If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you know that they can be a blast. Cruise ships are continuing to improve their attractions and entertainment in order to give their passengers the best possible experience on the water.
But, sometimes the advertising can be misleading. There’s no arguing that some ships are enormous and luxurious beyond your wildest dreams. But, others can be small and claustrophobic, with lackluster entertainment that doesn’t live up to the high expectations you’ve set. This article explores all the truths behind going on a cruise, so prepare yourself.
Boarding A Ship – What We Think It’s Like
This is the most exciting part of the trip. You’ve packed all of your vacation reading, all of your best clothing, and pretty much everything else you can think of that you might need on a cruise.
You see the ship and it looks like everything you could’ve imagined. The only thing between you and getting on that ship is a long dock and a few elevators and stairs, right?
Boarding The Ship – What It’s Really Like
The reality is, you have to wait in line for about an hour just staring at the cruise ship that you’ve been dreaming about for months. It’s basically like dangling an ice cream cone in front of a three-year-old’s face.
The boarding process takes a painstakingly long time. If you think waiting in line at Disneyland is bad, just wait until you have to be one of these people waiting to board.
The Pool Area – What We Think It’s Like
The pool area is usually one of the biggest selling points of a cruise ship. Much like the hot tub, when you envision yourself at the pool on your cruise ship, you think of it much like a private pool on a beach with water slides.
It’s almost like a water park on the top of your cruise ship and you’re the only person having to wait in line. But, that’s not the case.
The Pool Area – What It’s Really Like
Instead, you have to realize that everyone else is thinking exactly like you. The pool is the number one place for all the vacationers. It’s always extremely jam-packed and the pools are always smaller than you think they are.
Some ships have multiple pools so you don’t have everyone surrounding one area, but it’s never going to live up to your expectations. I hope you like other people’s kids asking you for a piggyback around the shallow end, because that’s the reality.
The Bathroom – What We Think It’s Like
Again, if you’ve never been on a cruise ship, you’re probably pretty confused as to what to expect with your bathroom. You probably differ back to what you know hotel bathrooms usually look like and then you get a picture in your head.
Will there be marble countertops? Maybe a jacuzzi tub so that you can at least live out your hot tub dreams that you expected to have on the rooftop?
The Bathroom – What It’s Really Like
Unfortunately, what you end up getting is not even close. There are not going to be any marble countertops.
If you’re about to go on a cruise and need a reference for what to expect, think about a bathroom that you’d see in a youth hostel. Of course, there are nicer bathrooms than the one you see here, but it’s important to curb your expectations.
Ocean Sightseeing – What We Think It’s Like
This is a huge hit for the older demographic who go on cruises. You think that when you’re sailing the ocean blue, you’re going to see dolphin pod after dolphin pod. You see yourself at a Sea World, but in the wild.
There are people who think that cruise ships travel on populated areas of the ocean like it’s some sort of whale watching tour. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Ocean Sightseeing – What It’s Really Like
If you’re being realistic about sightseeing on a cruise ship, you should probably get used to open water with literally nothing in view. People forget that the ocean is massive and there aren’t planted exotic ocean creatures doing acrobats for cruise ship passengers every hour of every day.
So, you need to get used to ocean, water, more ocean, more water, and pretty much nothing else. Sorry for the bad news.
Employee Life – What We Think It’s Life
The thought of getting paid to live on a cruise ship sounds amazing. You get to interact with people who are mostly ecstatic to see you, AND you get to see lots of beautiful destinations along the way. It’s kind of like a glorified flight attendant.
On the outside, working on a cruise ship is luxurious and something of a dream. But, it’s really not all that it’s cracked up to be.
Employee Life – What It’s Really Like
First of all, if you thought that the bedrooms for the guests were jail cells, you haven’t seen the employee rooms. They’re even smaller and people are often sleeping on bunk beds because the rooms are so tiny.
They have to work long hours and don’t even get to explore the different destinations that the ship ends up docking at. Working on the ship is the opposite of luxurious and freeing.
Destinations – What We Think It’s Like
A lot of people forget to mention this when they book a cruise, but going to sweet destinations is a huge reason why people end up booking in the first place. It’s not just the idea of getting to live on an all-inclusive boat for a week.
Obviously, the time spent on the boat is fun, but the places that you go off of it is just as exciting. But, the reality is that some of the places that cruise ships take you to end up being a huge bust.
Destinations – What It’s Really Like
A lot of people forget that when an island gets frequented by cruise ships every day, they also take on a lot of pollution from the boats. Not every island is going to be beautiful and scenic.
If you’re going to book a cruise, make sure that you research the islands that the boat will be taking you to. It’s important to look past the staged photos the travel company is showing you.
The Hot Tub – What We Think It’s Like
What could be better than a rooftop hot tub on a cruise ship? You envision steam rising up from the water that floats through the glare of the neon lights. You can relax by yourself with an infinite amount of leg room to stretch out.
You can basically do a water aerobics class as you watch the other vacationers on the deck mingling with each other. But, we all know that it’s not the case.
The Hot Tub – What It’s Really Like
Going into the cruise ship hot tub is about as anti-climactic as watching the fourth Harry Potter movie. Do you know that leg room that you were hoping for? Yeah, you can kiss that goodbye.
The hot tubs become a game of “how many people can we squish into this thing before one of us gets too claustrophobic?” So, if you’re planning on going on a cruise because of your love of rooftop hot tubs, prepare to be disappointed.
The Music – What We Think It’s Like
Sometimes when you get onto a cruise ship, you will be surprised by the musical acts that come along for the ride. Entertainment is a big part of the evening itinerary and cruise companies will spend a lot of money to get famous acts onboard.
Some of the most famous people in the world have played cruise ships, including Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Madonna. But, you’re VERY lucky if you get professional acts.
The Music – What It’s Really Like
If this is any indication of what you can expect your cruise ship entertainment to look like, you’re in for the ride of your life. It’s important to look into what performers are on your cruise ship before you even book, because you don’t want to be stuck with a lousy act for the week.
This guy is certainly no Taylor Swift or Madonna, but I guess he’s trying his best.
Seasickness – What You Think It’s Like
If you’ve never been on a cruise, or a boat for that matter, you might not know what seasickness feels like. Whether you’re on a ferry, cruise ship, dingy, or sailboat, there’s always a possibility that you will get sick.
It’s easy to think that sailing on a cruise ship is simple when you’re booking online, but it’s not until you get out on the open water that you realize how bad it can really be.
Seasickness – What It’s Really Like
Seasickness is very real and it’s a horrible feeling. You’re trapped when you’re on a cruise ship because there’s literally nowhere to go to get away from the sway of the water.
The sickness can be as common as having to go to the bathroom. There have been many cruises that get completely ruined because a majority of people end up getting seasick if the water is rough. It’s horrible.
The Weather – What We Think It’s Like
The weather is usually the elephant in the room when it comes to cruises. Any tropical vacation is going to be affected by the weather, but cruise ships really rely on having good weather.
No matter what, promoters are only going to show you what the cruise is going to be like with perfect weather. The pictures can be tempting, but there are many times that weather ends up ruining an entire vacation on a cruise.
The Weather – What It’s Really Like
You need to realize that mother nature doesn’t care about promotional pictures and the weather doesn’t adjust plans just for you and your family. We like to think it does, but it doesn’t.
It won’t matter how hot the hot tub is if you’re in the middle of a tropical storm and you can’t see five feet in front of you because of the downpour of rain. If you’ve never been in a storm while in the middle of the ocean, try to keep it that way.
The Dining Experience – What We Think It’s Like
Some of the professional photos that we see on websites can skew how we think our cruise cuisine is going to be. Knowing that you have a vast amount of different foods to eat is one of the most exciting parts of being on a cruise.
You expect five-star dining for a three-star venue. You expect buffet tables to be pristine and exotic. You want to have to ask, “how do I pronounce this dish?” at every buffet.
The Dining Experience – What It’s Really Like
Some of what I said before might be true, but you have to remember that cruise ships are forced to feed thousands of people three times a day. That means they’ll throw quality off the ship in order to do so.
Unless you’re on some extremely expensive ship, you’re probably going to be eating from a cafeteria-like buffet for 80% of your meals over the week. You’ll need to prepare yourself for that.
The Age Range – What You Think It’s Like
One of the most tempting reasons to go on a cruise is to meet people. Just the thought of being surrounded by people your own age, and mingling with some others who are slightly older or younger is exciting.
If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’re generally hoping that the other passengers are within five or six years of you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…
The Age Range – What It’s Really Like
The big problem is that you really don’t have any control over who is going to be on the cruise with you. Unless you sign up for one of those specialty cruises (which are a lot more expensive), you’re probably going to be hanging out with a group of people that you have nothing in common with.
We’re not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, but when you have a fantasy that you’re going to be making best friends for life, just know that they’ll be in a different tax bracket.
The Ship Itself – What We Think It’s Like
If this cruise ship looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s one of the most popular models that is advertised on travel websites. We can certainly see why. It looks pristine and majestic.
The ship screams beauty and is something that we all wish we could board tomorrow and set sail for some tropical islands. But, not all cruise ships are as sparkly and clean as this one in the picture.
The Ship Itself – What It’s Really Like
Okay, okay, you’re probably not going to get duped into getting onto this cruise ship (if you do, bless your ignorant soul). But, this is simply trying to open your eyes about the fact that there are some awful cruise ships out there.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a grey area that exists between the breathtaking cruise ships of the world and the brutal ones that are unfortunately out there.
The Captain – What We Think They’re Like
If you’ve seen any maritime movie, you’ll know that the captains are kind of a big deal. There’s no one who could ruin your cruise quicker than the guy who’s in charge of the ship.
If you’re looking to go from point A to point B, and your captain takes you from point A to point Z, you’re probably not going to have a great time. Sometimes you have to remember your captain is human too.
The Captain – What They’re Really Like
Even though we’d love to believe that the person who is single-handedly taking you out into the middle of the ocean always has his or her stuff together, in reality, they don’t.
This is a picture of a cruise ship that ended up sinking AND the captain jumped off the boat and left all the passengers to fend for themselves. This is a real story from Italy. I need you to know that.
The Secret Lives Of Cruise Ship Workers
Want to travel the world without having to pay for housing or food? Of course you do! This is why the idea of being a cruise ship worker is so enticing, but there’s a side to cruise ships none of us see. While you’re relaxing by the pool or shoving your face full of all-you-can-eat pizza, there’s someone stuck catering to your every need. Those hand towel animals don’t just appear on your bed out of nowhere!
A cruise ship is essentially a floating hotel, and working in the service and hospitality industry is never easy. Before you decide to fill out a job application and set sail, read on for some behind-the-scenes secrets coming from former cruise workers themselves!
You’re Constantly Being Watched
Gavin, a waiter who worked for a major cruise line, said that Big Brother is super real. In other words: there are cameras literally everywhere. This is mostly for safety as you’re literally on a giant boat in the middle of the ocean. Though the next Titanic is unlikely, crew members may have to review security footage in the event of an emergency.
“It is safe to assume if you are outside of your cabin you are probably on camera,” Gavin said. “In the event of any kind of emergency, they could pull security footage at any time.”
Some Cruise Workers Have Double Lives
When you’re away for most of the year and cut off from the rest of the world, it’s way easier to get away with hiding some major secrets. This is why so many cruise workers lead double lives when they’re on the ship. It’s not uncommon for certain couples to have wives at home and a whole different relationship as soon as they set sail. Apparently, marriage vows may not really hold up in international waters.
Being cut off from the world gives you a chance to be who you want to be, not who you feel you have to be on land.
Disconnected From The World
Forget keeping up with your favorite TV programs. If you work on a cruise ship, you’re lucky to keep up with the news in general. As much as it may pain you to not see your favorite team smash next season out of the park, sometimes it’s impossible to tune in. Internet connections at sea are notoriously expensive and unreliable.
Often times, you have to catch up when you dock, leaving days between when you get your news and not. For this reason, many cruise workers tend to stop following news, sports, and pop culture altogether.
Crew Workers Speak In Code
Crew members don’t want to alarm passengers. Guests are on vacation and don’t need to know about every little emergency – especially if it doesn’t have to do with them. What sort of mass panic would it cause if every passenger suddenly knew there was a small fire on the ship? It’d be hectic! Because of this, crew workers use certain codes that they can announce on a loudspeaker without alarming passengers.
For example: “Code Adam” means a child is missing, “Code Alpha” means there’s a medical emergency, “Code Oscar” means someone fell overboard, and “Code Bravo” means there’s a fire on the ship. Pictured above is a case of a “Code Bravo” when the Star Princess cruise ship caught on fire in the middle of the night in 2006. The fire is thought to have been started with a discarded smoldering cigarette.
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.
You Can’t Hook Up With The Guests
If you’re looking to find a fun fling while you’re on contract at sea, look away from anyone who may be on vacation. 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 you’re caught breaking the rules, you’ll be kicked off at the next port.
But Hook-Ups Happen
Just because crew members can’t hook up with guests doesn’t mean they’re celibate at sea. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. Crew members frequently get down and dirty with each other. Think about it: you’re around the same people for nearly a year at a time, isolated on this ship. You’re in romantic, exotic locations with tons of alcohol on hand. Hook-ups are bound to happen, and according to an anonymous cruise worker, they happen a lot.
“People hook up all the time. There are a ton of crew parties,” he said. Hooking up is so prevalent that the crew areas on ships often have posters about STD prevention.
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!
How Cruise Ships Fill Their Unsold Cabins
Cruise ships are staffed and prepared to leave port with a ship at full capacity. Any unsold cabins onboard mean that the cruise liner is losing money. Passengers can take advantage of this by shopping a cruiseline experience at a lower rate.
If you’re willing and able to book only 1-2 months notice and okay with a cabin without a balcony it’s a great deal for passengers. Find out about these marked down cabins by subscribing to cruise liners’ mailing lists. Another tip, go online one week after the final payment is due for the cruise you want to go on. Perform a ‘mock booking,’ where you’ll be able to see which cabins are available at a lower rate. This is when discounted cabins will pop up.
Crew Members Are Super Cliquey
A cruise ship can be pretty similar to high school. Not everyone hangs out in one big group and each ship tends to have different cliques. Often times, these cliques have to do with countries workers are from, since cruise ships often have a diverse array of workers from all over the world. Cruise workers call their groups “mafias” and each is known for a specific thing.
For example, one former cruise ship worker told Mental Floss that the Filipino mafia on their cruise ship was known for getting booze after hours (crew bars close around one or two). Of course, they’d sell it to you at a huge markup.
Emergencies Can Be Pretty Darn Gross
Everyone has heard of the urban legend of a cruise ship serving some bad shrimp and the entire ship getting food poisoning so severe it almost couldn’t hold all the vomit. This is a wildly rare event but it can happen. In fact, it has happened.
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.
All Crew Cabins Are Not Created Equal
You’re not going to get your own luxury cabin if you’re a cruise ship worker, but the role you have does affect the accommodations you get. Staff members and officers have private rooms on the A-Deck, just above water (hello, sunlight). According to Anthony Andrieux who worked aboard the Royal Caribbean Line though, the living situation wasn’t nearly as nice for most workers.
“The living situation was ‘tight.’ You stay on the lower deck so you are always under water. There are no windows in the room… You have a very small bunk bed that you literally can not fit someone else into (trust me I have tried). You can touch all four walls if you were to stand in the center of the room to give you an idea. I believe it is a total of about 10 square feet.”
The Crew Is Trained to Handle Pirate Attacks
We often don’t think of pirates existing today but they definitely still do. It’s incredibly rare for a pirate to take over a gigantic cruise ship (seriously, you’ve got strength in numbers). In the event that it does happen, cruise workers are trained to fight back.
Cruises like Princess Cruises and Oceania Cruises train their crew to get guests away from the windows and spray intruders with giant water cannons. Because cruise ships are so big, the sheer amount of water used could overpower a tiny pirate ship. Some ships can even deter attacks with Long Range Acoustic Devices that emit loud, painful noises. In fact, in 2005, a luxury cruise liner used a Long Range Acoustic Device to escape a pirate attack off the coast of Africa.
The Cruise Line Basically Owns You
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 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!
The Crew Eats Your Leftovers
Crew members are the lowest on the food chain, meaning they get the scraps. It’s like high school cafeteria food, but sometimes worse. The kitchen staff does get creative considering they don’t have a whole lot to work with, but it’s not necessarily something you’d want to eat all the time. Imagine having to eat weird offerings like goat foot stew on the regular!
Lucky cruise members get to eat passenger leftovers. At the end of a shift, they’re allowed to eat what’s left of a passenger buffet, though it’s so good, it doesn’t really last very long.
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 Get Amazing Tips
Much like being a bartender, the majority of a cruise ship worker’s cash comes from tips. If you’re not someone who has a bubbly, outgoing personality, it may be hard to rake in tips, but don’t fret. Most cruise lines have a mandatory gratuity which is split among all the employees.
The pay is actually pretty good when it comes down to it. Many workers send money home to their families and save a lot of money. There are almost no expenses on board the ship, so living cheaply is quite easy. A little goes a long way.
You Don’t Get Days Off
If you’re the kind of person who savors your weekends, avoid working on a cruise ship at all costs. Most cruise ship workers don’t get a single day off. Typically, they’re contracted for nine months at a time and work straight through.
It’s not absolutely terrible, though. The crew works every day but on a rotational basis. Instead of having full days off, workers get hours of downtime every day that they can spend on themselves. When their contract is up, they get a nice two-month long vacation. Think of all the stuff you’d do if you had two months off.
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!