Do you want to travel the world without having to pay for housing or food? Well, who doesn't? This is why the idea of being a cruise ship worker is so enticing, but there’s a side to cruise ships none of us see. While you’re relaxing by the pool or shoving your face full of all-you-can-eat pizza, there’s someone stuck catering to your every need. Those hand towel animals don’t just appear on your bed out of nowhere!
A cruise ship is essentially a floating hotel, and working in the service and hospitality industry is never easy. Before you decide to fill out a job application and set sail, read on for some behind-the-scenes secrets coming from former cruise workers themselves!
Gavin, a waiter who worked for a major cruise line told Mental Floss that Big Brother is super real. In other words: there are cameras literally everywhere. This is mostly for safety as you’re literally on a giant boat in the middle of the ocean. Though the next Titanic is unlikely, crew members may have to review security footage in the event of an emergency.
“It is safe to assume if you are outside of your cabin you are probably on camera,” Gavin said. “In the event of any kind of emergency, they could pull security footage at any time.”
When you’re away for most of the year and cut off from the rest of the world, it’s way easier to get away with hiding some major secrets. This is why so many cruise workers lead double lives when they’re on the ship. It’s not uncommon for certain couples to have wives at home and a whole different relationship as soon as they set sail. Apparently, marriage vows may not really hold up in international waters.
There have also been reports of gay men who are closeted on land but very open and out-of-the-closet on the ship. Being cut off from the world gives you a chance to be who you want to be, not who you feel you have to be on land.
Forget keeping up with Game of Thrones or your favorite TV programs. If you work on a cruise ship, you’re lucky to keep up with the news in general. As much as it may pain you to not see your favorite team smash next season out of the park, sometimes it’s impossible to tune in. Internet connections at sea are notoriously expensive and unreliable. Often times, you have to catch up when you dock, leaving days between when you get your news and not. For this reason, many cruise workers tend to stop following news, sports, and pop culture altogether.
Crew members don’t want to alarm passengers. Guests are on vacation and don’t need to know about every little emergency – especially if it doesn’t have to do with them. What sort of mass panic would it cause if every passenger suddenly knew there was a small fire on the ship? It’d be hectic! Because of this, crew workers use certain codes that they can announce on a loudspeaker without alarming passengers.
For example: “Code Adam” means a child is missing, “Code Alpha” means there’s a medical emergency, “Code Oscar” means someone fell overboard, and “Code Bravo” means there’s a fire on the ship. Pictured above is a case of a “Code Bravo” when the Star Princess cruise ship caught on fire in the middle of the night in 2006. The fire is thought to have been started with a discarded smoldering cigarette.
Work hard, party hard – this motto holds true for cruise ship workers. When workers aren’t working, they’re probably drinking and partying. In fact, the crew has a special “crew only” bar with insanely cheap liquor. For example, many cruises charge about $15 a drink for guests, but at the crew bar, you can get a cocktail for less than $1.50. The crew definitely party hard, but they’ve got to be careful. Ships sometimes subject employees to random breathalyzer and drug tests, though it’s not always enforced. A former cruise ship worker who spoke to Trend-Chaser let us know just how lax the rules often are.
“The crew isn’t supposed to get drunk pretty much ever,” he said. “Everyone is told they’re not allowed to actually get drunk, but then you go drinking with your HR person and she has four or five drinks.” Apparently, people drink on the job all the time and just fly under-the-radar. As long as you’re not making a spectacle of yourself, you’re probably good to go.
If you’re looking to find a fun fling while you’re on contract at sea, look away from anyone who may be on vacation. Cruise workers are strictly forbidden to hook up with guests, and it’s one of the easiest ways to get booted from your job. In fact, according to an anonymous cruise worker who spoke to Trend-Chaser, the crew is actually discouraged from interacting with guests one-on-one. This helps protect the cruise line from any sort of accusations that may hurt the ship’s reputation. If you’re caught breaking the rules, you’ll be kicked off at the next port.
Just because crew members can’t hookup with guests doesn’t mean they’re celibate at sea. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. Crew members frequently get down and dirty with each other. Think about it: you’re around the same people for nearly a year at a time, isolated on this ship. You’re in romantic, exotic locations with tons of alcohol on hand. Hook ups are bound to happen, and according to an anonymous cruise worker who spoke to Trend-Chaser, they happen a lot.
“People hook up all the time. There are a ton of crew parties,” he said. Hooking up is so prevalent that the crew areas on ships often have posters about STD prevention.
It can get pretty boring at sea. To break the monotony, cruise members pull pranks on passengers. The pranks are pretty innocuous, as messing with passengers too hard is a great way to get fired.
According to one anonymous cruise worker who spoke to Mental Floss, “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!’” Of course, there wasn’t actually a bowling alley on board. “Then we’d wait for the comment cards to come in: ‘Why do crew get a bowling alley when we don’t?’” Hysterical!
A cruise ship can be pretty similar to high school. Not everyone hangs out in one big group and each ship tends to have different cliques. Often times, these cliques have to do with countries workers are from, since cruise ships often have a diverse array of workers from all over the world. Cruise workers call their groups “mafias” and each is known for a specific thing.
For example, one former cruise ship worker told Mental Floss that the Filipino mafia on their cruise ship was known for getting booze after hours (crew bars close around one or two). Of course, they’d sell it to you at a huge markup.
Everyone has heard of the urban legend of a cruise ship serving some bad shrimp and the entire ship getting food poisoning so severe it almost couldn’t hold all the vomit. This is a wildly rare event but it can happen. In fact, it has happened.
In 2013, a Carnival cruise ship lost power after a fire in the engine room. Passengers were stranded in the Gulf of Mexico long enough for the sewage to get backed up. Raw sewage began bubbling up all over the boat, and it smelled so bad that people created a tent city away from toxic-smelling areas. Whoops.
You’re not going to get your own luxury cabin if you’re a cruise ship worker, but the role you have does affect the accommodations you get. Staff members and officers have private rooms on the A-Deck, just above water (hello, sunlight). According to Anthony Andrieux who worked aboard the Royal Caribbean Line though, the living situation wasn’t nearly as nice for most workers.
“The living situation was ‘tight.’ You stay on the lower deck so you are always under water. There are no windows in the room… You have a very small bunk bed that you literally can not fit someone else into (trust me I have tried). You can touch all four walls if you were to stand in the center of the room to give you an idea. I believe it is a total of about 10 square feet.”
We often don’t think of pirates existing in the year 2017, but they definitely still do. It’s incredibly rare for a pirate to take over a gigantic cruise ship (seriously, you’ve got strength in numbers). In the event that it does happen, cruise workers are trained to fight back.
Cruises like Princess Cruises and Oceania Cruises train their crew to get guests away from the windows and spray intruders with giant water cannons. Because cruise ships are so big, the sheer amount of water used could overpower a tiny pirate ship. Some ships can even deter attacks with Long Range Acoustic Devices that emit loud, painful noises. In fact, in 2005, a luxury cruise liner used a Long Range Acoustic Device to escape a pirate attack off the coast of Africa.
Former cruise worker Brian David Bruns wrote a tell-all book in 2015 titled Cruise Confidential after becoming the first American working for the Carnival Cruise Line to not quit before his contract expired. Brain detailed how the worst part of his experience was the feeling of being property of the cruise line, saying, “The worst part of the job is being ‘owned’ by the corporation…They control what you eat, when you eat, when you can go use the toilet, how cold it is in your cabin, everything.” Yikes!
Crew members are the lowest on the food chain, meaning they get the scraps. It’s like high school cafeteria food, but sometimes worse. The kitchen staff does get creative considering they don’t have a whole lot to work with, but it’s not necessarily something you’d want to eat all the time. Imagine having to eat weird offerings like goat foot stew on the regular!
Lucky cruise members get to eat passenger leftovers. At the end of a shift, they’re allowed to eat what’s left of a passenger buffet, though it’s so good, it doesn’t really last very long.
The service and hospitality industry is a goldmine for weird stories. You never really know what you’re going to get, so you have to be ready for anything. Cruise ship employees are pretty used to getting bizarre requests from guests when they’re at sea. According to USA Today, one cruise ship worker repeatedly gets strange requests from young couples on the ship. At this point, it’s more common than it is surprising.
“Some young couples ask, ‘Could you make some towel animals for adults?’ They want naughty animals,” she said. “I say, ‘Sorry, I cannot give you that.'”
Much like being a bartender, the majority of a cruise ship worker’s cash comes from tips. If you’re not someone who has a bubbly, outgoing personality, it may be hard to rake in tips, but don’t fret. Most cruise lines have a mandatory gratuity which is split among all the employees.
The pay is actually pretty good when it comes down to it. Many workers send money home to their families and save a lot of money. There are almost no expenses on board the ship, so living cheaply is quite easy. A little goes a long way.
If you’re the kind of person who savors your weekends, avoid working on a cruise ship at all costs. Most cruise ship workers don’t get a single day off. Typically, they’re contracted for nine months at a time and work straight through.
It’s not absolutely terrible, though. The crew works every day but on a rotational basis. Instead of having full days off, workers get hours of downtime every day that they can spend on themselves. When their contract is up, they get a nice two-month long vacation. Think of all the stuff you’d do if you had two months off.
The land excursions are the best part of a cruise. Who doesn’t want to see all the gorgeous cities you port in? Guests (and crew members who have a couple of hours off) are free to explore as they please, but they better make sure to return on time. Cruise ships will leave without you.
Cruises are subject to massive fines if they stay longer than their allotted port time. For this reason, they won’t wait if you’re running late. If you happen to miss the departure time, you’re totally on your own. Yikes!
Often, cruise lines are known for their delectable food offering a variety of fancy desserts, seafood, and other delicacies. However, for employees they get the short end of the stick so to speak. One cruise worker wrote on Reddit that it was akin to a school lunch saying, “Imagine eating at your high-school cafeteria three meals a day, seven days a week for a year.” Another employee said they were fed strange cuisine like “goat foot stew”. Yikes! Former cruise ship employee Kat told Mental Floss, that the food choices were a sure-fire way to lose weight. She said, “I would lose about 10 to 12 pounds per contract.”
While relationships between employees are definitely discouraged. They absolutely do happen. Although, the opposite is true for passenger and employee relationship. These relationships are strictly forbidden by cruise lines around the world. If they do occur and the cruise line finds out about it, the employee is almost immediately fired. Of course, this rule is in order to protect the company from facing any kind of lawsuits or general bad press. So, if you’re looking for love on a cruise, it’s best not to start with the crew! Or at least wait until everyone is land bound before you contact them!
Cruises are known for places to let loose, well for the passengers anyway, but did you know the same holds true for the employees? Cruise ship employees are notorious for heavy partying and heavy drinking. Typically, staff has their own designated drinking area, where they can partake out of sight from passengers. While cruise ship drinks are notoriously expensive, at the crew bar they are much cheaper where you can buy a mixed drink for as low as a $1.25. We can certainly see why partying with the crew might be more desirable than partying above deck! Plus, alcohol would certainly be a way to distract from the cramped living quarters.
At this point in time, cruise ships have to take precautions in order to protect themselves from being sued by passengers and crew members alike. A way for the cruise ship lines to protect themselves is to have A LOT of security cameras on board. Actually, any time you are outside of your room it’s more than likely that you are on candid camera! While, this might freak some people out, rest assured that it is a good thing to have for your safety. A comparable practice is in the UK where CCTV is used across the board and has been instrumental in low crime rates.
No one wants to think about someone dying on a cruise ship, but it happens. About 200 people die on cruise ships every year, and there has to be somewhere to store the bodies until the ship can dock. This is why many ships have small morgues on board that can hold around five bodies.
Morgues are even more common on cruise ships that cater to senior citizens. According to a ship employee, the line they worked on definitely had a morgue. “Because the line was for older demographics, we had people die on the ship pretty regularly.”
If you have ever been on a cruise you know that at the end you are typically asked to fill out a comment card. There you are free to share your wonderful experience or any complaints that you might’ve had. While comment cards are standard throughout the service industry, some jobs don’t take them nearly as seriously as cruise lines. On a cruise, the reviews are taken super seriously. Good or bad reviews can even account for an employee’s compensations, bonus, or in some cases their firing! So, if you take a cruise and have a good time, be sure to leave some positive feedback!
The workday for crew members on a cruise is grueling. Employees work extremely long days and can often end up working 300 hours a month. This does not fit into the American idea of 40-hour work weeks and relaxing weekends, which is why cruise ships often employ the majority of their workers from other countries.
According to Kat, a cruise worker who spoke to Mental Floss, many cruise liners won’t even hire American workers because the rate of people quitting is too high. Americans are also more expensive to employ because one American dollar is worth more to a person from a developing country that has a different system of currency. It still doesn’t make it right.
This one might seem obvious to most people, but just because you aren’t on solid land doesn’t mean there aren’t any laws to adhere to while on a cruise. This is when something called “maritime law” comes into play. Unfortunately Isabelle Lagacé and Melina Roberge (seen above) a couple of Canadian citizens on a cruise to Australia, apparently didn’t get this memo when they attempted to smuggle 200 pounds of cocaine worth approximately $23 million to sell down under. The two are now set to face trial and face a 20-year maximum prison sentence. Yikes!