Cruise Employees Share What It's ACTUALLY Like To Work on a Cruise Ship

Cruise Ship Employees Dish What It's Really Like to Work Aboard a Cruise Ship

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Cruise Ship Employees Dish What It's Really Like to Work Aboard a Cruise Ship
Cheapism / DALL-E 3

Aye Aye, Captain

Boasting relaxation, adventure, and all-inclusive amenities, it's no wonder that cruises rank among the most sought-after vacation choices. But while they attract millions of travelers each year, the realities for those employed aboard these floating resorts are very different. While operating behind the scenes to ensure a seamless and enjoyable experience for guests, cruise ship employees face a distinct set of challenges that diverge sharply from the glamorous vacationer's lifestyle.

From working super long hours to being apart from family and loved ones for months on end, here's what life is really like for cruise ship workers. 

Captain of ship Alexander Benois and mates in captain's cabin

1. Long Working Hours

Cruise ship employees often work incredibly long hours, sometimes up to 12-14 hours a day without a day off for weeks. "Customers will treat you like a servant, and you'll work insane hours without ANY days off for 6-10 months," writes one former cruise worker on Reddit. On top of the grueling schedule, the work can also be physically and mentally-taxing, with almost no time left for recreation and personal relaxation. 

"This is a job that has a LOT of hours of work and very little free time," writes another user who worked as a bartender on a cruise ship. "You will get very little, if any, time in port if you work as a bartender. And you will work long and hard hours." Yikes! 

Related: 23 Things That You Should Never Do on a Cruise

Cruise Ship in Caribbean Sea
Ruth Peterkin/istockphoto

2. Extended Time Away From Home

Employees on cruise ships are typically contracted for several months at a time, meaning they spend extended periods away from family and friends. This separation can lead to feelings of isolation and homesickness — particularly during holidays or family milestones — which they have to miss. Cruise lines often also hire workers from other countries to capitalize on currency conversion rates and pay lower wages.

"Cruise lines typically hire workers from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe," writes one user. "That is because they can pay them a little as possible, the money does translate for them to be fairly good, and they aren't going to quit because they are far away from home." Well, damn. 

Related: The Worst Cruise Ship Horror Stories

MSC Seashore cruise ship docked at tropical island

3. Subpar Living Quarters

The living conditions on a cruise ship can be cramped, with several employees sharing the same bathroom and living space. "The rooms are very small, the bathrooms are generally shared (with some exceptions)." writes one former cruise worker. Staff quarters are typically also much smaller than guest accommodations and are often shared with multiple coworkers, several users pointed out. 

"If you want a job that will let you see the world, there are better options that don't involve living in a cramped space with hundreds of other people," writes another user. 

No entry warning sign in red colour. It is attached with a chain on the outside of a ship.
Martin Zubiria Kage/istockphoto

4. Strict Rules and Regulations

Working on a cruise ship also means having to adhere to a strict set of rules and regulations. These mandates can govern everything from personal conduct and dress codes to what foods they can eat and where they're allowed to hang out. Employees must maintain a high level of professionalism at all times, which can add an additional layer of stress to their already demanding roles. 

"Depending on the line and ship, you aren't allowed to eat the same food as the guests," writes one user, adding, "And you aren't allowed to be in guest areas (with some exceptions)." 

Related: 14 Types of People Who Really Should Never Take a Cruise

man sitting with his phone in the waiting room to board his trip
Jose carlos Cerdeno/istockphoto

5. Limited Access to Communication

While at sea, internet access can be limited or expensive — making it difficult for crew members to stay connected with their loved ones ashore. This can enhance feelings of isolation and make it harder to manage personal affairs while working for months on end. In fact, some cruise lines don't even offer free wifi to their employees, says one user

"Newer ships are great for cabins and wifi, older ships cabins can suck and really make you not want to be there," writes another user, adding, "Most bar staff would just go to the cafe at the dock to use the internet, call home, or transfer money."


6. Low Compensation

Cruise ship employees often face very low pay, especially when compared to similar roles on land. Cruise lines may try to leverage favorable currency conversion rates to offer wages that appear competitive in the employee's home country, but are relatively low by international standards. This issue is then compounded by the fact that many workers are from regions where economic conditions make any job opportunity attractive, despite the low pay. 

As one user points out, "If you’re from the countries they get most of the crew from (Philippines for restaurant workers, Thailand for housekeeping), it’s a better living than many jobs back home, but by American standards, it’s nonstop grueling work from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed for next to no pay." YIKES! 

Corridor on a cruise ship

7. Physically Demanding Work

Many roles on cruise ships are physically demanding, from deckhands to entertainment staff. Physical exhaustion is common, users point out, adding that the constant movement of the ship and the need to be always "on" in public areas can also be mentally-taxing. "[Servers and housekeeping staff] really do work 12+ hours a day," writes one user who worked as an entertainer on a cruise ship. "[They're also given] rare opportunities for time off, including port days."

"We had long hours and were always on call," writes another user who worked on a Holland America Line with her husband 10 years ago. "We only lasted 3 years because ship life can get tiresome," she adds. No kidding! 

Related: Don’t Sink Your Wallet: 7 Things You Should Never Buy While on a Cruise

Crew in a row on welcome reception of MS Europa 2 Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship.
NANCY PAUWELS/istockphoto

8. Job Security and Seasonality

Cruise ship employment can be highly seasonal, with many contracts offering little job security and next to zero opportunities for advancement. This can lead to uncertainty about future employment and financial instability, especially when contracts end and there is a wait before the next embarkation. "Some contracts are 9 or 10 months [but] you work every day of it. EVERY DAY!" writes one user. 

Another Redditor who worked as a photographer aboard big names like Royal Caribbean, Silja Line, and Holland America says, "It was very, very, hard work, and the working contract was only 4 months due to the pressure and work load." 

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Orange rescue boat and white life rafts of cruise passenger vessel with blue hull.
Lucia Gajdosikova/istockphoto

9. Safety Drills and Responsibilities

Since safety is paramount on cruise ships, employees are expected to be well-versed in drills and emergency procedures. These responsibilities — while critical for the safety of everyone on board — add another layer of seriousness to their roles, which can be time-consuming and pressure-filled. 

"We did fire training a lot," writes one user, adding, "Maybe once a week there was a basic verbal training, as in what to do when you hear the alarm, what are the types of fire extinguishers etc, and once a month was a full-on training where they got into the fire suits and did full evacuation drill." 

Related: Before You Set Sail, Learn these Surprising Cruise Ship Facts

Captain shaking hands with mature couple on deck of cruise ship

10. Personal Growth and Unique Experiences

Despite these challenges, some users pointed out that working on a cruise ship provided them with unique experiences and memories that led to significant personal and professional growth. "Worked on a Carnival cruise line for 4 years in the spa," writes one user. "It is what you make of it — you can complain about long hours and little pay, or see it as getting paid to travel. I saw more of the world than I would’ve [been able to] and don’t regret a thing about it."

Other employees also noted the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people, and gain valuable industry experience as key benefits of their job.