10 Reasons to Work on Cruise Ships

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Home Away From Home
Most of my world travels came about in the eight years I spent working in the youth activities department on cruise ships. People are always curious about what the job is like, and generally they think it’s one of two things – slave labour, or a paid vacation. True that many jobs on board are tough – long hours, low pay, and next to no free time. But if you can get hired in a less demanding position, the rewards can far outweigh the negatives. Sure, you work seven days a week, surrounded by the same people, and the passengers can be demanding. It’s not for everyone, but the experience is a unique and rewarding one, if you can stick it out. Here are the 10 best things about working on cruise ships:

10) Shopping

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La Recova Market, Chile
Just about everywhere you go there is something to buy: cheap electronics in Asia, not-so-cheap clothing in Europe, discounted duty free watches and fragrances, and souvenirs pretty much everywhere.  Most crew members have some kind of collection – scrapbooks full of postcards, shelves full of shot glasses, or a fridge full of magnets.  It’s impossible to visit so many places and not want a little piece of it to take home with you. Just make sure you have room in your suitcase!

9) Nightlife

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80’s Disco
The centre of crew social life on any ship is the Crew Bar. Its cheap drinks and late night parties are so legendary that passengers have been known to try and sneak in and join the fun. It’s a place where you will always find someone to talk to, and the fact that drinks are barely more than a dollar helps too. It’s true that partying with the same people in the same bar to the same music can get a bit stale, but theme parties and fresh faces help keep things interesting.  Just remember you always have to work the next day and that a walk of shame is lot more embarrassing when everyone knows you.

8) Weather

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Vila, Vanuatu
Cruise ships follow the warm weather – tropical destinations in the winter and places like the Mediterranean and Asia in the summer. Okay, there are a few exceptions like Alaska and Norway, but it’s not unusual to spend months at a time soaking up the sun and working on your tan. And when you’re on board, the temperature’s always perfect – air conditioned in the hot weather and heated in the cold. The age old debate of deciding to dress for style or warmth when going out to the bar isn’t a problem here.

7) Convenience

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Staff Cabin
One of the main things that keeps people in cruise ship work is how easy it all is. You’re provided with everything you may need – a place to live, a job, and people to socialize with. True, the accommodations provided are small – most people share a small, windowless cabin – but it’s decent, and most of your time there is spent sleeping anyway , though it definitely it helps to have a compatible roommate.  You don’t need a car, you don’t pay bills, cook, clean, or wash the dishes. And you can’t beat the commute – work is always a five minute walk away! Going back to the real world after that just seems like a lot of effort.

6) Excursions

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Elephant Safari Park, Bali
Many cruise lines offer free or heavily discounted excursions for crew members who have time off. These come about when there is space available on passenger tours and they can slot you in. Of course, there is limited space and you don’t always get to pick and choose, but it’s still a great deal.  Imagine exploring the museums of Florence, feasting on crab in Alaska, or riding elephants in Bali, all free of charge.They do only hand out single tickets though, so it’s you and a busload of passengers, and you are responsible for helping the guide if need be, but it’s still one of the best perks cruise ship work has to offer.

5) Work Experience

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Hosting a Teen Party
For many, cruise ship work is a few years in a job that enables them to experience everything on this list. But it can also be a long-term career, or provide the tools and experience needed to transition into many other land-based jobs.  Cruise ship work gives you great experience in the tourism and hospitality industries.  You have to be flexible and work with an ever-changing, multicultural team of co-workers. Keeping up to 4000 passengers happy is no easy
task either – if you can succeed with them, you can handle any customer.

4) Saving Money

While ship’s officers and those in managerial positions can be highly paid, often cruise ship salaries are low when compared to land-based employment. However, your expenses are minimal: rent, bills, and groceries are all non-entities.  There’s even a free health clinic, and medical treatment is covered if you get sick or injured. You clear everything you make and it’s easy to save, although that doesn’t mean everyone manages to do so – spending money ashore, as well as in the on board boutiques and the discounted crew bar is tempting.  Still, most people manage to come home with a decent chunk of money.

3) Unique Lifestyle

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Bora Bora
Nine to five it’s not, and that’s the beauty of it. Yes, you work seven days per week for six months or more, but it’s nice to work in a unique environment far from the monotony of the daily grind. One day you may be putting in an 11-hour day while the ship is at sea, but the next you may spend the day exploring the markets of Hong Kong or zip-lining though the jungle. And you get all of your weekends at once! After your contract is up, you head home for a nice long vacation of six weeks to three months, where you do anything from continuing your world travels to just
lounging on the couch in your PJs.

 2) People

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Overnights in Venice are not conducive to saving money
With so many nationalities thrown together in one place, you will meet people from dozens of other countries.  While this can sometimes cause cultural misunderstandings in the workplace, overall it’s a fascinating and enlightening
experience. Your group of friends can span countries and continents, and celebrations are held for every holiday imaginable, from an Indian Independence Day feast to a South African themed disco. It can be difficult having people come and go every week or two;  your easy going boss can be replaced with a strict one, or your three closest friends could all go home on the same day. Overall though, it’s a great way to meet people, and friendships are often lasting.

1)Travel

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Tasmania, Australia
Without a doubt, the best thing about cruise ship work is the places you get to experience.  Cruises operate on all continents and can visit a new port of call every day. In the span of a couple of months you can go from sipping a pina colada on a Caribbean beach to sipping a cappuccino while marveling at the Colosseum. You don’t always get time to go ashore, and it can be tough staring out at some exotic locale without being able to go out and see it, but over the course of several months, the number of places you can experience (for free!) can be mind-boggling.
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Kauai, Hawaii

No matter how much I’m loving my life on land, exploring the world on my own terms, I will never forget my cruise ship days. They shaped the person I am today and ignited a passion for travel that will last forever. Have you ever thought of working on cruise ships? Ask me anything!

Happy travels!

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There are 4 comments

  1. Jimmy Thai

    Love this blog entry! So much interesting info! In my *ahem* younger days, I often dreamed about traveling the world on a cruise ship or as a flight attendant. I'm doing it now, but in a more "adult" job. Sigh.

    Now, on to the questions!

    1) Would you ever consider going back to cruise ship life? In your experience, how easy / difficult was it to be promoted to more of a managerial position where you could start earning "career" money vs. travel money?

    2) Are you aware of any realtime cruise ship bloggers? I think that'd be fascinating to hear the ins and outs of crew life. I came across this but it's really old: http://swoods.wordpress.com/about/

    3) I know it's prohibited, but how often did crew / pax develop relationships? Did you ever see that happen and did anyone find out? I'm sure you'd get fired if they found out, right?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    James

    1. LoveLiveTravel

      Hi James! Glad you liked my post :). To answer your questions:

      1) As much as I enjoyed the cruise ship experience, I wouldn't do it again now. It's really difficult to have a normal life – you don't have your own place to live, and you're always on the move. And after a while, the close quarters, many restrictions, and office politics started to get to me. I settled in Europe so that I can live a normal life while still being able to travel a lot for less time and money than I would be able to at home in Canada.

      Promotions can be a bit random, and managerial positions don't even always make great money either. It depends on your department – I was assistant manager of mine, and the pay still wasn't great, but it was a good job with lots of time to see the ports.

      2) There aren't many real time bloggers on ships simply because the internet is so expensive, and you have so little free time. I didn't really start writing about my travels until I was finished my ship career. If you'd like a sneak peek into the world of cruise ship crew, try following @ShipSpy on Twitter, he Tweets anonymously about ship goings-on during his contract and it can be pretty funny.

      3) Fraternizing with passengers is definitely against the rules. It does happen occasionally, but yes you can get fired, and people have been. Relationships between crew on the other hand, are fine but they're very challenging in such an unusual environment. But I know lots of people who started their relationships on board and are happily engaged/married now, some with kids.

      I hope that satisfies your curiosity!

      Caroline

    2. Jimmy Thai

      Thanks for the @ShipSpy tip. Following! He seems to post enough identifying info that someone could figure out which ship / position he's on. It's as if he's flaunting it in RCCL's face.

      I'd totally want to work on a cruise ship for a season if only to do a tell-all blog about it. I'm into those silly trivia games and once, they used the exact same questions so back to back pax knew all the answers. Grrrrrr.

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