Pros and Cons of Working on Cruise Ships

Pros and Cons of Cruise Ship Jobs (Photo Credit: NCL)
Pros and Cons of Cruise Ship Jobs (Photo Credit: NCL)

It’s best to weigh the pros and cons before making the decision to work on cruise ships. Shipboard jobs aren’t for everyone, and every crewmember has reasons why they choose to work on cruise ships or why shipboard life is not for them. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to working on cruise ships.

Pros of Working on Cruise Ships

Best job to save money and travel the world – When working on a cruise ship, you don’t have to pay rent, food, laundry, or medical care. There are very few expenses that crew need to pay for so many crew are able to save money. Even flights to and from the ship are covered by your employer. Most major cruise lines have worldwide itineraries. Who knows where you may end up?

Experience great weather, sunsets, and views – If you are from a country that has cold winters, then enjoying the sun and warm weather of the Caribbean, Hawaii, Australia, French Polynesia, or Central America may be an enticing reason to work on a cruise ship. Add in sunsets at sea, cruising through Alaska’s glaciers or Panama Canal, many memories await working on cruise ships.

Fun and friendships – You will meet lots of people from many different countries and these international colleagues will become life long friends. Consider how much time you spend working and living with the same people, a lot of strong bonds are formed and many memorable times are had. This include plenty of romantic relationships that are created with shipboard life.

Long vacations – Although unpaid, cruise ship crew get long vacations. Your work schedule or rotation varies depending on position, but expect at least a two-month holiday after your contract. While many crew go home to reconnect with family and friends, others take the time to travel, often with their friends that they have met onboard.

Accumulate frequent flier airmiles – Although the company that you work for pays for the expenses for you to fly to and from the ship, the crewmember has the opportunity to accumulate airmiles. Some carrier’s airmiles can be redeemed for gift cards.

Discounts and free stuff – Crew are given the opportunity to go on shore excursions as a “tour escort” for free. Although you don’t need to pay, you are required to stay with an assigned group from the ship. Crew are also offered the opportunity to go on discounted crew-only shore excursions. Many local businesses in port also offer crew discounts on food, merchandise, and shuttles to town or the to the beach.

No commute to work – Forget about being in traffic, paying for gas and parking, or needing to wake up early for your commute to work. Working on a cruise ship means getting ready for work and taking an elevator to your job. Also, consider you don’t need to drive home after a couple drinks at the crew bar.

Uniform – Wearing a uniform means you don’t need to decide what to wear everyday. Plus, the onboard laundry washes your uniforms for free. Although crew are expected to wear their uniform for their shifts, during their free time, crew can generally wear whatever they are comfortable in wearing during their off hours.

No cooking and cleaning – Unless it’s your job to cook or clean, having all your meals made for you and not having to do the dishes is a great benefit of working onboard a cruise ship. All officers also have a cabin steward to clean their cabin. Cabin stewards make beds, clean the bathroom, change linens and towels, and bring your uniforms down to the laundry for you.

Experience different cuisine – Working on a cruise ship enables you to try foods that you may have never tried before. This is your chance to eat a traditional curry, try lobster, eat a chocolate souffle, escargot, or a veggie burger. Since you don’t have to pay for your food, this is a great opportunity to try new foods. If you don’t like it, try something else.

Free fitness facility – Most cruise ships have a well-equipped gym complete with numerous cardio machines and strength training equipment. Officers are able to use the gym facilities during their hours off for no extra cost. For those without officer status, a crew gym is a feature on all cruise ships as well.

Safe environment to work and live – Health and safety is paramount on a cruise ship. There are doctors, nurses, a safety officer, and a security team, all making sure that health and safety protocols are followed onboard. In addition, COVID testing for cruise ship jobs is one measure as well as a medical exam that all crew must pass to be able to work onboard.

Strict code of conduct – Although some may see a strict code of conduct as a negative of working on cruise ships, it can also be one of the great things of working onboard. Bad behaviour is not tolerated and only crew with the highest standards and strongest work ethic will thrive working on cruise ships.

Resume boost – Cruise ship jobs look great on a resume. Not only will your future employers find cruise ship jobs interesting and want to know more about what it was like onboard, you will find that the skills gained by working on cruise ships are transferrable to land based jobs. Resume highlights will include “hardworking”, “experience working with an international crew”, and exceptional customer service skills”.

Cons of Working on Cruise Ships

Long hours and no days off – Typically crewmembers are required to work an 11-hour day, every day for three to nine months. Although you rarely get full days off, crew tend to take advantage of the hours that they aren’t working to watch a movie, hang out with friends, sunbathe on deck, or go ashore.

On call 24/7 – All crew are assigned an emergency duty so that in case of an emergency they need to perform this duty. In the rare case there is a fire onboard or some other incident, the crew are required to report to their “crew alert station”. This could be at any time of the day or night. In addition, there are mandatory crew drills and ongoing training that may occur during your hours off.

Lack of privacy – With the exception of some cruise ship jobs, most crew will be required to share a small cabin and bathroom with another crewmember. Your cabinmate may or may not be someone that you work with and they may also be someone that is a different nationality from you.

Possibility of seasickness – At some point during your contract, the cruise ship may experience bad weather and rough seas that may cause you to be seasick. Some crewmembers are more susceptible to it while others have learned how to cope with seasickness.

Some beverage expenses onboard are not covered – Although meals onboard are free for the crewmember, beverages such as canned soft drinks, bottled water, and alcohol cost extra. Tap water, fountain juices and soda are complimentary, while the crew bar has discounted alcoholic beverages.

No choice of where to travel – Officers and crew (including the Captain) do not get to choose which itinerary or which cruise ship they will work on for their contract. These decisions are made by managers in the cruise line’s corporate office.

Strict code of conduct – Cruise ships have a strict code of conduct that may seem restrictive to some people which highlights that working on cruise ships is not for everyone. Even during your hours off, behaviour such as drug use, excessive drinking, harassment, or fighting can get you fired.

Possibility of homesickness – For some crew, this may be their first time living away from home, away from their family and friends for a long period of time. You may also miss certain comfort foods from home, too. Cruise lines try to hire crew that understand this challenge of working on cruise ships and can cope well with these challenges.

Slow internet – Although internet has become faster as ships have improved their onboard technology, it still may not be as fast as what you are used to. Although many cruise lines expect crew to pay for internet it’s just a nominal amount (ie. $60 per contract is a typical amount charged).

Expensive cell phone charges – While a ship is at sea, cell phone providers charge their customers international roaming rates. Crew typically leave their phone in airplane mode so as not to use data or worry about being charged roaming fees. Also, many crewmembers purchase SIM cards for the countries they are going to be in most often and swap them out for the cheapest phone charges. Plus, most ships make it free to use WhatsApp.

Restrictions to go ashore – Prior to COVID-19, crew would be required to wait until most passengers were off the ship before being allowed to go ashore. Currently, most ports do not allow crew to get off the ship at all while the ship is in port (cruise lines’ private islands seem to be the only exception right now). It is unclear when these restrictions will loosen and when crew will be allowed to get off the ship in port.

Restrictions for crew – Unless you have officer status, crew are not allowed to be in guest areas when off duty. Therefore, not all crew are allowed to use the guest fitness center, eat in guest areas, or sunbathe in passenger areas. The crew have their own restaurant (crew mess) and crew recreation areas (some ships have a crew pool).

Guests can be rude and demanding – As with any job in customer service, there will always be some cruise ship guests that are rude and demanding. Crew are expected to always provide excellent service with a smile regardless. Although, in some cases a guest can be disembarked a ship for bad behaviour.

Why Work on Cruise Ships

While working on a cruise ship can be intense and demanding, it can also be one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever have. Many crew joke that “this will be my last contract”, but once you get the taste of life onboard its hard to not go back contract after contract with opportunities and experiences like no other job in the world.

Posted: April 21, 2021