Cruise Ship Workers Reveal What It's Really Like to Live at Sea
This article originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.
Cruise ship jobs have a number of distinctive features that separate them from land-based jobs. Perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that cruise ship employees live where they work.
That can have advantages, like short "commutes" and close bonds with co-workers, but it also presents potential downsides, like poor food quality and a sometimes excessive party culture.
Business Insider spoke with 39 current and former cruise line employees who described what it's like to live and work on a cruise ship. (Some of those mentioned in this story requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from their current or former employer.)
Here's what they said.
There's a big party culture, but it isn't always as fun as it seems.
Cruise ships have a reputation for fostering a party culture among employees fueled by long hours and cheap drinks available at crew-only bars.
But social drinking can turn into self-medication, according to Brian David Bruns, who worked as a waiter for Carnival Cruise Lines for 13 months between 2003 and 2004 and wrote a book, "Cruise Confidential," about the experience.
Bruns told Business Insider that the stress and loneliness of working on a cruise ship made alcohol an attractive coping mechanism. During his time as a waiter, an outside observer would likely have determined that he developed a drinking problem, Bruns said.
"I'm sure any third party would observe me and say I had a problem," he said. "It can happen very quickly where you go from a social drink to self-medicating because of loneliness."
The food is bad.
Cruise ship workers with lower-paying jobs, like bartenders and waiters, are often at the mercy of the crew cafeteria. There, according to five current or former cruise ship employees, the food leaves much to be desired.
Some described their distaste for the food as a logistical issue. Since many ships employ crew members from around the world, the food served in the crew cafeteria can reflect that variety, making it difficult for some to find food similar to what they would eat at home on a consistent basis. Others described food of poor quality, like chicken with a rubber-like texture or sauteed fish heads.
"The food sucks," a former employee for Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line said.
Workers would keep tuna, granola bars, and other snack foods in their rooms or favor simple foods that require little preparation, like fruit, cereal, and sandwiches, she said.
Not all of the cruise ship employees Business Insider spoke to disliked the food in the crew cafeteria. Two former cruise ship employees said they enjoyed both the quality and variety of the food served to crew members.
You work long hours.
Rather than working traditional five-day weeks, cruise-ship employees often work seven days a week for the duration of their contracts, which can range from about two months to 11 months. Between four and eight months was the most common contract length cited by 31 current and former cruise-ship employees who spoke with Business Insider.
The hours can also be intense, from about eight to nearly 20 hours a day. The employees Business Insider spoke with reported an average of about 12 hours.
A former waiter for Carnival Cruise Line who said he worked about 12 hours a day described his schedule as "crazy" and said it led to fatigue and stress.
"We don't get enough sleep," he said.
Employees have a lot of sex with each other.
Among the many distinctive features of a cruise ship job is the fact that you live with your co-workers. That can result in unusually close bonds among employees and an unusual amount of sex between them.
"There's a lot of sex on cruise ships," said a former casino manager for Holland America Line.
Some compared the hookup culture as being similar to, or even exceeding, that of a college dorm.
But the permissive sexual culture on cruise ships can also lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior. A former Royal Caribbean Cruises employee said one of her managers would make comments about her sexual orientation and criticize her for never changing her hairstyle.
Royal Caribbean did not respond to a request for comment.
Romantic relationships start and end quickly
Romantic relationships among employees develop and end much faster than on land, which, along with frequent turnover, can make long-term relationships difficult.
"One month on a ship is maybe like two years on land, because you spend so much time with these people," said Taylor Sokol, a former cruise director for Holland America.
But the close proximity between employees can make it difficult to maintain a healthy amount of space from a romantic partner, Sokol said.
"It's kind of hard to give someone their space when you live maybe 10 feet away from them."
Almost all of the passengers are pleasant, but some are annoying
Current and former employees had largely positive things to say about passengers, characterizing the vast majority of them as pleasant and respectful.
But some employees described frustrating tendencies they've noticed in passengers, like being too rowdy, asking annoying questions, and talking too much.