By Micha Berman
Copyright © 2007
$ 8.50 E-Book
Reviewed by Special Guest Reviewer: Denny Griffie, SKI – USCG, Retired
Having spent 20 years in the United States Coast Guard and having traveled all over the world while serving on an ice breaker out of the Pacific North West for Uncle Sam, I love ocean sailing. When for our first anniversary my wife, author LK Gardner-Griffie, suggested we take a cruise I wasn’t sure I would like it or not. Not because I no longer wanted to set sail, but because I was used to being on the job while on a ship. Would I be able to make the transition to being a passenger or not? Well, I found that I enjoy being on a ship more as a passenger than I did as a member of the crew. Now I love cruising vacations and love to take one anytime we have the chance. When the opportunity came up to read and review Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship I was eager to see how the experience of working on a cruise ship compared to my experiences as a lead petty officer on an ice breaker. So anchors aweigh.
If you are looking for a literary discussion of living on a cruise ship containing several nuggets to ponder in a philosophical sense, this book is definitely not the one for you. But, if you are looking for a fast paced, light read, filled with personal experience, down to the nitty gritty of life below deck, then Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship is a good selection. Micha Berman is definitely more of an entertainer than a writer, but as I read through the tale of his adventures of working for a cruise ship line, I laughed out loud page after page. I found I could relate to Berman’s experiences in more ways than I could count and that in essence working for a cruise line was not much different than setting sail for Uncle Sam, with a few notable exceptions. The major exception is of course, that you can’t just quit Uncle Sam’s service, unless you’d like to face a court martial.
In both cases, life on ship is a microcosm of society, and it definitely is a classed society with the levels of society indicated by the decks of residence.
As I walked through these decks it dawned on me I was entering a different neighborhood, one with its own culture and rarely seen by passengers. The first sign that you had entered crew city was the obvious lack of carpeting on the floors and the sheer bareness of the shiny metal walls. The exuberant colors of the passenger halls were replaced by a stark hospital like setting and a general feeling of unadorned survival. A second clue that this was not passenger living quarters was the trash littering the floors, the most common item a shred of wet cardboard standing guard outside a crew member’s door, the last remnant of a six pack of beer. Finally in this new neighborhood, hallways also served as soccer fields. Crew members, many from Latin America, often held soccer matches in these hallways not wider than 3 feet, during their off hours, bouncing off the doors, screaming and hollering, there was no way to stop them from enjoying their national pastime.
The staff living quarters consisted of five decks, the lower the floor, the more cramped and dirty the conditions and the more unsafe it was to wander. Think of it as the United Nations with the top floors representing the rich and fortunate nations of the world like the United States, Europe and oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The bottom floors might be closer to third world countries such as India, Sudan, or Guatemala.
As the assistant cruise director, Berman was fortunate enough to live on the top level, which meant he was the sole occupant of his nine by nine quarters. In the below decks, often times there were two or three to a room of that size or smaller. Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship is a very personal account of life on a cruise ship as crew, and contains an intimate look at what the life entails in a humorous style down to the bowel habits of the author. Since I am easily amused by bathroom humor and there were many parallels to life on an ice breaker, I identified with Berman which helped to make this an enjoyable read. The book also contains Crazy Cruise Trivia between chapters citing facts such as how much chicken, steak, and ribs may be consumed during the course of the day by the passengers. The book winds up with the Ten Commandments of Cruising:
- Get on, Live it up, Get off
- Get off the ship whenever you can
- Have Goals
- Eat out at every port
- Always be friendly to crew
- Avoid alcohol and gambling
- Don’t forget the passengers
- Enjoy the sea, moon, and stars
- Stay suspicious
- Develop a few close friends
Permanent Passenger: My Life On a Cruise Ship is a good book for someone considering working for the cruise industry because it gives an insider viewpoint. Of course, Berman’s perspective is that of someone who has one of the cushiest jobs on the ship. There might be a completely different perspective from someone who has served on a cruise ship as a member of the kitchen or cleaning staff. Another industry related book, Cruise Confidential, is written by someone who spent his stint as kitchen staff which provides an additional angle to life on a cruise ship. As lead petty officer on the ice breaker, I was in charge of the ships stores and my primary job functions occurred when we were in port, so I was known as a passenger by my shipmates. Hat’s off from one permanent passenger to another for pleasurable read.
Originally reviewed for the LL Book Review