Eighteen Crew Secrets the Cruise Lines Don’t Want you to Know
August 20, 2015
Behind the glamour and excitement of every cruise is a hardworking crew making sure that every voyage is smooth sailing.
Whilst you may only come to know a few by name, the megaships can have over a thousand crew and staff members on-board – for example, one of the largest Royal Caribbean ships, Oasis of the Seas, has 2,160 at any one time – but what goes on behind the closed doors of the crew quarters?
We discovered some juicy crew secrets that the cruise lines won’t tell you…
Here are a few snippets, uncovered by the www.CRUISE.co.uk team that only the inside eyes and ears could know about:
Staff vs. Crew
Yep, there’s a difference – and get it wrong at your peril!
Crewmembers, such as waiters, barmen, cleaners and other hospitality members are different to staff members, such as entertainers, managers, shop workers and officers.
What sort of job you have will affect what kind of life you’ll have on-board. Everyone is treated fairly, obviously but where you are on-board and where you’re allowed to go, will depend on what rung of the ladder you are on.
An example of the on-ship hierarchy at work is that crewmembers will typically live on the ‘B-deck’, which can be found just below the water line. Here, they will share dorm-style rooms but at least nowadays they will usually have their own bathroom rather than having to share one with loads of their neighbours as on cruise ships past.
Staff members and officers will live on ‘A-deck’, which is just above the water line. Most staff will have their own room (which means they don’t have to put up with anybody’s snoring, other than their own!).
Proud mother Jill commented to say: “My daughter worked for 12 months on a P&O liners…I was horrified when I saw her accommodation (well our built in wardrobe is bigger !) she managed one of the fine china retail outlets…!! So dread to think what the lower grades must have been given. However, have to say she enjoyed it so much a wonderful experience she met some great people and travelled the world…now settled down as a happy wife and mother…”
Unless a crew member is very high up the food chain then they shouldn’t expect a flat screen TV and a fluffy bathrobe and slippers.
Crew cabins typically have between one and four bunk beds, a desk and chair, a small space for clothes and maybe a regular TV and telephone.
Space is always tight, so messy crew members are going to be unpopular. Almost as unpopular as snorers!
Clearly not all cabins are created equal though – Lisa commented on our Facebook page to say – “Celebrity was the best cabins I had. Flat screen TV at the foot of your bunk with movies and games and modern style. Royal Caribbean cabins were ok too only 2 maximum to a cabin!”
Private Pools and Secret Sunbathing Areas
It’s on A deck where you’ll usually find all of the crew and staff facilities, such as the mess hall, crew store and the ever popular crew bar (strictly no passengers allowed – EVER!)
Often, there will be outdoor space as well and on some liners nowadays, employees’ own swimming pool and sunbathing areas – perfect for unwinding between shifts and essential when you consider that crew members are usually forbidden from the public areas. For the curious this is normally located at the very front of the ship which will receive the brunt of any oncoming weather.
Staff and officers have more freedom around the ship, being able to mingle in public areas, watch a show (when they’re not working) and often even dine at the buffet.
Some upper-level staff members even get to live in passenger cabins!
So maybe they do get the complimentary bathrobes and slippers after all?
No Days Off
You think you have it bad when you have to work five or six days a week?
On most cruises, there are no days off!
Not even Sunday is a day of rest and that’s on a contract that will typically be nine months long! It’s not all work and no play though. Staff and crew tend to work every day, on a rotational basis. So, instead of a full day off, workers get time to themselves every day when they’re not on shift.
That’s where the private pool comes in (or the crew bar)!
Hours are Lonnnnnng
Many Brits complain at the end of a forty hour week. Imagine how a crewmember must feel with many more hours on top of this…every. single. week.
During their contract onboard a cruise ship they’ll work long hour shifts, with a few hours inbetween in which to sleep, eat, socialise, chill out and if they’re lucky, step off the ship in the port to explore the ship’s destinations.
The hours might be long but crew members and staff do get good benefits to compensate. We’ve heard Carnival Cruise Line treats its staff and crew particularly well, providing them with accommodation facilities, food, drink, healthcare and the best bit, crew parties!
Most cruise liners have a social/entertainment programme for employees, to stave off cabin fever!
Cash to Splash
Because accommodation and food comes as part of the remuneration package for cruise employees, money is only needed onboard for things like treats, internet access, laundry (although washing their uniform is usually free), phone cards and anything bought whilst off the ship.
This means that expenses are minimal so, whilst they don’t make a fortune, the wages and tips that staff and crew make can be saved (or sent back home if they have family to care for).
Whilst it may take a fair few years to afford that Ferrari, a job on a cruise ship is a good way to travel the world and gain priceless experiences while keeping the bank balance in the black.
No we don’t mean ‘if you see an iceberg, swerve!’ For those who have the opportunity to earn them, tips and gratuities are what will make up the bulk of the wage on most cruises.
The salary that you get paid if you’re in a tipping position isn’t as impressive as the tips themselves can be. So, if you’re after a job on a cruise line and you’re a bubbly, vibrant personality who has top-notch people skills, you’ll be rolling in it.
Amazing Tips, For All
On most cruise liners, there’s a mandatory gratuity too, which is divvied up amongst all the employees.
This means that even the crew members that don’t receive too many tips in the course of their work won’t go without.
The Lucky Ones Can See the World
Seeing the various destinations that the ship docks in will depend on your job role and your hours on that particular day.
If you’re in charge of breakfast, lunch or dinner, chances of you being able to hop off the ship to explore the ports for a full day are slim – but you may be able to grab a couple of hours sightseeing between shifts.
If you are an entertainer or other evening staff you’re likely to have more time off during the day, before it’s time for you to head to the stage for the evening entertainment.
Similarly, due to local laws, casinos don’t operate and shops don’t open when the ship is in port so casino and shop workers will have the chance to put their feet onto dry land and discover the world more than other crewmembers might.
AineMoira, one of our loyal Facebook followers, agrees. “At the end of the day we got to travel the world and see amazing places and not to mention meet amazing people….the cabins were the least of my worries x”
Jonathan added – “Some of the best years of my life. Changed my whole outlook on life and made me the person I am today”
They Eat the Leftovers
Not your food exactly but if something doesn’t leave the galley, for whatever reason, the crewmembers may be allowed to eat it at the end of the shift or whilst on a break and a Marco Pierre White masterpiece is always going to beat the food in the crew mess!
However, if a crewmember was to order something for themselves or they were to smuggle a profiterole from the dessert trolley they’d need to make sure they’re weren’t caught because some cruise lines look upon this is theft and a dismissible offence.
Naps are Essential
Ever wonder how the staff members that you see during the morning and the evening are never like walking zombies?
Because they nap, of course!
Far from being frowned upon, napping during the day is actively encouraged amongst employees.
As soon as their first shift ends, most workers will nip off for a quick power nap before their second shift starts – it’s an intrinsic part of cruise ship survival and stops them from being dead on their feet come dinner time.
The Crew Dictionary
Cruise ship employees have their very own language that enables them to talk amongst themselves without denting their ever-present professionalism.
As well as their own terms for guests and other workers, there are also plenty of slang terms floating around for various parts of the ship, activities and more – living and working in multinational, close quarters is bound to create a whole new life, culture and dictionary!
Examples include ‘shirts’, when referring to the ship’s officers, ‘F&B’ for food and beverage, ‘I-95’, when referring to the main corridor on the crew deck and ‘banana’, for someone that’s a particularly bad tipper.
Ouch – you don’t want the banana to be you!
Message in a Bottle?
You might wonder how crew members stay in touch with loved ones back home but cruise ships get a mail service just like every where else. It’s typically only once a week but it still means that they don’t need to rely on sending messages in a bottle!
There’s also internet access onboard, either for a fee or for the lucky ones, for free, with crew internet cafes on Norwegian Cruise Line ships.
iPads all round!
Romancing the Crew
Consider how many regular land employees meet their partners at work. Then add to the mix the close quarters and 24/7 nature of working on a cruise ship. It’s pretty obvious that inter-crew romances are going to happen.
Most cruise lines allow these romances but bed hopping will be frowned upon – especially by your cabin mates if you’re in a four bunk room!
Romancing the Cruisers
Romance between crew members and passengers however is strictly forbidden and even the highest officers on the ship are not allowed in passenger cabins unless there is an official reason.
That’s not to say that it never happens though!
There are whispers of love blossoming on the ocean waves, so by all means pack your best frillies if you’re cruising solo and fancy a man – or woman – in uniform… just in case.
What Happens in the Crew Bar…
…stays in the crew bar!
Crew, and staff, work hard but they can play even harder. The crew parties that take place twice a month onboard Carnival ships are a great chance for all of the workers (or the ones who aren’t on duty, at least) to let their hair down – and what does go on below deck in the dedicated crew bar tends to stay well below the radar.
As long as they are ship-shape for work the following day, it’s a case of ‘worse things happen at sea’.
Our lips are sealed….. For now!
Working on a cruise ship isn’t as bad as some people assume it is and it’s certainly not slave labour. The hours are long and the work is hard but the unique experiences and the fun-factor are often worth it.
Bear those four bunk cabins in mind though, the next time you’re on holiday and be sure to tip the staff that you think are doing a good job – they deserve it!
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