Romancing the Crew

You are, at last, on the cruise you've worked and saved for, and the romantic ambience is overwhelming.

It's formal night, you're dressed in your finest, the band is playing a love song, and you've had a few glasses of champagne and feeling all warm and bubbly.

You're standing out on the deck, the warm sea breeze caressing your face like a lover's gentle hand. And a full moon bathes the wine-dark ocean in liquid silver, the stars glittering like diamonds in the velvet cloak of night.

But, alas, there is one huge problem--you're all alone. You traveled solo, and suddenly that seems like a terrible thing.

Then, like in the dreams you've had nightly since booking the cruise, a handsome stranger steps from the shadows and into the moonlight. He's wearing a white uniform, because he's an officer--a crewmember--and he's asking if you'd like to dance. So you go back inside to the lounge, and he holds you close, he buys you more champagne. And the next thing you know you're back on the deck, but this time you're walking hand in hand, kissing, embracing, and talking about spending the rest of the week together.

Sounds like the perfect ending to your dream cruise, right? Well, if you're among the rare few who find genuine romance among the crew, perhaps it is. Unfortunately, however, such a scenario is often the beginning of a sure path to a broken heart.

Your "dream" man might not be an officer. Perhaps it's that cute waiter that hovered over you at your dining table. Or it might even be the member of the cruise staff who spotted you at the lifeboat drill the day you sailed.

But whether in or out of uniform, these guys are still crew members who sail on the love boats week in and week out, and you can bet your bikini that nine times out of ten, you're like the motto stamped on U.S. coins-- "e pluribus unum", which is Latin for "one of many."

Okay, so it sounds cynical. After all, love can happen, right? A Norwegian Captain divorced his wife in Norway to marry an American passenger and live happily after. A band member left to wed a rich widow in Texas. A few waiters and cabin stewards have found American wives.

But success stories are few and far between, and more and more lately the cruise industry is frowning, and, in some cases, forbidding, crew members to socialize with passengers for several reasons. According to what the Chief Engineer on one ship confided to me, on three separate occasions within a year, a female passenger (different women each time) invited an officer into her cabin and into her bed. Purposely leaving the door unlocked, her husband walked in, video camera in hand, to catch the couple in a situation that would have been extremely embarrassing to the cruise line had there been a lawsuit. In each instance, a quiet, but large, settlement was made.

The officers involved in the above situations were subsequently fired, because it is explicitly forbidden on all cruise lines for crewmembers to enter a passenger's cabin unless they have an official reason to do so. As for passengers entering crewmembers' cabins, most cruise lines take the attitude they do so at their own risk. However, officers are usually the only ones with private cabins.

I personally know of a female passenger who met an officer onboard, and, after a torrid romance for the duration of the cruise, they communicated regularly by mail and by phone. After a time, he stopped writing, and, eventually, heart aching, so did she. A year later, she went onboard a different cruise ship but owned by the same company and came face to face with the officer, who had been transferred to that ship. She was, of course, crushed, when he did not recognize her.

Then there was the Saturday I was at Pier One in Miami a bit early. I witnessed a crewmember kissing a female passenger goodbye as she left the terminal. A half-hour later, he was back, this time to greet an old girlfriend coming onboard for her cruise.

Another story someone shared with me was about a girl who dared think her shipboard romance would eventually lead to marriage. After all, the officer had been to visit her went he went on vacation. She maxed out her credit cards cruising with him as often as possible. Then one day he called a friend of hers to ask that she be the one to break the news that he was marrying another girl he'd met onboard who was now pregnant with his baby.

On some cruises a priest or minister is a member of the crew to lead religious services and offer spiritual help when needed. One working on a large ship told me he probably got more lovelorn mail than Ann Landers. It seems when starry-eyed women don't hear from their cruise-long lovers, they write to him in desperation to ask if he can find out the reason.

In all fairness, however, it must be said that it isn't always the crewmembers that break hearts. I've talked to many who complain about the married woman who comes onboard, sans wedding ring, with girlfriends and commences to party-hearty, taking the attitude that what happens onboard stays on onboard. They make the crewmember think they're falling in love, then walk down the gangplank and back to reality without a second thought. They give wrong phone numbers and false addresses, and it's the crewmember that feels like a fool.

Again, however, it must be said that some shipboard romances do work out. In my own case, I met and married a Norwegian officer, and the marriage lasted nearly fifteen years. He left the ship when we married or it probably wouldn't have. During the course of our engagement I saw too many married officers fooling around. After all, these guys are at sea 4-5 months at the time, and too many women fall under a romantic spell when they go onboard and make themselves available.

But, all in all, when it comes to romancing the crew, just keep in mind that sometimes the only difference between a one-night stand and a weeklong cruise is six nights.

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