Intro: Welcome to Crew Life at sea podcast. Here we will share the skills you need to make your experience and adventure out at sea a success, hear inspiring stories from the experienced crew, from all diversities, gain knowledge and know your rights. Be Part of the crew life at sea, and let’s welcome your host, Raymond Crystal.

Ray: Hello and welcome to crew life at sea. The only place where you can find useful information, advice, insights and resources to help inspire you to take that next step in working on a cruise ship. Welcome to today’s show ladies and gentlemen. Today we have with us a lady who really makes you feel good. No, not in that way, she massages you, she controls the spa, she does your nails for you, she’s the beautician, she controls everything when you’re done and out and you just want a good day in the oasis spa. So today I have with me mo-nee? How do you say it?

Man-Lee: Man-Lee.

Ray: Man-Lee, how are you?

Man-Lee: Good, you?

Ray: Good, thank you. So Man-Lee how is it to be a spa manager on board? Can you tell us what made you get to the sea? What made you become part of this world?

Man-Lee: Well I guess the first step was travelling, wanting to travel. And being a spa manager has its ups and downs, but it’s a good job, I like it. You can control what’s going on.

Ray: Okay, so what made you start ships?

Man-Lee: Okay so basically I wanted to travel, I used to only do nails. That’s all I did, 7 days a week, 8 hours a day. And yeah I just wanted something different. I still wanted to work with guests, I still wanted to be in the customer service so I went for the interview in Cape Town. You’ve got to do a trade test, and I got in.

Ray: So you do a little test?

Man-Lee: Yeah whatever your qualification is, you do a test in it, if you do hairdressing if you do fitness.

Ray: Physical or verbal?

Man-Lee: Physical yeah. They test you on public speaking because you have to do spa tours and things like that.  And yeah that’s how I got in. You go for training, some of us go to London for training, some of us stay in South Africa for training. I was fortunate to go to London for training. So you get to see a bit of the world, so that is what I wanted to do, I wanted to see the world. And I wanted to earn money at the same time.

Ray: Of course, you get paid to see the world for free. Did they pay for your flights and everything to the UK?

Man-Lee: No. So there’s always a catch. So it all sounds nice in the interviews until the costs come, slowly. And once you’re in it you can’t get out of it, because once you’ve spent the first amount of money, you have to stick it out. You pay for your own flights, your own medical, sea survival, visas, everything.

Ray: Did you actually get the money back from work wise?

Man-Lee: From working yeah, probably. Well, I made it back over a few contracts, but it depends on the ships yeah.

Ray: So what does a spa manager actually do on board then?

Man-Lee: So basically you oversee the spa, you make sure the guest is happy, you make sure the beauty therapist, the hairdresser, the fitness instructor, the massage therapist does their job the way they’re supposed to do. You make sure all the paperwork is done, everybody is following company procedure and company policies. You make sure the girl’s appearances are to standards, 5 stars or 6 stars like we used to say.

Ray: Of course, so you can get those men who walk in and say honey I’m just going to the spa to get a massage, okay dear.

Man-Lee: And of course you deal with all the complaints because once you shut the door of the spa, your job is not over yet. It just starts again in the morning.

Ray: And the uniforms? How’re the uniforms? Do you have to wear uniforms with the spa?

Man-Lee: Yeah, in the beginning, we had very s**t uniforms. But now we have awesome uniforms. Very fitted. Very professional, doesn’t get stained. And the girls love it.

Ray: So have you ever encountered any men trying to get funny in the massage room?

Man-Lee: Oh yeah, all the time. But yeah you deal with that, if they do that, you just walk out the treatment room, no questions asked.

Ray: But if you’re a new hire, you don’t. You just stick around and hang around like Preston. We had a guy Preston, he was a new hire, and it happened to him, but he decided to stay. I would have left the room immediately. So you’ve encountered it right?

Man-Lee: Yeah, you get those. The other day I got someone saying, “I like women, and there are no women on board, I just want someone to cuddle with”, and I was like I need to get this guy out of here.

Ray: So do you also have any crew members under you? How do you handle your crew? Do you have any issues with them? Because as a manager it is a bit challenging.

Man-Lee: Yeah it’s a bit challenging but I must say I have a very good team, I have 5 people under me so I have 2 beauty therapists, a massage therapist, a fitness instructor and a hairdresser. They work really well together, they follow orders, yeah I’m very happy with them.

Ray: Have you ever had a bad team?

Man-Lee: Oh yeah. The ones that don’t want to work, the ones that are seasick the minute you leave the port. You leave the port at 6, 1 minute past 6, they’re sea sick. So you get those.

Ray: So what do you do? Do you give them a chance?

Man-Lee: You give them a warning, you sign a warning, I don’t care what you do after that.

Ray: Yeah there’s a limit right.

Man-Lee: Exactly.

Ray: So can you tell me what parts of your job you find most challenging?

Man-Lee: The management above me, because they don’t understand how our job works, and they always think they know better. But I just want them to come to sit there for one day, the whole day and just experience what we experience. There’s always something, and they’re just shouting from above. I don’t know where they think the money is coming from that we’re making.

Ray: Their time will come one day and they will see, because I remember when I was an assistant it was like look at this manager, they do nothing, they just boss me around, they do this. But we’re the ones who have to have the meetings if we don’t make certain revenues. Somebody has to do it. But these youngsters, they don’t really know, because most of them are youngsters when they get hired in the spa, the new people are fresh and they don’t know much.

Man-Lee: Exactly, so you have to train them and make sure they’re up to company standards. And the people and bosses in the office, they don’t see this. They’re just sitting there saying why is there no money coming in? well, it’s because probably when we’re doing the crossing, we only have 180 people on board.

Ray: Yeah they don’t see that. So tell me a little bit about your hours of work and how do you schedule your day?

Man-Lee: So normally in a perfect world you finish at 20:00, but in the spa world you finish anywhere from 21:30, 22:00. You start at 07:30 maybe 08:00 in the morning.

Ray: So you start at 07:30 in the morning, all the way up to 20:00?

Man-Lee: Yeah, so you work 07:30 sea days, 08:00 board days. But you work on 6-star ships until 20:00. On a big ship, you’re going to work until 22:00. But even with us on a 6-star ship you work until 21:30 or 22:00 in the evening, so you have 1-hour lunch, 1-hour dinner. And then if you have a nice manager, they give you extra time off.

Ray: Yes, you have a very good manager here. She gave them all a night off which is very unique because you don’t get that often. You don’t get somebody who gives you a night off so I must say they’re very lucky, they’re going to be crying when you leave this ship. I can tell you now. So living on board can be extremely tough you know, with these little accommodations. Can you tell us a little about your space and benefits? Your accommodation space and benefits?

Man-Lee: Well I guess you have benefits on board, but you can’t really f**king use them, can you? You’re supposed to have single cabins, but you’re sharing a cabin with someone who works different hours than you, and just waking you up in the night, and making noise.

Ray: That’s a whole other episode about cabin mates. Let me tell you, nobody understands until you actually have it. It’s so difficult, you know I thought, I and you are not supposed to have sharing cabins but because it’s a small ship they normally put us in sharing cabins, and they don’t think about who they put us with, it’s just like you go there, you go here.

Man-Lee: And I live between the singers, and they sing the whole day. They pretend like they’re the only people living in the corridor because they get to sleep during the day while I work, and in the evening when I need to sleep, they’re having a party.


Ray: I stayed in the cabin next to the singer and every day I hear the guy come in and go lalalala. He was testing his voice.

Man-Lee: Yeah. When she starts singing I’m like I’m going to knock this wall anytime now.

Ray: Yeah it’s difficult because we want to sleep and they’re these happy little happy people going on. These are the things you will not find out until you get on the ship or you listen to these podcasts. They will learn it eventually. So knowing what you know now in your life if you could change one thing in your career, what would it be? And why?

Man-Lee: To be honest, with all the negativity, nothing, because I like my job, I deal with the stuff that’s coming my way. I have a very wise person telling me to stay away from negative people.


Ray: That’s right. Remove your distractions. That’s the best thing in life. If you are near bad people, you are going to get that bad feeling. But if you are with happy people and always people that are loving life, then you’re going to love life, you’re going to be happy. I suffered a long time ago, I was around bad people and I never saw this. It’s the laws of attraction.

Man-Lee: Yeah so nothing, I like travelling, I like to see the places, I love my job. I just think there’s somewhere where it has to come to an end.

Ray: No, I’m near there also so I understand exactly where you’re coming from. So imagine your toughest day you’ve ever experienced at sea, and I’m sure you’ve had lots, now tell me how it was? And how you got through it?

Man-Lee: My toughest day. Well, the toughest day is probably inventories.

Ray: Do you have to do it alone?

Man-Lee: No. I have my team doing it, but you have to recount everything, and there’s like five million stuff in the spa. And then you have people coming from outside, and then you have to count it again, they’re seeing if you’re counting it right.

Ray: So stock take is a big challenge hey?

Man-Lee: You work until 02:00 or 03:00 in the morning.

Ray: I did a stock take many years ago back in South Africa when I was like just looking for a job, and they were like hey come take stock. And it was this warehouse and I was like what the hell? And I’d just sit there counting bolts and all these things all day and I was like this is bull.

Man-Lee: And you have to count nail polishes, who wants to count nail polishes?

Ray: The smaller the product the harder right?

Man-Lee: Yeah, I’d rather go through difficult clients than do stock taking ever in my life again. I can handle difficult people.

Ray: Yeah because you’ve experienced it, but you can’t handle counting. Some people it’s just what you don’t like. So you’ve worked on big and small ships, right?

Man-Lee: No, only small ships.

Ray: Well good for you, because on big ships you would be lost because on there it’s times ten what you’ve got to count there. So another thing, your negatives and positives of your job more or less?

Man-Lee: The negatives are normally just the people in the office not knowing what’s going on on board. The positive side is that you’re actually, the people you meet on board they’re actually like your family, so even if you’re having a bad day there’s always someone to cheer you up, or someone just walking in the spa and making you laugh even if you don’t want to.

Ray: You see that’s good on the small ships because you get to become a family, this is a good thing. But on the big ship, it’s not like that

Man-Lee: I can imagine, I’ve heard so many stories, people are just not happy on big ships.

Ray: Because just picture it, 1400 or 1500 crew members and the ships huge, you walk around and just meet. And what happens normally on the big ships is South Africans will stick with South Africans, the Philippines will stick with the Philippines. And it’s not family orientated like that.

Man-Lee: That’s why I always say when there’s like new girls coming in the spa, they’re like oh this is a small ship, I don’t want to be here. It’s better to start on a small ship, then you can decide from there if you want to go on a big ship because on a small ship you can get more experience, it’s not so busy.

Ray: When I started on a small ship, I was actually, in the beginning, like ah I don’t want to be here, but after a couple of weeks, like 6 weeks I started to fall in love with it, I know everybody, everybody knows me so.

Man-Lee: Yeah, even the hairdresser I have now, she came in, and was like I really want to go on a big ship, my friends are having so much fun. That was the first week. Now today she was like ah you’re leaving and I really don’t want to get transferred. Because if I’m leaving and the new hairdresser is manager, then she’s going to get transferred. Because she’s like I’ve heard so many horror stories now about the big ships, it’s not as fun as I thought it’s going to be.


Ray: yeah and on there’s it’s harder to do things because there’s so many. Here it’s small, they let you do many things so they both have got their goods and their bads. So what positive feedback would you offer towards people who are trying to get into this line of work? Remember positive hey

Man-Lee: It’s a good way to travel, it’s a good way to earn money, you get to experience different cultures, you get to experience different food, you get fat when you go on port every day. It is a really good life, and if you get a good ship like you said we become a family on board.

Ray: So you’ve been at sea for 4 years now, so this is the big question I ask everybody, tell me the most shocking thing you have ever encountered or seen in your career at sea? I’ve had some cool stuff. What is the most shocking or craziest thing you will never forget what happened to you or you’ve seen in your career at sea? It can be fire, it can be sex, there must be something.

Man-Lee: Yeah, well the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen was 2 guests that had sex in the sauna, just opened it.

Ray: And when you went in, what did they do?

Man-Lee: Oh sorry, and they just carried on. And that was like, okay? And walking out of there as if nothing happened. Hi bye, see you tomorrow. Yeah, that was the most shocking thing.

Ray: This has happened to somebody before on one of my podcasts, she walked in, they were having sex, and they just carried on, they said just put the food down there thank you, and they carried on doing their lie down. Maybe it’s just a holiday thing, when you go on holiday you can just do it in front of anybody, nothing stops you, because this is the second time, maybe I don’t know. I’m going to have to try this, I’m going to have to go on a cruise and see what happens. I would be like um sure alright excuse me. So has worked at sea changed your life?

Man-Lee: Yeah, definitely.

Ray: I love to ask those questions because I know the answer but I just love to ask it. Okay, the favourite port of call?

Man-Lee: Mykonos in Greece. 

Ray: Oh the blues and the whites.

Man-Lee: Yes, and the people are just so vibrant there.

Ray: Have you had the gyros?

Man-Lee: No, well we’re going there.

Ray: Oh okay, so when you get there you have a sort of gyro, it’s like a piece of bread like a pizza bread with the meat inside and tzatziki and it’s in a wrap and they put a few chips inside and salad, it’s a big wrap. Amazing. It’s really nice, you should try that. So Mykonos hey? What do you do when you get there? Do you just walk around and look at the shops? And have you been to the other side?

Man-Lee: No, I have not this time.                  

Ray: It’s a good place, I like Mykonos, so Santorini is similar but it’s up to the mountain.

Man-Lee: Yeah, I like Mykonos more than Santorini.

Ray: Yeah, I don’t like Santorini because I see them bullying and beating the donkeys. And they still have to go up this, it’s so high.

Man-Lee: Yeah, like you don’t want to piggyback someone up there, so why do you want to do this to the donkey?

Ray: So you’ve been at sea for 4 years, what makes you keep coming back?

Man-Lee: The people, definitely the people. Definitely, still, some places I still wanted to see. But yeah mostly the people.

Ray: So that means you would recommend working on a cruise line?

Man-Lee: Yeah, definitely. It changes you, you become so independent, you become such an easy going person like nothing major starts bothering you anymore. You become a better person, because you experience a lot of different personalities, like the different cultures. When I go home, I’m like this is a small thing, there are bigger things in life to worry about.

Ray: Yeah I feel sorry about the people who don’t even get to leave their country. I don’t know how. Just imagine you never left your country and your still stuck there at this age. You wouldn’t have a clue, just TV.

Man-Lee: I would encourage everybody to do this.

Ray: I would encourage even my daughter, my son, anybody, I don’t have a son, but if I had a son. Ones enough for now thanks. So is there anything else you might think of or anything you’d like to say before we end off? Nothing special?

Man-Lee: No, I would just say life at sea is good, it has its ups and downs, you have to be prepared to go through a lot of shit, but it’s worth it. This is my last time because I fell in love and that’s the only reason I’m going home. So it’s not my call to go home.

Ray: I just hope you don’t go back home and after a couple of months or years you need cash and come back again because that does tend to happen, it’s the easy way.

Man-Lee: If you’re coming on board for the money, save up. That’s the only thing.

Ray: It’s easy to save because you don’t have to pay for anything.

Man-Lee: Exactly.

Ray: Well thank you for being on my show, it has been amazing having you, I always wanted to have a spa manager on board, you’re our first spa manager which we have interviewed. I’d like to thank you so much and at least we know that you’re going to be safe and sound back home in your country, all cuddled up with your loved one. Thank you so much, ciao darling.

Man-Lee: Thank you.           

Outro: Thanks for listening to Crew life at sea podcast. Want any of your questions answered? Send us an email Thank you for being a part of our adventure at sea.