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Norwegian Workers Come First

While cruise lines are famous for bragging rights when it comes to innovations, and without keeping score, it seems to us that Norwegian leads the league in firsts. Going right back to 1966, when the "Norwegian Caribbean Line" first came up with low-cost Caribbean cruises that now dominate cruise-line itineraries.

Other firsts have been well-documented — Freestyle Cruising is probably the biggie — and now Norwegian has claimed it is once again leading the charge.

This one? International Standards for Seafarers.

This week, Norwegian claims to be the first cruise line to be certified and in compliance with the International Labor Organization's Maritime Labor Convention. Why should you care?

Well, first of all, because it protects people who work on cruise ships by giving them comprehensive rights to working conditions. So as people who care about humanity, it is our moral responsibility. And anybody interested in cruising has heard too often about how crew members are (allegedly) taken advantage of, specifically when it comes to wages and sometimes living conditions.

Secondly, if the crew members are happy doing their jobs, the customers benefit. Rarely have we met a crew member who didn't appear to be happy serving food or making beds, so it's kind of part of their job descriptions. Having standards to be enforced at least means they don't have a reason to fake it.

Sometimes cruise lines get a bad rap for treatment of crew members. We've met several who climbed the ladder in a company when perhaps, by citizenship, they weren't expected to be promoted. Do a good job, expect a promotion. Isn't that the way of the working world? Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and — yes — Norwegian quickly come to mind.

There are an estimated 1.2 million seafarers at work on the sea and the new labor standards will force all cruise lines to comply. The 17,000 crew members on Norwegian ships fall under the Maritime Labor Convention now, and they work for the first cruise line to implement the standards.

Is anybody surprised?

Carnival Sunshine
16 nights
November 1, 2013
BarcelonaPalma de MallorcaMalaga, Las Palmas, Grand TurkNew Orleans
Inside: $479
Cost per day: $29
www.carnival.com

Kevin Sheehan: NCL's Uncovered Boss

We’re not exactly reality TV people. To us, reality meant non-fiction. A good book maybe…a biography. Real life, right? Then along came “reality TV” for which there was originally no definition. The next thing we knew, people were doing all kinds of bizarre things in the name of competition and calling it “reality TV.”

Reality? Really. How many of your neighbors do all kinds of bizarre things in the name of competition? Don’t answer that.

However, we digress. Put “cruising” and “reality” on the same flatscreen, we’re there. And so last night, we were there, to see the head of a cruise line (Norwegian) mingle anonymously — while suitably disguised — with his workforce on two Norwegian ships.

Okay, so this was the first time we’d watched Undercover Boss (CBS). No episode comparisons. No critique of the show.

In case you missed it (and as a cruiser why would you?), here’s a snapshot of what transpired and what made it so interesting:

• News flash…no more ice skating on NCL ships. After Sheehan helped an employee named Jessica with the laborious job of setting up 60-pound panels that made an ice rink, nobody showed up to skate. “That is dead as of now,” said the boss.

• Undercover Boss uncovered…Silvia, a server in the Manhattan Room (the Epic’s main dining room) recognized the boss right away. She had once served him in the Epic Club, and remembered. Taken into his confidence, she played along, as one of the four employees who interacted most with the company CEO-in-disguise.

• New York, New York…John, who’s from Brooklyn, pushed Kevin, who’s from Manhattan, into chipping rust off pipes and paint railing all the way around, and was unruffled when he discovered late in the show who “Peter Francis” really was.

• The Dancing King…Michael, a member of the Epic cruise staff, taught the boss how to dance so that the boss could teach 1,000 guests at the White Hot Party that night. Neither succeeded but, in trying to find out more about his select employees, Sheehan discovered that Michael’s mother died of brain cancer and that he had raised $20,000 in her memory.

• In case you’re wondering how these employees didn’t figure this out with TV cameras following them around (we did), they were told it was a televised competition between two men vying for one job, and all of them seemed to buy it, except Silvia. if they didn’t buy it, they should quit cruising and go into acting.

• Best line of the show…In learning how to strap people in for rock climbing, the neophyte boss waited while a woman pulled the strap through her legs before quipping: “Thank goodness I stopped, I was almost going to handle that part.”

• Lessons learned…that promotions are slow for NCL employees, that they should be rewarded for loyalty, that eight-month contracts would help avoid missing seven straight Christmases at home, that the work is harder then the boss knew. “I have an even greater respect for our crew since I’ve walked in their shoes,” he said.

• Television rewards…after throwing away the cover, the boss enlisted Jessica in a management training program, made Michael an assistant cruise director on the Epic, sent John, his wife and newborn daughter on a cruise out of “Brooklyn” with his parents, and arranged for the Epic’s new assistant head waiter Silvia to have her upcoming wedding on a Norwegian ship.

All were clearly moved.

Maybe there is something to reality TV.

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