By Barbara Bean-Mellinger Updated June 29, 2018
Working on a cruise ship can be grueling, with long shifts and little time off. For most crew members, salaries are low. Yet many people spend years working on cruise ships for the unique benefits the lifestyle provides. If they decide to work on land again at some point, they have resumes full of unusual experiences and memories to last a lifetime.
Travel the World
One of the main reasons people choose to work on cruise ships is the chance to travel to many places they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. Since they live on the ship, they receive room and board as part of their compensation. They travel the world without paying for expensive hotels and food. Employees typically sign contracts to work on a ship for six to nine months. Although they don't receive a lot of time off per week, they do have the chance to explore the ports where the ship docks. At the end of their contracts, they can sign on to another ship going to new destinations.
Cruise crew members' salaries are low partly because they receive food and a place to live. Jobs that involve customer service, such as room stewards and dining table waiters, are highly dependent on tips. Ship workers find they don't need to spend a lot of money, though, and are able to save money or send it home to support their families. Crew members say that after some initial splurging, they spend very little in ports because they go to them so often. Ships host crew parties on a regular basis, too, covering part of what they'd spend on entertainment.
Many crew members say the friends they make from all over the world are the best part of working on a cruise ship. Most live in two-person rooms and get to know their roommates well. This naturally includes learning about their countries, cultures and beliefs. Working in close quarters on long shifts and going ashore together during time off, they get to know other crew members well too – experiences they wouldn't have if they only visited a country for a week at a time.
Crew members eat some of the same food as the passengers, but their cooks also prepare food that's common in employees' home countries. Most consider the food to be very good. Rules usually forbid eating with passengers or in passenger restaurants, but food in the crew quarters is of the same quality and just as plentiful. Staff members – different from the crew and including the captain, the captain's staff, hotel employees, entertainers and retail store workers – have a separate dining room and can sometimes eat in passenger areas as well.
With the exception of Alaskan cruises, most cruise ships travel to places where the weather is pleasant year-round –warm-weather locales like the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii – and the scenery is beautiful. Employees choose the cruise they sign on to, so if weather's important to them, they can choose a cruise that matches their ideal climate.