Cruise ships may have a reputation as a luxurious getaway, but it’s a different story for those below decks. Cruise ship employees live a life that would be completely unrecognizable to paying customers.
While they’re on a ship, they need to keep up the facade for the customers. But a recent Reddit thread asking former cruise workers what it was like peels back the glittering curtain to show the reader what it’s actually like working on a cruise ship.
From tiny rooms to onboard deaths, 20 former cruise ship employees dish out their cruise ship confessions.
1. “Crew members are super hard working and work weeks are 70 hours a week without a single day off for 6-8 months at a time. […] The best way to describe no days off is waking up to your alarm and every single day feels like a Monday morning.” (teddersman)
Hungover and I’ve not even gone to sleep yet. #shiplife
— Emilie Taylor (@EmilieElsewhere) December 23, 2017
2. “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.” (deleted)
Swapping Christmas gifts with friends at lights because you don't know when you'll all be free during work tomorrow! ❤️ #ShipLife
— Sadie Katie Hampton (@khamp1) December 25, 2017
3. “Most of my friends work for cruises since we work in technical theatre production, it’s an easy hire. Cruises are either a great way to save money or an awful one. Your lodging and food are paid for, and you’re getting paid, so that’s great. But cruises are BORING. Sure, cheap booze and free travel are great for the first little while. But after a while, it becomes like Squidward in that episode where he finds his perfect town. So routine. So boring. Wifi is usually anywhere from $5/day to $10/hour and there is no cell service. So, when you’re not working, you’re trying your best to find anything to do. So a lot of the time you’ll start spending money on anything new, and then you’re not saving or enjoying yourself, so there’s little point.” (JustHereForCaterHam)
4. “Everyone sleeps with everyone.
The food for the 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 paid that well, but some countries, where the conversion rate is really good, make some serious banks. 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.
That’s all off the top of my head.” (MirtaGev)
5. “I wanted to get into mental health on ships. Basically, there is no and 0 support system, and it’s unfortunate. People get all riled up, there’s drama, closed quarters, etc, and things happen. If there was someone on board that was trustworthy and reliable to help educate, support and guide some of the crew, then ship life wouldn’t be as destructive as it can be. I don’t want to get into it, but it’s a conversation I’ve had on almost every ship I’ve been on.” (JMPBass)
6. “My position shared a bedroom with bunk beds and really small bathrooms. You could sh*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. I was allowed in guest areas, but after spending all day with the guests that’s the last thing I wanted to do. You’re always on duty and your supervisors have 24-hour access to you at all times by just ringing your phone and waking you up in your cabin. 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. I spent way too much money on it.” (teddersman)
— Diastin Rachma (@diastinrachma) December 16, 2017
7. “Crew members sleep with crew members. Crew sleeping with passengers is strictly (like, kick you off the next day strictly) forbidden.” (chockythechipmunk)
8. “The best way I could describe it is this: Work hard, play hard, work harder, play harder, die a little and do that cycle for almost a year.
If you don’t find good friends and things to keep you occupied and happy (that isn’t sleeping and drinking) you’ll hate life in about 2 months. I enjoyed my time there, don’t wanna go back, but I had a ton of fun and loved the experience I got from it.” (Shanxi)
9. “Things are very divided by position. There is almost a caste system in place with officers at the top, then entertainment (this includes everything from musicians to photographers and — for some reason — the shop workers) then front-of-house (wait staff and concierge), then back-of-house (engine room and cleaners). These groups are usually divided by nationality too, so there isn’t a lot of interaction between them.” – TickleMafia
— Jacob (@OhHeyJacob) December 6, 2017
10. “Some of my favourite passenger questions/complaints:
-“Do you actually sleep here on the boat?” No, lady. All the crew sleep on life rafts being towed behind the ship…
-“Can you do something about the waves?” Sure, let me get God on the line with my deck phone here.
-“Where does my poop go when I flush it?” Into the crew areas, obviously.
-“Why are there life jackets in my room?” For aesthetic.
-“Can you do something about the clouds? I paid good money to get a tan!” Yeah, let me call God again.
-“Can I be pulled behind the boat on one of those life rings?” Oh, please try.” (Sara Baines-Miller)
11. “Rank means a lot on a ship. I only had a 2-week contract,
— Brightwell (@BrightwellApp) December 14, 2017
12. “People fall overboard. It happens more than you think. On a cruise, we had a production singer thinking it was a great idea to do a handstand on the railing. He fell over, and we spent hours looking for him, but he was never seen again. Everyone thinks he got sucked through the propellers. Drunk people fall off the balconies into lifeboats or into the water about once per contract. It’s sad.” (soundcheck_157)
13. “SHIPS ARE A VERY CLASSIST SYSTEM!!! I can’t stress that enough. If you’re into social justice, it’s a case study worth exploring. Sometimes, the work is exploitative, other times it’s demeaning, but these crews 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.” (JMPBass)
14. “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.” (Pixielix)
— Kari Vaassen (@kari_vaassen) December 11, 2017
15. “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, and never had time to get off the 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 in the lido, and made around $3000 a month. The jobs all have nationalities. On our ships, bartenders were all Filipino EXCEPT the crew and officers’ bartenders, who were Indonesian.” (BilliousN)
16. “The cruising life sucks you in. I’m a freelance musician on land, teaching and taking gigs. When I came back from my first three-month long contract my bands had replaced me, and I had lost about half my private students. I had to start from scratch to build up all the work I had before I left, and 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.” (TickleMafia)
17. “The crew was basically divided in half. There was a huge group of Southeast Asians, quite a few were even family members. They mostly stuck with themselves and did a lot of the manual labour style work. The second group was 18-30-year-olds from the U.S., Canada, Australia, France, and England. The younger kids humped like rabbits and drank like fish. Most people would blow every paycheck going nuts at each port and drinking on the cruise ship. The older Southeast Asians very rarely drank and very rarely did much at a port other than pick up some personal supplies.” (SirMaximusPowers)
18. “Cruise ship musician here, came to say a few things… 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 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. Now, let’s add the jail factor – you’re in a tin can and can’t leave. Some people can never get off when in port because their jobs don’t allow for it. I was lucky – musicians have an evening schedule that revolves around guest schedules, so we could easily get off in port as long as we weren’t working on a skeleton crew that day.” (JMPBass)
— Robert Antonio (@Rantonio68) December 16, 2017
19. “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.
The moral of the story is? If you want a cruise ship job, stop smoking weed 3 weeks ago.” (draft nuts)
20. “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. But none of that matters…in 5 years on cruise ships, I literally travelled the world. I went to Europe, Canada, north, south and Central America including Alaska and Hawaii Asia including China, Japan, India, and Africa. I basically visited every continent except Antarctica and went to over 75 countries. I took a sled dog ride in Alaska, went 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, snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef, visited the great pyramids in Egypt, been to the lost city of Petra, spent days in Barcelona, Athens, Rome, Kyiv, and so much more. None of the BS you have to put up with onboard matters compared to that.” (Seastar321)