Guests on a cruise ship are always curious about the life of crew members. Crew members curious about what to expect from their first contract on a ship are nervous. From living arrangements, food, pay, time off and the infamous parties – life within crew areas remains a mystery to most of the world.
As you can understand, companies are reluctant to allow photos and videos of their crew areas. Hopefully I can give you a glimpse of what life is really like for many crew!
Those who have sailed as a guest know that space is limited. Guest cabins with only two people are fairly tight, and no doubt you’ve been dancing around each other getting ready for your day of exploration. Those who have sailed as a family with three or four in a cabin… I don’t know how you accomplish it!
Most of the crew on board cruise ships share cabins too. Usually having a bunk bed arrangement, it is rare these days to see more than two-berth cabins. Each person will have drawers and a closet, but even
What is more common is for two adjacent cabins to share a bathroom space. This will have a shower and toilet, shared between 4 people. In this case, the separate cabins will each have a sink of their own.
Some management and Officer level crew will be assigned single-berth cabins. This may be as a privilege for their seniority, or for practicality as they work and rest at strange times. Some of these positions may have a porthole or window, allowing natural light.
Food For Crew
Fuelling the hard work our crew do is the variety of food available. With an international staff, it’s important to have a variety of cuisines on offer. You may see cooks from the Philippines, Indonesia or India to cater to the majority of our crew, and of course lots of rice.
Crew eat in a buffet-style area called the Crew Mess. You’ll have fresh fruit and vegetables, and a selection of hot dishes. You can expect something spicy, something vegetarian, something deep fried, something pasta… You can usually find something to enjoy. Senior crew may have an Officers Mess. This smaller area caters more to a western taste reflecting the nationalities of many of the managers on board.
While there is variety day-to-day, the menu can become repetitive. Crew learn quickly what lunch is on Monday, what they like at dinner on Thursday etc.
Some crew are able to dine in guest areas. This can include the casual buffet, or making reservations for the dining rooms on board. This can be a nice change from time to time, but given the work schedules of many
Crew Member Pay
With hundreds of unique jobs on board, it’s not surprising that the pay and benefits vary too.
No matter your role, a big benefit of working on a ship is the lack of expenses while you’re on board. You have food, accommodation and your uniform all supplied for free, so anything else you spend is up to you.
One of the biggest onboard expenses for the crew is the internet. In this day and age, we all like to be connected 24/7 and while this is possible on a ship, doing so quickly adds up. Using the expensive satellite connection supplying the ship’s wifi, your phone can quickly eat through hundreds of megabytes – adding up to hundreds of dollars each month. You can check out our comparison of internet rates for different cruise lines here! Making sure you have the correct settings on your phone can help reduce this cost.
Another expense comes in the ports we visit. With travel a part of our job, we like to go out and see the places the ship docks, and make the most of what time we get to explore. If you can get discounted or free tours from the ship, that’s a great way to see the sights and still keep to your budget. Otherwise, plan ahead where you can, speak to other crew to get their suggestions and don’t be afraid to ask if places offer discounts for crew – many do!
Time Off For Crew
Given that crew are on board for months at a time, and are working long hours that entire time, its important to make the most of what time off we do have. Looking after your physical and mental health is vital, as is making time for your family and friends.
We all know the importance of diet and exercise in keeping us healthy. While you only have some control over your diet on board, there’s a lot you can do for exercise. Cruise ships will have a gym for crew (and some may be allowed to use the guest gym) that lets you get your heart rate up or lift heavy things.
Often there are crew sporting events organised, either on board or in ports we visit. Even just walking around the ship’s open decks for a few minutes each day gets you that fresh air and sunshine.
Having a healthy mind is tougher on ships than many think. There are so many things going on, so many sources of stress, that it can be difficult to properly disconnect and unwind at the end of the day. Finding that balance is key!
When starting out, it can be helpful to speak with your colleagues about how they balance the crazy ship life. They’ve been through it all before, and can give you tips on what to do (and not do!) to not just survive on ships but to make the most of it. Some find their religion to be a source of comfort and strength. With so many nationalities on board, you can be sure to find someone to share that with.
Your managers can also help out if things are getting too much. Though it still happens in places, we’re moving past the days of ‘toughen up or go home’ and companies often have resources in place to help crew adjust and make the most of being on ships. Often called ‘Crew -‘ or ‘Employee Assistance’ programs, these provide confidential information and can connect you with counsellors as needed. And usually they’re available to your family at home too!
Family & Friends
Being apart from family and friends is a constant struggle. You miss important milestones, you don’t get to share in activities, and you aren’t there to help when your family might need you. Despite being surrounded by people all day, every day, it can be lonely (read more about this here)!
Making this separation work starts when you’re at home. Speak with your family and friends about what to expect. Compare time zones and look a what times would be best to talk and catch up. Make sure everyone has the correct contact information for you – you should be able to receive mail on the ship, but the mailing address can change depending on where the ship sails.
A favourite app to message and call with is Whatsapp. This is available for free worldwide, but the big benefit on ships is that it uses very little data when compared to FaceTime for example. When setting this up for you to use, check in the settings that ‘Low Data Usage’ is activated for calls, and that automatic chat backups are turned off! These settings will help save your precious internet megabytes!
You’re sure to make new friends on the ship, some that will become like family for you.
I’m sure everyone has heard stories about parties on cruise ships. Wild nights of alcohol fuelled debauchery that can only happen on the high seas!
The reality is that though crew do like to let their hair down and relax, they are also aware that in only a few hours they need to be back at work, performing at their best to make sure guests have an amazing vacation. It is rare for crew to have and days off, so there’s never any ‘Friday Night’ feeling.
As well as this, crew need to perform emergency duties. If anything happens on the ship, it’s the crew that will respond and take care of the situation. Because of this, there are strict limits on alcohol for crew. Random drug and alcohol testing happens every week, and testing will often be carried out following any emergency or incident on board too. Crew that do drink too much tend to get caught out and disembarked fairly quickly.
Crew life is a weird and wonderful blend of amazing benefits yet huge sacrifices. If you find a way to make ship life work for you, then it’s a great way to travel, meet new people and hopefully save some decent money too. I know my life is a lot better for my time on ships, and I can’t imagine it any other way.