I read and loved this book by Brian D. Bruns, who has the distinction of being one of the only Americans to ever work a full contract waiting tables on a Carnival Cruise ship. What one will do for love is always surprising!
Ever wonder what it’s like to work as a waiter on a cruise ship?
Mar 28, 2011 (Updated Apr 20, 2011)
Review by knotheadusc in Books
Pros:Very well-written and funny. Offers a unique perspective of a truly thankless job.
Cons:May be a little insulting to some Americans, especially if they cruise Carnival.
The Bottom Line:You may never look at cruising in quite the same way again.
So, a couple of days ago, I reviewed a book by Jay Herring called The Truth About Cruise Ships. I was so interested in reading about Herring’s experiences fixing computers for Carnival Cruise Lines that I decided to look for a similar book. That’s when I found Brian Bruns’ 2008 memoir Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline. Like Jay Herring, Brian Bruns is an American who worked for Carnival Cruise Lines. Unlike Jay Herring, Bruns was not hired to be an officer on a cruise ship. In fact, as of 2008, Brian Bruns has the distinction of being the first and perhaps the only American in Carnival Cruise Lines’ history to last an entire eight month contract working as a crew member in the dining room. Having had some experience with restaurant work myself, I was pretty curious about Bruns’ experiences, which I could only imagine were mostly insane. Naturally, I had to download the book on my Kindle and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.
Why Brian Bruns submitted to the torture of waiting tables for Carnival…
People do strange things for money. And there are plenty of hardworking folks from all corners of the world who would love to work on a cruise ship. The work is extremely intense and the living conditions are difficult, but the money can be very good for people who hail from some of the poorer countries in the world. By contrast, most Americans would find cruise ship pay to be too low, especially for the vast amount of work staff members must do and the long hours they are expected to be on the job. Consequently, people who hail from “first world” countries like the United States usually have a tough time of cruise ship life and don’t stick around for long.
Brian Bruns decided to work for Carnival for reasons other than money. He chose to work for Carnival, and specifically in food service, because of his Romanian girlfriend, Bianca, who was a head waitress. Bruns was madly in love with Bianca and never hid the fact that he wanted to be with her. So as a man in his late 20s who had already been married, divorced, and had started and lost his own company, Bruns felt ready to accept the Carnival challenge. He’d had years of experience working in fine dining and was young and healthy. The lure of the seas beckoned him. And when he was interviewed for the job, Carnival promised that he would be working his way up to management… a promise that turned out to be as empty as Bruns’ stomach apparently often was.
Hindsight is 20/20
Off Bruns went to “Carnival College”, an intense training program for new hires in food and beverage. He spent a month among other Carnival employees from all over the world learning all about serving Americans on cruise ships. He aced the training and was sent to the Conquest, which was where his beloved Bianca worked. But Bruns soon found his new job to be so intense and all encompassing that he never got to spend any time with Bianca. In fact, Bruns’ experiences gave him an inside view of just how political and crazy working on a cruise line can be, especially if you’re an American.
I really enjoyed Cruise Confidential. In fact, for many reasons, I think it’s superior to Jay Herring’s book,The Truth About Cruise Ships. First of all, Brian Bruns is a much better writer than Jay Herring is. He’s very funny and engaging and has a real knack for dialogue. I got a great sense of who he was as well as his co-workers. Jay Herring is a competent writer, but Brian Bruns is a very talented writer, and that makes a huge difference.
Second of all, while Herring had some wild stories about fixing computers for staff members, Bruns had some wild stories about the passengers, as well as the Carnival staff members’ attitudes about the passengers. As the lone American working in food and beverage, Bruns’ co-workers often forgot about his nationality and were very candid about their opinions of Americans. Let’s just say, they often weren’t very flattering and, from what I could tell by Bruns’ stories, I could definitely see where they came from. Of course, having worked in a restaurant or two myself, I have plenty of my own stories about obnoxious customers, most of whom were American, but a few of which were not. But my stories pale miserably in comparison to the stories Bruns relates about Carnival Cruise Lines’ dining rooms. Yikes!
I think Brun’s experiences working in food and beverage made for much more compelling reading than Herring’s experiences fixing computers, particularly since his experiences were so unique. Besides getting a different view of Americans, Bruns also learned a whole lot about other people from around the world and passes that knowledge on to his readers.
Finally, I admire Bruns’ spunk and apparently, so did the people he worked with. He had a lot of friends, probably owing to his marvelous sense of humor and ability to keep cool in a crisis. In one section, he relates the story of a morbidly obese family from Alabama who nearly drove him and his female Romanian assistant (not Bianca) crazy with their insane food orders. The Romanian waitress had referred to overweight Americans as “cow-people”. She stereotypically pointed out that Americans were too fat, too stupid, and too nice, and in order to satisfy them, all you had to do was give them food. While I know that the Romanian waitress’s categorization was not entirely accurate, I could see it as accurate given the fact that she was working for Carnival, which tends to be one of the cheapest cruise lines out there and perhaps attracts the less cultured segment of American society. Anyway, this morbidly obese family was so heavy that four out of the six of them had to use scooters to get around because they couldn’t walk. They had no qualms about ordering several entrees each. I am no skinny mini myself, but I can’t even fathom eating that much. Having waited tables and knowing how hectic and dangerous it can be, I cringed for the the poor Romanian waitress in Bruns’ story as she dealt with that disastrous group as I cheered for Bruns as he handled the situation when it really went south.
If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to work on a cruise ship and why it’s so important to tip the staff, I definitely think Cruise Confidential is worthwhile reading. Brian Bruns had me captivated from page one and I literally had a hard time putting his book down once I started reading it. Five stars from me!
For more information: http://briandavidbruns.com/
Edited to add: This review is for the first of four books in a series. I have read and enjoyed all four!