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Everything You Need to Know About Working on a Cruise Ship

Have you ever been on a cruise and thought to yourself, “I could do this forever”? Working on a cruise ship sounds like a dream come true, but there are always pros and cons to any job, even if you are living at sea.

Cruise ship crew life is quite different than most other careers, as you might expect, and cruise ship employees have very different experiences depending on the cruise line, the ship, and their duties on board.

Here, we will discuss all the good and not-so-good things about being one of the crew members on cruise ships, how much crew members make, and if a career in the cruise industry is really worth it.

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10 Things you Should Know About Working on a Cruise Ship

Many crew members choose to stay and work on cruise ships for many years, while cruise lines like having their favorite crew members on their ships repetitively.

To get a better insight into the life of a crew member who lives and works on a cruise ship, the opinions and thoughts of former crew members were compiled into the following list:

It’s Hard Work!

Although guests know that crew members are not enjoying a vacation like they are, few know how much hard work goes into being a dedicated crew member.

Many crew members have reported that guests often overlook all the details they put into creating the amazing experience cruise ships offer. That said, they also confessed that working on a cruise ship is almost like a working vacation.

Crew members earn a good salary and aren’t required to pay rent, food, or necessary utilities, so all in all, it is a pretty good deal.

Crew Members Have a Blast on the Cruise Ship After Hours

Crew members generally have a kind of “work hard and play hard” attitude toward their jobs. Although crew members work very hard, they often also party much harder than most of the guests onboard.

Many ships offer great facilities that give the crew a chance to relax and have some fun. You’ll often find “hall parties” onboard, where the crew members open their cabin doors and socialize in the halls.

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Crew Member Spend a lot of Time Away from Home

Working on land means you get to return to your family after each working day, but cruise ship workers don’t have this luxury. Working on a cruise ship requires long periods away from your home and your loved ones, which often takes a bit of a toll on many employees.

Therefore, crew members have stated that a career at sea is not suitable for everyone. You have to be willing to be separated from your life on land for months on end.

Guests Sometimes Plan their Cruise Vacation around Crew Members

As most of us know, good service isn’t always easy to find. That’s why many guests sometimes try to find out which ship a particular crew member is working on before they book a cruise.

Although you can expect the best service from major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line, some families grow fond of a certain crew member and will go to the ends of the earth to ensure they go on a cruise where that employee will be working.

Some crew members even report visiting some guests and families long after the cruise is over to catch up. Cruise ships have a way of creating sincere bonds, and guests and crew members often become good friends both on and off the ship.

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Crew Members Consider Cruise Ships to be Their Home

Many guests are sometimes surprised when they find the crew members actually live on the ship. Most people think that crew members just sort of come and go, but they really do live on the cruise ship for many months at a time.

Although crew contracts vary in duration, most of them require crew members to stay on board for many months, during which they call the cruise ship their home.

Crew Members Don’t Get the Same Food as Guests

Most cruise guests expect that the crew gets the same food as all the passengers, but this is not true. There are special dining rooms on cruise ships designated for the crew only, which are not nearly as luxurious as the ones guests get to enjoy.

However, crew members can still dine in the nicer restaurants when they’re not working as performers or officers.

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Crew Members Simply Love the Traveling

When you ask a crew member what the best part of their job is, the answer will most likely be the fact that they get to travel around the world on the job.

Many former crew members have also stated that traveling the world is the part they miss most about a career at sea. Life on dry land doesn’t seem to come close to the excitement and wonder life at sea offers.

Considering the salary of cruise ship workers and the next-to-nothing expenses they have, traveling to different countries around the globe is undoubtedly a great benefit.

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Cruise Ship Employees Don’t Get Days Off

Unlike a job on land, working on a cruise ship doesn’t entail true off days. Instead, crew members have long working days that are separated by breaks.

Cruise ship workers don’t receive full days to relax and do what they want on the ship, but they do get a few hours off, depending on the schedule of the day.

Although this might not seem ideal, crew members rarely complain about it, as their breaks are often long enough to allow them to explore ports and make use of the wonderful facilities onboard.

Relationships with Guests are Forbidden

Although many guests and crew members form strong friendships over the course of the cruise, any relationship with guests beyond just friends is strictly prohibited.

Cruise lines impose very strict rules regarding personal relationships between crew members and guests, and disobeying these rules are grounds for termination.

This prohibition is largely based on ship security and completely preventing workplace conflicts. Some guests might think that crew members are being particularly friendly with them, but they should never assume their intentions to be anything more than forming a friendship.

Crew Members Also get Seasick

Guests often think that seasickness is only inflicted upon first-time cruisers and those with weaker stomachs, but virtually anyone suffers from seasickness from time to time, even crew members.

Many cruise ship workers have reported that the first few weeks at sea are really miserable because they feel so ill all the time. However, it does seem to subside with time, only to return when the ocean is very rough.

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Advantages of Working on a Cruise Ship

Free Traveling Opportunities

Most people are initially attracted to a job at sea because they basically get paid to travel. Shore excursion could still set you back a few bucks, so many crew members choose to stay on the ship at ports to save money. Work onboard can get tough, but you get to visit countless countries and have some amazing experiences that may not have been financially possible had you taken a job on land.

Almost No Living Expenses

As a cruise ship worker, where you live and where you work are the same place. Life on land means you need to take care of rent and utility bills each month, whereas, on a cruise ship, you don’t have any such expenses.

All your basic living costs are included on a cruise ship. Crew members get food, water, accommodation, and electricity as part of their contract.

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Long Vacations After Contract Periods

Under normal circumstances, a vacation of more than four weeks is unheard of when it comes to jobs on land. In contrast, work on a cruise is separated by multi-week vacations.

Crew members generally get six to eight weeks off after their contract period is complete. As cruise ship workers never really get days off on the ship, this vacation is often much-needed, despite being unpaid.


Crew members get discounts on almost all services in the ports, including beach resorts, shuttles, taxis, and even restaurants.

Local businesses grasp that crew members are recurring customers, whereas guests are just one-time visitors, so they embrace regular support with discounts.

International Options and Relationships

Guests on cruises are typically from one or two different countries, but crew members come from all over the world, so cruise ship workers are constantly surrounded by many people from different countries and cultures.

Not only does this make for an incredibly unique learning experience, but it also gives you a chance to make some international connections. It opens the door to a broader range of working opportunities for the future.

After a few years at sea, crew members have friends and contacts from all over the world, allowing them to visit people and go on vacation anywhere they like.

Free Medical Care

Although many people across the world are always ensured the best medical care, this is an incredible benefit to life onboard for many.

If you come down with the flu during your time on the cruise ship, you can rest assured you will receive the best medical care and any medications you need for free.

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You Get to Do Humanitarian Work Onboard

Many major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, have a history of helping those in need, and the crew members get to be a part of this movement.

From evacuating islands affected by hurricanes to providing food for those affected by wildfires, being able to help distressed individuals while working on a cruise ship is one of the most meaningful experiences you could have.

Cruise Ship Work Boosts your Resume

As you require a very diverse range of skills to be a crew member on a cruise ship, such as customer service and management skills, a career at sea helps you create a well-rounded resume for future jobs.

The fact that you work long hours and have to maintain your mental strength for months on end, a history of working in the cruise ship industry is a valuable addition to your CV.

Many former crew members have reported being eligible for many more employment opportunities after gaining so much experience onboard.

Disadvantages of Working on a Cruise Ship

No Off Days

There is no such thing as holidays and weekends for cruise ship workers. You are on duty 24/7, every day you are on the cruise ship, with breaks as your only downtime.

With a land job, you can let your hair down every Friday night and relax the entire weekend. While crew members still take their breaks to have fun, they have to get right back up each morning to work.

Long Hours and Long Contracts

Some crew members work up to 13 hours a day, but it highly depends on your job position and how busy the cruise is.

Most crew members clock around nine to 11 hours every day, and because breaks separate the day, they sometimes only finish very late at night.

Moreover, most contracts are around four to nine months long, so crew members often feel very overworked and homesick. The extended contracts also make it difficult to maintain long-term relationships on land because you are away often and for so long.

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You’re Always On Call

Each crew member is required to respond to emergencies like fires, medical crises, passengers overboard, and security threats.

Regardless of whether you are sleeping, eating, or showering, you have seven minutes to reach the emergency station when the announcement is made. Even crew members who are on the lower deck have to run up ten decks to get to the station in time.

Small Crew Cabins

Many guests complain about their cabins being very small, but they have no idea what the crew members have to deal with.

Apart from the officers and high-ranked staff members, the crew members are confined to very small living quarters. Most crew members live in cabins with a roommate that is just big enough to fit bunk beds, dresser drawers, and a small table. There are also two closets and a restroom, but nothing is bigger than it needs to be.

Smaller individuals might not find this too inconvenient, but anyone larger than 5’4 may not have the easiest time living in these fun-sized rooms.

Crew cabins can easily induce claustrophobia if you’re not used to living in small spaces.

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Little to No Privacy

There really is no place to hide when you’re a crew member on a cruise ship. Although you have a room, you share it, so there aren’t many places you can just take a moment to yourself.

Therefore, introverts have a much harder time spending so many months on the same ship than extroverts, as the close proximity between employees may drive them crazy. However, your bunk bed will have a little curtain you can close to create some measure of solitude when you need it.

Crew Members are Not Treated as Guests

As we mentioned before, crew members have a designated cafeteria known as the Crew Mess, where they don’t get to eat the same food as the guests. Even the cafeteria is sometimes separated according to rank.

As so many crew members come from Asian countries, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and India, the crew’s food is often catered to such cuisines. Some cruise ships also offer Western food, but it is not very common.

Crew members are often the targets of unlawful activity, like smuggling illegal substances onto ships. Therefore, the crew undergoes additional security checks before they board, including a full pat-down. Although this doesn’t sound so bad, some port authorities don’t treat the crew members as well as they should.

Demanding Customer Service

Although the majority of cruise guests are an absolute delight, there are always a few guests that make it their mission to be difficult. This certainly teaches you to be patient and maintain a friendly face even when someone is testing your limits.

Many guests wrongly believe that the bigger the fuss they make, the greater their compensation will be, which is often not the case. With time, the crew builds a sort of tolerance to such behaviors, but after many working hours, it can really take a toll on a person.

Guests sometimes have the most absurd requests that you cannot possibly deliver aboard, but it is important to keep calm and just explain the situation as best you can.

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How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?

The salary of a crew member depends largely on their position and the cruise line they’re working for. Below, we have outlined the average annual salaries of crew members, excluding any gratuities, which could add a significant amount to the total.

  • Cruise Ship Captain: $96 500
  • Hotel Manager: $50 5000
  • Cruise Director: $96 600
  • Deckhands: $50 000
  • Chief Engineer: $85 000
  • Electrical Engineer: $77 600
  • Maintenance Manager: $76 000
  • Fitter: $46 500
  • Plumber: $55 000
  • Receptionist: $41 100
  • Recreation Coordinator: $41 100
  • Executive Chef: $63 300
  • Chef de Partie: $37 200
  • Sous Chef: $45 700
  • Food Service Director: $56 400
  • Entertainment Manager: $55 000
  • Entertainment Staff: $40 600
  • Security Officer: $41 700
  • Nurse: $71 000
  • Paramedic: $50 800
  • Health and Safety Officer: $85 800
  • Housekeeping Manager: $30 000
  • Floor Supervisor: $45 700
  • Cabin Steward: $24 000
  • Wait Staff: $25 000