7 Confessions of a Cruise Ship Bartender

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Spend as much time as we do on cruise ships, and you’re going to wind up chatting to your fair share of bartenders. And occasionally, they share a few details about life on the ship… and what it’s like slinging drinks to those of us sipping Bahama Mamas and mimosas in the sun.

Want to hear a few of their secret confessions and pet peeves? Read on.

1. It’s not all about the tips.

It's not always about the tip

On dry land, we all know that the fastest way to get service is by slipping the bartender a little cold, hard cash. And while that same trick will work on board, it turns out a friendly smile can have the same effect. “Some people can be rude,” said one, “so it’s nice when a customer takes the time to be nice.”

2. They remember their regulars.

Atrium at Carnival Sunshine
Guests want to be able to connect from wherever they are on a ship… including the Carnival Sunshine’s atrium.

Spend a week hanging out at the same bar onboard the ship, and you’re likely to walk away with some pretty fond memories of your favorite server. Turns out, they often have the same experience. And those memories definitely linger.

We watched in shock as one bartender enthusiastically greeted — by name — someone whom they hadn’t seen in nearly 18 months.

3. Many hated the infamous “cruise-to-nowhere” trips.

amazing view of the sea from the cruise ship

For a lot of cruisers, the ability to hop on a ship for a night — whether to try out a new vessel or just get away from the world for 24 hours — is something they missed since long-forgotten laws began to be enforced, bringing the practice to an end.

Many bartenders who were called upon to work those overnighters weren’t necessarily as sorry as we were to see them go. “People just wanted to get drunk,” one server told us, “and if they weren’t served fast enough, they got angry.”

4. If they’re slammed, don’t ask, “What should I get?”

Enjoying a delicious drink in a hot day
The Cheers! beverage package price increase affects shorter cruises

Bar menus listing the various specialty cocktails and their ingredients exist for a reason. Sure, the mixologists love pointing you in the right direction during slow times. But when there are others waiting to be served, they’d just as soon you know what you want.

“If I’m busy and they tell me just to make them something,” admitted one bartender, “I go with whatever our Drink of the Day is.”

5. They have a love/hate relationship with the drink packages most cruise lines offer.

norwegian cruise line drink package
Norwegian Cruise Line hikes the drink package price once again.

While on most lines, the packages make it easier for bartenders to process drink orders, the fact that gratuities are often added in advance has reduced the number of cash tips some of the staff receive. “When people have to sign for a drink, and you are standing there watching, they might feel like they need to add a dollar,” laughed one.

READ MORE: Carnival CHEERS! Drink Package Review

“Fewer people do that now, but more might give you a nice cash tip for the week.”

6. They really like their job.

crew member carnival horizon

Unsurprisingly, some drink makers have worked behind the same bars on the same ships for years: It’s a plum position. Not only do they get to meet all kinds of people and earn some pretty nice tips, but as one explained, “Everybody is nice to the bartender. They love us. We make them their happy juice.”

7. Many don’t use their real name.

Enjoying a cold drink at the bar
Among those being targeted are would-be bartenders, stewards, and servers.

After a week of addressing a bartender as “Lou,” we mentioned that the name didn’t really fit him. As it turns out, there was a reason for that: His actual name was far more difficult to spell and pronounce, especially for American cruisers, so he’d long ago opted for the nickname.

Another admitted that she, too, used a different name, explaining that as a private person, it felt odd having people addressing her by her given name.

She joked that after several years of being addressed by the name she’d created for herself, she was fairly sure even some crew members didn’t know her given name.

Photo: flickr/R.

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