The Crazy Life of Cruise Ship Workers
For potential passengers, cruise ships are marketed as a place for luxurious, exotic, relaxing adventure. You may imagine elaborate decor, lively entertainment and exciting activities — and you wouldn't be wrong — but what is the experience like for the people who work on board and spend most of the year at sea?
The truth may shock you. It’s not easy to maintain the illustrious cruise ship experience for guests, especially under conditions that aren’t always perfect. At the very least, the job is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is sure to be unforgettable.
Alcohol Is Abundant
Although alcoholic drinks aren't free for crew members, they are incredibly cheap. An employee beer costs about $1.50, while a margarita costs $1.75. With those prices, it's no wonder that crew members are accustomed to drinking copious amounts of booze after-hours.
Solo Quarters Are Coveted
If there's one thing that anyone covets on board a cruise ship, it's space. Passengers’ quarters may be comfortable enough, but management doesn't go out of their way to make sure the workers are content. In fact, most workers are put in dorm-like rooms with barely enough space to stretch their legs.
There's No Escaping Your Crew Mates
One of the hard things about working on a cruise ship is that at the end of the day, there's nowhere to go to get away from everyone. You can't simply head home and decompress in your own space. You have to spend every waking minute surrounded by your coworkers.
The Hierarchy Is Real
As with many jobs, there's an inherent hierarchy to job positions. Managers and officers are at the top, followed by entertainment workers, front-of-house crew and back-of-house crew. Sometimes, however, these hierarchies can become exhausting. After all, you can't escape it, even when you're not on shift.
Different Countries Have Different Pay
It makes sense that the origin of a cruise ship would affect the pay the workers receive. After all, different countries have different salary ranges, currency and labor laws. In some cases, the differences can be downright shocking. American cruises tend to schedule workers six to 10 hours a day and pay them around $3,000 a month.
Mingling with the Passengers Isn’t Allowed
If there’s one cardinal rule in the world of cruise ships, it's that relations with passengers are strictly forbidden. Sure, all that time hanging out with the same coworkers can make anyone yearn for some new company, but if you're caught getting too close to a guest, you will be put ashore — permanently — at the next port.
They Find Ways to Make Some Money Back
When you sign a contract to work on a cruise ship, it seems like a pretty good deal. Not only will you get paid, but you will have your living and dining costs completely covered. That’s right — you don’t have to pay rent or buy groceries!
Crew Menus Aren’t So Great
Crew food on cruise ships is notoriously unappealing compared to the guests’ food. Most of the budget for food goes into preparing meals for the passengers, so crew members are left with the cheapest options. Usually, meals are repetitive day after day and not the most nutritious.
Tough Schedules Are the Norm
Things aren't always fair for employees on a cruise ship. Many have complained about inadequate pay and long hours with little chance for change. Contracts can require workers to put in more than 70 hours a week and go without any days off for six to eight months.
It's Not Easy to Save Your Earnings
Because lodging is covered for workers on a cruise ship, many people think it's a great opportunity for saving money. That’s true — as long as you have some strong self-discipline. As many ex-cruise workers have described, a lot of people end up spending a considerable amount of their earnings on alcohol.
The truth of the matter is life behind the scenes on a cruise ship is a hot bed of sex and romance. The crew may not be allowed to sleep with passengers, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from sleeping with their fellow coworkers — and that's exactly what they do.
The Crew Gets Stir Crazy
Anyone who is cooped up on a ship for months at a time is sure to go a little stir crazy. This is part of what contributes to the culture of promiscuity and drinking, but workers sometimes find other means of amusement as well.
Catch a Cold? You're Quarantined!
Sickness is one of the things the staff worries about most on cruise ships. In such confined quarters, even a common cold can spread like wildfire and ruin everyone’s vacation. When visiting foreign countries, illnesses much worse than a cold can easily find their way on board.
You Can't Beat the Travel Opportunity
Despite the many less than ideal working conditions for crew members aboard a cruise ship, no one can deny that it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel the world. Spend a few summers working for different cruise companies, and you are likely to set foot on just about every continent.
Pirates Are a Real Thing
Believe it or not, pirates do still exist — and they are a threat to cruise ships. Granted, the chances that pirates will attempt to attack a giant commercial ship are slim, but crews have to be prepared all the same. They undergo pirate attack training and are briefed on what to do in the event of an attack.
Don't Forget the Floating Morgue
Many passengers never realize their cruise ship has a special place on board for dead bodies. A morgue is now a standard facility on the large boats, but it's not something they like to advertise — no one wants to be reminded of death on their expensive vacation.
You Won't Believe This “Special Sauce”
This cruise ship secret is one that might just turn you off from ever vacationing on board a ship ever again. According to some ex-crew members, it's not uncommon for cruises to serve their guests a "special sauce" with their food — and no, that doesn't mean it's extra-delicious.
The Mafia Is on Board
A whole social world happens on cruise ships, with many passengers completely oblivious to it all. Some ships have more than a thousand crew members on board at once, and that means a lot of cliques can develop. In many cases, workers group together based on where they normally live.
The Guests Run the Game
If you have ever been a guest on a cruise ship, you know the crew takes your comfort very seriously. It's their job to serve and look after every passenger on board, and the best workers don't take that responsibility lightly.
It's a Cool Place to Let Loose
You may think that passengers on a cruise ship have a wild time, but it's nothing compared to the shenanigans that workers get into on and off the boat. Inexpensive alcohol and mind-numbing boredom lead to a lot of after-work parties, and many find themselves going a bit crazy.
The Crew Eats Your Leftovers
Remember how crew meals aren't very appetizing? Well, for that very reason, workers will descend on leftovers from passenger meals like vultures. It's their only opportunity to enjoy some higher-quality food while at sea. And to think the guests complain about their overdone chicken!
Workers Are Shown Little Mercy from Management
When a crew member gets fired, they are kicked off the boat at the next port stop and left to fend for themselves. That's right, they are simply abandoned in a foreign country and expected to get home on their own dime. The worst part is that workers can be fired for petty reasons and still face this issue.
The Crew Has a Coded Language
Pay attention to any announcements made on the deck of a cruise ship. Did they make any strange statements or say something you didn't understand? That would be the crew's code language, designed to make sure only those with insider knowledge will understand what's happening.
Beware of the Onboard Jail
Not only does your cruise ship have a morgue, but it has a makeshift jail as well. Ideally, the workers never have to use this small, padded room — but all too often they do. Inevitably, a passenger goes off the rails and becomes dangerous, belligerent or violent, at least temporarily.
The Sea Is a Tricky Place — Legally
It's true that stepping on board a cruise ship — or any ship for that matter — means you're entering new territory physically and legally. The sea isn't exactly a lawless place, but the laws in place are rather haphazard. Basically, the captain of a ship has the highest authority, and he or she can do whatever is needed to keep things running smoothly.
Follow the Crew During Port Stops
When the long-awaited port stop comes along, wait a little longer than usual to leave the ship so you can follow the crew members. They are the ones who know the best places to shop, eat and drink, and they can lead you to places other tourists don't know about.
Port Stops Are Their Hail Mary
Imagine you have been trapped in the same hotel for an entire month, with the same group of people, eating the same food over and over again and getting snapped at by cranky customers. Then, suddenly, you're allowed a brief reprieve in a brand-new city. Now you understand how crew members view port stops.
The Crew Keeps an Eye on Drunk Passengers
Crew members may like to get more than tipsy after work, but passengers don't have quite as loose of a leash. Workers aren't allowed to let passengers get too drunk, and they will quickly cut guests off if they see them getting too rowdy.
They Write Down Funny Passenger Questions
As you can imagine, workers on a cruise ship get asked some pretty funny questions. Some of the questions are just too good to ignore, and they save them all in the ultimate "burn book." This book is where unruly passengers, dumb questions and crazy incidents are permanently recorded.
There Are Genies at Sea
The highest-quality cruise experiences include workers who are called "genies." Genies are tasked with catering to the highest-paying passengers who hold VIP status to make sure they are never underwhelmed. Often, these passengers are celebrities looking to get away from their work for a while.