What Really Happens At Sea, According To Cruise Ship Workers


Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Cutting off from the rest of the world while at sea may seem refreshing, but it could cause problems for couples who start to lead separate lives. According to a former crew member “It’s kind of like a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.”


Secret Slang

The crew members may attend to your every want and need, providing great customer service when they can. However, while they may be there to assist you, you may not always understand what they’re speaking about amongst themselves as they have their own code names for different situations. “Code Alpha” translates into a medical emergency, “Code Adam” means a child is nowhere to be found, and “Code Oscar” means a person fell overboard. This is probably not to scare anyone overhearing their conversations!


Hands Off The Guests

Due to problems in the past, most cruise ships have issued a “no fraternizing with guests rule.” Crew members are strictly forbidden from forming any romantic relationships with passengers on board, and will face the consequence of being fired immediately if caught breaking the rule. This is taken very seriously, with some cruise ship management threatening their workers to leave them wherever the ship is to next dock should they break the rule, and leave them to find their own way home.


The Fewer, The Merrier

They may lead the luxurious life of being able to travel the world as part of their job, but crew members do have to sacrifice their privacy for this reward. Having to share cabins means that crew members are not given their own room onboard, and these are not big and spacious, but rather they all have to cram which may come as an adjustment shock. Higher ranked officers, however, do have the privilege of being given a single room.


Thrill Fest For All

Spending so much time together results in the crew members often developing close relationships with another and consider their co-workers family. It is only natural that they start to form such close bonds and find comfort in one another. For some, this new life of theirs is even better than on land with one employee sharing his tale, saying: “I hooked up with seven different people and I am a shy, average looking dude.” Another expressed that cruises are “actually just one big thrill-fest.”


All Work, Little Play

Spending so much time in the same space can get slightly tedious for crew members, and they need to find ways in which they can spice things up a bit. They turn to creative pranks with one admitting: “A favorite was while in a passenger area say to another crew member, loud enough to be heard by passengers, ‘Meet you in the bowling alley tonight!’” With no bowling alley, “we’d wait for the comment cards to come in: ‘Why does the crew get a bowling alley when we don’t?’”


You Said What?

The boat may look large to the passenger excited to get on-board, but with cabin walls so thin, there is not actually as much privacy as you’d hope for. From the smallest whisper, to passengers feeling like they can let off steam in their own rooms, crew ship members sometimes get more than they bargained for with their neighbors. Therefore, for anyone contemplating going on a cruise, just remember, you are in no way in the similar private comforts of your own home when on board.


Wrong Side Of The Sea

We may find great entertainment in watching pirates grace us with their presence on the silver screen, but they are no laughing matter when out at sea. In fact, they are very much a real phenomenon to this day, and in 2009, pirates attacked cruise ships throughout the seas. The various groups of sea villains attacked over 200 ships and stole $35 million worth of cash and goods. Cruise ships have therefore equipped themselves with enormous water canons in case they come across the intruders.


Work Hard, Party Harder

Crew members do need time to have time to let off steam, and they are offered the chance to do so at a very low price. According to one Reddit user under the name “Heapsgoods,” they explained that “there is a crew only bar, and beers are $1.50,” with guests being offered the same drinks for $15 at the bar. With these privileges, workers happen to have some of the craziest parties while on board, but can you really blame them? Sometimes a few drinks can go a long way.


Restaurant Roulette

Food may be on offer throughout the day, so you don’t have to worry about going hungry. However, sometimes the options are limited that they don’t fit everyone’s tastes and needs. A Reddit user explained, “Food is provided, but the two most common ethnicities on my ship were from the Philippines and India, so the crew cafeteria was usually full of food I wasn’t used to, like pigtail stew & fish heads. I ate a lot of salad & mashed potatoes on my contracts.”


Land Of The Lazy

If you are someone who appreciates a good weekend after a long week at work, then considering becoming a cruise worker will not be your thing. Working on a cruise ship usually means an average workweek will be working 80 hours, double the amount that most Americans are used to. These long hours become so intolerable for workers that many do not even complete their committed 9-month contract. They begin to discover that the work becomes too physically and mentally challenging to continue.


Hanging Out To Dry

With a large number of passengers passing through their cruise ship doors throughout the year, it is not unusual for crew members to get some unexpected and strange requests. Some young couples ask, ‘Could you make some towel animals for adults?’ They want naughty animals,” said a crew member who was employed on a cruise ship as a maid. “I say, ‘Sorry, I cannot give you that.’” While everyone can enjoy a good story and sense of humor, sometimes it is taken too far even to comprehend.


Smells Funny

Disaster struck on board the Carnival Triumph in 2013, when a fire started in the engine room, causing the ship to lose power. Guests were stranded off the Gulf of Mexico, and sewage began to back up all around the ship, meaning they were forced to create a tent city. With increasing fears of a virus spreading across the ship, passengers had to wait here till they were rescued. Hygiene on board is taken very seriously, and this became the number one priority, no matter how clean it may seem.


Jailed For Being Sick

To ensure the health and safety of all passengers, if one employee falls ill, that same staff member could be quarantined for as long as a week. To avoid anyone else on board getting sick, the staff member is to steer clear from anyone else, since the close quarters on board are just a means of spreading diseases. This health precaution is taken very seriously since the crew will rather be safe than sorry should a passenger fall sick on board.


Words Turned To Money

Your experience onboard means a lot to management, and that is why they ask you to fill out a questionnaire at the end of your vacation. They value your opinion and works in their favor to know how to improve if need be. Speaking specifically about a crew member, know your comments could have consequences. Whether they are either good or bad, your comment alone could mean a demotion or promotion, so do not just throw out any name on your feedback card.


Kids Are On You

In the worst case scenario, should something happen to a child while on board the ship, the parents are held completely liable. The 1920 Death on the High Seas Act states that only rehabilitation for spouses is issued, but the same is not provided for children. Regardless of the reason, even if they have been harmed due to negligence by something on board, it is best to keep an eye on your kids and any potential danger, because the ship holds no accountability.



You’re Going To Pay

Employees may get to stay on the cruise ship for free and are also provided with fundamental necessities, but life on board is not all luxury. While they are given a helping hand to make their daily lives manageable, they are charged for basics such as drinking water, toilet paper, and extended internet access. “Wifi was $5 a day for 24-hour access to limited social media apps or $10 for 100 minutes unrestricted. I spent way too much money on the s***** wifi.”


Emergency War Room

Similarly to government emergency situations, it was revealed that cruise ships have their own “war room” on board. This room is mainly used as a place where management can gather to plan how to deal with anything unexpected and any critical situations where passengers could be at risk. Therefore, it is more of a “safety center” which, with the most advanced technological innovations, will prove its worth should an emergency arise. This is good to know for those onboard so, rest assured, they are in safe hands.


Real Life Characters

Just like we may be amused by a passerby on the street and feel the need to record their actions, the same goes for employees on cruise ships who record what goes on around them. Seeing as though their daily lives can become quite monotonous, they are embraced by new passengers and new situations which can, at the best times, provide some great entertainment. A cruise ship member admitted, “It was basically the same comedy of errors each day of the week, with a different ‘cast’ of passengers each week.”


Going Green At Sea

Presentation is vital while onboard a cruise ship. Regarding both cleanliness and aesthetics, it is important to keep things impressive for passengers, and having fantastically carved fruit placed on the buffet is sure to do just that. However, let it be known that the fruit used for show is also the same fruit given at meal times, even after days have gone by. This is because the food is recycled throughout the time the boat is out at sea due to the lack of access to fresh food.


Smooth Sailing

Even the best of chefs that are employed onboard are told to add a little secret ingredient to all their food. Their talents are not being tested, rather they’ve been told to add this to their delicacies as a way to help speed up digestion. It is usually extra fat that is being added, and it works wonders as a laxative. You may not want to be made aware of this before tucking into one of your meals, but it is intended to assist in the ship’s plumbing.


Scavenging Animals

They may look, but they cannot touch, when it comes to employees eating the high-end culinary treats made for the guests. Although they are allowed to take whatever is left over, cabin crew members are not offered the same variety of food. While some members are grateful for the offering and take the food for the go to the cabins, others argue that they are being treated as stray animals who are given the scraps or pieces ready for the garbage.


Scary Statistic

Ships make sure they are prepared for anything while out at sea, and while this may not be the best thing to be made aware of, there is a morgue found on every cruise ship. In fact, around 200 guests die aboard cruise ships every year, which is mainly old folks who have simply reached their time. The good news is that this does not mean that going on a ship is dangerous, nor does boarding one mean risking your life, it is just unfortunate timing.


Fatty Food Frenzy

A secret was revealed by Holland America’s spokesperson, John Primeau, and the admission on CNN was relatively sickening. According to Primeau, a typical cruise meal will make the average passenger gain a pound a day due to the high amount of calories in the food. Additionally, towards the end of the voyage, there is a limit on fresh food, with much of the food from earlier in the week having to be recycled instead, explaining how the buffet always seems stocked up.


You Have Been Warned

You are to enjoy the cruise amenities at your leisure, as well as, enjoy the great outdoors when the ship docks for the day. Meanwhile, the cruise does provide an itinerary giving passengers an plan to follow – that is unless you do not wish to make it back to the ship before it moves onto the next destination. It is usually around 5 o’clock in the afternoon that guests must return to the ship because a fine is issued if ships go over their time slot.


You Are Who You’re With

Just because they may be out at sea, does not mean that the same societal issues found on land do not still exist. It has been found that crew members who share the same ethnicity tend to confide in one another, often secluding anyone who is considered different to them. It is also the case that certain ethnicities are grouped to be in charge of something specific. For example, an employee announced that on board the Filipino gang was in charge of booze, and the Indian members looked after food.


Straight By Land

In the close proximities on the cruise ship, people begin to feel more than comfortable with their surroundings, and with those around them. In fact, people have admitted that they feel more comfortable to freely be themselves once the ship has set sail, and explore their tendencies freely without anyone they know passing judgment. Therefore, those closeted individuals who consider themselves as “straight by land” opt to go on cruises for more comfort than that experienced in their own homes.


Ranks Are Real

A former member of the crew shared that “there is almost a caste system in place,” which means that there is a ranking system for employees. With officers at the top, entertainment following behind, then front-of-house, and lastly, back-of-house, there is definitely a cruise ship hierarchy. Salaries are also dependent on your birthplace. An Indonesian cruise employee is said to make $600 a month for working 12-14 hours a day, whereas a U.S. workers could make $3,000 a month working 6-10 hours.


Trust Is A Tricky Thing

When it comes to trusting employees, there are a few rules in place which may suggest that management takes no risks even after they have security checked a cruise worker. “We aren’t allowed to take elevator rides with guests if you’re the only two people in it,” explained one former cabin crew employee. “for the same reason [you are not allowed to fraternize with guests]. Also if you’re taking a photo with a guest both of your hands must be visible.”


Kick Anyone Off

Should the rule about fraternizing with visitors be broken, or an employee is accused of doing something that wasn’t deemed acceptable, management will take no risks. “If you report [being harassed by an employee] to any officer or the front desk (Guest Services on some ships), security footage and logs will be reviewed, and that person will immediately be handled. You will never see them again.” This is a rule that should not be abused since the consequences are far worse, no matter the extent of the problem.


Know Your Audience

While you would like to think you are not going on vacation to be judged, know you are being categorized into three categories – newlyweds, ‘overfeds’, and ‘soon-to-be-deads.’ Do not think you get to move groups either since, once you have been placed into one of the three stereotypes, you are there for the duration of your stay. However, this is meant to be in everyone’s best interest on the ship, as it allows staff on board to know how to handle your needs and help with recommendations.


Can’t Help It

You may be right in thinking you smelt a reeking scent when walking past a worker, but know they are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. You will never find a free washer unless you camp out in the laundry room for a few hours. There are usually about 5 to 15 washers/dryers, and anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 crew members,” said a former cruise ship worker on Reddit. Surely, if it were up to them, they would be in clean, nice smelling uniform every day.


Nothing Compares

Through all the negatives that working on a cruise ship may offer, there sure are a lot of positives alongside them. “I took a sled dog ride in Alaska, visited Alcatraz, had an authentic curry in Mumbai, spent a day on a luxury yacht sailing around the Caribbean, snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, visited the great pyramids in Egypt, been to the lost city of Petra, spent days in Barcelona, Athens, Rome, Kiev, and so much more. Nothing you have to put up with onboard matters compared to that.”


Eat, Tease, Sleep, Repeat

The added entertainment on a cruise ship is for the enjoyment of passengers, but do not think that you have been honored with something unique and different from the passengers before you. In fact, coming up with new material is not in the job description for entertainers, and if you wished to go on the same cruise again, do not expect anything new. “We don’t want you to know that all those funny jokes we tell you at bingo? Yeah… Same ones are said Every. Single. Cruise.”


Someone’s Watching

When it comes to boarding a cruise ship, know that Big Brother is watching you at all times. “It’s safe to assume if you’re outside of your cabin you are probably on camera,” said Gavin, a waiter who was on a big brand cruise line. “In the event of any kind of emergency, they could pull security footage at any time.” Though this is for security reasons and the benefit of passengers on board, it is good to keep in mind that you are constantly being watched.


You Had Me At Merlot

If you hope to save a few dollars where possible while on board quite an expensive cruise ship, then it is good to know how to best order drinks. While ordering a bottle of wine is cheaper than a glass at a time, you can also ask the cruise ship waiters to mark your bottle with your room number and store it at the bar. That way, if you do not finish your bottle over dinner, then you can save it for another evening, and at whichever venue onboard.


Spoiled And Pampered – For Free

When finally deciding it is time to relax and pamper yourself, there is a way to let off some steam. With the availability of showers, saunas, and steam rooms, you have the opportunity to unwind without having to pay for a more lavish one. Also, taking a shower in the spa means you are more likely to get access to cleaner towels, as well as, superior toiletries. So this is the perfect opportunity while on board to treat yourself and get that vacation revitalization.


They Have No Idea

Being out at sea means being cut off from the rest of the world, and engaging in a conversation with a worker about current affairs is likely to not go anywhere. “You stop following news and sports and pop culture,” said a former cruise employee. “You’re really kind of isolated out there.” Perhaps it is time to take a leaf out of their book while on a cruise and just be at one with the sea and your surroundings at the time.


Whale Hello There

Just as fog can be an increasing danger when a ship is out at sea, whales can be just as bad. Since it is nearly impossible to navigate through without being able to see ahead and what can potentially be hit, whales are a concern when out at sea. However, because the impact of hitting a whale is not felt on the ship, passengers are none the wiser if and when this would happen. A good thing too, because the less passengers know about potential dangers, the happier they are!


Steak Me Out

The excitement of boarding the cruise is enough excitement for one day, and passengers are not longing for anything to top this. That is why they usually head to the main dining room for their dinner on the first night aboard. This means that the other eateries passengers are saving for another evening are unattended. Sometimes, however, it is worth your money to book a different dining venue on the first night. For example, Carnival Cruise Line offers a free bottle of wine at their steakhouse on the first night.


Natural Remedy

The common possibility of feeling nauseous from motion sickness means that staff members have come up with a way to help passengers in this position. Their natural remedy, which they swear by, is green apples and bland crackers, which has been found to have helped get passengers back on their feet. This can be found in the purser’s desk or ordered by room service to your cabin, saving you the time of going to the pharmacy to help. It is worth trying this one out should the problem arise.


Weather You Like It Or Not

In the case of severe fog, “a cruise ship is instructed not to dock at a port,” claims travelwhip.com. With the captain’s vision suddenly severely hindered, it is important for the safety of everyone on board, to check weather conditions before setting sail, regardless of schedule times. The same can be said for when a ship is set to dock but is having problems with the fog. Sometimes they have to wait a significant amount of time before it is considered safe to dock.