Working on a cruise ship can be a dream job for many. It can be a position that has such intensity and diversity and change that you never know what to expect. But in essence, it’s like any other job, so there are both good parts and bad parts to the whole experience. Here’s some things you should think of as you try and decide whether or not cruise ship life is for you.
Pro: It’s freshman year of college all over again
Ship life has a lot of parallels to college. You’re living in close quarters with friends that you see everyday. You’ll be meeting new people, both passengers and crew, 24/7. Also, the departments split up like fraternities and sororities: each one comes with their own traditions and life outlooks and they can also be very insular. You also have a dining plan, a roommate, and a series of authority figures that resemble the crusty Dean from Animal House. And, most of your social activities will revolve around alcohol and binge drinking, while everyone older than you will resemble (or probably will just be) functional alcoholics.
I highly encourage you to work on a cruise ship that has at least slightly different itineraries each week. For the last few months of my contract, my ship sailed the Caribbean. It did the same two week itinerary again and again and again. It felt like Groundhog Day. If your reason for joining a ship is adventure, research the itinerary of the cruise lines you’re applying to. Because my God by the time I went to Grand Cayman for the sixth time I felt like blowing my brains out.
Pro: You don’t have to spend any money
Before I went on the ship, I’d read accounts by crew members ridiculing the idea that crew have no expenses. They’d list their budgets to say “look at how much of our paycheck we spend!” Well, I’m here to tell you that that is just ridiculous. My first paycheck was three months into my cruise ship career, and I was a recent college graduate with no savings and debt. And yet, I lived a reasonably comfortable lifestyle for three months and spent around $100. Yes, you heard that right. For 90 days, I lived on less than a dollar a day. How did I do this? I ate all my meals on the ship, I stopped going to the bar, I only used Internet in coffee shops with free wifi, and I spent my days in ports either on free tours or using my God given feet as transport. I feel like going back to a ship just for the cheap comfort.
Con: Do you remember the afternoon and sunset?
On the ship, you have a rigid schedule imposed on you, so you’ll miss out on certain parts of the day. You go out in the mornings and then you return in the afternoon to shower and get dressed for your shift. And then, after work, you can enjoy a reasonable evening. But for me, the afternoon is the greatest part of the day, particularly the late afternoon. From around 3 until 6, daylight is falling away, and personally those were hours I always spent in leisure and relaxation. Having that part of my life always interrupted was a huge bummer for me.
Overnights are so much fun. They’re nuts, intense, enjoyable, interesting, fascinating, integrative, and just about the best night of the week. It’s the day all of the crew look forward to, and the party atmosphere goes through the whole ship, from the housekeepers to the oldest passengers. You learn so much more about the city because you have so much more time, and you also have the chance to experience its nightlife. You can learn a lot about a place’s culture from its taverns and bars.
Con: You’re a second class citizen
No matter who you are in the ship’s hierarchy, you are a subordinate to the passengers.
Cruise lines live and die by their passenger reviews, and the cruise ship is a hospitality service first and foremost. That reality means that passengers can cut you in line in the buffet, even if you have a shift that starts in a few minutes (you should have thought of that earlier), and will always get onto tenders first. You sit in the back of the bus if you’re ever a tour escort. You get on the ship after passengers and never before. And you will daily receive emails reminding you to smile, always and forever, to every passenger you see.
Pro: The Ocean, The View, & Motion Stabilizers
I never knew how beautiful the ocean was until I took my cruise ship job. It really is wondrous. The foam that flies into the air as your ship glides through it, how the light plays the impossibly deep blue color into ripples and lines that look like long hairs gliding atop an abyss, you can stare at it for hours. The most surreal experience I’ve had was when at night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, far from any land, watching the moon ignite the sea as I looked up at a sky full of a thousand lights I’d forgotten to exist. And you get all of this experience without seasickness. The motion stabilizers of every cruise ship makes it easy to forget you’re on the ocean’s waves.
Con: Confinement & Restlessness
At some point or another, the walls of the ship will begin to close in on you. Your cabin is tiny and no matter how big the ship is, by the end of your contract you’ll feel as if you’ve run over the same ground a million times. The flip side of this feeling is that once you leave the ship, waking up in the same geographic location day after day is extremely disappointing. Ship life really sinks into you, and it can make you very restless when you’re on land. It’s a restlessness that’s easy to give into and next thing you know, you’re on your next contract!