Cruises are great and all, but have you've ever considered what it's like to be employed by one of these massive fun boats? It is far from your normal office job, as real cruise line employees open up about what working life is like out at sea.
Over And Over And Over.
“We had a saying: ‘Every night is a Friday night and every morning is a Monday morning. Every day is ground hogs day.'”
Lots Of Close Quarters.
“Everyone sleeps with everyone. The food for crew is nearly inedible. You will never find a free washer unless you camp out in the laundry room for a few hours. There are usually about 5 to 15 washers/dryers, and anywhere from 1000 to 2500 crew members. The rooms are tiny, and your shower curtain will always be trying to get to know you Biblically. US citizens aren’t payed that well, but some countries, where the conversion rate is really good, make some serious bank. South Africa, especially. We do get to get off in port and go have a good time. Many ports have crew discounts for food and drink. However, most contracts last for around 6 to 8 months, so after a while, the same old ports every week start to really wear on you. There is a crew only bar, and beers are $1.50. Some ships have a crew only hot tub.”
(Not) The High Life.
“You have to take a somewhat intense physical before getting on board. This includes a drug test. Random drug tests also happen while on board. Moral of the story? If you want a cruise ship job, stop smoking weed 3 weeks ago.”
“If you’re American, you are a minority. My ship had over 2,100 crew members, & only about 40 of us were American. You are seen as a rare, magical unicorn. Fighting for an open washer or dryer in the laundry room is hell on earth, & whichever dildo put too much detergent in their machine every week, causing the laundry room to overflow: YOU ARE A SOAP TERRORIST & MY SOGGY SNEAKERS WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU. Food is provided, but the two most common ethnicities on my ship were the Philippines & India, so the crew cafeteria was usually full of food I wasn’t used to, like pigtail stew & fish heads. I ate a lot of salad & mashed potatoes on my contracts. Think of a time you did something embarrassing while drunk at a bar. Now imagine having to see every single person who saw you do that embarrassing drunk thing, every day for months & months. That’s what ship life is like. It was awesome, though. You travel for free, drink for cheap, and save a lot of money since you aren’t really paying for anything unless you want to. I’d suggest it to anyone who has no strings attached, & is willing to work hard for 6-8 months at a time.”
“I worked on cruise ships for 3 years and have had 4 friends sent home over [sleeping with guests]. Essentially you get busted, you have a Masters Hearing and you’re sent home at the next port (on your dime). The cruise companies don’t want to be liable for anything and rape accusations are all too real. We aren’t allowed to take elevator rides with guests if you’re the only two people in it either, for the same reason. Also if you’re taking a photo with a guest both of your hands must be visible. It’s happens before that a guest claimed she was groped and you couldn’t see the crew members hand in the photo (it was on guests back). Luckily there was a security camera that capture them from behind.”
More Than The Ocean Is Making Waves.
“You will never be alone. Relationships happen really fast. Your body clock changes. Grudges can fester. Everyone higher rank than you is an idiot. If you have a solo room then you might as well write a blank booty cheque.”
What An Awful Combo.
“Ship life is basically High School mixed with Jail. Remember High School, where everyone knew everything about everyone’s business? Who was macking whom, cheating on so-and-so, doing this-and-that, being a such-and-such? Well, that’s ship life in a nutshell. The bar is where we all congregate, it’s where we all commiserate, and it’s our only meat market option, because sleeping with guests is not tolerated. Oh, and cheap booze is great. Now, let’s add in the Jail factor – you’re in a tin can and you can’t leave. Some people can never get off when in port because their jobs don’t allow for it. SHIPS ARE A VERY CLASSIST SYSTEM!!! I can’t stress that enough. If you’re in to social justice, it’s a case study worth exploring. Sometimes, the work is exploitative, other times it’s demeaning, but these crew have to support their families somehow, and often it’s better than what’s at home. I’ve tried to curb my entitlement each time I’ve been on board.”
What Alone Time?
“Crew members are hard working and work weeks are 70 hours a week without a single day off for 6-8 months. Most crew members rely on tips for their wages. My position was salaried for $58/a day, I was an officer on board working in the guest services office. No one else is taxed besides Americans on board. The best way to describe no days off is waking up to your alarm and every single day feels like a Monday morning. My position shared a bedroom with bunk beds and really small bathrooms. You could s–t, shave your legs, and brush your teeth all at the same time. Depending upon your position on board determined if you had guest area privileges. You’re always on duty and your supervisors have 24 hour access to you at all times. Sleep was very limited, so every off hour was spent trying to catch up. Wifi was $5 a day for 24 hour access to limited social media apps or $10 for 100 minutes unrestricted. Overall the people you live and work with is what makes your experience on board.”
You’re Not As Clever As You Think You Are.
“We don’t want you to know that we have more fun than the guests. Sure we’ll work the big party that your all going to, but once we finish our shift all hell is breaking loose in the crew bar. Just below and to the sides of where you are sleeping there are crew members having sex, smoking and drinking. We also don’t want you to know that all those funny jokes we tell you at bingo? Yeah, same ones are said Every. Single. Cruise. We are not allowed to f–k to passengers, but we do know the all the nooks and crannies the cameras don’t reach. There are morgues below deck and a jail cell. We get at least 3 deaths onboard a month. Some people go on a cruise to die. No I do not know where Jack/Rose is.”
Work Hard, Party Hard.
“I worked on cruise ships as an engineer and it was some of the best fun I’ve had in my life. I worked 10 hours per day every day for 4 months but the social life was enough to keep you going. I was an officer and this brought the benefits of a large cabin with double bed and windows (windows are rare for crew). I realise I could use this to my advantage and went from the shy 20 year old to an absolute whore. The traveling was fantastic and I travelled the world. Alcohol was very cheap and you would often find your self buying drinks for an entire room of people for very little cost. I could, as an officer, order room service and there were even some crew cooking in there cabins and selling it to other hungry crew members. All in all it’s a hard lifestyle to maintain and sleep is limited if you’re social and want to go ashore at the same time but in my opinion, totally worth it. If for a few years in any case.”
“You deal with 3 types of people: Newly weds, overfeds & soon to be deads.”
The Payoff Is Worth The Price.
“Long working hours, very small shared cabin with walls thinner than paper so you can hear everything your neighbours are doing, crew food is bloody awful unless you like living on boiled rice. Crew bar is very cheap, but also full of creepy guys hitting on everyone and insanely gorgeous girls sneering at everyone. But NONE OF THAT MATTERS. In 5 years on cruise ships I literally travelled the world. I basically visited every continent and went to over 75 countries. I took a sled dog ride in Alaska, white water rafting along a river through the jungles of Costa Rica, visited Alcatraz, had an authentic curry in Mumbai, spent a day on a luxury yacht sailing around the Caribbean, snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, visited the great pyramids in Egypt, been to the lost city of Petra, and so so so much more. None of the bulls–t you have to put up with on board matters compared to that.”
“You ever see Speed 2? Kinda like that. Who am I kidding, no one has seen Speed 2.”
“Totally depends on which country you come from. My wife and I met working on ships. She’s Indonesian, worked 10 month contracts without a day off, 12-14 hours a day, and made about $600 bucks a month. Lived in a shared room, ate food that was literally made from the scraps of what passengers didn’t eat, never had time to get off ship in port. I’m American, worked 4 month contracts, had a solo room, usually worked about 6-10 hours a day, ate with the passengers, and made around $3000 a month.”
The Never Ending Cycle.
“The cruise life sucks you in. I’m a freelance musician on land. When I came back from my first 3 month long contract my bands had replaced me, and I had lost about half my private students. It was several months before I was back to the amount of work I had before the cruise. I’ve seen entertainers that come back after a 6 or 8 month contract and find out all their work is gone. They can’t re-build their careers fast enough and burn through the money they’ve saved from the ship. When they end up broke and out of work, the only answer for them is to get another contract on a ship. I’m super lucky because I’ve seen this coming and have been able to take progressively shorter and shorter contracts. But some of the older guys have been in exactly the same position for decades and are super jaded.”
It’s What You Make Of It.
“Cruises are either a great way to save money or an awful one. Your lodging and food is paid for, and you’re getting paid, so that’s great. But cruises are BORING. Sure, cheap booze and free travel is great for the first little while. But after a while, it becomes like Squidward in that episode where he finds his perfect down. So routine. When you’re not working, you’re trying your best to find anything to do. A lot of the time you’ll start spending money on anything new and then you’re not saving so there’s little point. However, many people still enjoy the life of the routine and the travel and figure ways around spending money. Just know, it’s harder than you expect to be one of those people. But if you can be, it’s a great opportunity.”
It’s A Whole New World.
“So many strange, wonderful stories. Once in a lifetime. Met a gold medalist from Jamaica. Climbed waterfalls. Helped save a guy by donating blood before he was evacuated off. Dated a breakdancer. Saw international couples fall in love against all odds. Learned naughty Romanian. Got wooed by an Italian officer. Got over my fear of public speaking. Almost conned into a pyramid scheme. Pretended to be married to another staff member every other cruise as an experiment to see if it helped sales (it did). Played the most epic game of laser tag in history in the concert hall. Took trips to private islands. Drank my weight in jaeger. And that was all my first contract (6 months)!”