Almost every day I get questions from passengers. “How do I get to the pool deck?”, “What time does the all-day buffet go until?” “Does the ship generate it’s own electricity?”. Here are the most common questions cruise passengers ask crew, that I’m contractually not allowed to answer.
How much money do you make?
That depends on a lot of things – mainly your position, and your seniority – far few other things are taken into account when determining a crew member’s base salary. Your educational background or years of experience in similar positions will in no way benefit you here. You’ll likely be making the same as everyone else, hopefully with steady pay raises with each contract. I won’t say how much I make exactly, but I’ll tell you that my high school part-time job paid better. There are other things to consider though, like the next question.
Is your room and board included?
Yes! Your cabin, and meals aboard the ship are absolutely free granted you don’t eat in specialty passenger restaurants – those will cost a pretty penny. Drinks on the other hand, are unfortunately noninclusive.
What is your work schedule like?
Work schedules vary between positions, types of days (embarkation, sea days, port days) and management styles. Expect to work an average of 6-8 hours per day. Crew are often also at the mercy of their management. Some managers use scheduling styles to allow for employees to have more time off, while others schedule full work days, every day, independent of situations – like low passenger counts.
How many days off a week do you get?
A big fat zero. Most crew work their entire contracts without having a single day off. When you see crew enjoying the port – they’ve either worked early though the morning, or more likely will be working late at night when the ship departs. The least amount of hours that I’ve ever worked in a day was 3, and that was because I got severely sick.
How often do you get off the ship?
Once again, this depends on your position. As a youth counselor, I get extensive time to be away from the ship – which is much appreciated. While in port though, some staff (myself included) have to fulfill port duties; there need to be a few people left on the ship to make sure it works. Since not all staff are needed in port, it’s done by rotation. I usually work about 1 port day per every 10. This doesn’t include other things like side duties, emergency drills, or my personal favourite – trainings. These events, while often not taking up too much time, tend to bisect your day making it impossible to get too far away from the ship before being called back aboard. You tend to use days like this for laundry and catching up on missed sleep, because after being forced to sit through a two hour training on how to understand a culture in which you were raised, your frustration prevents you from enjoying anything for the rest of the day.
Where do you sleep? What’s your cabin like?
Below the waterline. Nah, not all of us. I sleep right at the foot of it. On most ships the crew sleep on the lower decks – and mine is no exception. On larger ships, crew are sometimes placed in hidden cabins in the centre of the ships surrounded by regular passenger cabins. You’ll need a key-card to get in though. Unless your a manager or officer, you’re probably going to have a roommate, or several. The rooms are closet-size, and the only window will be a television channel showing a front camera of the ship. That’s okay though, because it also plays good movies.
Is there anything on the ship the crew can’t use?
For sure. Depending on your position on the ship, you might not even be allowed to see the light of day for weeks at a time. Others are more fortunate. As a member of the Entertainment department I have near unrestricted access to guest areas, providing that I dress business casual when I’m in there. A few restaurants are off limits to us – no matter what, as well as the passenger gym on certain days. It’s all based on a passenger-first philosophy – which makes sense, but is often abused by management to prevent us from enjoying perks despite no passengers actually using these amenities. I was once scolded for sitting on a deck chair, on a port day, at the back of the ship, with not a single other person in sight.
What made you want to work on a ship?
Most of us had friends who recommended it, or saw it on a blog, or were just searching through newspaper ads. We applied to a recruiter in our respective countries, got hired by the company, and were flown out to our first contract. I was once told that crew are on ships for three reasons:
1. Get paid
2. Get laid
3. See the world
I think that pretty well sums it up.
What kind of recreational facilities do the crew have?
Older ships have less facilities, but newer ships tend to take care of their crew well. We’ll often have access to a gym, personal laundry facilities (not the big ship laundry mat), a crew store, a crew bar, the crew mess (place to eat), crew deck (at the bow of the ship), and sometimes if we’re lucky, a crew pool and hot tub.
What do the crew eat?
We eat food – or sometimes what the ship calls “food”. Most of us eat in a place called the mess, which is a buffet style kitchen serving lots and lots of sub quality food – nothing compared to what the passengers eat. We don’t get left-over food from passenger restaurants, it’s not permitted as per public health standards; they just cook us the same thing every day. I’m good at putting a positive spin on things, but I simply can’t put a positive spin on the food in the mess. It’s terrible. Fortunately for me though, with my position, I can eat anywhere the ship’s teenage guests can (everywhere), all I need to do is convince them that they’re hungry; and if you’ve ever worked with teenagers, you know that’s not a hard thing to do.
Do you have a girlfriend on board?
Nope, but many people do. It’s been said that many crew have a ship girlfriend and a shore girlfriend. There’s a rampant cheating culture aboard, and hookup culture as well – but hey, I’m here to work, not judge.