Jul 14, 2020
Ever wondered what it would be like working on a cruise ship? Travelling the world and getting paid for it? Visiting Instagram worthy locations that a few people only dream of? Well, the cruise ship industry can do all of that and more. As much as there are all these positives, like any other job, working on a cruise ship has its disadvantages such as long working hours, rocky ships and unpleasant guests. Read along as I share with you what to expect working on a cruise ship. The 10 advantages and disadvantages of working on a cruise ship based on my seven year experience on the job.
1. Long working hours
In my blog post about things to consider before working on a cruise ship, I mention how certain things depend on your position and department. This includes working hours. Expect to work at least 7 to 14 hours on a port day and 10 to 14 hours maximum on a sea day. Port days are days docked on an island for a couple of hours whereas a sea day is a full day at sea.
2. No days off
There are no off days on a cruise ship but this depends on the position and department you work for. If everyone had a day off, who would keep the guests entertained? Who would keep the overall operation of the ship going? It has been stressed that days off cannot be given because all the man power is needed for operation. What about labour laws you ask? Well, cruise lines have been smart enough to register under foreign countries so that they do not have to follow the strict US labour laws.
3. Being away from family for months on end
This has to be one of the hardest things people that work on ships go through. Being away from family and friends for up to nine months at a time. Because contracts are between six and eight months, some reaching 10, you are on board through the entire contract. Imagine not seeing your family for that duration.
Some people are new parents who have to leave their new born babies just for an income to support their families. With the social media internet packages for crew, communication has become easier. When I started working on ships back in 2013 we did not have that option because internet was so expensive and you would spend $10 for an hour call card.
4. WIFI is expensive
…especially if your salary is not great. Apart from being expensive, the connection can be really poor making it hard to get through a simple Whatsapp video call. The worst days are when one satellite breaks down or in the event of bad weather which in this case is money down the drain.
The social media internet package will set you back almost $250 a month if purchased everyday, which is pretty pricey if your salary is low. I have a friend who spent at least $1000 on WIFI each contract just to be able to communicate with his wife and kids back home. We can only hope that cruise lines will find a way to make internet affordable in the future as this is an essential for crew.
5. There is no therapist on board
This has never sat well with me and I do not understand it to this day. It can never be normal for anyone to leave home for six months to work long hours everyday with no days off. To sometimes deal with a power hungry manager and bullying colleagues all with little communication with the outside world which is a recipe for disaster. Then when disaster strikes you have no one to talk to, and as a result some people have resorted to taking their own lives.
Most of the time you do not want your family knowing what is going on because you do not want them to worry and stress about you. Being thousands of kilometres away there really isn’t much they can do. This can pose a problem for ones mental health which is why having a therapist on every ship is of great import.
A lot of crew members have taken their own lives on board for reasons unknown to many of us but I would like to believe that if they had someone to talk to they would still be here to see another day. There have been talks of having someone on board specifically for those needs so we can only hope they will go ahead with executing it so that many lives can be saved.
6. The food can be gross
Food served for crew is in a nutshell, disgusting. If it is not too spicy then it is mostly tasteless and greasy. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables aren’t the freshest either. Because food needs to last the duration of the cruise, most of it is frozen to preserve it. If you are staff (check out my blog post on the difference between staff and crew), then you have the privilege of eating in guest areas such as the dining room and buffet area where the food tastes much better.
7. Small living quarters.
The rooms are tiny. If you are tall with your arms stretched out, you can touch the bunk bed and wardrobe on the opposite side. The shower is so small that the curtain touches you when you reach to shave your legs or scrub your feet. Nothing is disgusting more than the feeling of a wet, cold shower curtain on your butt.
8. Sharing living quarters
Based on your position, you will share a room with a stranger who will either become your best friend or worst enemy. You guys can grow close or hate each other by the end of your contract. Sometimes you will find yourself changing rooms to get away from certain room mates and let me tell you, I have experienced it all. From the filthy room mates to the one that comes home drunk every night making noise while you are asleep. Not forgetting the one that turns the light on for no reason while you are sleeping and the one that is always in the room *sigh*.
Most of the time after a long day at work, all you need is a room to yourself to sit in silence. Unfortunately, you will not have that luxury unless if your room mate is dating someone that has their own space and is never around.
9. Your work place is your home
You literally live where you work. After a long day at work you cannot go home to escape from everything because your workplace is your home. Want to go to the bar for a drink to get away from your colleague that annoyed you? You can’t because that same person might be in the bar getting away from you, making it one of the disadvantages of this life. You cannot get away.
10. Too many rules
There are so many rules on ships not to mention borderline controlling if I must say. “The mess is only open at certain times so you can only eat at those designated times”. “Crew can only buy alcohol at a certain time”. “Certain drinks are only allowed to be ordered at this time”. “This area is out of bounds for crew”. “You can only drink this much”. “Crew cannot wear that”. “That nail colour is not allowed”. “You are not allowed to breath”! Okay, I’m joking about the last one but geez it is a bit too much. Forget about freedom to do whatever you want.
I can understand why they have to have certain rules in place, especially the alcohol policies. Because people tend to do stupid things when intoxicated. We are on a ship in the middle of the ocean after all so you wouldn’t want anyone falling overboard trying to reenact ‘Titanic” while intoxicated. Nonetheless, if you know that you don’t do well with rules then ship life is not the one for you.
Onto a more lighter and positive note, here are what I think are the ten advantages of working on a cruise ship according to my personal experience.
1. Travel the world and get paid while doing it
This has to be on of the best parts about this job. I visited countries that I probably would not have if I did not have this job which has been such a blessing. Working on the ship has contributed to a bulk of the 31 countries I have visited in the world, 29 to be exact. It has been a dream come true for me and I would not trade the experience for anything.
2. Long lasting friendships
There are people that I have worked with that I have been blessed to call friends to this day. I have made lasting friendships with the most amazing individuals from different parts of the world. Friends who have opened up their homes for me while on vacation in their home countries while saving me a couple of dollars on accommodation. Truly one of best parts of this job.
3. Salary can be tax free
Depending on your home country and tax laws, your salary can be tax free. Check your country’s expat tax laws to see how they affect you.
4. Great crew parties
If you are a socialite and love partying, the ship can have some amazing parties for crew. This gives crew time to engage and catch up with other crew members from other departments for some down time.
5. Amazing guests
During your contract you will come across some amazing guest. I have guests that I met on board who are my friends to date. In as much as the bulk of them are amazing on the other hand, there will be one or two to rub you the wrong way.
6. Discounts on almost everything
…except internet. The advantage of working on a cruise ship is that you get discounts on almost everything on board. Some islands that we visit give crew discount privileges as well. Just show them your crew ID to enjoy the perks. You can stock up on gifts for your loved ones at discounted prices in the shops on board; from name brand purses to beautiful expensive watch brands.
7. Save money (salary is all yours)
It is possible to save a chunk of your salary because you really do not have any expenses on board. Your expenses are all personal because boarding and meals are covered by the company. This of course depends on the company you work for. For example, spa staff have to pay for their meals and boarding according to their agreement with their company.
8. Experiences from tours
Have you ever wanted to swim with sharks or visit the Mayan Ruins? Now you can with tours offered by the shore excursions department at a discounted crew rate. I have ticked off so many experiences off my bucket list solely from tours on board.
9. Acquiring skills
I have acquired so many skills while working on ships especially customer service. They are very strict and strive for an almost perfect customer experience for the guests. It’s from this job that I get frustrated when I receive bad customer service from certain establishments because I know what great customer service is and what to expect.
Patience is another skill I have developed from my job. Working as a youth staff you need a great level of patience and tolerance given that you are dealing with kids and their overly entitled parents.
10. An escape from home
As hard as life can be on board, on the positive side it has been therapeutic for others. I know of people who took a job on ships to get away from an abusive boyfriend or a toxic family/relationship. It was a getaway from all the negativity that they were engulfed in at home. Although this does not solve the actual problem it serves as a temporary escape for them to sort out their lives.
in conclusion, if you are interested in working on a ship then definitely take into consideration these advantages and disadvantages to see if this life is for you. Opinions on ship life are relative so everything mentioned above is based on my personal experience and views. It is different for everyone. I know people who were very miserable and only did one contract while I also know people who loved their job and did 10 years plus. The experience is different for everyone and will definitely be different for you.