You are probably here because you either have a question about cruise ship life or are working on one and want to know experiences others had. Whichever one it is, I hope you enjoy some of these questions and answers I have put together. Please note that I have only worked for one specific company and I will be answering questions based on that. Everything may wary between companies, departments, and ships.
1, Do you get days off?
No, we work about 10 – 11 hours a day for 7 days a week for the length of your contract. You may get a day off for your birthday, but other than that we only get breaks. So you might have a 4 or 5 hour break in the middle of your day to do whatever you want. The only other way you can get off work is being medical off, which has to be approved by the doctor. Also that means that you basically do not leave your cabin except to go eat. You are actually sick and therefore cannot work. So no, no days off, but you get used to it. It is routine after a while and there is not much else to do.
2, You must be traveling so much!
Now this one is a tricky one. First of all, most ships to the same itinerary for about 6 months. So if you embark at the beginning of the season and have a 6-8 month contract you will be mainly seeing the same cities. This could be the same 7 over and over again (like it was for me) or it could be two different routes alternating. This can be a good or a bad thing. You may not get to see everything, but at least you will get to see each port you dock in. Since you have about 6 months to go out and explore, you will find the time eventually. You may end up doing two different seasons if you embark halfway through, which normally also includes a crossing (going from one part of the world to another) which takes you to ports you normally do not see. So yes, you travel a lot, but you probably have to do a few contracts to have seen as much as you want to.
3, So where were your colleagues from?
Well, everywhere you can think of. Of course, we had the typical: a lot of Indonesians, Indians (especially from Goa), Brazilians and (because I worked for an Italian company) Italians. Other than that there was a great mix. I worked with people from China, Russia, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Mauritius, South Africa, Greece, Balkan countries, etc. I basically got adopted by the Mexicans, Hondurans, and Cubans. So regardless of where you’re from, you will find someone you click with.
4, Are you allowed to leave the ship when in port?
Yes, if we are docked in port and we have free time, we are allowed to leave. If there is a paid shuttle for guests to the center, we are allowed to take it for free. Depends on your nationality and the port, some crew members require shore passes, which is just a piece of paper authorizing you to go out. It is not a big deal, you just have to remember to collect it. The only two ports where there were issues are Abu Dhabi and Casablanca. In Casablanca, some nationalities were not allowed to leave the ship, due to immigration problems. In Abu Dhabi, the immigration process was so complicated that the captain decided to not let the crew enter the city. You could ask for permission about a week in advance and then go through paying for the visa, but many did not bother.
5, So where do you sleep?
We sleep on the ship in cabins just like the guests, except ours, are not nearly as nice or as spacious. We live in small inside cabins (meaning no windows) which we normally share with at least one person. This person will be someone from your department most likely. We do not have a lot of space for anything: a small closet, small bathroom, little storage space. Therefore we are very selective with what we bring and what we buy. The rooms do have the benefit of amazing naps in the middle of the day since they are always completely dark.
6, So what do you do?
Well, a lot of the time we work. We work very long days with crazy schedules. Most of the rest of our time is spent sleeping because we need to rest whenever we can. Also, as said if we are off sometimes we go explore the city, especially if the port is close to the city. Other than that we spend our time in the crew bar. After a long day, everybody comes here to relax, be away from guests, and spend some time with friends. It can be an amazing atmosphere. And of course, there are the legendary crew parties. Yes, they are as crazy and amazing as always described! We have so much stress during the day. that once we get the chance to let loose there is no stopping (even if you have an 8 am standby tomorrow morning).
7, Do you make a lot of money?
Now, this is a sensible topic. The real answer is no. If you have a normal position you will not make more money than you would at home, at least for us coming from Europe. However, you do not have experiences. You do not have to rent an apartment or pay for food, you do not have a car to fuel, and even your health insurance is covered. So if you wanted to, you could save your whole paycheck. You may spend a bit of it at the crew bar or exploring the ports, but still.
8, So what if the ship sinks?
First if all, that rarely happens. Second, we have so much safety training that you will not even have to think about what is going on. Before you even go on board you have to acquire your STCW certificate (safety training for seafarers). Once you are on board you get assigned a manning number, which tells you your position and exact job. We also run passenger drills every time there is embarkation and crew drills at least every two weeks. So if you have not figures out where you have to go and what you have to do, you will soon enough. So even if the ship sinks, the staff is trained to deal with it, although in that kind of chaos, who knows.
9, So what are guests like?
Let me tell you about cruise guests. I worked on a cruise line with the target market of middle-class couples or families or older people. Now I understand that the ship is confusing. Everything is made so you feel like there is so much to see and do, even though you are walking through the same bar for the fourth time. And I do not expect every passenger to know the whole ship. However, please make a point on the first day to remember the locations of these four places: your cabin, your restaurant, the reception, and the theater. You will be going to these places a lot and it is very irritating for the crew if you keep asking us even after you have been on board for almost a week.
Furthermore, some quests make great stories later. I was directing people down the stairs towards the exit. One woman asked me where she should go since their stairs only go up. All it took was for her to take one more step to the left and take the next flight of stairs. One of my colleagues told me that the guests asked regularly where the lift is to get to the front of the ship. Do not get me wrong, there are some lovely guests. However many times people are not respecting the person trying to help them solve their situation.
10, What is it REALLY like?
It is the craziest job you will ever have. You will wish every day to go home and at the same time, you never want to leave. If you end up on a good ship (because it does happen that the people, or the boss, or something is not working for you), you will make friends for a lifetime. explore amazing places, and learn so much more than you could on land. It is one of my favorite jobs I have had. Should you try it? Only you can answer that one. Some people are not cut out for it, while others cannot imagine their life any other way.
I hoped this helped answer some of your questions or at least made you laugh. If you have worked on a cruise ship before I hope you could relate to some of the things. If you were thinking about it, I hope this helped you make up your mind a little more.
As always I want to hear your stories, so do not hesitate to share them with me in the comments below or on Instagram @lettersfromatravelinggirl