One of the great things about working on a cruise ship is spending most of your life seeing the world with like-minded colleagues. That helps to create a feel-good experience for the most important people on the cruise, the passengers. It can be one of the best vacations ever if you go on a cruise because it seems as though everything is all in one place to make you have a great time.
There’s always a delicious buffet to keep you full, and everyone you meet is always so friendly. It’s like living in your very own utopia for a few weeks. On the face of it, things always seem so clean-cut and orderly on a cruise ship, but that’s not always the case, and below the deck, the crew is living in a different world.
If you’ve taken a cruise before you’ll know there are some parts of the ship that are off-limits to passengers. We’re going behind the curtain and bringing you some of the dirty little secrets only found on the big cruise ships.
Leading double lives
Among the crew on cruise ships there is one golden rule, and that’s not to ask about each other’s personal lives. A cruise ship is a little bit like Vegas, and anything that goes on there among the crew stays there, so people tend to let loose.
That means people are free to be the personalities they aren’t always able to do while back in their lives on dry land. Crew members living in close quarters for so long together can pick up strange habits and completely neglect to tell their colleagues important things, like if they’re married or not.
The door is always open
Staff on cruise ships try to be as accommodating to passengers as possible and make them feel as though they are at a home from home. Due to a safety requirement, the majority of the locks on the doors on a cruise don’t actually work.
This is to ensure that if there is ever an issue of a fire or the boat taking on water, no one gets left behind. It also means that if you feel like sneaking around the ship after dark, you can pretty much get into any part of it, just don’t get caught doing it.
Where does your waste go?
You might not have wanted to think about this, but have you ever wondered where the human waste goes on a cruise ship? If you thought they probably just dumped it right into the ocean, then you’d be right. During a weeklong trip, the average cruise ship produces around 210,000 gallons of human waste, and it all has to go somewhere.
Cruise ships actually just dump it right in the water, but there are some rules. They have to dump it at least 12 miles from any coast, and the waste is treated to remove all moisture from it.
The fuel used to propel the giant cruise ships all over the world is actually pretty bad for the environment. While most fuels have some negative effect on the environment, the fuel used by cruise liners is one of the worst. The fuel is known as “bunker fuel,” and it contains up to five thousand times more sulfur than regular gasoline.
It is mainly used because it’s much cheaper than other fuels. Some cruise ships have begun to install filters to reduce the levels of pollution they emit, but changing to a cleaner fuel source would be a better solution.
Reviews are important
Keeping people happy isn’t just in the job description for crew members, it’s a requirement if they want to earn good money. Members of the crew on cruises rely on their bonuses to boost their modest wages.
The way they get good bonuses is if people leave them good reviews, but if they receive some bad words about them they might lose it all. Crew members rely on those bonuses, much like a waitress or waiter would rely on their tips. The good news is if the crew gets good reviews, then they’ll receive a good bonus for their work.
It doesn’t pay well
It might seem as though working on a cruise ship is a glamorous job, but not everyone who works on the vessel is seen by passengers. It’s estimated that around three-quarters of the crew are from non-developed countries and they all aren’t given the passenger-facing roles.
Instead, these crew members will be working below deck in sometimes dangerous conditions and for very basic pay. As cruise ships don’t work on the land, they are not subjected to the same employment laws as other industries. That rule bending often means that the crew onboard aren’t treated very well and are underpaid.
They keep their hands to themselves
Although you might think that being confined to a ship with the crew might improve your chances of sleeping with them, you’d be wrong. The crew are watched very closely and are forbidden to have intimate relationships with passengers.
It’s in their job description, and it’s actually there to protect the staff from the passengers they are looking after. Crew members cannot be intimate with passengers, and if they are found in bed with one, they will be thrown off the boat at the next port. The rule is to protect the crew against any allegations of abuse from passengers.
Partying is easy for the crew
If you have ever been on a cruise, then you will know that when the crew comes to party, they make sure to bring the fun. There is a good reason for this, and it’s because the crew’s drinks are way cheaper than what it costs for passengers.
Typically a passenger is going to spend between $11 to $20 just on one drink, but the crew gets a great discount at the bar. Crew members only end up spending around $1 or $2 per drink, so they can cut loose and have a great time at a much cheaper rate.
Crew members become very familiar
While the crew aren’t allowed to be intimate with passengers, there is no rule that says they can’t get together with each other. By many accounts, relationships between crew members are pretty rampant, especially after they spend all evening drinking their $1 drinks.
One thing that many crew members can expect when sailing the seven seas is to get plenty of action with their fellow staff. There is one understanding that the crew mostly all agree on, and that’s how long the relationship will last. Crew members who get together know they will only be partners until the trip’s over.
Stick to the law
Although you might be sailing in international waters a lot of the time, it doesn’t mean you can go around doing whatever you want. You still have to behave yourself, and if you don’t, you might just end up in the ship’s jail.
Make sure you don’t get too rowdy and try to avoid getting into any fights with passengers or crew members of you’ll be doing some hard time on your vacation. It is known as the brig, which is the nautical terminology for the jail on a ship, and it’s best to avoid seeing it at all costs.
For the worst cases
People are not invincible when on vacation, and sometimes they pass away on a cruise. If you think about it, a lot of older people like to go on cruises, and they could be more likely to pass away than younger travelers. To ensure they still receive safe passage despite losing their lives, there is a morgue on a cruise ship.
One cruise ship crew member claims it’s more common for people to pass away on board than you might think. They claimed that on average, there are around three people losing their lives every month on a cruise ship.
Hit and miss medical care
You might expect to receive great medical care when on a cruise ship, but don’t bank on it. Medical staff on cruise ships are not regulated as they would be onshore, so it’s really a gamble on what kind of doctor you might get seen by.
Sometimes cruise ships hire doctors who get their credentials in countries that have looser standards than the United States. That means they are hired as independent contractors who cannot be sued for any kind of malpractice on the ship. Often the actual medical facilities themselves are inadequate for their purpose on a cruise ship.
The crew gets their drinks from the bar at a reduced rate, which makes it easy for them to feel the effects of those drinks. There isn’t always much to do on a cruise ship, so the crew like to engage in a few drinks whenever possible.
This leads to many of the crew feeling a bit merry most of the time, and it’s super easy for them to get away with it. Some cruise liners claim they subject their staff to random testing, but in reality that is almost never done and the crew drink more than you know.
You’re likely to get sick
For disease to spread it often needs two things, people to be confined in one space, and the handling of food. Thanks to the number of people on board a cruise at any given time, and the amount of food found in the kitchens, disease is very common.
The norovirus is one in particular that has spread like wildfire over recent years, and in 2014 there were eight different cruise ships all with an outbreak of it. Whenever an outbreak does occur, it usually hits a lot of people all at once, often at least 100 passengers at a time.
Smile, you’re being watched
Security on cruise ships needs to be pretty tight and to make sure it is, there is always someone watching over your every move. There are cameras just about everywhere on a cruise apart from your cabin. At least in your cabin, you are free from the prying eyes of the person behind the camera.
The film footage is there in the event of an emergency, so the officials can replay the incident and determine what exactly went wrong. It’s not that different from being filmed in a store, but there is one difference, you don’t vacation at the store.
Fighting off pirates
You might think pirates are a thing of the past, but there are still plenty of people sailing in the open waters who are out to steal from others. In many parts of the world pirates are still a real problem, and the staff on cruise ships have been trained to know how to deal with them.
It is uncommon for a cruise ship to be attacked by pirates, but it does happen. In 2005 a cruise ship had to fend off pirates using one of its secret weapons, a long-range acoustic device that blasted an ear-piercing noise at oncomers.
They run a tight ship
The problem for the kitchens on cruise ships is the need to buy enough food for everyone on board but not so much that a lot goes to waste. Cruise ships come fully loaded with a week’s worth of food from the very beginning of a new voyage, and the purchases tend to be very precise.
In fact, it’s thought that the people ordering the food for cruise ships can get to within a two-meal margin for the entire week. That’s very impressive when you consider that many restaurants on land are not capable of making those kinds of predictions.
The hidden costs
When you go on a cruise, you are promised to an all-expenses-paid trip, but that is not how it works. There are a ton of surcharges, and you can spend a ton more money than you were expecting. Cruise ships can earn around a quarter of their revenue from the additional surcharges included in the experience.
Passengers can face surcharges for things like taking a boat to the mainland, their drinks, and even using the internet. If you’ve got a great deal on a cruise, check the small print to see what extras you’re inevitably going to be paying for.
Using tax loopholes
Even though the surcharges can get expensive, on the whole, a cruise is pretty affordable. The tickets are reasonably priced, and that might be down to the fact many cruise ship experiences keep their prices low by exploiting tax loopholes. The liners are often incorporated in foreign countries, meaning they don’t have to abide by the same tax laws as the rest of the United States.
This loophole permits shipping companies from being incorporated in foreign countries. There are calls for this loophole to be closed because cruise ships do benefit from the coast guard and use the ports frequently.
It almost feels as though it is inevitable that someone is going overboard on a cruise. With so many bars and parties, some people like to go a little bit wild on their cruise vacation. People are encouraged to throw in as much ship debris as possible into the water alongside a person who goes overboard.
Cruise liners are huge vessels, and turning them around isn’t exactly a quick maneuver. By throwing a bunch of stuff at the overboard person, it gives the ship’s captain something to aim for in the water before everyone forgets where they entered the ocean.
If you fall out
If you witness someone falling overboard you know to throw stuff near them as a marker for people, but what if you fall overboard? It can be easy to misstep and fall over the rail, so here are some steps that will help you survive falling overboard.
If you own a hat, always wear it while on deck because this will make you easier to spot from above. If you fall in with other people make sure you all link arms and form a circle as it raises the temperature of the water, which will keep you alive for longer.
Sneaking in your drinks
The bar on a cruise ship is not cheap, but there are some ways around the extortionate prices. You can sneak in your own drinks, but you’ll have to be crafty to get past the ship’s security. If you are resourceful, you can fill up plastic bladders and hide them in your luggage to prevent them being picked up by x-rays.
Another way of getting around bringing your own drinks onto the cruise ship is to use mouthwash bottles. Fill them with your preferred beverage and add some food coloring to make it look like it’s nothing other than mouthwash.
You can’t back out
One problem many people encounter after booking a cruise is that it’s almost impossible to get your money back. Some companies won’t let you cancel if it’s less than 120 days before you’re meant to set sail. Additionally, you could find yourself having to pay for hotel rooms and excursions you won’t be experiencing.
Some companies even consider changing the name on a ticket to be a cancellation. At least now you know that if you want to book a cruise, make sure you really commit to it, otherwise you’ll end up paying for it even if you back out.
American crew members
If you’ve taken a cruise you will have noticed that the crew on board the ship seem to have come from all over the world. There are many nationalities working on a cruise ship at any one time, but the consensus among workers is that Americans don’t make good crew members.
It’s thought that Americans aren’t willing to put in the same level of work that others are when working on cruise ships. Crew members can work hundreds of hours per month on a cruise ship while Americans with day jobs might only have to work 40 hours per week.
Pranking the passengers
There isn’t that much to do for entertainment for the crew members, so some of them take to messing with the passengers. They’ve got to have some fun somehow, and it seems as though the passengers can occasionally end up as the punchline in their jokes.
One cruise worker claimed that pranking passengers was a fun pastime and even gave an example of the kinds of things they would get up to. They said that they could say very loudly to a colleague they would meet them in the bowling alley this evening, even though there was no bowling alley.
Although the passengers on cruise ships can enjoy luxury rooms for the duration of their trip, the same can’t be said for the crew. Passengers will often have spacious rooms with plenty of room to feel as though they are staying in a hotel rather than on a ship.
The crew will often have quarters that are much smaller than those of the passengers. Not only that but they aren’t likely to even get their own space, with bunk beds common in most of their rooms. Though the crew works so much that there’s barely any time for sleeping anyway.
All-inclusive is a myth
You know that there are a ton of surcharges, but here are some specifics. Eating in the specialty restaurants is often included in the price, but occasionally there is a charge per-head that can rise to $10 each. Drinks like coffee and soda can be charged as most beverages are not included in your overall price.
Then there are the salons and spas which keep on racking up the cost of your vacation. Even though there are a bunch of hidden costs on a cruise, it can still work out cheaper than a regular vacation as almost everything is provided.
With so many people on board, it is almost impossible for crew members to have a conversation in private. That means they have had to come up with a secret code to communicate by to avoid mass panic from spreading across the craft.
If you hear a crew member mention “30-30” then that means maintenance has to clean up a mess, often a person’s vomit. “Alpha” means there is a medical emergency, and “Bravo” means there is a fire. If a crew member says the word “Oscar,” it means that someone has fallen overboard and to prepare a rescue operation.
A genie in a bottle
Have you ever wished you could rub a magic lamp and discover a genie that grants your every wish? Well, you can have the next best thing on a cruise ship as long as you are willing to pay enough money. Most cruise ships have special “genies” who cater to your every need and act as your personal butler.
For VIP customers the possibilities are endless, and these genies will get you just about anything on the ship if it is possible. That ranges from meals delivered directly to you to having your room decorated how you would like it.
The secret pool
If you’ve ever tried to get into the swimming pool on a cruise ship, you will have noticed it gets overcrowded. Making friends with the crew could open some doors, and one might lead to the private pool reserved for the staff.
It’s much quieter than the main pool and is typically found in the staff’s quarters, so you’ll have to make an impression on the crew to get invited. If you’re lucky, you might even stumble across the hot tub and find a spot that allows you to relax that bit more without a bunch of people around you.
The quiet zone
One problem with cruises is being stuck on the ship with everyone else. It can feel like there is no escape at times, unless you can magically make friends with a crew member and get invited to the secret pool. There is another area that could provide you the peace and quiet you’re looking for that won’t require charming a member of the crew.
Typically there is an adults-only area for passengers which is kept free from children and families. All you have to do is ask a crew member to point you in the direction and enjoy the tranquility.
Although you are surrounded by water all the time on a cruise ship, there is a risk of fire breaking out from time to time. In fact, the bigger the boat, the higher the chance of a fire happening. The upside of these giant cruise liners is the fact there is so much entertainment, but that comes with the added risk of fires.
Over the last decade and a half, there have been over 79 fires reported on cruise ships. It takes a lot of energy to get these huge vessels up and running, but electricity and water don’t mix.
Piling on the pounds
It’s not a big deal, but practically everyone on a cruise will put on weight by the end. The whole point of going on a cruise in the first place is to make sure you have a good time, and that involves eating a lot and sitting around.
That inactivity can lead to people piling on the pounds, and after a week-long cruise, people typically weigh about 5 to 10 pounds more than they did at the start. There are gyms available on board, so perhaps sometimes it’s worth making use of them to burn off a few extra calories.
You might not stop
One of the things people look forward to on a cruise is getting off to visit some new and exciting location. Unfortunately, not all ports are available when your cruise liner swings on by and you might end up staying on the boat instead of getting to the port.
This is something that is up to the captain and is typically a decision he will make in the interest of everyone’s safety. Even though the itinerary says you’re going to stop off at a port or two, in the small print it usually says that your stop might get canceled.
Leaving you behind
Even when your cruise does stop at a port, drama can still unfold. Cruise ships are not obliged to wait for you if you don’t make it back in time for it to set sail again. This is written in the agreement, and by failing to return at the arranged time, you risk being left behind.
Just make sure whenever you do stop somewhere on a cruise you keep your plans simple and don’t stray far from the port. Also, make sure you bring your passport and important documentation when you disembark the ship in case it leaves you behind.
Although the staff on cruise ships do their best to make sure people have as safe a trip as possible, sometimes passengers just go missing. Besides from those who fall overboard, or who get left behind at the ports, some passengers simply disappear without a trace.
Between 1995 and 2011, 165 people went missing from cruises, and some believe the number is actually closer to 200. It is a terrifying thought to imagine going on a cruise vacation and never coming home. Possible explanations for missing people include kidnapping and people choosing to end their lives while on a cruise.
Wherever there are people, there will always be some among them who want to break the rules. It’s the same on a cruise ship, and the brig gets used more often than you might think. Most people on a cruise are there to have a good time, but some passengers see it as their opportunity to commit some petty crimes like theft.
Staff members on these ships are trained to deal with these scenarios, but that’s not enough of a preventative for some people. Crimes on cruises include assault and bomb scares which stretched the crew’s skills to their limits.
Gambling on board
Spending money at the bar or doing extra activities is not the only way to lose cash on a cruise. Many have casinos on board, but they aren’t forced to follow the same gambling laws as those on land. Instead, the rules change in international waters depending where the nearest coast is.
This makes it incredibly complicated while on board, and the odds of winning in blackjack can go from three to two all the way up to six to five. Gambling is never a guarantee that you’re going to win any money, but it’s extra hard on a cruise.
Worse than flying
Many of us know that flying is pretty bad when it comes to leaving a carbon footprint behind, but that’s nothing compared to taking a cruise. These huge liners are really bad for the environment and are especially unhealthy for the world’s oceans.
A cruise emits around seven times as much carbon per person as a similar flight would. Not only is this bad for the whole planet, but it’s actually not that great for the people on board either as they are exposed to this pollution. Being exposed to cruise ship pollution can be bad for a person’s health.
Every cruise is different
Although it might seem like every cruise is the same, each company tries to differentiate itself from the other. Some of them offer perks to their passengers like special coffee, free internet, or upgrading your bedding all at no extra cost. It’s a competitive market because so many people love to unwind by going on cruises.
That means each company has to stand out from the other one, and if you did the same cruise with two rivals, your experiences could be completely different. It’s all about the experience you have on the ship that makes a cruise a success.
Keeping a log
Sometimes the crew on a cruise cannot say the things they would like to when it comes to the passengers. After all, they are doing their best to get positive reviews to make sure they get a nice juicy bonus at the end of the trip.
Rough seas are scary
Most boats that sail in open waters are equipped to deal with most of the harsh weather and rough seas they can expect to encounter. Cruise ships have to be very robust when it comes to rough seas, and they are, but it’s still not a fun experience for anyone.
Because of their design cruise ships are prone to rocking and causing serious nausea for many passengers who haven’t truly found their sea legs just yet. There is a lot of stuff in a cruise ship, and it is going to move around dangerously when the vessel encounters rough seas.
Captains aren’t perfect
The captain is responsible for everyone’s life on the ship, just like a captain on a plane is. They have so many lives to think about, and every decision has to be made for their safety. A lot of trust has to be placed on the captain, and while they are always very experienced, they sometimes make mistakes.
Unfortunately, if the captain is making a mistake, it usually means there is something seriously wrong and the passengers are possibly in danger. That error can cost people their lives, and the captain might just have to go down with their ship.