Not only is life onboard amazing, beautiful, and always fun, it’s difficult, emotional, and always hard! I’ve been working on cruise ships for 2 years now and despite the job and lifestyle coming more naturally, I’d be wary to say it comes more easily. Being on ships is one of the toughest but most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life.
There are plenty of reasons why…
You’re always away from family
You’re constantly on the move
You’re always in a new climates
Bad Wifi makes it hard to call home
And oh yeah, we work a LOT
Like a lot. But how much is a lot? Frankly, I could hardly find anything online about how much I’d be working before my first contract. There was no straightforward answer anywhere let alone, most people just said: “We work a lot” and left it at that. Now that I’m onboard I understand why it was hard to explain, but I’m going to try anyway!
1.) “When do you have free time?”
Free time onboard looks a lot different than free time on land. Whereas it’s typical on land to work 5 days a week and have two days off, onboard we work 7 days a week.
Now before I get too ahead of myself I would like to mention that everything I talk about can vary slightly depending on department or management. It’s almost impossible to describe an average day on board. For example, often, theatre singers or special talents in the theatre don’t have to work every day to protect their voice/body/skill, etc. However, the vast majority of us work 7 days a week for our full contract.
That means we don’t get free days. What we do have is free hours. When you have that free time is also dependent on your job.
I work in entertainment so when the passengers are off-board, I have a lot less work and am often free to come and go in the port.
Security has to work doubly as much as soon as we dock to cover all the gangways so they have more free time while we’re at sea.
Bar staff usually has to cover all the bars no matter what but they may need fewer people on board when the passengers are out.
Casino and shops cannot even open when we’re in port, but they often have shipments coming and going during these hours.
And depending on the day, we’re all stuck on board doing some type of cleaning/inventory/preparation/crew drills. Whatever it is, it varies by day and by the department.
Then you have to also account for actual well-being and sleep! Even though I have a lot of port time free, I often work until 2, and sometimes it’s healthier for me to sleep through the 7 am docking if I have the chance. On my ship, we used to tease casino because while many of us started working in the early morning, they started in the afternoon. But it was all in good fun because we know they often finish at 4 or 5 in the morning cleaning the tables and counting the money.
Which brings me to my second point.
2.) “Can crew go out at ports?”
Yes! We can go out! In some ports where passengers need visas to visit we often get special crew passes. (Not in every country, unfortunately. I remember how sad it was for me when we docked in NYC and none of my friends could go outside and explore with me. It’s all dependent on the port authorities.)
The longer you’re on board, the more and more enticing it is though to skip a port and take a nap! A lot of us are in the same itineraries for the entire contract that means we see the same 7 places or so for months.
Just because we can go out, doesn’t mean we should. For our pocket’s sake and also for our bodies! It also depends on the person! Some people (like me!) will rush to go outside even if it’s just for an hour, while others prefer to wait until they have a long day in port to take their time exploring!
3.) “Do you ever sleep?”
We get this question allllll the time, and rightfully so. While some departments you may see less of depending on their schedule, some people you seem to see all the time!
Let me give you an example! On my last ship, a lot of the housekeeping worked 12 hours on and then 12 hours off. This means some of them you might see every single day and they seem to never sleep while others were working while you were in port or at dinner every day.
My job is a weird one. There are PLENTY of things I wish I knew before becoming an entertainer onboard actually, but let’s start with the hours! I’ve signed to work no more than 77 hours a week. That sounds like 11-hour days, right? Rarely.
A day at sea I might work even 14 hours- but it’s very broken.
3 hours of activities in the morning
Break for lunch
3 hours of afternoon events
Break to get ready for the evening
2 hours of cocktails and dancing
Break for dinner
2 hour activity/game show
Break for a drink and a smoke
4 hours dancing/partying/main event/socializing for the rest of the night
Then the next day we’re in port from 8-6 so I help passengers get off for two hours in the morning and am free until the evening which turns into only a 5 hour day.
At the end of the day we’ve all signed our contracts and none of them say we have to be free from 10 pm-7 am to get our full 8 hours so you adapt and your body adapts. You take naps, you listen to your body and rest when you need it and you learn to make an absolutely chaotic and crazy life a bit more balanced.
And let’s be real even if I was given a full 8 hours to sleep, I would probably waste half of it partying with my friends in the crew bar. We’re humans too ;)
I know you probably opened this article wanting a straight forward "yes, we work such and such hours a day", but there really is no formula so simple. Ship life is crazy and wild so our working hours sometimes can be too haha BUT I do hope if you’re sitting here thinking about applying to work onboard, I was able to give you a better picture than I had my first day about hours onboard!