What is it really like to work on a cruise ship? Working on cruise ship is one of the most misunderstood jobs on the planet, people assume it is a non-stop party (partly true), that you save loads of money (should be true) and that you get lots of time-off ( not true).
I worked for a year on the P&O Cruise vessel Oceania from 2004-2005 and whilst I certainly had a blast I learned a lot of lessons about what it is really like to work on a cruise ship and well life in general.
Your life will depend very much on your rank
You might not be heading off to war, but make no mistake there are military ranks when it comes to the merchant navy – and if you are not an officer you will be very much restricted to what you can do.
Ironically one of the most powerful and highly ranked person on a ship below the captain is the Purser. I never met one that was not an ass-hat. Had they not been at sea they’d be running a Little-Chef, but I digress.
I for one was a lowly bartender with one and a half silver stripes, this meant I was not an officer. No upper-deck jollies for me! Think Leo in Titanic and you will get the picture, minus the Irish-Cockneys and getting to slam Kate Winslet.
What is it really like to work on a cruise – how much time do you get off?
When you work on a cruise ship as non-officer you get zero days off, that is right you work for 6 months, or even 9 months without a day off. Before starting the job I could not imagine ever doing this.
You do though learn to cope quickly and you do get the odd afternoon off to explore shoreside jollies. Technically you are not allowed to get drunk during this time – lol.
Ironically starting my own business led me back to the 7 day week.
What is it really like to work on a cruise ship – end of contract!
After a 6 month contract you then technically become unemployed as in you are not paid to sit at home. I personally took 2 months off which was standard before my second and last contract. You can though technically take as long as you want off.
Some people use this time to go traveling, but most use it to sit doing nothing in their parents house. I went for the later. Much like when I am not on tour now, I like to do very little – Covid notwithstanding, and of course I am now not on tour in Cambodia.
To read about when Cambodia was normal click here.
What is the food like for staff on a cruise ship?
If you are an officer you get fine dining, if you are crew you do not. You get cheap crap food. OK, it is not awful, but everyday is a buffet. This though did come in handy when we were drinking, which was a lot. Curry at 4 am? No problem, breakfast at 6 am before a 2 hour nap and your bar shift – all good.
It was actually so bad that I, The Street Food Guy became a vegetarian. I shit you not.
Do you save a lot of money when you work on a cruise ship?
No rent, free food, great salary, no tax. you save a lot right? I personally did not. I also know very few people that managed to save money. They have a crew bar you see and then you get to stop in port.
I remember once sitting in Monaco on the Grand Prix circuit drinking Veuve Rose champagne. We also ended up doing the same in the crew pool later that day, which got us into trouble with the captain! Carry on cruising my ass!
Young, dumb and full of……, need I say more. I guess if you are older and wiser you could save money working on a cruise ship.
What do you do in your free time when you work on a cruise ship?
It’s this simple, you get cock all free time, so you spend it drinking, or in the gym. Ten points for guessing which route I went down. There are also mostly Filipino lady waitresses as staff, so some people find a girlfriend, or boyfriend to stay sane.
I tried this, but it made me the opposite of sane.
Basically you spend your time in the crew bar, catching up on sleep, or going shoreside whenever you possibly can. I would at times change and go out for 25 minutes, just to make the most of my endless lust for life!
Do you get your own room on a cruise ship?
If you are an officer you get your own room. If you are crew you do not. This can mean up to 8 people in a cabin. I was in a two-person bunk-bed cabin and had two roommates during my spell at sea. Both were awesome.
Ideally one of you should date an officer, which means they get to share their room when making sexy time. If this doesn’t happen you will need earplugs. There’s no sugarcoating this.
Do people hook up on cruise ships? – TAXI
Cruise ships are small incestuous communities of young people that want to see the world. Staff hook up with each other and indeed with customers. Few of these relationships last the course as I can very much attest to.
From the crew bar an amusing game was seeing two people of the opposite sex, or indeed the same sex (yes believe it, or not there are gay sailors) leave the crew bar from where people would yell TAXI. The implication being they were off to make whoopee! The things you do for laughs eh
What’s it really like to work on a cruise ship? Do you get to see the world?
Define “see the world”. Yes it beats packing pickles for 90 nicker a week at Tescos, but 6 hours in port, or worse 30 minutes (Gibraltar) is not seeing the world. In this case a tour guide job, or better still stating your own agency is better for that kind of business.
It does though count as visiting a country, so many of my 150+ countries were down to me working at sea.
To see the YPT list of what counts as a country click here.
What is it really like working on a cruise ship – do you like the passengers?
I specifically worked for P&O Cruises, so I can only really talk about their customers. I can of course also only speak from my own personal bias and point of view. There tended to be different types of punter, but I shall highlight a mere 3 for now. Perhaps I shall later expand on this list.
Firstly you had the normal holiday cruisers, they tended not to be the richer ones, but were just coming for a holiday. These guys were more working class it were, better tippers and more fun. In this category I would also count ex-sailors, these were always good for a laugh.
Secondly you had the cruise zealots. These were people hat would go on every ship just to complain that it was nothing like the Oriana. I expect some of these people had actually been on the Titanic. They may have even died on it. These people thought tipping was a place in China.
Lastly, well last of my list, because there really were so many categories of customer that 3 tiers is not enough. These were the colonialists. I’ll never forget speaking (limited) Spanish in Tenerife only to have a passenger spot me and shout in the loudest poshest voice “trust you to speak the lingo”. The implication being that speaking “foreign” was the most demeaning thing a Brit could ever do. These were also the kind of guys who would literally wet their pants at Captains Cocktails and when the national anthem was played. Think last night of the proms, but you as a human are there and have no choice.
Will the lifeboats be seated according to class? I do hope the lifeboats will be seated according to class”A P&O customer.
Is it worth working on a cruise ship/How long can you work on a cruise ship?
I loved my time at sea, which was 2004-2005, or when I was 24/25. I certainly remember my 25th birthday, at Club 2414 – the colloquial name for my cabin on the ship due to the “events” we held there. We had a lot of parties and were not popular with the neighbours.
In hindsight I was far too young to be at sea, if I had waited 3-4 years I might have saved money and left in better circumstances. I though would not have ended up moving to China, nor now own my own Island , ironically in the Caribbean.
I know people that only did 6 months and others that did 20+ years. Is it worth it? Yes, but how long you can hack it is very much down to you.
Whats it really like tow work on a cruise ship in conclusion?
Sadly I am not in touch with nearly as many of my old shipmates as I would like to be, only really seeing one, or two of them every few years. We did though do a reunion cruise on the same ship a few years back which was nice if not very surreal.
I have since “worked” on cruises to Antarctica and Greenland , but nothing will beat the party atmosphere of being a dumb 24 year old bartending himself around the world.