Five Months


I’m constantly finding inspiration in the most unlikely of places.  It happens all the time, and unanticipated inspiration is very powerful.

We are (back) in Miami having successfully returned from our first “Disney Cruise” family vacation.  It was fun.  The kids had a great time and tomorrow we return home.

I had a very personally moving experience on the cruise.  It was equally poignant for Meghann.  I’ve been thinking about this blog post for the last 5 days (we had very little Internet on the cruise, so the blog has been simmering in my head).

I’ve been really struggling however about how to effectively write this post and share my feelings in a way that conveys sincerity, while giving due respect to the individuals I discuss.  It is a tough subject to write on, but I feel compelled to share.  Perhaps it will inspire some of you the way it inspired (and changed) me.

When you board a Disney cruise one of the first things you notice is that the staff all have name badges, with their country of residence noted underneath their name.  One of the things that Disney is very vocal about is the fact that over 100 different countries are represented on the ship.  You notice it very quickly.  The guy handing out sanitary wipes for the buffet is from Lithuania, the kid’s club attendants are from Australia, and England, the lifeguards are from Italy and Jamaica, etc, etc.

We were assigned three individuals who would play a particular role in our cruise experience, two servers (from Indonesia and the Philippines) who would serve us each night at an assigned dinning table (in rotating restaurants) and a stateroom attendant (also from the Philippines) who cleaned our room each day, provided our important cruise documents, and also gave us turndown service each night.

Disney has a set gratuity system that is automatic.  $12 per person, per day, is charged to your onboard account to be shared between these individuals (you can add more if you want as well).  In our case $60 per day for five days (since there are five people in our family and the cruise lasted five days).  My first thought, before we left, was “that seems like a lot”, and truthfully I was a little annoyed.  We paid a lot of money to go on this cruise, and I was suspect of any hidden fees that were going to pop up.

When we first met our three “special” cruise assistants, Meg and I thought they were pleasant enough, but we really didn’t think much more about them until about day three.  They did seem to be a little old for cruise staff (they all seemed our age, if not older).  I had always assumed that cruise ships were staffed by twenty somethings who were using the job to see the world.  By day three we had seen them around a lot, and they had been really going the extra mile in little things, so, like most decent people would do, we started to get to know them.

I was really moved, negatively and positively, when I learned about their circumstances

Now, I don’t want this post to turn negative, but the circumstances of their life and employment was really hard to take without getting emotional, and it made me feel really conflicted being on the ship, having them serve me and my family, and having a great time.

All of them had spouses and kids at home.  Not overly surprising, but still hard to deal with, especially given the fact that they were surrounded by kids, many of whom were from very affluent families (and many of whom also had the manners of cave people).    That wasn’t shocking, but what was truly shocking was the terms of their employment:

Five straight months at sea (or more depending on their contract).  Seven days a week.  No days off.  No time to port and see the world.  Thirteen hours of work every day.

What is interesting is that they were really reluctant to tell us this, and looking back at my sincere questions I really hope I didn’t make it uncomfortable for them by asking them details about their life.  By days four and five I felt like they were my friends.  We had spent hours together.  When they told me about their situation they didn’t complain, they didn’t feel sorry for themselves, or go on a rant about the Disney corporation, and they didn’t use their situation to make me feel bad so that I would increase my tips.

They each stated the facts, in a humble way, and went on serving me and my family with a smile, putting our needs first.

I don’t want to speak negatively about Disney. We had a great cruise.  I would recommend it to any family.  I also suspect that the pay that they receive, having that job, is very good, relative to the prospects that exist where they are from.  I also suspect that their job allows them to provide for their families in a way that they may not have been able to, had they not taken the job.  I sincerely believe that they were very happy to have the job that they did, and good for the Disney corporation for reaching out to people in various parts of the world to provide that opportunity.

The reality is that when Meg and I learned about their circumstances it created an internal conflict.  We both felt very guilty being served by them.  I almost felt embarrassed.  However, this was a vacation that we had worked hard to provide to our kids, and they were having a great time, which is something we felt happy that we could provide. 

Therein lies the conflict.

We do work hard to provide our family with good things.  We have worked very hard to build a business that provides good things, but seriously, 5 months without a day off?  I haven’t done anything like that before.

If hard work is the measure of who is being served, and who is doing the serving, I was the wrong guy sitting at the table.  I should have been serving them. 

But we are smart!  Aren’t we?  Don’t we deserve this?  Meg and I are educated professionals who have used our “smarts” and “education” to build a successful business.

Yes and no.

I can’t say I am any smarter than the two guys who were serving me, or the woman making up my room.  I had a massive advantage being born in Canada, with free health care and a good education system, and the ability get funding to go to school. Meg and I can’t say we would be university educated successful entrepreneurs if we were born in a poor area of the Philippines.

I didn’t do anything to deserve where I was born.  Neither did my servers.  It just happened.

Therein lies the conflict.  Any person who states that their success is entirely a product of their “hard work” is giving themselves too much credit.  5 months.  13 hour days.  Loved ones thousands of miles away (one of our servers had a 1 year old, and a four month old baby, and they Skyped every night).  No days off.  All earnings sent home.

That is hard work.  That is hard core work.  You have my respect.  You are an inspiration.  I wish I could have served you. Maybe one day I will have the chance. 

And all of it was done humbly, with a smile, sincerely serving people who are on a cruise, at least to some extent, because they were born into more favourable circumstances.

I hope that I can forever be sensitive to this fact, and be sensitive to people around me, in every capacity, who because of no fault of their own, were born into a situation that is more difficult than mine.  I hope that I can teach my children the same.




One comment on “Five Months”
  1. SueAnn Deeble says:

    Sometimes Ryan, There are no words. Thank you!

    SueAnn~ – Stick your nose in my business! – YUM!! – Making sophisticated fashion, easy and affordable!


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