New benefit for Disney Cruise Line workers could improve mental-health conditions for Florida crew members

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PHOTO OF THE DISNEY FANTASY VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Photo of the Disney Fantasy via Wikimedia Commons
There's been plenty of negative press regarding the working conditions for cruise-line crew members. They often work 10-hours days, seven days a week, for eight to 10 months, followed by two months of unpaid time off.

Recently, Disney Cruise Line, already known for their better-than-average treatment of onboard crew members, announced it will offer complimentary text-messaging services for crew members. The Celebration-based cruise line claims to be the first to offer the complimentary service for crew members.

Like most cruise lines, Disney crew members represent a cornucopia of ethnicities – the company states that more than 80 different nationalities are represented onboard their ships. The long contracts, typically in regions thousands of miles away from the South Asian nations many crew members come from, can be extremely taxing.
"We recognize how important it is for our crew members to be able to stay in touch with their families and friends, and we're proud to provide this benefit," said Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Cruise Line. "This is another way Disney continues to provide a great crew experience for our shipboard teams."



Despite Disney Cruise Line claiming they were the first to offer complimentary text messaging to crew members, similar programs are found on other cruise lines. Royal Caribbean began offering tablets to its crew members in 2014 and many other cruise lines offer cell and internet plans for crew members at a discounted rate. Low-cost benefits like free text messaging are becoming more common.
Disney Cruise Line's four current ships along with two of the three new ships that are now in the works - IMAGE VIA DISNEY PARKS BLOG
  • Image via Disney Parks Blog
  • Disney Cruise Line's four current ships along with two of the three new ships that are now in the works
As more cruise ships on more cruise lines launch over the next few years – providing more employment options for crew members – retention has become a greater concern for cruise lines.

The new benefit also comes just a few weeks after U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced new bans on non-U.S. citizen crew members being able to disembark in New York and New Jersey-area ports of call, unless they’ve served at least five contracts. Blocking crew members from disembarking in New York comes after a similar ban was rolled out for Norwegian Cruise Line in 2018.

The New York area has become a common spot for crew members to desert their posts. U.S. CBP has admitted that they’ve seen an increase in desertions, noting that in a two-week period in September there were seven crew members deserted after being granted shore leave in New York. Desertions are just one problem cruise lines face with some overstressed crew members.
In September, a crew member on a Royal Caribbean ship died in what some have reported as a possible suicide. According to Jim Walker of Cruise Law News, more than a dozen Royal Caribbean crew members went missing or committed suicide in the last decade. There is no industry database that tracks suicides within the cruise industry and, despite Walker's claims, the lack of industry oversight casts a large shadow of doubt over existing statistics.

As competition among cruise lines heats up, along with increasing awareness and outrage over the sweatshop wages that some cruise lines offer, more benefits and better pay for crew members are becoming increasingly possible. But as some have pointed out, the free text messaging by Disney Cruise Line seems less like a true benefit for crew members, and more like an easy positive press story amidst a sea of stories for their competition, thanks to the delivery of multiple new ships within the past two weeks.

The service will be active on all Disney Cruise Line ships within the next few weeks. We will continue to monitor worker developments on cruise lines, including following up on the success of the text messaging service – including how well it works.

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