What's a cruise ship job like?
August 2, 2007 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What's a cruise ship job like?

A (non-US citizen) friend of mine is considering applying for cruise ship jobs. What is it like? How much does one make? I've read this About.com page and this personal webpage. She'd probably work as a youth counselor or as a waitress.
posted by k8t to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You are stuck on a boat for a long time with a lot of people who are generally assholes and see you as a servant. Internet access is sporadic and expensive. You won't get paid much either.

But you will get to see beautiful sights along the way and during ports of call you can go into the cities, unless you are on duty. (this is based on my friend's experience, I will email him this url).
posted by chlorus at 10:36 AM on August 2, 2007

What country is the non-US friend from? I knew many people from Indonesia who went to work on cruise ships because the money they'd make was way better than what they could make at home, but (I could be wrong here) I think the ship's nation of registry determines things like labor and wage laws.

Also, what size cruise line is she thinking about working for, and how good is her English?
posted by mdonley at 11:27 AM on August 2, 2007

Response by poster: She's from a Former Soviet Republic. It would be more money than at home. Her English is great. Not sure about size.
posted by k8t at 11:34 AM on August 2, 2007

I think things vary alot depending on the job they do and the line.
I know of someone who works as a cosmetologist in the salon and has much different privileges than the average waiter, etc.
I understand normally the work can be long and difficult and you are stuck almost always down in the bowels of the ship during your time off.
I knew a kid from Ireland (hard worker - slaved in the kitchens of Newport, RI) who said as soon as he got on he knew it was mistake.
I would have her be very careful and understand how they are allowed to use time off (along with obviously how much time off you get).
I wonder if some of the small lines are possible. They seem to work just as hard but have better privileges.
posted by beccaj at 11:50 AM on August 2, 2007

The salaries tend to be very low -- like $500/month at entry -- so everyone works for the tips, which means that your friend's success will depend to a great extent on her ability to amuse, entertain, and titillate the guests in order to extract money.

So probably really good for the outgoing, maybe less fun if she's more introspective and quiet.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:54 AM on August 2, 2007

Speaking as a passenger who has spent quite a bit of time chatting to staff out of curiosity - it really depends on the type of work your friend would be doing - working in the duty free shop or casino part of the boat means you can only work while the ship is at sea, and from what I understand such positions pay very well (factoring in room, board and free day trips), but cabin crew or waiters are paid very little with very little time off (but apparently make enough in a six-month contract to buy a house in Indonesia or the Phillipines, so it's all relative).

I knew a hairdresser for a cruise company who only worked every two-three years, for six months at a time, which funded his life in Spain for the rest of the time.

To counter RandlePatrickMcMurphy's comment re: tips, there are some cruise lines that don't allow their staff to accept tips, so that is not always the case. And it's usually only the entertainment crews who are required to be bright and outgoing all the time.
posted by goo at 12:19 PM on August 2, 2007

You are stuck on a boat for a long time with a lot of people who are generally assholes and see you as a servant.

Misanthropic much?

I think the key thing to think about in any situation like this where you are isolated and confined with others with not a lot of personal space (e.g. college dorms, reality show participants, military tours of duty, etc). is that you have the potential to make some deep, personal, life long friends with whom you have a large shared history. Of course you also have the chance to be with people that under normal circumstances you would just find annoying but in the cruise ship scenario you find utterly intolerable.

Just something to keep in mind.
posted by mmascolino at 2:36 PM on August 2, 2007

I worked as a contractor on a cruise ship for several months. beccaj and goo's posts seem pretty close to my impression of the crew. I would add that these ships run up and down the same coastline for months at a time... so the novelty of travel wears off pretty quickly. Also, you don't really visit the countries that the ship docks in, you visit the cruise terminal and surrounding tourist town. Not at all the same thing.

That being said, the Alaska run and Cabo San Lucas are pretty nice.
posted by anthill at 2:47 PM on August 2, 2007

I was just on a cruise a month ago and talked alot to some of the staff. On carnival they do 8 month contracts. Most of them said the pay is pretty good but she will probably working with alot of people from the phillipenes and Singapore. They all said it is pretty fun and the day trips are nice.

Good luck to your friend I don't think I would like it.
posted by DJWeezy at 3:44 PM on August 2, 2007

Best answer: I worked on a ship for a year. There are lots of variables.

In my experience, there is an upstairs/downstairs divide among the crew; some crew members are permitted upstairs in the passenger areas, some never are. The hierarchy of this can vary from ship to ship, but I believe it is generally thus:

- The engineers, the (mostly) guys who make the ship go are never above decks. They do not go into passenger areas at all. Ditto for the cooks, who keep to the kitchens when upstairs, and the room staff (cleaners, butlers, maids, etc), who will circulate in the cabins they are assigned to, but nowhere else.

- The waiters, waitresses, bartenders and casino staff work the public rooms they are assigned to and nowhere else. They are in uniform, of course, and do not have public rooms or passenger area privileges during their time off. They also work long shifts and so do not always get to go ashore.

The staff who work in the spa, the gym, the shops, the casino and the computer room are also restricted to their workplaces, and cannot be in the public rooms at any times. (On my ship they could request "nights out" from the Hotel Manager every few weeks. They'd get dressed up and be allowed to hang out in one of the passenger bars for the evening, or be allowed to see a show in the lounge.)

The pursers (who serve as bank tellers, account minders and post office for crew and passengers alike) also are restricted to their domain when on duty and below decks when not. They, too, had nights out, though.

Those crew members who work as social staff have the most privileges. On my ship, the social staff included the children's coordinators/teachers, the librarians, the dance instructors, cruise director and staff, the entertainers (but not the band and orchestra), and the french, japanese and other country-specific hosts on board. We (for this was my group) were allowed public rooms privileges at all times. When we weren't working, we were treated as passengers, subject to all dress codes of course, but given crew discounts. One exception - we did not dine with passengers unless invited, and only then with the Cruise Director's agreement.

Yeah, it was a nice life for a year. My cabin was small, but in a passenger area. I had to be in formal clothing 5 nights a week, but I only really worked about 10 hours a week for the whole year (often less). I read a lot. I drank a lot. I did make some deep friendships. I also got lonely, and homesick (and sick sick, as the water form the onboard desalination plant was truly awful).

I don't know that I'd be a waitress on that or any ship. It's hard, long hours, and what time off you get, you spend below decks, living in cramps quarters with one thousand other people who don't go upstairs. The life of a social staff member is freer. But you're also always on, alway required to be available to passengers, even when minding your own business with a book on the deck. And passengers will recognize you, and chat with you, and some with want to be your friend, whether you care to be or not. It can be instrusive and (if you are a girl) sometimes veer into uncomfortable. On the other hand, you can meet some amazing people.

I can't much speak to money, as I'm sure wages are different everywhere. One thing to ask, though, is how wages are paid. In cash? If so, often no tax is taken out and depending on the laws of your home country, it is not reported as taxable income at all. So the potential to save money is big.

Other miscellaneous notes:
- Bartenders on the ship I worked on were rotated from one bar to the next ever few weeks to even out their tip earnings. Certain bars (the champagne lounge, the after-show yacht club, etc) were moneymakers, others (the helicopter deck bar, the show lounge) were not.

- Waiters and waitresses, though, stayed in the restaurant they were hired for and only moved up to a better one on the recommendation of the head waiter. People spent more than a decade working their way up to the first class restaurant. (There they stayed, of course, for years, working 3 months on, 4 months off, buying housing, vacation homes, etc.)

- This bears repeating: social staff need to be able to be social ALL THE TIME. You may have public room privileges, but you are expected to be "working" even while sitting around with other staff members at the bar. Not so great for introverts.

- With all those crew members not allowed in the public rooms, you may wonder what they do. Two words: crew bars. My ship had four - One pub, one dance club, and one members-only club that many crew members belonged to - all deep down in the lower decks under the fo'c's'le. (The fourth was the officer's club, which was on the boat deck and quite lovely and utterly off limits without an invitation.) Booze is dirt cheap for crew (50 cents beer and one dollar everything else) and the revelry is near constant. As is drunkeness. There are also, often, crew gyms, libraries, at least two dining rooms and, on my ship, a crew only deck out on 2 Aft that was grimy and loud but private.

If you or your friend want to know more, email is in my profile.
posted by minervous at 6:31 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Work hard, play hard. Sleep in a tiny, windowless, shared, room. Spend as little of the rest of your time there as possible.

If you don't spend all your pay on your bar tab, you can save a lot of it: remember that while the pay may not be so good, you're not paying rent, bills or buying food for that time. That said, pay and conditions vary widely. Pay attention to the details of the contract, especially with regard to paying for travel home in the event of leaving the ship earlier than expected.

Do not touch any agency wanting money up front. If your friend's not applying directly to a cruise company there are plenty of legitimate crewing agencies, even in the former Soviet states, and they should pay all travel to join the ship, including some expenses en route. As far as I know, they should also pay for any mandatory pre-sea safety training courses. Just don't get a job with Louis Cruises!

I don't work on cruise ships, but I know some people who do. One thing it might be worth thinking about, as mentioned above, is that privileges will depend a lot on what kind of job you do, and which company you work for. For instance, it's entirely likely that off-duty waitresses wouldn't be allowed to drink in the passengers' bars or use their swimming pools.
posted by Lebannen at 6:40 PM on August 2, 2007

« Older Classical music recommendation site with just the...   |   Lotto Odds!! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.