Many people dream of experiencing life at sea, thanks to endless scenic views and destinations to visit. But this woman does it all for free - and she's taking us all along for the ride. Here's her story.
Cruising Around the World
Cruises are an incredibly popular vacation choice. And with good reason. They give passengers the chance to see multiple countries within a short space of time, all while enjoying a relaxing journey between stops.
Since the first-ever cruise ship set sail in 1901, the cruising industry has been continuously advancing. With the most luxurious ships now offering multiple pools, a range of dining experiences, and round-the-clock entertainment, seemingly everyone wants a ticket.
A Pricey Experience
Unfortunately, this ticket comes at a high price. Although, according to cruisehive.com, budget cruises can cost just $50 per person per day, the all-inclusive luxury experiences can reach prices of over $1,000/person per day. On top of this, there are many more hidden costs that beginner cruisers won't be aware of.
While the cost of food and basic entertainment is covered by the ticket price, there are often specialty restaurants onboard for an additional cost. Additionally, facilities such as the gym, spa, and even bars can cost extra. That being said, it's pretty unbelievable to know one woman is accessing this all for free...
Christine Kesteloo has an all-access, free pass to the incredible Holland American Line cruise. In fact, she's so comfortable there, that she calls this place her second home. Waking up in the morning to the view of the ocean, she heads downstairs to check out what's on offer for the day's breakfast.
Next, she heads to the cruise bar for a mimosa and relaxes by one of the ship's pools. For lunch, she has burgers and fries delivered to her door - and then she heads to the gym to make room for her chef-cooked dinner. But her dream reality didn't happen overnight. Let's take it back to the beginning...
Christine grew up in the small town of Eldridge, Iowa, with big dreams of being the local weather girl. With her charismatic smile and positive attitude, she set out to achieve her goals. Despite not landing the career of her dreams, Christine remains set that "you can't plan life, you gotta roll with the waves."
With a catchphrase like that, Christine, of course, loves the ocean. Moreover, she has a passion for traveling and seeing the world, recently visiting her 105th country at the age of 40. With all this information in mind, it makes perfect sense that she met her husband, Piet, on a cruise ship!
Love at First Sight
“I lost my breath,” Christine told her followers in reference to the moment she met her husband for the first time. Working as an engineer on board, Piet knocked on her door to do a cabin inspection. When she opened the door, he stared at her, and she stared at him.
"His friend was like, Sir Piet we need to check the room, but we were still staring at each other," she recalled to her followers. "I had never in my life had a moment like that ever. The rest is history." Despite a disastrous first date where she rejected his request for a kiss, the couple found love and married.
Welcome to the Netherlands
Fast forward to today, and the couple lives in Vlissingen, Netherlands - the place they call home for half the year. Their apartment, which Piet purchased thirty years prior, is small but located right on the beach with incredible views of the coastline. Here, they enjoy a simple yet peaceful life.
Rather than buying an expensive car, the couple chooses to ride around their beloved city on their bikes. They regularly tour the tourist hotspots, explore the local nature trails and even use their European location as a base to visit the neighboring countries.
Many people have been quick to criticize the couple's minimalist life in the Netherlands, questioning how they are able to live in a small home with no car or oven. "We live debt-free" she clapped back at her haters. "We only live here half the year, so my page is not gonna show u any expensive items."
"We live a simple life, we travel and make memories," she announced. "Everyone finds happiness in different ways, and our happiness is traveling. We spend our money on moments, not on things." So, where does the couple live for the other half of the year?
The Dream Job
Drawing on her love for adventure and interacting with people, Christine worked as a cruise and travel director. Essentially, this meant she oversaw all the entertainment staff on board, such as the musicians, actors, stage managers, staff, lighting, and sound crews. She considered it a 'dream job.'
Not wanting to be apart from her partner, the couple made an arrangement with the cruise company to have Piet on board her ship as a 'husband-on-board.' While Christine worked twelve-hour days, Piet was able to relax and enjoy the views completely free of charge.
When COVID Struck
Like many others, when COVID hit, Christine was sadly made unemployed as cruise ships were forced to close for over two years. Not only upset about losing her dream job, she worried about how they would survive, wondering what they could possibly do next. Would she have to abandon the lifestyle she had grown to love?
Even when cruises started up again, she was sad to discover she had not been asked back as a cruise director. In fact, she had been replaced by new members of staff. Staying positive as always, she told her followers at the time that she was staying positive. She knew her next adventure was on the way.
A New Chapter Begins
Although not an official job, Christine found her next adventure shortly after - accompanying her husband on the ship as a 'Wife On Board.' Piet, who holds the title 'staff chief engineer,' is allowed to bring his partner on board the ship free of charge. Understandably, Christine jumped at the opportunity.
What does Piet do exactly? Well, Christine isn't too sure. "He's tried to explain it to me so many times," she laughed. "But my little brain won't wrap around what he's saying. So, engine room stuff!" In another video, Piet explained he's in charge of the daily operations and maintenance - and that's enough information for us!
So can all crew members bring their spouses/significant others on board? Sadly, no. Like all jobs, there are certain benefits that come with certain positions. In terms of cruise life, this means not everyone that works on the ship can bring a buddy. Being a high-ranking officer, Piet is given this opportunity!
As Christine explained, the high-ranking officers in each of the departments - bridge, engine, beverage, housekeeping, guest services - can bring on board a SO and/or child if they have one! Once they're on board, all the ship facilities are available to them - except for the Casino!
Documenting The Journey
Luckily for us, Christine works tirelessly to keep us updated on all her and Piet's adventures at sea and onshore. She films everything for all her curious followers and uploads them to her TikTok page, even making sure to answer all the questions she receives in the comments section!
Of course, the highlights are when she takes her camera around the ship, showing us all the different features and services on deck. From the luxurious dining room to the breathtaking views from her cabin windows, her followers are able to feel like they are onboard themselves!
“Every Day, I’m in a New Place”
Although we've learned that social media can be misleading, Christine is insistent that it is all as good as it seems on camera. "Some would say I live like I'm on vacation every day — and I do. Every day, I'm in a new place, and my biggest decisions are whether I want to go to teatime, lie in the sun, or do a wine tasting."
Of course, the lifestyle isn’t for everyone. While some dread the thought of boat sickness or fear they would feel claustrophobic in a cabin, others think the opportunity sounds incredible and are looking where to sign up. So what else is important to know before jumping in?
Beyond the Cabin
For all those questioning her unique choice of home, Christine has used her platform to prove them wrong. "How can you live in such a small space? I would go nuts in a cabin with just my husband, "she said in a video, imitating her haters. "Everyone is thinking about this all wrong," she clarified.
"We live in a crew cabin which is very nice, but you have to think this is just our bedroom. The ship is our home. So in my home, I've got a gym, salon, movie theatre, theatre, casino, photo gallery, Dutch café, and four specialty restaurants. My home half the year is bigger than most people's home!" she exclaimed.
Small Price To Pay
Understanding what costs a staff member could face on board is important to consider. While guests may receive certain things included, the costs for staff will vary, receiving different benefits according to seniority. Additionally, these can vary for their partners.
Christine explains that as the wife of the chief engineer, mostly everything is free. She's constantly been upfront about the few things she does have to hand over the cash for. In a TikTok video, she broke down exactly what it costs to be a Wife-On-Board.
Dining Room Rules
"The majority of our food on board is free," she explains. That being said, the logistics of the dining room can be pretty complicated. In addition to the guests, all officers can eat in the dining room. People in all departments can be considered officers, it all depends on their ranking - the number of stripes.
There is a sectioned-off space in the lido area for the shop staff, entertainment, photographers, medical, bridge officers, and engineers can all choose to eat. Including pizza, hamburgers, ice cream, and sushi, the buffet ensures everyone on board, of all ages, is satisfied and happy.
Accessing the Internet
As a frequent and now popular TikTok creator, it is crucial for Christine to have strong access to the internet for the entire time she is on board. Although crew members have free and ultimate access to WhatsApp, upgrading to full internet access costs extra.
"I need internet at all times since I write about and share our world on my TikTok account, @Dutchworld_Americangirl," she explained in her blog. The total cost per week for the internet is $20, which is actually half the price that guests pay. Internet helps to ensure Christine can keep up with her users at all hours of the day.
Their Personal Room Steward
Even though Christine works hard to keep their cabin tidy, the couple has a room steward who visits the room each morning to tidy it up and clean it to a professional standard. Like any hotel, the sheets are changed, fresh towels are provided, and the floors and surfaces are dusted and vacuumed.
It's important to note that not all staff members will receive a room steward. Rather it is an exclusive perk for the highest-ranking officers, including Piet. For this reason, the couple chooses to tip their room steward $10/week and often offer to pick him up shopping when they are offshore.
Of course, the main dining room is free for the couple, but sometimes they decide to splash out on a little extra special dining. With four specialty restaurants onboard the ship, the guests and high-ranking staff members are spoilt for choice. Meals here can cost between $20-$50 per head, and tips can total up to $10.
When Christine and Piet aren't in the mood to dress up and mingle with the guests, they can also choose to order room service. This is included in the cost of dining for them, but they make sure to tip the delivery staff between $2 and $5 each time. "Tipping culture is pretty different on ships," Christine explained.
For those who dread the arrival of laundry day, this cruise staff perk may be enough to get them packing. Staff does not need to waste time onboard doing the laundry. Rather they just gather it together, fill out a form about the contents of the bag and leave it by their door to be picked up, cleaned, and returned!
This perk applies to passengers and staff alike and is incredibly luxurious. For those that actually enjoy the laundry process and like to take care of it themselves, Christine explained that there are also stations around the cruise ship for people to sort and wash their own laundry.
For those keeping track, Christine and Piet's total weekly spending equals $87 on average. Considering these are all their expenses and most of them are optional extras, that is an incredibly low cost of living. Understanding her good fortune, she warned her followers that her total may upset them.
"What you are about to see will probably make you very upset because gas prices are high, the cost of living is very high, and you're about to see what I pay weekly," she opened the clip. "That is one of the great benefits of living and/or working on a cruise ship. You can save money... if you want to!" she teased.
The Guilty Pleasures
While the basics are incredibly affordable, the tempting shopping and spa areas onboard can be responsible for these totals going over the bare minimum and often almost totaling their salaries. Alternatively, big money can be spent when the ship stops off at one of the ports of call.
This is when guests and staff are given the opportunity to disembark and explore the local area. "That is how crew members sometimes spend their money and sometimes don't go home with a lot of money because they get off and spend their money on port," she clarified.
Apart from the costs, many of us are still wondering what the other downsides of this life may be. It's all just seeming too good to be true. Well, for those who hate packing, it might not be the most suitable lifestyle choice. Packing for one season is hard enough, imagine packing for all four at once!
Although Christine notes that packing is probably one of the hardest parts of being constantly on the move, she insists practice makes perfect. "If there's ever been a professional packer, it is me. We travel so much that I have packing down perfectly," Christine laughed.
Meeting the Requirements
While Christine often shows off the many cool perks of living on deck, she makes no secrets about the challenges that people may not be aware of. As it turns out, there are strict physical requirements for the staff to meet before they can be allowed on board.
Staff is required to fill out a seafarer medical test where their weight and blood pressure will be measured. They then have to undergo an eye and hearing test. This is all to make sure the people on board are fit enough for duty. The certificate is valid for two years until it needs to be renewed.
As a result of this testing, staff members face the additional challenge of keeping fit and watching their weight whilst on the ship and between employment contracts. This is important to ensure they stay at a certain BMI, pass the medical exam, and receive the certification.
With all the delicious food available onboard, we can imagine this is easier said than done! The ship is equipped with a fully functioning gym and pool area. Walking on the treadmill while watching the ocean view definitely makes it sound more appealing!
Despite traveling all over the world, living out of a suitcase, and constantly being on the move, Christine revealed that she still experiences travel anxiety during her trips. In a TikTok video, she showed her followers the less-glamorous side of her life.
"I travel for a living, but I still get anxiety when I travel. I still check my ticket 20 times. I still have no clue as to what I'm doing when I walk into the airport... I fake 'traveling confidence' because it's expected of me," she wrote. "I wish my husband Piet was here."
The Netherlands Tourism
While Piet and Christine are living half the year in the Netherlands, they are definitely not just relaxing. Putting their love of traveling and interacting with people to good use, the couple runs a tourist website where they educate people about their home country of the Netherlands.
They share "interesting facts about the Dutch people, Food, Provinces, and Landscape" and have an email address for people to ask their travel questions. Christine has also recently become a freelance writer for INSIDER magazine, where she discusses her adventurous lifestyle. So how long till the couple is back at sea?
A New Opportunity
From June 2022, Christine will return to the same boat with her husband, but this time she holds a new title - Port Shopping Ambassador. Hired by a company that represents many brands and stores on board and at the ports of call, her job is to educate passengers on what to look out for when buying souvenirs and memories.
Additionally, she is employed to answer guest questions and act as their personal shopper onboard and onshore. At each stop, she will get off and head into the different stores, spending her days shopping! "I'll finally be back with the guests!" she exclaimed.
Interestingly, her new contract and Piet's do not line up exactly. In a fun role reversal, the couple decided that Piet will board early and ride as a 'husband on board. For the month of June, the couple will spend a month on board in Christine's cabin, which is the one designated for her position.
After Piet enjoys a month of relaxing on board, not working, they will move back into Piet's designated cabin, which is nicer and bigger than hers! "In June, when I'm working, one of the days I'm gonna give Piet my phone and get him to do a day in the life as a husband on board!" she teased her followers.
The Adventure Continues...
After Christine's TikTok page exploded in popularity, many news outlets and publications reached out to gain further insight into her life and learn more about her experiences living on a cruise ship. One broadcasting channel piqued her interest more than the others.
"I'm so excited," she exclaimed in a behind-the-scenes TikTok clip. "This is a dream come true because I always wanted to be the weather girl, and if I can't be the weather girl, at least I can be on the weather station for Fox News, right?!" Stay tuned to see what adventures this adventurous couple gets up to next...