Before I get too much into this topic it’s important you know who I am and why I’m speaking into this.
My name is Kaitlyn and I’ve worked onboard cruise ships for almost 5 years. Despite a chunk of time in the industry, I’ve always been loyal to one company so my experience and advice will only be dependent on what I’ve experienced in my time onboard with this line. Money and pay onboard can be a very controversial topic but I think it’s important we open up the conversation about money so as to not only inform future employees on what to expect but to continue to make sure living and working conditions are fair.
In hopes of remaining as transparent as possible below I will leave my actual numerical earnings as well. However, there are so many more things that go into crew pay than just the dollar sign so let’s break it down.
1. Most Crew Members Are Employed Contractually
When you agree to work onboard you sign a contract for “x” amount of months and “x” amount of pay. This means most of us get paid monthly while we’re working and nothing while we’re home. There’s a common phrase onboard; “I swear this is my last contract” Basically we always say we’re done for whatever reason (stability, stress, the nomadic lifestyle), and then once the money runs out on our vacation, our time back home, we sign on once again.
This also means that even if you’ve worked in the industry forever there’s always a chance you won’t get another contract. Most companies do a good job of bringing back experienced employees but legally they’re not required to give you another contract even though they have before.
2. The Benefits Are Good But Also Kinda The Bare Minimum
Leaving travel aside for now, other benefits include free housing, free food, and free medical care. Yes, these sound amazing in their own rights, but if you consider the circumstances it may change your perspective.
On my line, crew members did not have access to a mini fridge and definitely no hot pots, microwaves, means to cook etc. (For obvious reasons of the ship burning down…) So yes it is a blessing that we don’t have to pay for food but since we can’t cook our own we have to be fed.
Quality of food ranges depending on the ship. In my experience some were really not that bad but some ships were a little worse. Higher ranks also tend to have better food.
No rent is of course nice but often we are bunked in very small quarters with roommates. Once we’re home we still have to find some kind of accommodation or couch surf.
Medical care is minimal at the best. It's good to know if something serious happens the cruise line will cover it but it’s definitely nothing like going to see a doctor on land.
3. We Don’t Do It For The Money
With all this being said I think something that cruisers and maybe even flight attendants can agree upon is we don’t do it for the money. Crew salary is not extravagant nor is it the best paying job in the world. We love to travel. We’re so obsessed with moving we’ve made it our entire identity. For a lot of crew members all the long work days and small living quarters are a small fee to pay for the life we live.
We get off the ship every chance we get. We are constantly in new countries. We have the best of friends from all over the world. For some messy thoughts about why we do it make sure to read What It Actually Feels Like To Live On A Cruise Ship.
4. Crew Salary Ranges Pretty Drastically From Cruise Line To Cruise Line
There are hundreds of jobs onboard and every cruise line has a different dollar sign to support it. Most of us receive raises depending on how many contracts we work. With my cruise line every two contracts, as long as we didn’t receive a bad review, we received a raise.
I’m sure other cruise lines also pay into loyalty and most lines provide a path of vertical growth. Still some lines offer a lot higher base pay than others dependent on the job you want. Always consider getting an agent to help find you what will be the best fit for you.
5. Your Nationality Plays A Big Part Into Your Salary
Now it's not that anyone earns more than the next person over, but have you ever wondered why you see a lot more of certain nationalities than others onboard? There could be a lot of different reasons. Some nationalities struggle to find work back home while others earn a lot more abroad than they ever could at home.
Dependent on currency conversions some can stack savings in a contract while some of us are barely scraping by. Some nationalities also have extra benefits such as uniforms covered by the company due to employment laws in their home country. I had to pay mine out of pocket!
Now Let's Talk Numbers
I will preface again that every crew member and every company is different but over my time onboard this was the compensation I received.
Total Pay (per month)
9 +/- 2 months
9 +/- 2 months
9 +/- 2 months
9 +/- 2 months
9 +/- 2 months
For a lot of people where I live I’m sure it doesn’t seem like much while I’m sure for a lot others it seems great!
My goal in life is to be happy and traveling gives that to me. Cruising has given me so many opportunities and I will never not recommend it to anyone who is down for an adventure. I will never regret my decision to move to the sea.
I hope this opens up the conversation for others who either have worked onboard or want to start. Please feel free to share below your thoughts on pay onboard as well below. If you want to know more about life onboard make sure to check out The Truth About Working Onboard.
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Sending love from the Caribbean <3