9 Cruise Ship Workers Dish the Dirty Details of Life at Sea

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Ever thought about working on a cruise ship?

Why not?


Free room and board, exotic locations, beautiful sunsets, etc.

Well, before you break that lease and hop onboard, you might want to read to the following AskReddit stories from current and former cruise ship workers.

They might give you a little more info to marinate on…

#1. Don’t get fired

It was the worst job I’ve ever had in my life.

Some bullet points:

If you get fired, the line I worked for would kick you off on whatever island they docked at next. Sounds fair – but some of these kids had just started working and had no money saved up that could get them home.

I did not have a single day off during my entire five-month contract, and we worked split shifts: anywhere from 12-17 hours a day.

You saw these amazing places from a porthole. I got off the ship like three times.

The percentage of people with an STD triples when you compare entry vs. exit tests. Lots’a freakiness.

I hooked up with a girl in one bunk while her roomie did the same with my buddy.

Lots of drinking.

#2. The full run-down

Ship DJ for 2 years checking in.

Male crew outnumber female crew approx 5:1.

If crew are caught sleeping with guests (they made us call them ‘guests,’ but we call you ‘cones’ when you can’t hear us), they’re put off in the next port with a ticket home.

That’s the threat at least. Only saw it put into action once.

Our food is terrible. We don’t eat what you eat, there are three levels of food for workers:

Crew Food – Unidentifiable for the most part. Real ox tails in the oxtail soup. Lots of saffron rice.

Staff Food – It’s like someone saw a picture of a buffet, and said ‘I can make that!’ but only had access to dumpster leavings. Many a night I’d wander to the staff mess and ask someone along the way what was for dinner. Many a night the reply was ‘Toast and cereal.’ They had pink ‘dessert’ that we called ‘Pepto Bismol surprise.’ The surprise was that it didn’t taste like Pepto Bismol, or anything else you’d put in your mouth. It was served in little metal cups, and if there was any left over, it would appear upside down, sans la cup, on a small plate the next day. If it was still uneaten on the third day, it became ‘Boob Food.’ Someone squirted a little areola of a whipped-cream like, edible oil product on the top, and placed a single raspberry on top. They disappeared after the 4th day.

Officer’s Food – This is for anyone three stripes and above. It’s basically dining room food on the same rotation. Monday is chicken, Tuesday is steak, Wednesday is pork tenderloin…etc. The officer’s mess will sometimes cook custom goodies in exchange for favors from the officers.

We’re probably always drunk, hungover, or on our way to drunk.

We work 7 days a week, sometimes only 4-6 hours, but most of the time between 10-16 hours. We’re salaried, so there’s no OT.

To make up for this, Corona or Heineken cost $0.50/ea. Wine was $3 a bottle. Back-deck parties happen every night, and crew hallway parties are even more common.

On the Voyager of the Seas, I had an enclosed booth, so waiters and waitresses would duck in for a quick smoke and would bring me a rye and coke to buy my silence.

Most of us are single, aside from the very rare married couple working on ships. Several people came on-board with a BF or GF on shore, and within a month they were happily shacked up with someone from the ship.

We will mess with you. A favorite was while in a passenger area say to another crew-member, loud enough to be heard by pax, “Meet you in the bowling alley tonight!”

Then we’d wait for the comment cards to come in: “Why do crew get a bowling alley when we don’t?”

We’ve seen the worst of the traveling public.

Be nice.

I learned the following stereotypes:

People from SoCal think they’re famous because they live close to LA. They’re the cattiest people I’ve ever met. Nice to your face, but will complain to your superiors behind your back.

New Yorkers will let you know how they feel about you within minutes of meeting you, and will rarely change their minds.

Nobody is from Florida. They live there now, but nobody is from Florida.

Mid-westerners and Texans are some of the friendliest people around. Not the most liberal, but if you’re a white male, you’re damned good people.

Rich Puerto Ricans don’t like being called American.

#3. See the world, make friends, get laid!

Ex cruise ship employee here.

We get absolutely plastered below deck. Everyone gets it on all over the ship.

My girlfriend at the time and I had a competition with an officer and his lady for the riskiest place to have sex. I thought we had won with the bow of the ship in the middle of the night.


He, being an officer, stopped the elevator midway. His lady and him jumped on top of the elevator while it was stopped and proceeded to actually ride the elevator and get it on as guests were getting on and off the elevator beneath them.

From what I know, he had a friend of his on the bridge stop the elevator for him, so they could get ‘in position.’ I assume he was also making sure the elevator did not crush them as well.

Secondly, I was a dancer in the cast on-board, and I had a lot more free time than most, being that all I did was perform in the shows.

I do suggest working on ships, for anyone who is curious. It’s a great way to see the world, make lifelong friends, and get laid!!

I know many couples who met on a ship and are married with kids now etc. It really sets the stage for a nice fling, or love, depending on where you’re coming from and what you’re ready for.”

#4. “We actually have more fun than the guests”

I am a cruise ship worker. First one is, we don’t want you to know that we actually have more fun than the guests. Sure we’ll work the big white hot party that you’re all going to, but once we finish our shift all hell is breaking loose in the crew bar.

Just below and to the sides of where you are sleeping there are crew members having sex, smoking and drinking. Our beers are $1. No drugs or spirits though.

We also don’t want you to know that all those funny jokes we tell you at bingo? Yeah…Same ones are said every. Single. Cruise. That really funny answer you gave us about your wife during the happy couples game? Heard it. It was said last cruise and the one before that, and the one before that…

We are not allowed to have sex with to passengers…But we do know the all the nooks and crannies the cameras don’t reach.

There are morgues below deck and a jail cell. We get at least 3 deaths on-board a month.

Some people go on a cruise to die.

#5. Tip with cash

I did a 6 month contract on a pretty popular cruise line…I was appalled at the way that employees were treated.

First off, the class system is abhorrent. There is crew, then staff, then officer. I had it easy because I was an officer (and being American also helped a lot).

Crew members had their own mess hall…and could not go to any of the other ones. Staff could go to their own or go ‘down’ to the crew mess. Officers had free range.

The differences in food between the three were impressive. The Crew mess had mostly rice and left over meat, whereas the officer’s mess had all kinds of great food and variety.

The room stewards and assistant waiters work their butts off…usually 14-16 hours a day if not more. We, as officers, were instructed to alter time cards in order to keep above the marine time laws. They also only get paid $200-300 a month…that doesn’t even cover their airfare to get to the cruise ship, nor does it cover their uniform costs.

The “charged to the room card” tips that are given to these hard working individuals do not actually go into their pocket – the majority goes to their bosses who sit in their office all day.

I personally had an issue with a guy that wouldn’t leave me alone. He was a cook and would sit outside my room, yelling things like how we were meant to be together and blah blah blah. He said that if we couldn’t be together than I couldn’t come out of my room.

I called HR and security and they basically told me that I had done something to deserve this. Believe be, I am all for a dude making me his princess but this was extreme. I legit started to fear for my safety, and the cruise line did nothing.

I was in the entertainment staff and managed all of the productions. Unless there was a broken bone, the dancers had to perform every single night, usually 2-3 shows a night, regardless of how much pain they were in.

We had to video tape every show and send it to corporate…and if they deemed a dancer didn’t ‘give it their all’ (even if they had a high ankle sprain that made their leg 3 times its size), they faced termination.

Speaking of termination, I went off at a port with one of my friends from the Philippines…He was a room steward and never got a day off so it was a big deal. We were out in Cozumel, having a great time, when it was finally time to go back to the ship.

When we got there, he wasn’t allowed to board. When we asked why, we were told he had been fired. He asked to board so he could get all of his stuff from the room and retrieve his PASSPORT from the ship but was denied.

He asked how the hell he was supposed to get home without his passport… and was told that they would ship all of his belongings and passport home and they could, in turn, send it to him wherever he ended up in Cozumel…

So, basically, the guy was homeless and stranded in Mexico until the ship got around to sending his passport home to the Philippines and his family managed to ship it back to him. Ridiculous.

During my cruise, we did ‘Dancing With The Stripes’ every cruise, and it was the same songs, and I did the same ‘routine’ every week.

Beers and cigarettes are dirt cheap for us, hence why basically every single crew member is probably trashed. Crew bar never closes.

So…Yeah…there were some good parts of it but definitely not worth going to work for.

If you ever go as a passenger, tip your waiters and room stewards in cash so they can keep it…and maybe give them money to buy a $20 phone card that will get them a 5 minute phone call home.

#6. Pass the Dutchie

I had a solid gig playing on a cruise line for a couple summers as a jazz musician. I played with a house quartet every night for three months. Here are some things you may not know about the job:

Almost EVERY employee smoked weed. When we weren’t performing or sleeping, we were toking like there was no tomorrow, it was a great way to pass the time.

Disease spreads incredibly fast. There were a couple episodes of a stomach flu taking over the ship. It was so bad I thought we were going to have to get the CDC to disinfect the ship.
Overall it was a really fun job for the summer. Pay wasn’t spectacular, but I got to go to awesome places, meet new people, and play nightly gigs.

#7. Science!

My dad is an Electrical engineer on [one of the largest passenger vessels of all time.]

What many people don’t know is that modern cruise ships are often very maneuverable despite their size. My dad’s ship has Azipods and forward bow thrusts, giving it the ability to move in any direction, even side to side and backwards without tug boats.

Because of this maneuverability, the ship does not have to lower its anchor for short periods of time, it has a system that monitors it’s locations (GPS) and autonomously makes corrections so it will not drift away.

There is almost no swaying on the ship. It’s gross tonnage is 225,000 tons, so it is rather massive. In rough seas, it can extend fins below the water line that act like wings on airplanes. Gyroscopes monitor for any swaying, and the fins make corrections so the ship is nearly unaffected in even the largest waves.

#8. Be from Canada

I worked as a seasonal worker on a cruise ship, and it was super fun.

The crew was almost all young, and the bar below deck was incredibly cheap. However, the reason it was so cheap was that most of the staff got paid almost nothing and had to do long stints in order to have their flight paid for.

I would fly down during holidays for cruises as short as one week and then get flown back. For me it wasn’t that different from being a passenger. I could eat in the same restaurants as the passengers and I also stayed in a normal cabin. We could order room service if we wanted. The parties were fun because everyone was there alone, so you got accepted pretty quick.

The down side was the blatant inequality for the staff from the Philippines. They were required to do 8 months work at a time with almost no time off, while I would be flown back and forth for a week simply because I was from Canada.

#9. It rolls downhill

I was a backstage technician from 2007-2009 for [a large cruise line].

I loved the job, I loved the people, but I hated the corporation. The company always made it difficult for those of us in entertainment to do our jobs and help the guests enjoy their cruise.

That said, I agree with what some of the other people are saying about their time on-board. It wasn’t so much like summer camp for me, it was more like a dorm at college.

I got up whenever, (it was a red letter day if I was awake in time for lunch), did some very basic work setting up a game show or turning on a microphone for the Shopping Specialist, and played a lot of video games until the evening’s show. I set up the evening’s show (helping to load pyro, checking/double checking all the machinery, etc), ran the show, and then struck/tied down all the set pieces. If there was no midnight comedy show, I went to the crew bar.

Crew/staff were definitely not allowed to ‘fraternize’ with the guests, but it certainly didn’t stop many people. I can’t say that I did personally (although there was a fetching lady that kept asking me back to her room, but once I found out how outrageously fake her I.D. was…), but I had a roommate that was the DJ at the discotheque, and it was a few times a week that he wouldn’t come back at his normal 4 am, stumbling drunk, slurring-at-the-top-of-his-voice bedtime.

Some of the darker stuff…let’s see…for starters, I hear that nearly all the live music is gone from ships due to it not bringing in any money. It’s kind of heartbreaking, I knew a lot of excellent musicians that likely were laid off, only to be replaced by canned music and karaoke.

As far as the officers, it was exceptionally rare that they were anything but raging jerks. There was your basic managerial nightmare-boss stuff, but there was other stuff, like security turning a blind eye to some of what they did.

I heard horror stories about crew members being beaten, threatened, stalked, etc. I didn’t see most of this firsthand, but a ship is a very small place, and word gets around.

Most of the higher officers had wives/kids at home, and nearly all of them had mistresses on-board. There was a time on one of my ships that the mistress was pretty pissed because the wife and kid came aboard for a visit, lasting maybe a month or two…

The crew was especially wary during that time, since shit has a habit of rolling downhill, and it did then, too.

To end on a high note, I should mention that my amate*r-ish flirting did occasionally end well for me. Eventually, I met an amazing blonde woman that worked in the video production department.

To make a very long and happy story short, our 2 year wedding anniversary is coming up fairly soon.