Interview With MSC Cruises Shop Assistant

Dec 18, 2019

The following article is an interview with MSC Cruises Shop Assistant describing his personal experience. Find out the process of how to apply for the job, how long it takes to board the ship and the first day at work. 

In the environment where I grew up, there was no place or opportunity for personal advancement, or the possibility to earn a decent salary. Like most other people I was dreaming about the Maldives, Bali, Hawaii or even closer destinations like Italy or Spain. I spent years cutting newspaper articles and pictures of places that I wanted to visit and I would put them where ever I had some free space. With the help of the writer of this excellent and useful book I finally got the opportunity to leave out my dream – to stand on the edge of the Fjords in Norway and marvel at the nature all over me. 

What agency did you use to apply for a job? How was the interview and for what position did you apply?

One of the most reliable agencies in my country is Kouzon Montenegro which is actually a Macedonian agency with an office in Montenegro. I went for a free presentation for the Shop staff position because I had a lot of experience in sales. I was tested right away in English and I was offered a job on one of the ships for a certain salary. You should bear in mind that not everything is that cheap, but it pays of in the long term. You need to prepare between 500 and 1.000 Euros just for the preparations, but you get that money back with your first salary. We obtained the safety procedures and certificates that are necessary before boarding the ship in Macedonia. We were prepared for everything by a person who was from the UK, we spent five amazing days in Skopje learning everything and we heard a lot of useful information about what awaits us the moment we step on the ship. 

How long did you have to wait before you boarded the ship?

I was told that I could wait for up to three months to board and start my contract. There needs to be a demand for a certain position but the agency people give their best to try to speed up the process. I was lucky because I received a call from the agent after only ten days and he told me to prepare all my documents. Of course, he sent me an email with detailed instructions about the necessary documents and what exactly needs to be done. The passport is the most important item. Certain visas can be obtained without any problems and quite quickly because the agency provides a guarantee that you are going as one of their employees. Even the American embassy provides the visa quickly but only a transit visa which allows you to stay in the country for only 24 hours.

Were there any specifics about the flights, and did the company agent wait for you at the airport? 

I signed a contract with the MSC Company and I was assigned to the second largest ship in that class in the entire MSC fleet. I wasn’t sure if I got lucky or unlucky because it was my first time working on a cruise ship. MSC has this habit of informing people from the sales department about their departure right before they have to leave. In my case, I was informed on a Sunday night that my flight is on Monday morning and that I was flying to Barcelona. I had no choice, I had to pack my whole life in one suitcase and a smaller hand luggage bag. I packed a few of Mom’s sandwiches, at least to have something to eat between flights. An anecdote with the flight? Do I need to mention that no one from the domestic airlines offered water, coffee or anything else? I told a stewardess that I would like a coffee and she brought it to me half an hour later. We are no longer in Kansas, Toto.  

I was greeted by a company agent at the airport and he drove me to a beautiful hotel in Barcelona where I would spend the night, and then head to the ship to board in the morning. People need to be careful about this because not every company has an agent waiting for you at the airport, and you should always have some money with you for a taxi. If that happens, always ask for a receipt form the taxi driver because the company is obligated to refund that money to you. As far as my suitcase goes, I was always afraid that my suitcase wouldn’t appear on the track and that they lost it, which is something that always happens to someone. If that happens, you must go to the Lost and Found desk and report that your suitcase was lost. After you do that they will arrange for your suitcase to be sent to you after several days. Precisely for this reason, you should always have some basic necessities in your hand luggage that you can use before your suitcase arrives. 

I think I would have been happier if someone explained that sometimes flights can be missed because the time between flights is to short. Most companies have booking agents who don’t even check the layover time between flights, which needs to be at least an hour and a half. Almost all major world airports are the size of a small city and there is no way to make your second flight if you have only half an hour of layover time, and you won’t be able to make it even if you are Usain Bolt. My first advice – don’t panic. My second advice – contact your company and the agent who provided you with the flight details and inform them about what happened so they can help you resolve that problem. 

Your first impression of the ship?

It’s hard to explain the first impression. It’s like someone puts you in front of the tallest building that you have ever seen and said: “Here you go, this is going to be your home for the next seven or eight months”. If you are not used to saying hello to everyone of your neighbors or people who live on your street I suggest you start practicing because everyone says hello onboard the ship all the time and everyone is polite, regardless if you are from Montenegro, Romania, North Korea or Tajikistan.

As soon as you step on the ship your luggage gets checked because you can’t bring any forbidden devices or objects onboard.

How was your first day at work?

On the first day you meet all the team members and Manager, and you hear everything about your job. Just to be clear, your first working day is the day you board the ship. At least that was my experience and I didn’t have the privilege to be excluded from any work because I was tired of the flight and voyage. 

A lot of people get shocked by the job description. Most of us are used to working eight-hour shifts at home, but here your shifts can last even sixteen hours. As a vendor you are in charge of literally everything – sales, putting all the products on the shelves, doing inventory, carrying boxes with products when they arrive, taking care of storage, etc. One of my Managers told me once “You are the boss of your store you are completely responsible for it”. Of course, you won’t get your own store right away because you have to be tested first. Your sales skills will be tested with promotional material in front of the store. My advice is to spend the first month being as kind and polite as you can, to give it your best and to learn how everything works. If you do that, the rest of the contract will pass calmly and without stress. 

The hardest and the best moments while onboard?

The hardest moment is nostalgia for home and the food. Your body is not used to such a pace and all you want to do is sit or lie down for a bit and just fall asleep. You start hating your job and your colleagues, your manager and you even start thinking about quitting and going home the next day. But then the ship ports in some beautiful place like Palma de Majorca. As soon as you get off the ship you can smell the summer air, enjoy the delicious ice creams, drink Sangria in some bar, take a walk next to the cathedral, etc. After experiencing something like this you almost forget about home and you don’t want to go back. The Ship life is like a movie, black and white situations with a lot of blue, gray, yellow and purple in the middle. It’s up to you to choose your rainbow colors. 

As far as the food goes, it’s not that great but you get used to it. You can always have great food in the ports but you should explore the city a bit first and find places where you can have great food and drinks. You can have tapas in Spain, pizza in Italy, rice and bean in the Caribbean, etc. 

As a vendor, I had much of free time when in port after the Casino staff. That meant that I had the time to explore every city that I wanted, I saw 131 cities in total. My favorites are the Mediterranean parts while my least favorite place is the Caribbean, believe it or not.  Everyone imagines the Caribbean as an exotic place which they are, but there isn’t really much you can do there. Everything is very expensive so prepare yourself for spending between 20 and 40 Dollars on some basic things (transportation to the beach, drinks, souvenirs, etc.). If you don’t want to go to the beach then you really don’t have anything else to do. 

The Mediterranean has a soul – the famous pizza in Naples, especially in the pizzeria where Julia Roberts had pizza while filming Eat Pray Love; the streets of Can where the traditional Film Festival is held every year; Barcelona with a million things that you would like to buy. One small trick from an experienced traveler – always take the side streets if you want to buy something because the prices on the main streets can be double and more. I bought some of the most beautiful things in the gorgeous and expensive Nice, and I just went to the street that was next to the main one. Scandinavia is also gorgeous. However, everything is expensive there, it can get rally cold and there isn’t much to see. 

The Fjords are breathtaking, it’s so worth it to climb the cliffs and take lots of photos there. It’s quite a feeling to be up there, marvel at the stunning nature and be terrified at the same time. As one of my Brazilian friends would say “See that NO PHOTOS ALLOWED ZONE? That’s where we’re going”. I don’t recommend any kind of shopping in Scandinavia because the prices are sky-high, a simple shirt can cost you 30 Euros. The only thing that I would recommend for you to buy is a nice souvenir. A Troll doll, for example. They are cute and they will always make you remember this amazing place. I bought mine for 20 Euros and I named it Fiona, and she is the queen of my souvenir shelf right now. 

Did you have any challenges on board and how did you solve them?

The first contract is a challenge and a shock for everyone. I had the misfortune to be naive and to think that everyone is nice, but that was not the case. It all started with a complaint from some of my colleagues who said that I was to slow and that this wasn’t the job for me. The older colleagues mostly don’t have patience and understanding for people who just started working and they expect you to perform at their pace. When I learned that my closest colleagues stabbed me in the back I realized that I have to be more careful and not trust everyone. 

There was a change in Management and a woman from Romania took over the position. I was told even before she officially became a manager that she likes to fixate on one person and make their life a living hell. Unfortunately, this time I was that person. Afraid of losing my job and the opportunity to return for more contracts, I stayed silent and put up with her inappropriate behavior. She would comment the way I looked, call me out in the middle of staff meetings and tell me to repeat everything that was said, “forgetting” to tell us that we had free afternoons after all the boxes were loaded in the store and let me stay for two extra hours to organize everything. Everyone knew what was happening and that I had a big problem but no one wanted to lift a finger to help me. I put up with that lunatic to the end of my contract. At our last meeting I told her “thank you for everything, I wish you luck to the end of your contract”. She just said, “Yeah, right”. 

I promised that I will never again allow myself to be humiliated like that and I will never let someone blame me for something that is not my fault. Two years after that I had a similar Manager, only this time I answered back – I explained my opinion and attitude in a very professional and courteous way and I was so proud of myself. At the end of the contract, I got the highest grade ever from that manager. 

You should experience some problem because they will only make you stronger and help you improve for your next contract. I’m going to steal one quote that I heard on board and it really helped me. It’s a real marine quote and it goes “Do Sharks Complain About Monday? No. They’re up Early. Biting Stuff, Chasing Shit, Being Scary – Reminding Everyone They’re Sharks”.

What would you recommend for the first time crewmembers? 

My advice is to do your job the best you can, to try to be in the top three workers of your department, to always ask for more work and to always ask questions and show an interest. If someone starts to criticize you after all this then take a stand and defend yourself because no one else will. You will make some of the best friends in your life, you will go through all kinds of problems and pointless things, you will sunbathe in Barbados, freeze in Greenland but it will all be worth it. because one day you will sit in a rocking chair with a cat in your lap and be surrounded with a million memories from your voyages. You will be so happy that you tried all this.