The Incredibly Disturbing Side Of The Cruise Ship Industry

It’s incredibly easy to see the appeal of cruise ships. They’re basically floating wonderlands with every fantasy you’ve ever imagined.

But, there’s a much grittier side to cruising that many people refuse to acknowledge. More than 20 million people go on a cruise every year, yet, in 2017, a record number of ships didn’t pass their health and safety check. Let’s dive into the less appetizing side of this otherwise glamorous industry.

Code Words Are Commonplace

Cruise ship worker

No, the crew doesn’t speak a different language to each other. But, they do speak in code in case of an emergency.

The code is in place so that passengers don’t hear the conversation and go into a full-blown panic. It’s generally limited to evacuation drills and bizarre special events. Keep reading to see what come common codes like “Code Charlie” and “Code Oscar” mean.

What Does Code Bravo Mean?


Some of the most urgent ciphers could be as follows: Code Bravo usually means a fire or another serious incident.

Code Alpha means a medical emergency. Code Charlie is a security threat, and Code Oscar is a passenger overboard. As a passenger, you probably don’t want to hear any of these.

Next, find out just how clean the ships are (or aren’t)

Germs Spread Like Wildfire

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Fighting germs on a cruise ship is almost always a losing battle. No matter how clean the boat is, people bring on diseases they don’t even know they have.

Sickness can spread through an entire ship in a single day with no mercy. Crew members will sometimes quarantine sick passengers if they are violently ill.

With all these germs, keep reading to find out what the most common illness is aboard the ships

What’s The Most Common Illness?


One of the worst illnesses that love to call cruise ships home is Norovirus. It’s a violent sickness that lasts for only 48 hours, but can spread incredibly quickly.

In fact, one cruise ship had 80 people infected with the virus before they could get it under control. Yikes.

Lifeguards Are Rare


It should also be noted that the lifeguards on cruise ships are rare. Most cruise liners don’t have them watching over the pools.

Since 2013, there have been at least 17 drownings onboard. Over half of them are from kids under the age of 11. Disney Cruise Line became the first to implement lifeguards.

Cameras Everywhere

Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re someone who is uncomfortable with the idea of always being on camera, a cruise ship probably isn’t the place for you.

Basically, all of the nooks and crannies on a cruise ship are on camera. It’s safe to assume that if you’re outside of your room, you’re going to be watched.

They Have A Morgue

Pedro Nunes/AFP/Getty Images

It happens. It actually happens. There are an estimated 200 deaths per year on cruise ships. That total also excludes the amount that go overboard and disappear (which we’ll talk about later).

There are a lot of elderly people on cruises. This means that the rate of natural deaths onboard is quite high.

And A Jail

Twitter / @stower71

On almost every cruise ship there is a security team. It’s scary to think about, but on every ship, there’s probably one or two bad apples.

The security team has operational procedures that they follow when any type of criminal activity occurs. Guests can even find themselves in a holding cell or locked into bodily restraints.

The Doors Don’t Lock

DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve been on a cruise ship before, you notice that the doors on the rooms don’t actually lock.

This is on purpose, of course. In case of an emergency, the crew needs to be able to get anywhere without obstruction. The “Do Not Disturb” sign is your only hope for privacy.

Many Miss The Real Show


Just like an airplane pilot, the captains of the ship get a pretty darn good view.

They say that the number one thing passengers miss out on is the nature sightings. Many cruise ship captains say that seeing sharks, dolphins, and whales is one of the best parts of the whole job.

Who Makes The Money?

Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

Despite how many people work on a cruise ship, there are only a few people onboard who get paid well. The captain on average makes around $150,000.

The director of the ship gets a six-figure salary, but other than that, it drops down. Housekeepers usually make just over $1000 a month.

One Wrong Move Could Mean A Thin Paycheck

Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images

Ultimately, the customers and guests are the ones who determine how fat a pay check is for the employees.

Passenger reviews can make or break someone’s employment. If they get a direct negative review they could be fired, or get a reduction on their next pay. It’s a cut throat industry.

The Wi-Fi


Wi-Fi is one of the most expensive things on a cruise ship. And, in most cases, workers aren’t entitled to some sort of staff discount.

This is why many of them bring hard drives with hundreds of hours of movies and TV shows. Many of them end up swapping hard drives to change up the selection and avoid paying for internet.

Many Disappearances Onboard

Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images

It’s unfortunate, but it happens. Every once in a while you’ll see a news story about someone who disappeared off of a cruise ship.

From 2000-2013, there have been about 200 passengers who have vanished without a trace. Most of these have been from people jumping overboard. There have been ten people in that timeframe who have been successfully plucked from the ocean who fell overboard.

Hard To Enforce The Law

CG/VCG via Getty Images

It’s kind of bizarre to realize, but many cruise ships are registered to foreign counties such as Panama and Liberia.

These countries are often unable to enforce strict regulations and rules for the cruise liners to follow. This also allows ships to get away with using cheap labor, and awful pollution practices.

The Emissions Are Crazy

Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images

The toxic chemicals that cruise ships put out into the atmosphere is sickening. It’s an uncomfortable truth that we have to come to terms with.

Pollution analysts say that a ship that size can burn at least 150 tonnes of fuel a day. That can emit more sulphur in the air than 13.1 million cars.

The Pollution And Sewage Is Intense


According to a 2014 report by the Friends of the Earth, your average cruise ship produces between 140,000 and 210,000 gallons of sewage per week.

Most, if not all of that gets dumped into the ocean. Some ships use waste treatment technology that’s almost four decades old. It’s hardly effective at filtering the pollution.

Pirates Exist

Hoberman Collection / Contributor

If you’re sailing anywhere near Somalia, you probably need to be wary of pirates. Yes, pirates. There have only been around six documented attempts of these Somali pirates trying to board cruise ships, but it’s certainly still scary.

In 2016, the Sea Princess was subjected to a 10-day dusk-til-dawn blackout to avoid a perceived pirate threat.

The Bed Bugs Though

Twitter / @TNRPestControl

One of your most notable fears when traveling, in general, is bed bugs. If you can’t be comfortable in bed, then where can you?

There have been well-documented occasions when bed bugs have infiltrated cruise ships. For example, on the Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas in 2005, a major outbreak caused massive media attention.

The Air Quality Is Awful

Foto: Xinhua/Tang Yi via Getty Images.

A documentary uncovered some damning information about the air quality on cruise ships. The film focused on the air particles on a cruise ship that carried more than 2,000 passengers.

It recorded 84,000 ultrafine particles per cubic centimeter on deck, which is something you’d find in overpacked cities like Delhi and Shanghai.

A Titanic Replica Is In The Works

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

It might be a questionable idea, but I’m kind of all for it. It’s getting prepared in a shipyard in China.

It’ll be named the Romandisea Titanic, and it will be the exact same measurements and will be available to board. They don’t plan on having it cruise anywhere but they’ll use it as a tourist attraction.

Assisted Living? Meh


If you’ve looked into the price of assisted living facilities, you know how incredibly expensive they are.

A facility can cost you nearly $4,000 a month, which averages to about $45,000 a year. An average night on a cruise ship is about $100 per person. Crystal Cruise lines realize that people might want to stay longer, so they offer long-term leases of 40 years.

The World


The World is a ship you’ve never been on and probably won’t ever be on. It’s dedicated to full-time residents and is the largest private ship on the planet.

It houses only 165 residents, and a condo could cost you up to $7.3 million. About 15% of it goes to the annual maintenance.

The Belt Bridge Maneuver

Kristoffer Juel Poulsen/AFP/Getty Images

Allure of the Seas did something that was pretty remarkable in 2010. It sailed under the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark with literally inches to spare.

The ship cost about one billion dollars to make. Weather conditions meant the vessel had to speed up, lowering its placement in the water in order to squeeze through.

More Food Than You’ll Eat In Your Lifetime


If you thought that your food bill was high, just imagine the cost on a cruise ship. It’s interesting to note that a whole county in Iowa raises its cattle exclusively for sale on the Carnival Cruise Lines.

For context, the Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas goes through 5,000 dozen eggs, 9,700 lbs of chicken, and 5,000 lbs of french fries every single week.

They Were Crucial For Hurricane Katrina Relief


It should be noted that cruise ships played a big part in the relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

One major issue was trying to figure out where students staying in residences would stay after their place flooded. The Israeli-owned 800 foot MV Dream Princess came from Europe to house 150 students and staff for five months until their rooms were repaired.

Mark Twain Popularized The Cruise Industry

Photo Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain was a passenger on the first cruise to begin in America. He documented his five-month trip. The release of the book he made from his experience sparked major interest in pleasure cruising after the American Civil War.

What didn’t Mark Twain influence? He’s an incredible human being.

The Curse Of Camilla


Seafarers have sacrificed fine wine, animals, and even their fellow man as a gift of good luck to those onboard.

In 1891, Victoria smashed a champagne bottle against a ship and it has remained tradition ever since. In 2007, Camilla of Cornwall tried, and failed, to smash the bottle against a ship. A few weeks later, the same ship got plagued by a Norovirus that affected 80 people onboard.

Nude Recreation


The nude recreation industry rakes in an incredible $440 million a year. So, it makes sense that the cruise industry would try to capitalize on that.

Every year, Bare Necessities and Castaways Travel charter a cruise ship for people to enjoy in their birthday suit. The only time you have to wear clothing is when you’re at a restaurant.

It’s Lit In More Than One Way


There are some pretty common mishaps that can happen on cruise ships, but one of them is not worrying about a fire.

There have been 79 fires between 1990 and 2011, while 98 others have been run aground. There’s also been a ship sunk — the Costa Concordia, as seen in the picture.

The Crew Parties Harder than the Guests

Work hard, party hard – this motto holds true for cruise ship workers. When workers aren’t working, they’re probably drinking and partying. In fact, the crew has a special “crew only” bar with insanely cheap liquor. For example, many cruises charge about $15 a drink for guests, but at the crew bar, you can get a cocktail for less than $1.50.

The crew definitely party hard, but they’ve got to be careful. Ships sometimes subject employees to random breathalyzer and drug tests, though it’s not always enforced.

Crew Members Can’t Hook Up With Guests

Cruise workers are strictly forbidden to hook up with guests, and it’s one of the easiest ways to get booted from your job. In fact, according to an anonymous cruise worker, the crew is actually discouraged from interacting with guests one-on-one.

This helps protect the cruise line from any sort of accusations that may hurt the ship’s reputation. If a crew member is caught breaking the rules, they’ll be kicked off at the next port.

Crew Members Pull Pranks on Passengers

It can get pretty boring at sea. To break the monotony, cruise members pull pranks on passengers. The pranks are pretty innocuous, as messing with passengers too hard is a great way to get fired.

According to one anonymous cruise worker who spoke to Mental Floss, “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!'” Of course, there wasn’t actually a bowling alley on board. “Then we’d wait for the comment cards to come in: ‘Why do crew get a bowling alley when we don’t?’” Hysterical!

Emergencies Can Be Pretty Darn Gross

In 2013, a Carnival cruise ship lost power after a fire in the engine room. Passengers were stranded in the Gulf of Mexico long enough for the sewage to get backed up.

Raw sewage began bubbling up all over the boat, and it smelled so bad that people created a tent city away from toxic-smelling areas. Whoops.

The Cruise Line Basically Owns The Crew Members

Former cruise worker Brian David Bruns wrote a tell-all book in 2015 titled Cruise Confidential after becoming the first American working for the Carnival Cruise Line to not quit before his contract expired.

Brian detailed how the worst part of his experience was the feeling of being a property of the cruise line, saying, “The worst part of the job is being ‘owned’ by the corporation…They control what you eat, when you eat, when you can go use the toilet, how cold it is in your cabin, everything.” Yikes!

Crew Members Get Weird Requests

The service and hospitality industry is a goldmine for weird stories. You never really know what you’re going to get, so you have to be ready for anything. Cruise ship employees are pretty used to getting bizarre requests from guests when they’re at sea. According to USA Today, one cruise ship worker repeatedly gets strange requests from young couples on the ship. At this point, it’s more common than it is surprising.

“Some young couples ask, ‘Could you make some towel animals for adults?’ They want naughty animals,” she said. “I say, ‘Sorry, I cannot give you that.’”

You Will Get Left Behind

The land excursions are the best part of a cruise. Who doesn’t want to see all the gorgeous cities you port in? Guests (and crew members who have a couple of hours off) are free to explore as they please, but they better make sure to return on time. Cruise ships will leave without you.

Cruises are subject to massive fines if they stay longer than their allotted port time. For this reason, they won’t wait if you’re running late. If you happen to miss the departure time, you’re totally on your own. Yikes!

There Are Still Laws To Follow

This one might seem obvious to most people, but just because you aren’t on solid land doesn’t mean there aren’t any laws to adhere to while on a cruise. This is when something called “maritime law” comes into play.

Unfortunately Isabelle Lagacé and Melina Roberge (seen above) a couple of Canadian citizens on a cruise to Australia, apparently didn’t get this memo when they attempted to smuggle 200 pounds of cocaine worth approximately $23 million to sell down under. The two are now set to face trial and face a 20-year maximum prison sentence. Yikes!

Cruise Ship “War Room”?!

Apparently, most cruise ships have their own “war room” on board. Of course, the war rooms are meant to be used only for emergencies. And just like for the United States government, the war room on board of the cruise ship is meant for planning, particularly in emergency situations.

For instance, the aforementioned pirate attack would most definitely warrant the use of the war room. On some cruises, the room is referred to as a “safety center”. Whatever the terminology used, the room is absolutely imperative during critical times in which the safety of passengers and crew might be at risk.

Rogue Wave Fears

A rogue wave is a massive wave that comes out of nowhere and can often cause massive damage to various seacraft. They are also often referred to as “monster waves” or “freak waves”. The waves are considered rogue waves if they do not match the surrounding water patterns. They are often considered to be accountable for some of the ships that have gone missing throughout the many years that ships have sailed the seas.

Of course, for any crew member or passenger for that matter, rogue waves are a terrifying thought. Unfortunately, the ocean is an uncontrollable thing and many at sea have experienced the horrifying power.