Jun 24, 2020
Ever wondered what it would be like working on a cruise ship? Seeing the staff at the deck party all smiles and playful and bar staff serving up tasty, colourful cocktails while dancing and interacting with the guests. The playlist performers giving a stellar performance on a night you think is super rocky and your hotel steward/stewardess always smiling like they are on some happy drug because is it really possible for someone to be that happy 4 months into their contract working every day? Well, stay put and read along on some of the things you need to consider before taking a job on a cruise ship. Taken from my 7 years of cruise ship work experience, this life is not for the faint-hearted. From the long working hours to the crazy crew parties, this life comes with the good, the bad and the ugly. Read along as I share with you 20 things to consider before taking a job on a cruise ship and what to expect to gage if this lifestyle is for you.
1. Prepare to be away from your family for at least 6 to 9 months straight.
Yeap, you read right. Depending on your position and the season, contracts are anything from 6 months to 9 months. Certain positions offer seasonal or swing contracts. Seasonal contracts are contracts for a specific season e.g Halloween, Easter, Festive season etc, just to name a few. Most of these positions are a part of the Entertainment department (social hosts and youth staff). Swing contracts are contracts where by you fill in in case someone goes home on an emergency or filling in for a person that is on vacation (completed their contract and is going home for a couple of months). This contract can be anything from 1-3 months.
2. Long working hours
My job on the ship was my first official job after University and can I just say I was in no way ready for what I was about to experience. The working hours are insane; depending on your position of course. On a port day you are looking at at least 7 hours if you are a part of the youth staff like I was. When I left there were talks of increasing those port day hours to 10 which is just mind boggling. On a sea day you are looking at anything from 10 – 14 hours. Like I mentioned above, the hours depend on your position. Some positions work at least 4 hour port days and 6 hour sea days. Oh wow I wish I worked in one of those positions.
3. What day off?
Yes, there are no days off on the ship except if you are in one of those special positions I keep talking about above. Those positions being show band, playlist performers and casino staff, to name a few. So imagine if you do not work for any of those departments and your contract is 6 months long. Yeap, you guessed right. You will work everyday for those hours for 6 months straight. NO DAY OFF!! Talk about modern day slavery. That I must admit was the one thing I hated the most about my job.
4. Average staff meals
If you think the food would be the best part of your job then think again. The food you see on TV served to guests at the restaurant or the buffet is way different than what the crew and staff get. The captain and officers menu is better though.
The food does not have much nutritional value and has minimal taste if any. If you are vegetarian/vegan then you are definitely screwed because the fruits and vegetables taste like cardboard most of the time; it is so bland. Sometimes you find yourself feeling hungry after eating a full plate of lunch or dinner Most of the food is frozen because they need to keep it preserved for the duration of the cruise. Imagine eating frozen or microwave food everyday for 6 months at home. I feel sick just thinking about it.
If you are part of the staff then you have the privilege of eating in guest areas such as the buffet area but only on certain days and times. Those times are lunch on port days only and dinner everyday of the cruise. I spent most of my money eating out. Nothing like your favourite meal filled with fresh fruit and vegetables at your favourite restaurant on a port day.
5. Tiny cabins
Crew member and some staff cabins are very small with bunks beds and only a curtain for privacy. An even tinier bathroom with a shower, basin and toilet. The bathroom is so small you can reach the basin from the shower. The shower is so tiny that the curtain rubs up on you while trying to shave your legs.
Some crew cabins share a bathroom between two cabins unless if you are on a fantasy class ship on Carnival where they have dorm style bathrooms. You will have to walk out your bedroom to take a shower or use the toilet. I dread those AM toilet runs.
The rooms are usually located on deck zero and lower. Some cabins do not have windows; that is a luxury reserved for some staff members and officers; from potholes to bigger windows.
The size of the cabin also depends on the position. Crew members usually have smaller cabins, staff members with slightly bigger ones and the officers with much bigger cabins.
Unfortunately those are the conditions you will have to live in for 6 months. Not being able to tell what time of the day it is because the room is always pitch black unless if you have the lights on. You can only imagine the toll it takes on the body.
6. Drills once a month
There are boat drills held every month on the safety measures that need to be taken in case of an emergency. For example, fire on board, which is the most common case of emergency you will find on a ship. If you have been working on ships for years this part of your job becomes tedious and frustrating because you find the drill cuts into your of time during the day which most of the time is during you rest period. Depending on the Captain and Safety Officer, the drill can go for as long as 1h45min and can also be on your favourite port day. Trust me, everyone hates drill days.
7. Crew parties
At least once a month there is a crew party for all the crew and staff members for some down time and to bring some sort of normalcy to this not so normal life you will be embarking on. Some are fun and some are just plain boring. Most of the parties are themed for e.g Bollywood party, traffic light party and 80’s party, to name a few. The best parties are held in the guest night club when the club is closed. Everyone gets excited about those ones. Not forgetting the outside the spa deck parties. After all, who doesn’t want to spend time under the stars with some good music and drinks?
8. Discounts for crew
The great part of being a crew member are the discounts you get on almost everything you purchase on board. Alcohol is sold on the low low and you can get amazing gifts for your family and friends in the gift shop at affordable prices. Love coffee and cookies? Get your fix at the coffee shop at a discount. Excursions are also discounted for crew. The best part about this is if your family or friends are cruising they can use your benefits.
9. Staff vs crew
you have probably recognised by now that there is a difference between crew and staff members and the privileges thereof. Staff have guest area privileges meaning you can hang around areas where the guests are. Crew members do not have any guests area privileges and are not allowed there unless if they are working. Staff get their own cabin stewards whereas crew members have to do clean their own cabins. As mentioned earlier staff members have their own bathrooms in their cabin whereas most crew members have to share a bathroom with another cabin. These are just a few of the many differences between the staff and crew members.
10. Doing laundry is a mission
Doing your laundry is so much of a hassle. The ratio of washing machines and driers to crew does not make the laundry experience any easier. You can spend the whole day waiting for a washing machine to be available. Most of the time the washing machines are ‘out of order’. When that is the case forget about having any clean clothes for the rest of the cruise. the best time to do your laundry would be on certain port days because most of the crew are off the ship or on a home port day.
11. Get paid to travel
The best part about this job is getting to see the world and getting paid while doing it. In my 7 year ship career I have been blessed to travel to 29 countries. It has been one of the best experiences and I would not trade it for anything. I know that if it had not been for this job I would not have had the privilege to visit all those beautiful countries and islands. Take note that not everyone can get off the ship and explore the islands because they have to work most of the time.
12. All your salary goes in your pocket
Because your meals, accommodation and medical needs are covered, your salary has no deductions. What you spend your money on is all up to you. Though I have heard that the spa staff pays for their accommodation and meals because they work for an external company. The company then deducts a certain amount from their salary to cover those costs.
13. Physical guest interaction is forbidden
You are not allowed to dance too close with guest or get into any physical contact with guests. That is grounds to get fired. If you are found kissing, having sex or in a guest cabin not in the line of duty, that is immediate termination. They are simply that, guests. You are not allowed to have any relations with them. Also, you are not allowed to accept any drinks or gifts from guests over a specific monetary value.
14. Crew members date each other
Yes, beautiful relationships and tragic heartbreaks have come from relationships between crew members. Remember that this is still your place of work. So if you are planning on getting into a relationship with someone you will have to keep it professional, no matter what may be happening in your relationship.
15. Rocky ships
Depending on the weather the ocean can be a nightmare and the ship can rock like crazy. If you are prone to motion sickness then a job on a cruise ship may not be for you. You will experience bad weather at least once in your contract, especially during hurricane season. Thank God for motion sickness pills but that would not be the best go to if you have to work because they cause drowsiness.
16. Training, training and more training
You will have to go through a lot of training to be able to work your full contract on board, especially if you are first contract. For the first 3 months of your first contract it is mostly training to familiarize you with the lifestyle, emergency training and what to expect for the rest of your contract.
17. Guests can be unpleasant
Most guests are amazing but you will get that odd 10 or 20 that are downright rude and entitled. There is a certain skill and level of patience you will need to deal with such guests. My patience has been tested many times but the experience has taught me greatly how to deal with such people, even in my personal life.
18. Different nationalities and cultural backgrounds
There are more than 60 nationalities working on board the cruise ship. Working with individuals from different backgrounds can be challenging and frustrating at times. You need to remember that they do not deal with things the same way you do and may take thing that you say personal which people at home wouldn’t. It takes a lot of adjusting and time to get used to it. Get to know your fellow crew members, learn about their cultures and how they operate so that you can be able to work peacefully amongst and with them.
19. Communication with the outside world
With almost everything thing being free, it is sad to say that one of the most important things on board is costly, and that is internet. Keeping in touch with family is going to cost you a lot of money. Especially if you do not get time to get off the ship on port days to utilise the internet from the restaurants and crew centers.
They have introduced a social media plan that costs $4 for 24 hours. You are working most of the time and if you are not working you are resting so you find that you don’t even utilize much of the plan. On top of that the internet connection is very slow. If you bought the plan everyday, you would be spending $120 a month on internet which is pretty expensive.
If your ship has Mexican and US ports then its best you buy a sim card in Mexico that you can use for days when you are in those ports, which will work out cheaper.
20. Long lasting friendships
I have met so amazing people from around the world that I still call my friends today. I have also had the opportunity to visit them in their home countries while on vacation. This is one of the plus sides of working on a ship. A blessing indeed.
So if you are looking to work on a cruise ship, do your due diligence and research on the type of position you want to apply for, what it entails, the salary you will be receiving and the lifestyle. Take that information and do some self introspection to see if you will be able to handle it. This life is not for everyone. Some people quit weeks into their contract and others make it till the end. Find out what is best for you. I will not lie, as hard as it was sometimes, I had many amazing life experiences and lessons from the job that I will not trade for anything. It was all worth it was all worth it and it may be worth it for you.