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What it ACTUALLY feels like to live on a cruise ship

Updated: May 31, 2023

The Messy Thoughts of a Cruise Ship Employee

We all know crewmembers work a lot, don’t have the best living standards, share cabins, make friends, travel, see new places…we know all of this! I want you to know what it actually feels like to work and live onboard.

Side Note: I’ve been putting off writing this article for quite some time now. I don’t know what words to use to portray the emotions I’m feeling. I don’t know how to describe what I go through let alone do justice to what others in my same position go through. I’ve concluded that it may be impossible to properly dictate pain, joy or struggle. Life is pain, joy, and struggle. Whether current or long-term, the ship is your life.

Working onboard isn’t just your job. You can’t go home, you can’t call in sick and you can’t hide from anyone around you. So here I am with my red wine and sad drake music ready to face exactly what I feel.

Everything I’m about to write is based on my personal experiences and it may or may not be similar to yours. Please if you’ve ever worked onboard, I want to hear your stories too. Message me-I would love to talk.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links at no additional cost to you. For more information see my privacy policy here.

It’s Hard to Adjust Back to Life on Land

All you talk about your whole contract is how much you miss your family and how excited you are to go back home. Because if you’re being really honest, you miss your family and you’re excited to go back home.

Home is where you don’t have to work 7 days a week, where you have the time to take care of yourself on top of your job. Home is where you can cook and eat what kind of food you like and makes your body feel good. Home is where you don’t have to share a room with a stranger. Home is where you genuinely rest because let’s face it, no matter how well you sleep, there is no actual rest until your contract is completely over.

There’s always a time to adhere to, always an all-onboard, always an alarm to set, and always something to remember. Goodness, gracious at home you can even get steady Wi-Fi and call your mom and dad or whoever you like.

Then you finally get home, and it’s harder than you ever could have expected.

You visit with your family, catch up on sleep and your Netflix binges and eat everything you couldn’t get on the ship. Then….then…then what? Your life that you had been building for the last however many months or years isn’t there. Maybe you have close friends or family waiting for you, and guess what? They go back to work on Monday too. You left all your work, habits and friends on the ship.

If you’re lucky enough to leave the ship at the same time as someone else, chances are he or she lives on the other side of the world anyways. If you fell in love, they’re still on the ship. If you found your calling, it’s on the ship. If you have a joke to tell, or a story to share or a feeling to express, your ship friends are the ones that understand. The ones back home don’t. They love you, they care for you, but you had to grow a different way than they did.

Cruise Staff Entertainers
Family from contract #1 (Serbia, China, Spain, Domincan Republic, USA)

If you ever left your home, let’s say for school, what happens when you come back after your degree? You weren’t the only one that moved on, everyone else did too. Home is still home, but it’s not at the same time. So you have two choices. Create a new life, again, or go back to the ship. And so begins a sick addiction.

Nothing quite matches the same adrenaline.

When you live on board, everything functions at a much more rapid pace. You work harder. You work so many more hours than you would on land, but you don’t think about it. It’s just how it is, and if you weren’t working, what would you do anyway? You party harder. You don’t have a family to rush home to or anything other than the ship. When you’re not working, you fill your time. You drink. You smoke. You try to “live your best life” and see the world as much as your body will let you before you crash harder. Then you sleep until your alarm wakes you up and you do it all again.

You don’t realize how much it changes you until you return to “normal life” and it isn’t moving fast enough. People pace themselves, people don’t push their bodies, people are accustomed to more balanced lives-and you aren’t anymore.

You become both extremely independent and dependent

You grow in ways you could never imagine. You become extremely aware of other cultures and people. You try new things and discover who you are. After all, it’s just the ship, it’s not “real” life. Why does it matter?

You learn to do things for yourself when you can because everyone else is just as busy as you are. You learn that you genuinely are the only person responsible for your happiness, your pain, your growth. You both mold yourself and grow or you don’t last very long onboard. The people that have been there a long time, no matter how rude, dramatic, sensitive or kind they are, are strong people. You learn that you are worth fighting for and others in suit will fight for you too.

Cruise Staff Entertainers
These two South Africans are easily my best friends on board. They became my brothers and taught me so much about the job and life.

Then you realize how dependent you are. You realize how every single person next to you is holding you up. You realize that the “ship friend” you’ve only known for one month is already as crucial and necessary to you as a friend back home you’ve known for years. You make yourself vulnerable to them and share more than is “natural” because even if you don’t like it, you need support.

Your family loves you but they’re at home. The people around you ARE your family even if it’s just for the time being.

When the time being is over you have another hole in your heart. You built another new family but it’s time to say goodbye. Again. Always saying goodbye. But you can’t “not” create a new family in your next ship. Because let me tell you a secret, that next family, that you’ll for sure find yourself crying to about the last family, needs you more than you could imagine and you need them.

You find your purpose...Maybe

You fall in love with your job and your friends and your life. You connect with people, support people, love people. You experience so many new things as you continue to grow as a person every single day. You discover a life that is so fulfilling all while knowing that this kind of life doesn’t last forever.

You can stay on ships for a long time, that’s true, but can you build a life on one? Building a life without family and without stability?

Cruise Staff Entertainers
The Cruise Staff team after a snow party in the middle of the summer!

You’ll never be able to get “Ship Life” out of your mind

Every song, picture, saying, joke, drink, sunset, outfit….it will all remind you of some memory you created. It will remind you of a person you loved, or a person that loved you. It will remind you of a time you felt so low, you didn’t know how you would survive your contract. It will remind you of a time you felt so high, you didn’t even know you were capable of feeling so much joy. It will remind you of it all.

With time, everything fades, but things that shape you, those things stay with you.

You wonder if you’ve wasted your time

You’ve spent so much time and soooo much energy learning a new lifestyle. Growing in that new lifestyle. Fighting the awful power pyramids that exist everywhere but ESPECIALLY on the ships. You’ve come to terms with complete uncertainty not only in a career but also in your life.

You’ve adapted yourself to saying hello and opening yourself up despite knowing you’ll have to say goodbye. Every frustration, anger, and injustice builds up until finally at the end of the day they crumble when you realize you’re too completely obsessed with your lifestyle and work to end it.

Your contract ends, years go by, you watch others “start their lives” and you wonder when you will yours. Half the time you know better. You know that you’re living and learning more than any other person with stability and the other half of you craves it more than ever. Have you wasted your time? What was it all for?

You realize that working on the ships is one of the most amazing decisions you could have ever made for yourself

Cruise Staff Entertainers
I don't plan on explaining this photo...

Working on the ships is extremely, freaking hard. Working on the ships will make you strong. Working on the ships will make you realize who’s important in life and who genuinely loves you. Working on the ships will test you and push and pull at you until you either become a better or worse version of yourself.

I said it, Not everyone comes out happier and stronger. But I will. I will because the ships gave me so much.

They gave me a life back home that’s so hard to adjust to because I had the opportunity to live so fully in another.

They gave me life so full of adrenaline and energy that it’s hard to match

They gave me years full of actual vulnerable, raw and authentic life.

They gave me a purpose that will make me sure to never settle for less in the next stage of life no matter what career follows.

They gave me a part of my life that I can’t just put in a scrapbook and forget about until I dust it off years later.

They gave me such a different perspective on life, love, faith, and myself that I know I couldn’t have wasted my time.

To all my ship family, I love you all so much. You can’t even imagine the impact you’ve had on my life or how much stronger I have become since meeting you. Every single one of you. For my whole life I’ve been obsessed with identity-who am I, what is my purpose, and what should I be doing. Now I know if all I’ve done is love the people around me and learned to love myself, I’ve done enough. You all taught me that. I taught myself that. I’m freaking proud of myself. I’m freaking proud of all of us. If my time on the ships has taught me anything about any of us, it’s this. We are strong. We are so strong.


Do you, or anyone you know work on a cruise ship? Have you experienced the same feelings? Please share this with anyone you know that works onboard. It's my little love letter to my fellow crew and I know we can all relate to some of the things I talked about!

If you enjoyed this article, want to learn more about working onboard or just want to stay in the loop with all things travel, make sure to subscribe to my blog to get all the updates. You can even check out what it's like working as an entertainer on a cruise ship if you want to know more about the life! I'm just a girl from Indiana, who loves to write, travel the world and I want to love on as many people as possible in the process! Follow me on instagram or head to my "Home" page and send me a message! I would love to chat.

As always, God Bless and I hope to see you somewhere around the world.

Love, Kait

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