What Is It Like to Work on a Cruise Ship? Pros and Cons

Cruise ship careers have a lot of unique aspects compared to land-based jobs. The most distinctive factor is that employees live on the ship. There are many other factors that make working on a cruise ship special.

I worked on a cruise ship for two years when I was just out of high school. In this article, I’ll describe what it is like to work on a cruise ship, including the pros and cons.

What is it like to work on a cruise ship? Working on a cruise ship is an amazing experience. Like any job, there are advantages and disadvantages. They are as follows:

Advantages of working on a cruise ship:

  1. Travel for free
  2. Exposure to different cultures
  3. Save money
  4. Job opportunities
  5. Personal and professional development
  6. Have quality meals
  7. Activities for employees
  8. Discounts 

Disadvantages of working on a cruise ship:

  1. Excessive partying
  2. Working long hours
  3. Lack of rest days
  4. Lack of privacy
  5. Homesickness
  6. Possibility of having illicit affairs
  7. Seasickness
  8. Limited communication with loved ones at home
  9. Proneness to bacteria

Read on to know what it is like working on a cruise ship, including its advantages and disadvantages.

What Is It Like to Work on a Cruise Ship?

Working on a cruise ship means you don’t have to pay rent. It also means that you can use its facilities for free or get different employee discounts. Although working on a cruise ship has many other perks, it has disadvantages, too. Just like any other job, being a cruise ship employee isn’t a walk in the park.

Working on a cruise ship means signing a contract, which often lasts for a year. Depending on the cruise line and the position you are hired for, an active contract can go from 6 to 12 months. Also, there are a lot of job opportunities for people in the cruise industry. Job openings can range from captains, dancers, chefs, and even bartenders, to name a few.

But first, job hunters should decide which type of cruise they should apply to. They could find employment from ocean liners or specialty cruises.

Large Cruise Ships

Large cruise ships can hold thousands of passengers. They also have the most crew members aboard. Usually, they have the most modern facilities, outstanding amenities, and just pure luxury. This type of cruise could offer a lot of job opportunities because of its size. More opportunities mean good benefits, too.

Working for large cruise lines means employees have defined duties and responsibilities. With this type of set up, having specialized skills is a must. For instance, a bartender can develop signature drinks. Serving good drinks that can’t be found on other cruise ships can produce happy and satisfied guests.

Small Cruise Ships

There’s been an increase in popularity for this type of cruise ship over the years. The reason is that small cruise ships can reach remote destinations, while big cruise ships cannot.

But to consider a career in a small cruise ship may be challenging because fewer positions are available. Small cruise ships carry less than 500 passengers. In other words, only a few employees are needed.

Entry-level jobs are also limited. Most of the time, crew members are cross-trained, and each of them possesses several and varying skills. Some of the famous small cruise ship lines that hire limited crew members are Maple Leaf Adventures and BC Ferries.

Riverboat and Barge Cruise Ships

In riverboat and barge cruises, guests find themselves in an informal trip. Some of the destinations are the Nile, the Amazon, and the Yangtze River. These destinations are popular among passengers from North America.

Job opportunities in this type of cruise are limited because they strictly hire English-speaking crews. For European barge cruises, applicants should be in Europe to get employment — being bilingual could benefit them, too!

Yachts and Sailboats

Like small cruise ships, yachts and sailboats also have a small number of crew members on board. College graduates with hotel management or accounting degrees have an advantage. Applicants with different skills are preferred, too. If you have these qualifications, you’ll most likely get hired.

If your goal is to gain ship experience, working on a yacht or sailboat can be your stepping stone. You can use this job experience to apply for a higher position on a bigger cruise ship in the future.

Advantages of Working on a Cruise Ship

It might be exciting and promising, but there are many things to consider before working on a cruise ship. Here are the advantages of working on a cruise ship:

cruise ship work experience

1. Travel for Free

You can have the opportunity to travel the world for free. Just imagine visiting different countries within one year! Depending on the route of a cruise ship, you may have the opportunity to see the Caribbean or Antarctica without spending a dime.

2. Exposure to Different Cultures

Since you get to travel a lot, you’ll have the opportunity to meet people from different cultures. This experience would be truly enriching.

Moreover, diversity in the workplace is highly encouraged. Cruise ship employees have a chance to work with different nationalities. You can learn each other’s languages, and get to learn more about their beliefs and traditions.

3. Save Money

As a cruise ship worker, everything is paid. It’s like winning a travel package where all expenses are paid! That, of course, includes your food and accommodation.

Although there are a few expenses while you’re on board, you can still save money through the ship’s provided perks. Your wage may just be the same as those with land-based jobs, but paying zero rent or gas truly makes a big difference. So, there’s no reason not to save money for your future or family back home.

4. Job Opportunities

Even if you’re already a cruise ship worker, you may still apply for another job. Since there’s a lot of job opportunities inside, you may choose whatever work fits you. For instance, even if you enjoy being a bartender, you might find a job vacancy that’s more suited for you. In which case, you’re free to apply.

5. Personal and Professional Development

Cruise ship companies offer job-specific training and courses to help their employees improve both personally and professionally. In fact, everyone’s encouraged to apply for job promotion opportunities. These courses will help the employees boost not only their ranks but their paychecks as well.

6. Quality Meals

As a cruise ship worker, you have the opportunity to enjoy quality meals. Delectable meals are served not only to guests but to crew members as well. Dedicated cooks prepare these meals. They also include meals originating from different countries.

7. Activities for Employees

While passengers have their own space on a cruise ship, crew members have their own, too. There are gyms specifically for cruise ship workers, including lounge areas and dining rooms. Also, there’s a crew bar where workers can spend their free time.

Cruise ships conduct fun activities, too. These activities include bingo nights and pool tournaments.

8. Discounts

One of the nicest things about working on a cruise ship is having employee discounts. You can take your loved ones and families to a cruise for as low as $15.

Disadvantages of Working on a Cruise Ship

By now, you may be interested in working in the cruise ship industry because of the perks mentioned above. But you should also take a look at the disadvantages of being a cruise ship employee. Let me share some of its disadvantages below.

1. Excessive Partying

Excessive partying is a common culture among cruise ship employees. Employee discounts mean you can buy as many alcoholic drinks as you want at a low price. This culture often results in a drinking problem and affects work performance. Worse, it might not only cause you to lose your job but also take a toll on your health.

2. Working Long Hours

Most cruise ship employees, if not all, work seven days a week for the duration of their contract. Hours vary from 8 to 20 hours, which translates to an average of 12 working hours a day.

Working for extended hours will most likely result in stress and fatigue. However, it also depends on the size of the cruise ship. For instance, if you work on a large cruise ship, it can be more tiring and draining than working on a smaller one. Bigger cruise ships have a larger scope of work because they have more guests to entertain.

3. Lack of Rest Days

As earlier mentioned, you’ll most likely experience working 12 hours a day if you plan to work as a cruise ship employee. Unfortunately, you won’t get a full day off on the ship, and more likely report to work every day.

There are mandatory training programs and boat drills, too. Even if you’re in the middle of your break or day off, you still have to show up for these activities.

4. Lack of Privacy

As a crew member, you might not have much privacy as you’d like to. Depending on your rank, you will most likely end up sharing a room with somebody.

5. Homesickness

As a cruise ship employee, you are considered an overseas worker. Therefore, you’ll be away from your family and loved ones, and more likely to experience homesickness.

This disadvantage is number one on the list of challenges experienced by cruise ship workers. In most cases, it’s also the number one reason why cruise ship workers resign and decide to go back to their homeland.

6. Possibility of Having Illicit Affairs

Living with co-workers 24/7 can result in unusual close bonds. Most of the time, you will share cabins with them. In some cases, feelings of intimacy are developed, which can eventually result in sexual relationships. The hookup culture is a common thing within the cruise ship industry.

7. Seasickness

Seasickness is a common occurrence on the ship as the trip can be rocky at times. That is why ships provide seasickness pills for crews and passengers. Most crew members eventually adjust to rocky travels in the long run. But if you have a hard time adjusting, your work performance will most likely get affected.

8. The Challenge of Communicating with Loved Ones at Home

Most of the time, the internet on cruise ships is slow and expensive, which can pose a challenge if you have loved ones expecting your calls. Thus, it could be hard to communicate back home due to limited internet connectivity. Worse, you might not be notified of emergencies immediately.

9. Proneness to Bacteria

Due to enclosed spaces, sickness and germs can spread at a fast pace. Employees can get quarantined, which means they can’t leave their cabins if they catch a virus. If your immune system is weak, you might end up being sickly.

Job Positions and Salaries

Salary is the ultimate factor in considering a career in the cruise ship industry. Employees don’t only think of the amount of money they earn but also the amount they can save.

The income of cruise ship workers is determined by the position they hold. Their earning potential also highly depends on the cruise ship, the size of the ship, and even the tips they can earn, among other factors.

There are many kinds of positions available on a cruise ship. There are highly-skilled positions, and there are entry-levels, too. Employees can work for several departments, such as entertainment, service, and ship maintenance.

Let’s briefly discuss these job positions below.

working on a cruise ship experience

Entry-Level Position

The standard wage for entry-level positions is between $1,200 and $1,500 per month. These positions include hosts, disc jockeys, and fitness instructors, to name a few. When it comes to casino employees, such as bartenders and waiters, they also receive tips and gratuities.

Positions Under the Entertainment Department

The positions under the entertainment department include cruise directors, hosts, and performers. Cruise directors can earn as much as $4,500 a month because most of them are highly skilled. They have to undergo a lot of training to be in that position.

Hosts and performers are the most popular ones because they’re the frontliners. They’re the ones who deal and interact with the guests most of the time. Their average earnings ranges from $2,000 to $2,500 per month.

Positions Under the Deck Department

The deck department handles all the maintenance of the vessel. Engineers and officers belong to this department. They need to make sure that the ship complies with international maritime laws.

Depending on the cruise ship, chief engineers can have an average salary of $5,600 to $8,000 per month. They have higher pay because they’re responsible for all the ship’s technical operations. The majority of them also have an extensive ship experience. They also have a diploma or certifications from maritime schools.

Positions Under the Service Department

The staff under the service department manages the restaurants, bars, and gift shops.

A buffet steward who handles the serving of meals and drinks has an income ranging from $900 to $1,300 per month. Moreover, a bartender’s pay ranges from $1,400 to $2,200 per month, while a sales associate at the gift shop has average monthly earnings of $1,500 to $1,800.

Head Office Positions

The head office has corporate jobs. Depending on the location, there’s always an opening for accountants and sales agents. Applicants should have experience in data entry and general administration. The position is an hourly job, and the minimum wage is between $13 and $14 per hour.

Customer service agents have a lot of responsibilities. They’re the ones who make guest reservations. They also help guests personalize their itineraries, or go the extra mile and buy tickets for events. These agents are knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the cruise ship and are trained to answer all questions and inquiries of guests.

These customer service representatives can work full-time or part-time. And depending on their experience, their salary ranges from $1,600 to $2,400 a month.

Beauticians

Beauticians in cruise ships perform hair cutting, coloring, and styling. They can also do facials and other spa services. Applicants should have a valid beautician license. Typical contracts for beauticians usually last three to six months. They are being paid depending on their experience, but most of them have an average income of $2,000 a month.

Casino Employees

Being a casino employee is regarded as one of the most rewarding jobs on a cruise ship. To become a casino employee, you should have at least three years of experience working on land- or sea-based casinos.

Casino employees work during nighttime and work long hours. Staff members in casinos receive a salary that ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 per month. Aside from their monthly salary, they can get good tips from passengers as well.

Massage Therapists

Massage is the most popular spa-related service among passengers. Cruise liners hire massage therapists with certification and experience. A massage therapist’s average salary is $2,800 per month.

Medical Personnel

It is essential to have trained medical staff on cruise ships. The medical staff is on call for 24 hours. They could be nurses, doctors, or both. To qualify, doctors should have experience in internal medicine and emergency services.

Nurses can get a monthly salary of $2,200-$3,000, while physicians have an average wage of $4,000-$5,400 a month.

The Tipping and Non-Tipping Personnel

Two main groups comprise the cruise ship staff: the tipping personnel and the non-tipping personnel.

The tipping staff, such as waiters, busboys, and bar staff, has direct interaction with passengers. Thus, they receive tips from time to time. Upon embarkation, passengers are aware of the specific amount of tips that they can give.

Non-tipping personnel could be waiters, snack attendants, and those in the lower positions. Most of the time, they have fixed salaries. But since there are many opportunities within the cruise ship, they have a good chance of promotion.

The rest of the cruise ship employees are receiving hourly wages. Since working hours on a cruise ship can range from 45 to 60 hours a week, employees get higher payoffs.

Having an education and extensive ship experience is a must for all applicants. Aside from the position you’re applying for, you also need to possess excellent customer service skills. This skill is required, especially if you’re dealing with customers all the time.

Conclusion – What Is It Like to Work on a Cruise Ship?

So what is it like to work on a cruise ship? Working on a cruise ship is a great experience and comes with many advantages; however, there are a few disadvantages to working on a cruise ship.

Advantages of working on a cruise ship:

  1. Travel for free
  2. Exposure to different cultures
  3. Save money
  4. Job opportunities
  5. Personal and professional development
  6. Have quality meals
  7. Activities for employees
  8. Discounts

Disadvantages of working on a cruise ship:

  1. Excessive partying
  2. Working long hours
  3. Lack of rest days
  4. Lack of privacy
  5. Homesickness
  6. Possibility of having illicit affairs
  7. Seasickness
  8. Limited communication with loved ones at home
  9. Proneness to bacteria