Travel

Sex, Drugs, and EDM: Crazy Cruise Ship Secrets From the Onboard DJ

Jay Sprogell/Thrillist

For many people, a big Caribbean cruise means a multi-day party on the open seas. Food, so much food. Cocktails, ditto. “Exotic” port-of-call excursions that amount to a booty call with a new country.

On the flip side, for crew members a cruise can be a grueling ordeal. Long, arduous hours on your feet, no access to land, and lots of cleaning up after passengers whose idea of a vacation is piling up empty buffet plates.

The odd bird out on your boat? Why, that would be the contract cruise DJ. He hovers in that limbo between crew and client, with orders only to keep the good times rolling. And if the DJ is seasoned and experienced enough after years of being onboard with different cruise operators, he can sail away with a lot of wild memories.

We spoke with one anonymous DJ -- let’s call him “Deejay” -- who shared his experiences off and on the turntables, spinning tracks for thousands of cruise-loving tourists over several years at sea in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.

There's a difference between being staff and a contract DJ

Off the bat, it should be made clear that a resident DJ is considered staff, and must abide by the rules imposed on cruise employees -- rules that, if broken, could mean immediate discharge from the ship at the next port. A contractor gets his/her own cabin, the perks of a paying passenger, and the benefits of being an insider. “I can go to the unlimited buffet. Resident DJs can’t,” Deejay says. Occasionally he does the Robin Hood deed of sneaking guest food out to crew. “I can bring a whole [pizza] pie. And I can get room service.”

"I can be in the hot tub with a guest. But once I get too close, security will start watching."

It’s the least he can do, knowing the workers’ situation in cramped, shared quarters. They’re merely crash pads, because most employees hustle through continual 14-hour days, with only an occasional half-hour to eat or change clothes. Under that stress, appreciation for free pizza goes only so far. “There’s a lot of hate,” he notes, aware that his overworked colleagues are envious of his dual status. “Because sometimes I get two nights off.”

Last Christmas, there was a crew orgy

If you ever wondered, well, yup, crew members are definitely sleeping with each other. On one ship, the tensions culminated in a big crew orgy last Christmas. “I don’t know how many, but apparently all of them got down in one room,” Deejay says.

Deejay recalls one of his first manager’s requests: “Please. Don’t. Fuck. A Guest.” But, yeah, he’s tested the waters with passengers in the past. It’s easier as a contractor when you have your own cabin and a lot more leeway than the rest of the crew. “I can be seen with guests on the ship,” he says. “I can be in the hot tub with a guest. I can go eat anywhere with a guest. But once I get too close, security will start watching. Like, even if I dance with a girl. Depending on how I dance with a girl, if it’s too aggressive, too sexual, they might be like, ‘Yo, DJ...’”

Security is always watching, so you may as well make friends with them, especially since they know where cameras are pointed -- and where they ain’t. One guard Deejay befriended told him about a hidden spot where there’s a nice ocean view. While there is a camera there, it’s pointed out toward sea. “Behind that camera, you don’t even know if anyone’s back there,” Deejay says. There, sex things can happen.

These days, Deejay doesn’t really pursue guest hook-ups -- not necessarily because of the rules, but because of time management. “Guests are only there for seven days. If it’s gonna happen, it’s gotta happen early,” he explains. “Otherwise, that’s seven days I could have spent with a crew member, who’ll be there for four weeks.” He’s had his fair share of sex with the crew, once even with a dress-up character who denied his request to wear the character’s head in bed because “I’m in the industry, okay?” she told him. “I’m no furry!”

Porn is traded like currency

Sex may be rampant amongst the crew, but not everyone in a uniform is getting down after hours. “Some of these guys are there for six, seven months,” Deejay says. “And they’re getting no [loving].” 

Under these conditions, the crew is happy to buy or barter for porn. However, Deejay doesn’t exactly announce he has sexually explicit videos on his hard drive without sizing up a new person first. “I don’t wanna be that guy right away, soliciting porn. I kind of let people know I have things and if you’re trustworthy, I can build a certain trust with you,” he says. “I usually give them a week and a half, two weeks. So for two weeks, I lay low, I play the innocent role to try to weed out the real true scumbags.”

"I'm not saying I'm Pablo Escobar, but if you get caught with that small bag, you're still gonna do the same time."

The code phrase for porn on a hard drive is “Digital Applications.” If you find a folder labeled that, that’s where the good stuff is. Swapping Digital Applications (after Deejay’s two-week probation period, of course) is a common way to get free drink hook-ups and other personal favors. In fact, Deejay once bartered 8 gigs of content -- actually nothing pornographic, just music tracks and torrented mixes -- for $1,600 worth of add-on land excursions at all the ports-of-call throughout the Mediterranean.

There are ways to get drugs on board

Marijuana is strictly forbidden aboard a cruise ship, even if traveling in international waters. That hasn’t stopped people from carrying a little ganja on board, if you know how to sneak it in. “I literally just put it in my underwear,” Deejay says. “I put two underwears on, and taped it to the inside underwear, so if the tape falls off, the second underwear with catch it.” After a lax security check, he realized, “I should have just put it in my pants pocket.”

Treated as a guest, the contract DJ gets less scrutiny than his resident counterparts. “With a crew member, they check your bag, you take off your shoes, you walk through the metal detector, they wand you, make sure you’re all clean,” he says. “They may even pick up your feet, and make sure there’s nothing taped underneath. But for me, I don’t need to do any of that.”

As a favor for a friend, Deejay did the same drugs-under-the-balls trick with a small amount of coke from Florida -- an amount that turned out to be not sufficient enough for the week, so he did it again at the port in St. Martin with blow from a dealer hook-up he has there. (He has a guy at almost every port.) That stash was more than enough. “He didn’t finish that, so I brought that back into the US, through customs,” he recalls. “It was a small amount. I’m not saying I’m Pablo Escobar, but if you get caught with that small bag, you’re still gonna do the same time.”

He did get interrogated once when security found a big Ziploc bag of the white powder in his carry-on. “I had a whole gallon of protein powder, but I didn’t want to bring the container because it’s too bulky, so I put it in Ziploc bags so I could lay it flat,” he says. “The irony is, I bring a little coke on, no problem, and then I have a gallon of protein, and they’re like, ‘Hold up, let’s stop this guy.’ Meanwhile, you wanna check my shorts?”

The risk isn’t worth the jail time, so Deejay doesn’t really mess around with drugs at a checkpoint anymore. He has his weed connections on the islands anyway, to toke locally while docked at port. As for getting high at sea? “Now, with edibles and a vape pen, it’s easy.”

The middle of the ocean is ultimately its own world

Deejay says other DJs have their own crazy stories. As do probably every stripe of crew and contractor -- and guest -- upon certain cruises. Not that they can all be told.

“It’s pretty much college and Vegas at the same time, in the middle of the ocean,” Deejay says. “Whatever happens out there, stays out there.”

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Erik Trinidad is a Brooklyn-based travel writer in perpetual search for offbeat adventures -- and the beers and meals that come afterwards. Follow him on Instagram @theglobaltrip and via his travel/science web series, Plausibly Ridiculous.