Cruise Ship Employees Share The Things Passengers Don't Know About Their Jobs

Cruise Ship Employees Share The Things Passengers Don't Know About Their Jobs

When most people think of cruises, they think of relaxation and fun. However, what goes on behind the scenes is a lot darker than that. Between staff living conditions, below average pay, and rule breaking, your cruise ship staff isn't who you think they are. Luckily, they have decided to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets.


35. You Know What They Say About Close Quarters

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:

Disease spreads incredibly fast. There were a couple of episodes of the 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.


34. Corporate Greed Ruins Everything

I was a backstage technician from 2007-2009 for Carnival Cruise Lines, and as my first post on Reddit (ever), I'll try to answer un-asked questions as best I can.

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.

Looking back, the food was awful. Generally, the chefs who work topside get trained in the galley down below. They were pretty random on what was good or bad, honestly. Mostly, it got monotonous, since the menu didn't seem to change up very often. I was considered "staff" (halfway between officers and crew), so I was able to get food to order, such as eggs or a chicken breast, hamburger, etc, and we came up with college-style recipes and ways to combine foods to make them new. Most didn't work.


33. It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

There are morgues below deck and a jail cell. We get at least 3 deaths onboard a month. Some people go on a cruise to pass away.


32. Come Fly With Me

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 is 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 downside was the blatant inequality for the staff from the Philippians. They were required to do 8 months work at a time with almost no time off well I would be flown back and forth for a week simply because I was from Canada.



31. 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 my entire five-month contract and not only that- 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.


30. You Might As Well Live In The Stone Ages

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. The 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 leftover meat, whereas the officer's mess had all kinds of great food and variety.

The room stewards and assistant waiters work their heads 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.


29. Don't Go Breaking Your... Wrist

I worked as a waitress on one of the major cruise lines. The hours were long, no days off for 9 or 10 months straight. The work was extremely abusing and exhausting. The treatment from the supervisor and staff was generally bad, certain nationalities got different treatment from others. I got a wrist injury from carrying heavy trays and it was badly treated and I still have what looks like permanent damage, I'm not able to do any force or carry anything with my left hand.


28. Everything Takes Time

I was an audio engineer on a cruise ship for a while. The hiring process took almost 3 months, 1 interview a month. Packed light with a collapsible bag so I could stash it in the small quarters. Flew across the country, USA, and was taken to a hotel. The next morning while waiting for the bus to take me to the ship, I met some other ship workers, who I had no idea would become some of the best friends I've ever had. Lots of line waiting. I was so confused just trying to master the layout of the ship. I couldn't find the theatre my first day since trying to navigate the crew area is tough if you don't know exactly where you are going. (everything looks the same and is a maze)


27. About The Music...

I'm actually a trombonist who has worked on several cruise ships, including the biggest cruise ship in the world (well, the first of two) and a luxury ship that I am currently working on. Here are a few little tidbits but you can ask me more if you're interested:

-About the music: it depends on the ship and the show. A production show - or one that involves singers and dancers, maybe musicians and definitely some cheesy hook - is pretty much always on a pre-recorded track with a click. The musicians play it all for the most part and you are actually hearing them in the house, but there is a sound guy that will mute them when it sounds really bad. The reasoning is basically two-fold: you can't pay to bring enough musicians onboard to fill a pit orchestra and the shows are seen as too valuable to risk on the musicians' ability to play it consistently. For example, you can't be canceling your show if the trumpet player is sick - you just bump up the volume of the track in the house.

-I also want to say that there are some very incredibly talented musicians on cruise ships and that cruise lines, ironically and maybe unbelievably, are one of the last few great supporters of live music. Sure we play along to tracks in production shows but the "orchestra" musicians also do dance sets, jazz sets, jam sessions, back up the production singers, guest entertainers, comedians, magicians, and so on and so forth. I am incredibly grateful that I have a job where I get to play trombone and travel the world and meet so many people from so many different parts of the world.


26. International Waters Are Murky

Truth be told, it's an ugly business.

I have a buddy from India who works 12 hours a day for $650/month washing the crew members dishes. Moving up the corporate ladder is almost impossible for him since he's from India.

Labor laws are non-existent. We're in international waters, so anything goes.



25. It's A Dream Life... For Some People

I have a friend who plays guitar on cruise ships for about half of the year. He says he can wake up whenever he wants and do whatever he wants until about 5:00 pm. From then he said the band just has a beverage and plays music until 4 in the morning. Wash, rinse, repeat.


24. Stick To The Small Stuff

I worked on a now defunct cruise line for old people that went up and down the US East coast. It was a bunch of fun until I messed my back up and had to be sent home. My cruise ship was small. Like, the size of most of the big ship's rescue boat's small. It was also for retired folk.

We worked long hours, it was hard work, and because the ship was so small, it felt like family. We all knew each other very well and it was exactly like you'd expect a large extended family to be. We either liked each other or we hated each other, depending on how well the cruise was going.

Our food was awesome. We got food made by the cooks for the guests because the ship was so small, so everything was amazing. We could even stick the extra diners not eaten by the guests to the side and eat that, so I ate duck breast. Maine lobster for a month when we finally made it to Maine.

We had to do everything together as a ship. Before every cruise, we carried all the supplies for the cruise in. All the food, toiletries, drinks, paint for the ship, everything was carried in and the ship was turned over in the 12 hours between guests leaving and new guests arriving. It was insanely busy.

I remember it fondly, though. I got to see a lot of the U.S. I met some really awesome people. I wouldn't ever work for a large cruise ship, though.


23. How Rude

If you're a jerk, cabin stewards will drop your toothbrush into the toilet. Don't be a jerk.


22. Promotions=Life Changing

I worked as an assistant printer on the ship for about 4 months before being promoted to Chief Printer. I went from sharing a cabin small enough for two beds and two people standing up, showers so tiny that I literally had to pour soap on the floor sometimes and use it to scrub my feet, to having a single room with a bed and couch when I was promoted.


21. 21st Century Sexism

I worked for a tiny cruise line,  and because our ship only had 100 passengers, the girls were the waitresses, the hostesses, and the maids.... no days off, and they made the girls have a curfew where the boys (deckhands) did not. Only me and one other girl were 21 so we would get about an hour to party and had to learn to climb the ropes into the galley to get around the curfews... I wouldn't suggest it to anyone


20. Excessive Much?

The cruise line I was on, every single employee has to go through extensive firefighter training. They also have to obtain a Merchant Mariner Credential which technically makes them a part of the U.S. Coast Guard. You literally don't have to do any of that for any other cruise ship.



19. Cat Naps For The Win

I worked for an American cruise line. This is a unique distinction and means that the ship had to fall under US laws, have an American crew and had different regulations than a typical cruise line. Mainly, we were supposed to be alert at all times because we had evacuation responsibilities. We received minimum wage and were protected under certain labor laws. So, in theory, we had it better than your average international staff member of other cruise lines, but for American standards, we were underpaid and overworked. As a 25 year old, I realized this right away. Most of the younger kids didn't seem to mind, but it was really bad. I was a waiter and the department was severely understaffed. Because of this we generally worked all three shifts in 3-4 hours chunks with a few hour breaks in between.

When hired we were told we would have time off to do things, but the way we were scheduled, you only had time to eat or sleep. Our food was made from the leftovers of the guests. Never had a full day off. They flew us to the ship which was in Hawaii, but if you were fired or quit you were stranded. Flights home were about 1/3 your contract, so you felt stuck.

Living conditions were unsanitary. Constant outbreaks of food-related sicknesses and influenza.

It was pretty bad. Better living conditions and work conditions would have made it ok, but it was kind of rough. Think it through is all I would say for everyone considering it.


18. Snail Speeds

We get the same horrible internet that the guests get except it's about 10c a minute instead of the absurd rate the ships charge. Do yourself a favor, if you need internet, either don't vacation on a cruise or wait until a port.


17. Crime Mystery Night... In Real Life

People mysteriously pass away all the time.

And if it's an American cruise company and the victim is not American then it is no one's jurisdiction so it doesn't really get investigated. The cruise companies would rather it didn't either so tend not to report it.


16. Safety Second

I work in a shipyard and can say that every cruise ship I have worked on is an absolute disaster in the engine room and bilge tanks. At one point, on a ship had gotten a small hole in the hull and instead of patching it, they decided to take a 2x4 and force it into the hole. It made the hole bigger but plugged it. Took us 2 whole days to get it out.


15. The Customer Is Always Right

I knew someone who worked as a guide/speaker (basically told people about the locations they were visiting. She told me she lied all the time. If someone asked a really dumb question with an even dumber theoretical answer to their question she would always agree with them and say they were correct. If she didn't know anything about where she was she would just make up stuff as it came to her.


14. Blowing Overboard

My brother's ship that he was stationed on was once used to rescue sailors from capsized vessels during a storm. The weather was so crazy that the pitch and roll of the ship caused almost half of the passengers to get seasick. This isn't a small boat, either. I'm informed it is slightly larger than an aircraft carrier. But passengers expelled throw up so much that most of the crew was advised to stay below decks as the situation above was deemed a health risk.



13. Save The Fish

I can tell you a few first hand tales about being a British Photographer onboard a small cruise line operating out of Miami in the early 90's.

One time I remember spotting a strange trail coming from just above the water line at first light, as the ship sailed off the coast of the Bahamas one morning.

To cut a long story short, I went below decks to see if I could find the source of a long line of what looked like slowly sinking black plastic bags and eventually came across two Philippine chefs hurling a huge stack of rubbish straight into the ocean!!

Camera in hand, and making like an investigative journalist, I took a few pics then made my way upstairs to get an overview of the trail, only to be 'arrested' by the Captain and told in no uncertain terms that I would be removed from my duties if I didn't hand over the films!

I complained bitterly and was informed that this is apparently normal and legal, as well as the dumping of the ship's effluent at sea (Never ever eat Conch in Nassau, bet you can guess what conch like to eat!!!)

When you factor this experience over the vast number of ships that operate all over the world, it's no surprise that our oceans are in the state that they are and I'm amazed how blue they stay.

Needless to say, I vowed to never set foot on one of these vessels again and never have, maybe it's different now, but I doubt it...


12. Smile Through It

An ex-housemate of mine used to work for/on 'celebrity cruises' or something like that. I don't recall there actually being any celebrities, it might've just been the name...but I do remember her telling me that it was a higher-class kind of gig. Her job was to create - daily - a small magazine that would go out to all the guests and detailed everything that was happening onboard that particular day.

The only rules I remember her telling me were no fraternizing with the guests, and you weren't allowed to say 'no' to a guest (unless their request would break the prior rule). Basically, if someone asked her for something, she was not allowed to brush them off. She had to either do whatever it was they asked OR find someone else who could and bring that person to the guest.


11. Karaoke Nightmares

Every crew member hates The Black Eyed Peas' "Tonight's Going to be a Good Night." We're forced to listen and dance to it multiple times a week. We hate the song and you for loving it.


10. Holed Up

I was a dancer in the cast onboard my cruise ship. I just got off 2 months ago. I lived in a windowless room on a deck that was smaller than your average home laundry room. (That you shared with a roommate.)

There was also IPM (In Port Manning) This is where you have to stay on the ship in port. Due to your safety function, 50% of all crew had to be on the ship at all times.


9. Real Close Roomies

Crew quarters are pretty bad for most of the crew like servers/shoppies/spa workers/cooks etc. I was fortunate to share a room with two twin beds and a small window, the dancers and orchestra had their own smaller room with a shared bathroom, some higher level officers had rooms more like a guest room.


8. The Captain Is Always Right

It is not uncommon for passengers to get kicked off actually. When there are thousands of new passengers on the ship every week, a few are bound to be troublemakers. The captain has the authority to kick anyone off, and fortunately, they use it.


7. Someone Pull The Fire Alarm

I'm an engineer. It's not uncommon for 1 or 2 fires a month for the most part passengers won't be aware of the severity as they are usually told its a slipped fan belt or something similar. We had the same type of fire that crippled the Carnival Triumph around 3 weeks later but thankfully extinguished it, unlike her crew.


6. Where's The Bowling Alley?

We will mess with you. A favorite was while in a passenger area say to another crew member, loud enough to be heard by passengers, "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?"


5. You're Not That Funny

We 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...


4. Germs, Germs, Germs

We had our Christmas cruise full of kids bringing on all their collective germs and touching everything and not washing... the next cruise was the January cruise which was FULL of old people, they picked up all the kids germs we had full lockdown because the percent of sick passengers and crew was well over the allowance. We just had to delay embarkation at the next port so we could do a full port clean and whatnot.


3. The Outsiders Cash Out

Worked as a contractor on almost every cruise line.

Some crew hated us because we were doing the same things they could probably do while getting paid 1/4th of us, and they had to help if we asked. But most were super nice. I have made some good friends from all over the world because of it.


2. Don't Get Sick

If you are ever on a ship and you get diarrhea, don't tell anyone! They'll just quarantine you and ruin your vacation. Just take care of yourself and wash your hands often.


1. Corporations Go Way Too Far

The food has an extra bit of oil and fat in it to make your poop soft. This is done to reduce the strain on the ship's plumbing.




Unsplash / Jessica Lewis