What is life like on a cruise ship for those working on board.

There's a lot to learn on board a ship. You're in a new element. Even if you know your job backwards, this isn't on land, and the culture is very different.

The people you work with

Cruise lines work very much on experience. There will be a lot of highly experienced people working with you.

Respect that experience, and learn from it.

You will need to learn to find your way around the ship, basic do's and don'ts, and the various bits and pieces which make up life in your own particular department. Every job is different in some way from any other.

You'll also be expected to learn all these practical things to a level of efficiency, and it's a reasonable expectation by the employer that you'll settle in, and learn fast. Other people's experience is priceless for learning.

The people you live with

People are people. Everybody is somebody. You'll be sharing a cabin with another human being. Other people have their own way of living, like you.

If you're a loner, or someone who doesn't mix well-

Get over it.

Really, this is just common sense. On ships, people live in close proximity. Everybody has rights. Other people have sensitivities, too.

Cabins are small places, too small for wars between the inmates.

You are expected to work like a team player, because you are on a team.

Oceans make enough waves, without help.

You're within your rights to stick up for your rights. You're not employed as a doormat, and if you have a legitimate grievance, you will get a hearing.

Don't create grievances for other people.

That's all that's asked of you and everybody else, and it's a fair request.

Shift work

If you haven't done shift work before, you'd be advised to find out exactly what hours are required. Shift work can come as a bit of a shock to some people, particularly night shifts, if you're not used to them.

Remember, on board, your attendance is part of the job's machinery. If you go missing, the job stops working, and backlogs are created. That's not a good option on ships, where covering gaps can be a real ordeal for other staff, let alone extra work.

Having to work double shifts, or split shifts, can grind people down. It's truly hard work, and you don't get much leisure time on any job on board. People's hours get dislocated, and that can sabotage their own life off duty.

The unwritten rule is your personal obligation to your other staff members. That's extremely important, and it affects your relationships with everyone you work with.

The written rule is you're expected to be punctual, and you're expected to perform your work properly. It is part of your contract, and should be held sacred.

Life at sea

Remember you are at sea, and you're living with the sea. It makes a big difference.

Cruise ships work seasonally. They don't usually have to deal with Atlantic gales, Pacific cyclones, or rough conditions.

But they can happen, and it's a part of life at sea and ship culture. It's also a part of the job. You need to be sure of handling the fundamental conditions of working on a ship.

A lot of the safety materials you'll see relate to injuries, which can reach plague level if a few big swells hit the ship unexpectedly, or rain catches people in the open, and they slip on wet surfaces. That can cause fractures, and some serious injuries.

That applies to staff, too. Some jobs are on deck, and in some climates heat stroke, sunburn, and other occupational hazards are the normal topics of rules and regulations.

There are strict First Aid and Medical procedures on any ship.

Learn them by heart.


Seasickness does affect some people badly. It's sometimes highly debilitating. The effects of seasickness are seriously weakening in chronic cases, requiring medical supervision.

Strangely, not many people who know they're prone to seasickness sign up for jobs on cruise ships.

If you don't know how ship travel affects you, find out.

You could waste a lot of your own and other people's time by not knowing that, and the job could be unbearable, or impossible to do.

A quick sea trip will tell you. Rough conditions are no joke, and not knowing is dangerous. If you can handle average conditions, you can probably deal with normal cruise ship sailing.

These basic things are an important part of ship culture, and they have a direct bearing on your own work.


Cruise ships do travel literally all over the world.

You'll normally be told what immunization is required, but if not, ask.

Usually a range of booster shots is required, over a period of years since previous immunization.

Basic Health

A selection of diseases, from malaria to typhus and cholera, is endemic in some countries, and water quality is often poor in some regions.

Cruise ships usually travel to luxury destinations, the five star circuit, but those conditions often don't exist outside the tourist areas.

The possible health risks depend on the place. A bit of research is required for each port of call, outside the luxury zone.

  • Stick to bottled water, or tap water you know is treated. Dysentery is no fun. Other diseases, like giardia, are water borne, caused by poor sanitation, and are endemic in some countries.
  • Don't eat from any suspect open air market stalls, particularly where raw meat is displayed without refrigeration.
  • Salmonella is common in places where food is often not properly stored. Even cooked food can be suspect. Ironically, one of the best sources of salmonella is alfalfa that's gone sour.
  • Some food just does not agree with some people. Try a very small amount first, and wait for about half an hour. If you get any sort of adverse reaction, don't eat it.
  • 'Traveler's Tummy' is caused by an incompatibility between your gut flora and the local food. It's a minor medical condition, but a rough one. According to a microbiologist, one remedy is to eat some of the local yogurt, and get the local acidophilus working for you, because the species vary from place to place. The normal response, and the one the employer will expect, is medication. The basic risk is feeling very sick indeed, and you should check it out with the ship's doctor anytime you feel unwell.
  • Remember at all times: 'Feeling sick' could mean you are sick, maybe sicker than you think. Don't be heroic. Make sure you get any necessary treatment immediately.

You will see the world, and you can have a ball doing it. You can have one of the best jobs on Earth, which can build a great career.

So don't spend your time in the ship's hospital.

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