17 April, 2024

Lessons Learned on a Cruise Ship

by | 16 February, 2024 | 0 comments

By Dale Reeves 

My wife and I recently were fortunate to be able to sail the western Caribbean and help her parents celebrate their 25th cruise on the seas. Twenty-five cruises! Yep, that’s my awesome in-laws!  

The family time spent drinking hot chocolate and eating pizza late every night was an experience we will always remember. Basking in the tropical sun while it was frigid up north, visiting port towns we’ve never been to before, listening to great music, and dancing to some of my favorite songs all made it an enjoyable week for us—notwithstanding a few days of cold and choppy seas.  

Besides making wonderful family memories, I loved interacting with the crew comprised of a diverse community of nationalities aboard the Carnival Glory. From the chefs, servers, and restaurant hosts to our room steward, Sarafina, to the entertainers, engineers, hotel and cruise director, there are more than 75 different nationalities working aboard the ship. That is why one of Carnival’s themes is, “The world works here.” 

On our cruise, about 1,200 crew members served approximately 2,900 guests, ensuring vacationers had a relaxing and pampered time. Those who serve meals or clean cabins work very long days, and they all look forward to their time off. Each crew member signs a six- to nine-month contract. That’s a long time to be on the seas, away from family.  

I had the chance to talk with several crew members about how they build community aboard ship.  

One morning our room steward apologized for showing up at our room a little later than normal.  

“We had a crew party last night, and I partied a little too late,” Sarafina said. “We enjoy getting to have these times at night with our friends.”  

Building community is essential to our spiritual journey in the church. It is also invaluable for people who are away from family members for months at a time. 

I asked our cruise director, Cam, “How do you build community with the crew while aboard ship?”  

“I really believe that attitude reflects leadership,” he responded. “We work hard on our attitudes, and we have team engagement specialists who help with HR issues, teaching other languages to crew members, helping them apply for other jobs that come up, and other things. Management teams tend to stay on the same ship for two years to build continuity within the team. 

“We are like a little city at sea and become our own little family.” 


Ubuntu is an African concept that derives from the Zulu and Xhola languages. The idea is that of “humanity to others,” embodying the virtues that help maintain harmony and a spirit of sharing. It can be described in a sentence, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” 

One evening as one of my new friends, Kuda, was serving our family in the Golden Restaurant, we talked about Ubuntu.  

Kuda Vokoto and I immediately hit it off. The Zimbabwean is my “brother from another mother.” We couldn’t wait to see each other every evening and enjoy a warm embrace before I sat down to eat and he proceeded to serve.  

After dinner one night, I asked Kuda about his concept of community on board. 

“First of all,” he said, “everybody to me is family. If we’re connected, we’re friends, regardless of where we’re each from. Aboard ship, we share laughter, we hang out together, and we enjoy our time together even if we have long shifts! We look forward to it!” 

At dinner one night, I met Kuda’s cousin, Farai Mandizvidza, who is also from Harare, Zimbabwe. Farai is a junior restaurant host on his second contract with the cruise line. He is an extreme extrovert like me. I asked him what kinds of things they did to foster community aboard ship.  

“As crew members, we have our own network,” he said. “We have crew parties, play games together, listen to music, and other things for us to be together as one. If one of our crew members receives bad news from their home, we are there for them. We try to be family to each other. Some team members actually communicate with other crew members’ families—even though they’ve never met them!” 

While working on my laptop in a lounge area one day, I met Stella, another friend from Zimbabwe. She works hard cleaning the ship. Stella asked me what kind of work I was doing. After we shared some life together, and she told me she was homesick, I asked if I could pray for her, and I continue to do so. She is working to become a nurse’s aide. She said to me, “Don’t forget to forward a word or Sunday sermons here and there when you can.” 


During cruises, my wife and I enjoy opportunities for some fun excursions while at each port. We’ve been fortunate enough to go whale watching, ride in a helicopter, land on a glacier in Alaska, drive a dog sled, bask on white sand beaches, and have many other fun outings. For this cruise, we signed up with an outfit called Native Way for a three-hour boat excursion in the beautiful aquamarine waters surrounding Grand Cayman Island. There we met our captain, Everton, who grew up in Jamaica but now steers a ship along with his crewmate, Dave. They treated us to an unforgettable adventure—snorkeling while stingrays swam beneath us. We then got to hold starfish and stingrays. I even kissed one! 

Everton is something of a celebrity—he has appeared with his girlfriend, Jordan, on 90 Day Fiancé—but he and Dave went above and beyond to make sure that our family had a wonderful experience aboard their boat. They helped my mother-in-law get close enough to touch a stingray, and then fed us some fresh conch meat straight from the Caribbean Sea. They did all the work while we simply sat back and enjoyed the scenery and the experience. 

I could also talk about my friend Laura, a retired fourth grade teacher from Louisiana, whom I met while waiting in line for some deli sandwiches. After talking about our families and youth culture today, she looked at me and said, “You’re a pastor, right? I saw you dancing on the ship the first night!”  

How did she know?  

Or my new friend Martin, from Alabama, who let me spin him around on the deck at the Sail Away party just before Cam, the cruise director, referred to me as, “A black man dipped in white chocolate!”  

Or my new friend Matt, a steward on our Southwest Airlines flight, who lives in Las Vegas, wanted to be a dentist, but now flies everywhere and helps his church build homes for the impoverished people of Haiti. 



I once heard an analogy about the similarities and differences between attending church and riding on sailing vessels. So, I’ll ask you:  

Is your walk with Christ and his community of followers more like a cruise ship where you are just there for the entertainment, and to eat way more than you should, and to be pampered by all those serving on the ship . . .  

Or is your walk with Christ like a Venetian gondola (or Jamaican raft) in which one person does all the rowing and you are just there with your honey enjoying the ride and basking in one another’s love, not noticing anything else that is going on . . . 

Or is your walk with Christ like a Greek warship where every single passenger is there, not to be entertained, but to pull his weight and make the ship be much more efficient? 

If working hard together and building community is critical to the survival of crew members serving on board a cruise ship, how much more essential is authentic community to the success of Jesus’ mission to us individually and to our corporate body? 

We in the church are called to be “family to each other,” as my new friend Farai challenges us. Come aboard the ship, there’s plenty of room. 

“This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35, The Message). 

Dale Reeves serves as story pastor with Christ’s Church in Mason (Ohio). The column was first posted at his church’s blog site. 


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