I felt like a mix of Judge Judy and Sherlock Holmes, trying to decide which parts of passengers' stories were true. One woman claimed she had paid $10,000 for a balcony cabin on a weeklong cruise to Alaska and had been assigned an ocean-view room (with no balcony). I e-mailed the head office and discovered she had actually booked an ocean-view room—and paid only $4,000.
Some cabins are in noisy parts of the ship (above or below a dance floor or the theater) and when passengers in those rooms complain, they usually get moved somewhere else. Even though pursers may tell passengers the ship is "sailing full," there are sometimes a few open rooms for situations like these. That doesn't mean, however, that you'll get a luxury suite if you complain about a lot of noise. One guest was upset about the noise of chairs being dragged on the deck above his inside cabin, but when I offered him a similar room on the other end of the ship, he turned it down. I guess he was hoping for something better.
Seasickness is an occupational hazard when you work on a cruise ship, especially smaller vessels like the one I was on. I prefer not to take Dramamine, because it makes me drowsy. Instead, I drank Coke and snacked on bread—foods high in carbohydrates sometimes help prevent motion sickness—and my colleagues said ginger capsules worked well, too. Of course, there were always passengers who confused seasickness with the effects of too many martinis from the night before. One time when I was behind the desk, a passenger asked to buy Dramamine because she was seasick. I had to tell her that was unlikely—the ship had yet to leave the pier.
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