Living on Cruise Ships: What You Should Know

Where you rank in the cruise ship hierarchy will determine just want perks you’re entitled to, your salary, and how often you are allowed to leave the ship. So here’s how it works: cruise ship employees fall into one of three main categories: officer, staff, and crew. Officers are at the top of the hierarchy. They wear the stripes and enjoy superior accommodations. They also have free access to all ship facilities, and they enjoy the highest salaries. Captains average anywhere from $6,000-$10,000+ per month, staff captains typically earn $5,000-$7,000 per month, and first officers earn around $4,000-$5,000 per month.

Staff members (not staff captains) are second in the hierarchy. These individuals work in retail shops, casinos, and spas. They are also photographers, entertainers, cruise staff, and concession staff. These individuals enjoy unlimited access to passenger areas and they are allowed more time off in port than officers. Most officers have to remain onboard in order to “man” the ship while docked. Staff member salaries vary greatly depending on the position. For example, hospitality managers may earn anywhere from $4,000-$4,800 per month, while retail salespersons may earn $1,400-2,000 per month.

Crewmembers are last in the hierarchy. These individuals make up the largest population of workers on the ship. Crewmembers are non-managerial bar and restaurant personnel, cleaning staff, cabin stewards, galley and laundry personnel, and deck hands. Crewmembers do not have as many privileges as officers and staff members. They have access to the “crew bar,” and they must share accommodations with one or more co-workers. That said, there are several advantages to being a crewmember.

Crewmembers make a significant amount of income in tips, they have lots of room to grow, and they can spend more time having fun at various ports of call rather than remaining on the ship. It is not uncommon for crewmembers to turn down a promotion if it means losing his freedom and his tips! Crewmembers salaries vary greatly depending on the position. For example, a cocktail waiter may earn around $1,600-$2,400 per month, while laundry staff may earn anywhere from $1,000-$1,400 per month.

Now that you know how things work on board, about your position in the hierarchy, and how much you can expect to earn, it’s time to gather your belongings and head out to sea. Most new ship employees end up packing everything but the kitchen sink on their first working trip. Fortunately, you don’t have to bring much. Remember, ships are like little cities at sea. You will have access to grocery stores, clothing stores, pharmacies, salons, health clubs, bookstores, libraries, cyber cafes, and more, so the most important things to remember are: all of your identifying information (passport, driver’s license, state ID, Insurance cards, etc.), and any medications (or prescriptions). If you’re an entertainer, don’t forget your costume, accessories, and any necessary equipment. For all workers, check with the ship ahead of time to inquire about dress codes, but more than likely, you will have to wear a uniform while working. So, that’s it – you’re ready to go!

For more information about cruise ship jobs, pick up a copy of Working on Cruise Ships by Sandra Bow (Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut).

Tips and Warnings: Most cruise ship professionals advise against cruise ship romances. If the relationship goes south, you will still have to work with your “ex,” and oftentimes in close quarters. So think twice before engaging. In addition, some ships flat out forbid employees in certain positions to date employees in others. This is typically the case between superiors and subordinates.

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