35 secret terms only cruise workers know — and the ones you don't want to hear as a passenger
- Cruise workers have their own secret language they use to communicate with one another.
- Code words like "oscar" are used to alert crew members of emergencies without causing mass panic.
If you don't work on a cruise ship, "no rice, no power" and "don't get a banana" may sound like an alien language. That's because crew members have dozens of secret code words and sayings they use to communicate while keeping passengers in the dark.
A single cruise ship may employ people from over 40 countries, resulting in industry slang that combines words and sayings from several different languages. Insider compiled a dictionary of cruise ship language based on interviews with cruise workers, previous reporting, and industry blogs. Alert codes and crew slang often vary by cruise line.
PVI, Protein Spill, and Purell: From sea sickness to the norovirus (a cruise's worst nightmare), crew members are no strangers to "public vomit incidents," or PVIs for short. To avoid upsetting passengers — and their stomachs — cruise workers may also refer to such incidents as a "protein spill" or "Purell" when orchestrating clean-up duty.
Winnie: In a similar vein, "Winnie" means a passenger has pooped in the pool — Disney Cruise shorthand for Winnie-the-Pooh.
Mufasa: A reference to the saddest scene in cinematic history, Disney Cruise workers use "Mufasa" to communicate that a parent has been separated from their child.
Bravo, Alpha Team, Red Party: Different cruise lines have their own alert codes to signal that there's a fire, either onboard the ship or at sea. These are three of them.
Alpha, Star Code, Code Mike: Similarly, cruise lines have their own alert codes for medical emergencies, including the above four.
Echo: One word I never want to hear on a giant floating vessel is "echo," which can mean that the ship is drifting or that there's a risk of high winds or collision.
Kilo: "Kilo" is used during an emergency to alert crew members to report to their assigned posts.
Code Oscar or Mr. Mob: Different emergency code words used to alert crew of a man overboard (M.O.B) situation. According to Marine Insight, the distress signal is raised over the cruise radio system and loudspeakers to alert crew members to stand watch for the missing person and slow the ship down.
Some terms are used to secretly describe passengers or fellow workers
Babaloo: Alternatively spelled "Babalu," this is widespread cruise worker slang that means "fool" or "idiot."
Mamagayo: Meaning "lazy," this term is used to describe a cruise worker shirking from their job responsibilities or pretending to work when they're really not.
Capo: Derived from the Italian word for a military captain, this is cruise slang for "boss."
Cone and Coning: "Cone" is a derogatory word crew members use to describe passengers, a supposed reference to how cruise workers are constantly dodging vacationers as if they're swerving around traffic cones. "Coning," on the other hand is when a crew member hooks up with a passenger (a fireable offense).
Staff versus Crew: Various employee departments onboard a cruise ship are organized within a rigid hierarchy that can determine their pay and living conditions. One such divide is between cruise "staff," which typically consists of entertainment, retail, and guest service workers, and cruise "crew," which includes waiters, bartenders, and housekeeping.
Concessionaire: This is a third-party contract worker that is not employed directly by the cruise line. This can include retail shop workers and casino employees, for example.
Mainstage: Worker slang that refers to a cruise's entertainment team.
Blue Boys: Nickname for janitorial staff who rarely leave the ship and send all of their money back home.
Shoreside: These are corporate cruise employees who don't work on the boat and don't always listen to their "shipboard" counterparts.
Meter Monitor: A word used during the pandemic to describe the guest service officers in charge of monitoring social distance guidelines between guests.
Royal Genie: These are the VIP butlers on Royal Caribbean cruises who wait on guests staying in the exclusive Star Suites.
If you're a cruise worker, the last thing you want is a "banana"
Banana: If you're a cruise worker, you do not want a banana. This means a staff member has broken the rules and may get written up or reported.
Mafia: The so-called mafia on a cruise ship is when crew members from the same country form a tight-knit community in order to support one another.
Paisano: If crew members are "paisano," they are from the same country or share the same ethnic origin.
Second jobs: Some cruise workers run side businesses on the ship, like crew hair salons or food delivery. This is their "second job."
Let's Makan: This means "let's eat!"
No Rice, No Power: Slang used by crew members whose diet consists mainly of rice.
Lifestyle Cruise: An industry euphemism for sexy adult-only cruises, including clothing-optional cruises, swinger cruises, and singles cruises.
Cruise to Nowhere: Also called a "stay-cation" by some cruise workers, this is when a ship cruises at sea without stopping at any ports.
The Red Phone: This is a confidential phone line to the mainland that cruise workers can use to talk about sensitive issues.
Float: A cash register that contains many different types of foreign currencies.
Dect phone (or deck phone): Portable work phone used by crew members that connects to the ship's telephone system.
Slop chest: A tiny convenience store in the crew-only section of a cruise ship that sells essential items.
Do you work on a cruise ship? Have a story or tip to share? Email this reporter from a non-work address at email@example.com
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