More on Crew Accommodations

There was significant reaction to one aspect of my recent article about the Odyssey, so I thought I’d expand on it: how the crew is being treated on the first-ever Residential Cruising ship.

In that article, I said:

Villa Vie COO Kathy Villaba says the existing crew quarters on Deck 1 are “awful,” so the crew is being moved temporarily to Decks 2 & 3 so those cabins can be completely refreshed after departure. Residents who reserved or bought on those decks are being moved up to Deck 4 (a “temporary upgrade”).

The crew will have 8-hour shifts, not what is typical of regular passenger ships, where 12-hour shifts (not necessarily in a row!) are common, and days off rare. Our crew will be part of the community.

Industry Press Takes Notice

That’s unfortunately so radical that when the editor of Cruise Industry News read it, he saw fit to report on the concept (which is fine with me: he properly attributed it, quoted me by name, and linked back to the article): Villa Vie Odyssey: Reduced Shifts and Refreshed Cabins for Crew.

Several people on social media commented and asked questions, so I thought I’d expand on the crew accommodations. I believe it’s important that “Our crew will be part of the community.” (and so, apparently, did CIN.)

Better Crew Accommodations

The drydock tour included passing through the galley and a dining room, where workers (left) were being fed dinner. (Photos by Randy Cassingham unless noted.)

I believe our ship (the Odyssey), which was originally designed and built for regular cruise ship service, is fairly typical in its accommodations for crew: spartan. Crew cabins are not only small, but were designed to hold four crewmembers in bunk-like beds. That is likely only part of what piqued the interest of CIN, but also struck COO Kathy Villaba as “awful.” She’s a long-time veteran of cruise ship operations, so I’m sure she was already well versed in crew accommodations.

My guess is (no inside information on this, and I haven’t seen them), the crew quarters haven’t been remodeled or updated in many years, which contributed to their “awful” conditions.

So first, I understand that while they don’t have enough cabins to give every crewperson a private space, they’re remodeling the existing crew cabins to hold only two people, thus giving each double the space previous crews on this ship have had. That’s a big deal. Not to mention they’re all being mucked out and completely rebuilt so they’ll have a nice space.

Since I didn’t get down into the drydock I didn’t get a photo, so here’s one from the company taken that day. (Villa Vie Residences)

This is insider information: Villa Vie has decided that with our much lower passenger count, we residents didn’t “need” one of the bars, so they’re breaking it down, taking it below decks, and setting it up for crew-only use. That’s awesome!

I know that most recently-built cruise ships typically do have specific recreational space for crew, including a bar for off-duty crew use. (And remember, our crew will work 8-hour shifts, not 12, so they will have more time to relax and socialize.) But Odyssey didn’t have that, so Villa Vie is making it happen for them as part of the refurbishment into a Residential Cruising ship.

I understand that the company is not allowed to give crew free booze: they have to pay. But the company can provide it “at cost,” and if I understand correctly that’s what they’re doing.

The Bottom Line: To me, all of this provides great examples of Villa Vie completely redefining the cruise business. They’re not just paying attention to the residents (read: long-term customers), they’re treating the crew (read: long-term employees) well too. Plus, a happy, well-treated crew will be much more likely to provide great service for the residents, so it’s a great business decision too. I suspect getting a job on Villa Vie will be a prime placement for cruise crew professionals.

Not only is it important that “Our crew will be part of the community.” because they’ll take care of us, I’m far from the only resident who is looking out for the crew, too. Quite a few have said in the private forum that they want the crew to be well taken care of, in large part because we all believe they’re “part of the community.”

Aside: Executive Crew

With such a long-term cruise — each trip around the world takes 3-1/2 years! — how are they handling the command staff, such as the captain? Wouldn’t it be hard to find someone willing to work 3-1/2 years without a break?!

It would be near impossible: they thus started with two fully qualified captains: the first in charge, and his alternate, who will trade off their shifts each three months.

As it happened, when I did the drydock tour that led to the previous article, the prime captain’s three-month shift was over that day (he had been supervising the ship upgrades that have to do with operations and passenger safety), and his alternate had arrived. To conserve my energy I didn’t go with the rest of the attendees down into the drydock itself, so I actually had them to myself to talk with!

Capt. Jozo (left), me, and Capt. Val.

I asked them together what it was “really like” to work for Mike (CEO) and Kathy (COO). They were instant in their response: they loved their jobs, and they greatly respected Mike and Kathy. I was pleased when they suggested we all take a selfie together.

There was just one little hitch: the prime captain, Capt. Jozo, has five young children, and he didn’t like being away for so long at a stretch. A few days prior, he was surprised by a call from Disney Cruises offering him a job as a captain of one of their ships, commanding 5- to 7-day cruises in the Caribbean. He was given no time whatever to think about it: he had to say yes or no immediately. Thinking of his children, who are big Disney fans, he said yes.

Which also demonstrates the wisdom of having two fully-qualified captains on staff. Capt. Val was promoted to primary captain, and Mike and Kathy already have someone in mind for the second slot. Even if I knew who he (or she!) is, it’s not my place to announce it, and hopefully there will be no upset that I’ve revealed the personnel change.

16 thoughts on “More on Crew Accommodations”

  1. WOW! What a wonderful read. It’s great to see a change in how the crew members will be treated. I learned long ago that happy employees make for excellent service. The more I read about Villa Vie, the more I am impressed. With their attitude, I’m sure they’ll be the “cream at the top” of the industry in no time.

    I hope the both of you get back to feeling “up to snuff” soon. It’s great to follow y’all on your grand adventure. Keep’em coming.

    I am also impressed with them. They’re “on top” in that they’re so far in a field of one successful company among several other would-bes and failures, but I do think it’ll take a bit to catch up with them. I don’t think NCL (for instance) has the attitude necessary to compete in this space, but some other company might. -rc

  2. I second Kemper’s comments. Not only does good employee moral elevate customer service, it also creates less turnover.

    Although I’m not interested nor inclined to join a residential cruise, this up-close and personal, and even behind the scenes documentary you and Kit are presenting about this incredible journey is refreshing and a necessary break from negative reality!

    So thanks for bringing us along!! I foresee a National Geographic show in your future!

    Glad you’re finding it all interesting. I wouldn’t want to “star” in such a series, but I’d be happy to be a creative consultant. -rc

  3. Being the first out of the chute gives Villa Vie the ability to set the bar for the lines that follow, in terms of crew conditions. And those that don’t will find it very difficult to find crew members. Brilliant of them to realize the benefits of considering the crew part of the community, rather than simply expendable.

  4. I completely agree with the idea of treating the crew well. To me, it’s obvious that a well-treated crew is a happy crew & a happy crew will always provide better customer service. BRAVO to Villa Vie for not just realizing that but actually DOING something about it (i.e. many companies just pay lip service to the idea of treating their staff well but Villa Vie is actually making good on their claim — which is excellent).

    Thanks for taking us along on this journey, hope you’re both completely over your recent illnesses, and that things continue to go well with this adventure.

    Recovery is still slow. We’re hoping to feel great by the time we board. -rc

  5. As a fellow Villa Vie resident, I’m so happy that Kathy and Mike have made treating their employees well a priority. I hope that concept flows to all industries. Pun definitely intended — it is the only mindset that will float all boats!

  6. How will medical events be handled on this ship? I’m sure with your background, that was a consideration when signing up. Events that would put people in the ED on land — What will happen onboard? If there a full medical crew, access to emergency surgery or intervention if needed, prescription meds available?

    Yes. I will cover this in a later article, but cruise ships are required by law to have a doctor aboard, and presumably supportive staff. We will also usually be pretty close to land, and can be evacuated to a shore hospital if needed. -rc

  7. A great article. As a 30+ years cruise veteran, who spent most of it on board, I will share with all the founders and residents one simple insight/recommendation from my experience. Treat the crew well and your onboard life/experience will be as good as it can be. Greet them daily, get to know them personally, know their names, know their country, don’t talk politics and/or religion, don’t be judgmental, don’t act entitled, be polite, exercise patience, and think of them as an extension of your family and friends.

    Working on board a ship is challenging, daily, both physically and mentally, so, whenever you interact with any of the crew, try to put yourself in their shoes. Lastly, one of the biggest challenges you, the Founders and Residents will face, is to have to deal with “renters” who will have a different mindset than yours, and that is true to how they will treat the crew as well. So as Founders and Residents, you also hold that position as well. Other than that, ENJOY!!!

    Actually, that’s very insightful, Ram, and thanks for offering your experience as a crewmember of this ship in its first voyages in the 1990s. We indeed WILL have to “protect” our crew from the short-termers, and I for one pledge to stand up for them if a renter treats them rudely. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront of our attention. -rc

  8. So, how do I apply for a job, Randy? Could Villa Vie use a retired U.S. Navy deck officer? (footnote: I’ve been retired for 27 years….)

    It sounds like quite a great deal of fun but on thinking about it, maybe I should stay retired. My wife might not like the idea. (Can she come too?)

    Sure she can come — if you buy/rent a cabin!

    Like any new cruise startup, they are contracting with management companies to get their staff, such as a cabin “hotel” company, a cruise food company, a medical service company. As they go along, they’ll start taking things back in-house when they are confident can do it better than a generic contractor, and have the staff to do so. That said, they do have a place to upload a resume, but don’t seem to have a listing of openings. That will probably change over time.

    For someone seriously wanting to work at Villa Vie, I’d suggest calling or writing to ask who is in charge of whatever area you want to work in, and sending a resume directly to that person to express your specific interest and experience. -rc

  9. I know crew accommodations vary according to their role. Entertainment staff (social hosts, ice skaters, and probably singers / dancers) are two to a room. I’m assuming senior officers are single occupancy, while the lower status jobs have those four per room.

    I always assumed the ship would have more than one captain, and I figured crew would swap in and out, via the same kind of contract system. Much of a cruise ship crew is from third world or developing countries where good jobs are harder to get. I would imagine they’d go back to their home and families while not on contract. Upgrading the working conditions is really nice.

    I am unfamiliar with the vessel as a working cruise ship, but I kind of assumed that when converting it some of the amenities would be stripped out and repurposed. On most ships I’ve been on, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bar, but when it’s a lifestyle instead of a party vacation, you simply don’t need that many. Casino? No. Spa services greatly reduced.

    I am highly curious about entertainment on the ship. I wouldn’t expect nightly events (except maybe movies), and I almost feel most of it would be passenger organized. Maybe the kinds of things you’d see in community centers. Card / board game clubs, trivia events, and the like.

    Most of the answers will have to wait until I’ve seen what’s what, and what changes due to demand (or lack thereof). I will indeed report on it! -rc

    • Seriously Jeffrey, you had to write “you can’t swing a dead cat”? That’s so inappropriate, disgusting, and appalling. I’ve never heard this idiom before, but surely there’s a better term to use!

      In print, the idiom only goes back to 1665, and I have heard or read it hundreds of times. “The original phrase was probably ‘not room to swing a cat-o’nine-tails’,” (a weapon used for lashings of sailors), notes the Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms (2001), “and dates from the time when sailors were flogged on board ship. The floggings took place on the deck because the cabins were too small to swing a cat in.” That Jeffrey used it in relation to the interior of a ship makes it particularly apt. -rc

  10. Agree totally with Ram. As you know, Melody and I have had considerable experience with commercial cruising (full time for the past two years). And treating the staff well is part of our success in having such a wonderful time cruising. We become friends with many on the staff…. all the way up to captain in charge…treat them well… and tip service staff often. In return, we are treated like royalty…. and end up getting lots of perks that the usual cruisers often don’t get to enjoy… and frequently get priority treatment (even when we have not booked a “haven” or other first class accommodation). Villa Vie is doing things right. And Villa Vie Odyssey translates into “A spacious home… to live…. an amazing adventure”.

  11. Required viewing for all before boarding: Triangle of Sadness. Darkly funny, and once you get past a very gross dinner scene, things shift dramatically. Watch it for more appreciation of your staff.

    Have been meaning to ask how your allergies are.

    Hey, if I can laugh through the darkly funny very gross dinner scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, I should be able to enjoy that! But it’s definitely not going to happen before we board later this week. My allergies are enormously better, thanks! -rc

  12. Something to inquire about before all the ‘rules’ are set: resident access to the crew working areas. As an engineer by career I found the interworkings of ships fascinating. Larger ships (of my time, now medium to small) would allow tours of the bridge, galley (kitchen), and engine room only when docked. One trip on the Columbia River (Queen of the West) you could go to a visiting area in the engine room while underway (insurance reasons?). We learned about the two stage steam engine which drove the paddle wheel, how they parked it, and how they started it, and how the bridge signals worked. See what you can get if nothing but a change of scenery while at sea.

    I won’t really know right away. I am one of those people who really enjoys “behind the scenes” access, so if it’s available to me, I’ll be there. -rc

  13. Only been on one cruise (Alaska), we became friendly with an entertainer that did comedy/music shows in a piano bar. As an entertainer, he got his own room, and his wife could come with him on occasional weeks. Plus he was basically free when he wasn’t doing a show, and could go ashore when they were in port.

    But he was on the ship from March until November, and how many times do you want to see Ketchikan? And he told us the other staff really didn’t get days off, and no privacy, etc. I gathered most were from poorer countries making money to send home for their families, but there’s no way I could imagine myself doing it.

    And as to someone’s prior post about being nice to the staff, I couldn’t agree more. I always judge people by how well — or poorly — they treat people in the service industry.

    Yes, pretty much the same here. -rc

  14. 18 year cruise veteran here — crew can’t work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, unless responding to an emergency. MLC2006 states that the maximum working hours should be up to 77 per week. Each crew member should have at least 10 hours off time each day, separated in no more than 2 parts, one of which has to be at least 6 hours long.

    New cruise ships have accommodation for single and double occupancy for crew. Cabins for 4 are rare and it is a relic of old times — I’m currently in one of those on Norwegian Jewel but it is only 2 of us in it. New ships usually have single occupancy crew cabins that share a bathroom between them.
    All cruise lines I worked for had a crew bar, with Royal Caribbean being the best in that regard — we could buy drinks by glass or by bottle, at a significant reduction in price, usually cheaper than we could buy in Gift Shop, even with crew discount. My current cruise line offers a bit different approach, with only beer, wine and some light alcoholic drinks available and no hard liquor.

    But lets skip the topic of the food, because that one is a trip down the rabbit hole 🙂

    Well now I want to know about the food! -rc

  15. What is their tipping policy.

    The crew is fully compensated: no tipping is needed. If someone performs extraordinary service (and the standards are pretty high), there is no prohibition against passengers expressing their gratitude with a gratuity. -rc


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