When people think of cruising, they’re often drawn to the idea of getting away from the monotony of their everyday lives and living it up on an island or two for a few days. But what about the people who take care of those vacationers?
When I signed my contract to work on a cruise ship, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I was picturing a life where I was getting paid to sip cocktails on a beach and basically be on a permanent vacation. Of course, that was only half true. There is so much about living and working a cruise ship that no one tells you, and there’s not much that can prepare you for it. Cruise ship life isn’t for everyone, but for those who can hack it, it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity.
There are some things they forget to mention before you sign your contract for working on a cruise ship, like…
THERE IS A MORGUE ONBOARD
It’s a sad truth, but people do pass away onboard. There are some seniors who live out the ends of their lives going on several different cruises, one after the other. There are also other things that can happen, but I won’t go into detail. The truth of the matter is, a morgue is needed, and every ship has one.
There’s also a jail, just FYI.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE IN AN EMERGENCY
When you sign up to work on a ship, not only are you responsible for whatever job duties you’re assigned, i.e. I worked in kids camp, you’ll also be responsible in the case of an emergency or two. Everyone is given some kind of assignment, and for the most part, it will have to do with making sure all of the guests and crew get off the ship safely in the case of an emergency. Of course, there are other disasters that could happen onboard, such as a fire or a medical emergency, but the staff has certain people in place to make sure those things are taken care of. You will have drills and safety briefings that give you all the information you need to perform your emergency duties, but just know that if you signed up to work in entertainment or be a bartender or work in kids camp like me, in addition to that, you will also have other duties beyond your “normal” day-to-day.
YOU CAN’T GET COZY WITH GUESTS
This is a huge no-no. In your handbook, it will tell you that you are allowed to have relationships with co-workers, but it’s a huge N-O to have any kind of relationship with guests. I’ve known people who have gotten fired for this.
YOU’LL BE AWAY FROM HOME FOR MONTHS AT A TIME
One of the biggest questions I got asked was how does time off work and if I would get to go home for the holidays. Firstly, cruise ship workers don’t get days off. You literally work every day of your contract. You do get pockets of time off, and there are stipulations on how many hours you can work in succession on any given day, but no, you don’t get any days off.
Also, you don’t get to go home for holidays because cruise ships are still running. So if you’re not prepared to miss those holiday traditions, cruise ship life can definitely be tough. Contracts can range anywhere from two weeks to nine months with most of them lasting about six or seven months. You can ask for a work break, but those aren’t always granted.
CABINS ARE TINY
If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know how tiny those cabins are. Well, if you’re working on a ship, guest cabins are like luxury suites comparatively. Cabins are teeny tiny, so when you’re packing, make sure you only bring the essentials. It’s likely you’ll end up acquiring many things during you’re contract that you leave behind when you sign off. The good thing about having a small living space is that it makes you realize how much you don’t actually need.
WEEKENDS DON’T MATTER
When you’re living on a cruise ship, you stop paying attention to the days of the week because weekends literally don’t matter. When you make plans with people, you don’t say “Oh, we should meet in crew bar on Wednesday.” It’ll be more like “I work in the morning when we’re in Nassau, so let me get a nap in and we can meet in crew bar later.” I mention the nap because they are essential to cruise ship life.
Ship time is a very real thing. Weeks turn into cruises (i.e. “only three more cruises until I go home!”) and days of the week turn into port days and sea days.
YOU CAN GET TIPSY ON LESS THAN $5
Depending on the size of your ship, there are many areas designated for just staff and crew, such as the staff and crew messes and crew bar. While guests pay monstrous prices to drink on cruise ships, the crew gets to enjoy discounted drinks in crew bar. Granted, I’m admittedly a lightweight, so I could get tipsy off of less than $5. If you got a well vodka orange (not all of the bartenders knew what a “screwdriver” was), you could get it for about $1.25. They also always had a $2 drink special, so if you liked what they were serving, you could drink on the cheap. My favorite was the Bahama Mama. Delish and dangerous.
THERE ARE CREW PARTIES AND EVENTS
Cruise ship workers work hard. There’s no denying it. Not only do you spend time away from your family, you don’t get any days off, so the HR department makes sure they do what they can to ensure that the crew is having the best time that they can while living and working on the ship. At least once a month, there is a big themed party, and beyond that, they also hold special events like karaoke nights, wine and paint nights, blackjack and poker tournaments, themed food nights and so much more. Every department is encouraged to get involved and send in suggestions for crew events.
YOU WILL MAKE FRIENDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
Displayed on every person’s nametag is their name (duh), their job title and where they’re from. It’s amazing how diverse the staff is and how easily everyone seems to get along. It’s fascinating to hear about the traditions of people from other countries, especially during the holidays. Even though you’re working with hundreds of people from all over the world, it’s easy to feel like everyone you work with is part of your extended family.
IT’S THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
Yes, you will work hard. Yes, you will spend time away from your family and friends. But honestly, working on a cruise ship was one of the best experiences of my life, and I know so many people who feel the same. Not only do you get to travel, you also get to meet people from all over the world, have so many unforgettable experiences and have endless amounts of fun while doing it. If you get the opportunity to work on a cruise ship, embrace it because it’s a story you’ll be telling for the rest of your life.
What would you want to know before working on a cruise ship?