Lauren Corston found fame aboard Royal Princess, when hit TV programme ‘The Cruise’ chartered her life as the ship’s then-new Second Officer. We caught up with her to find out more about the trials and tribulations of a life spent at sea.
Did a childhood spent in Plymouth, a city famed for its maritime links, mean that you were always destined for a career at sea?
Most definitely! I spent my weekends by the sea and down on the Barbican Waterfront, watching the ships come in and out. I always wanted to go with them, so I could explore the faraway places they went to.
How did you progress from a 17-year-old Deck Cadet to Second Officer?
I spent just over three years as a Deck Cadet working with Princess. The training is similar to an apprenticeship, as you spend a certain amount of time at college learning the theory and then go away to sea, where you put what you have learnt into practice. After qualifying as a Third Officer I spent a further three years at sea in the rank, before heading back to college to study for my Chief Mates license.
What would you say to other young girls who have seen you do so well in your role and have considered a career at sea as a result?
Go for it. It’s not easy and it’s an awful lot of hard work, not only with the studying that’s involved, which is extensive, but also the entire change of lifestyle that is required. It is also a very male dominated career, which can perhaps be intimidating to begin with. I was one of only three girls in a class of more than 40 at first, but you are all there for the same end goal and to help each other along. It hasn’t always been glamorous ports and comfy bridge chairs, but I would certainly do it all again. There is nothing like it.
You joined Princess Cruises as a cadet in 2009 and have since completed contracts aboard Sapphire, Coral, Golden, Crown, Sea, Sun and Royal Princess. What makes Princess Cruises so special to you?
I grew up with them essentially. I was so young when I first went to sea, that all my first big “real life” experiences have been on board Princess Cruises ships. They are my second home.
What do you think it is that makes Princess Cruises so popular with guests?
We have the most amazing itineraries; you are so spoilt for choice as to where to explore. Having such a diverse range of ships also means that we can get to places that others cannot, for example the Pacific Princess goes to some very unusual ports. In addition, the crew really look after you and our repeat passengers really find that they become part of the family when they come back on board. Some even manage to get themselves a name badge!
How does a typical day as Royal Princess’s Second Officer look?
If it’s a port day, then it probably begins with an early wake-up call to get myself to the mooring station to help tie up the ship. A 5.30am call is painful, but a coffee and the fresh breeze on the deck always helps. After the arrival debrief I will be on watch on the Bridge, dealing with port and ship operations until noon. A busy day in port can involve working with bunker barges, adjusting the ship’s lines, various drills and training to organise, as well as the day-to-day fielding of phone calls to the Bridge!
At noon I will generally make my way ashore for lunch and a wander about, or directly to my favourite restaurant if I have been top a port of call before. Sometimes in the afternoon it can get busy with overtime jobs and training, but I try and organise these around a good port day as best as I can.
A nap is essential in the afternoon, before hitting the gym and then heading back to the Bridge by 7.30pm, to get ready to take the watch at 8.00pm. Then it’s either navigating or co-navigating the ship until midnight, when I handover. Then it’s bedtime for me!
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Now I finally have my hands on the controls for manoeuvring, I am learning a lot and learning it quickly. As a Junior Officer there are not many opportunities for bringing the ship in or out of port, but now as a Senior Watchkeeper it is becoming something I am doing more often. The Captain makes it look effortless, but I can assure you it isn’t!
Did having your first contract as Second Officer filmed for The Cruise add to the pressure?
It certainly made it more interesting! After spending several years as Third Officer, I had felt I was ready to step up into my new role, but I didn’t expect to have it broadcast on national TV. The film crew did their best to make me feel at ease and I had great support from my Bridge team.
At the end of season two of The Cruise, we saw you take the helm as Second Officer after weeks of training. What is next for you?
Hopefully another successful contract as Second and to begin to familiarise myself with the role of the Senior Second Officer, which would be the next step up for me. I am also planning on starting work on my Masters License; that will be the next trip to college in a year or two.
Cruise ship contracts can see you spend up to 9 months at a time away from home. Aside from friends and family, what do you miss most while you are away?
Sleep! I read in an interview a long time ago, in which someone said “Don’t do this Job if you value your sleep”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now when I get home it is amazing being able to hit my pillow and not have any wake-up calls, potential emergency alarms or shifts to go to at all.
You must have seen some amazing destinations during your years with Princess Cruises. Do you have a favourite?
Tauranga in New Zealand. It is such a beautiful port and New Zealand in general is a gorgeous country. If it wasn’t so far away from my family, I would emigrate there tomorrow.
Where does someone who has seen so much of the world holiday in their own time?
Bali. We do call into Benoa, however due to it being such a long tender run ashore I have never had the chance to explore. My husband Mike and I went there for our honeymoon and absolutely fell in love. We can’t wait to go back. Also, we like to get far away from ships and go skiing in the winter, albeit rather badly on my part!