Yes I live here – 10 things you didn’t know about working on cruise ships

To say it has been a checkered journey to my current life of taking people on holidays to places their mother would rather they didn’t visit would be quite an understatement.

In the UK I did all manner of jobs – from selling double glazing to picking litter at a landfill site – before my wanderlust took me bartending in the Cayman Islands, working on cruise ships and then teaching in China, before finding my vocation with YPT tours.

I’ve fond memories of everything I’ve ever done (maybe not the litter picking) but of all the jobs the biggest learning curve and fund of great memories was my time on cruise ships.

As I write this I’m sitting on a public ferry in the Philippines, and it’s impossible not to reminisce a little. So I’ve decided share some pearls of wisdom about what living on a cruise ship is really like (Clue: It’s not like the movies.)

10. There are no days off.
9. The food must be really good for staff
with all those fine dining restaurants
on board, surely? Erm... no.
8. Every night must be
a great party in all the bars?
Again, no.
7. The staff are not like the movies –
many are foreign
6. Seeing as you don't have
any bills you must save
a ton of money. Huh. Right.
Nice one.
5. You are earning a tax free wage.
4. The staff are not paid equally
3. You share a tiny room with bunk beds
and a roommate
2. There are ranking systems –
like the navy...
1. There is a strict drinking limit!
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New slideWhenever I told people I worked on cruise ships they would assume it was a non-stop party, which while partly true, ignores the fact that you work a lot of hours. For western bar and wait staff contracted hours are 70 per week, and if you're lucky you might get one afternoon off per cruise (which can be two weeks). But you're not even gauranteed that. I once had a boss who would punish any infringement by taking away my "off". At one point I went three whole months without a single afternoon off! But it could be worse: While western staff work six months on and three months off, Indian and Filipino crew do nine months for the same amount of leave.
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BONUS ROUND! Some slang from the ships

  • Chicken or beef – Like “he needs to be careful or its chicken or beef”. If you get sacked you’ll have to fly home from wherever the ship is, and on the flight home you’ll probably be offered chicken or beef.

  • Taxi – When two people try to sneak off from the crew bar to make sexy time in their cabin, it’s customary for those who spot them to shout “taxi”. Maybe immature, but always amusing.

  • The M1 – The area below the the first passenger deck that crew use for all manner of things such as collecting salary or traversing through the ship.

  • D&V – To avoid Norovirus the moment someone has D&V (diarrhea and vomiting) they are made to stay in their cabin under quarantine. D&V can also stand for Drinking & Vodka, another common cause of vomitting.

  • IPM – In port manning. You surrender your crew card and are forbidden from leaving the ship, so that in case of emergency there’ll be enough staff on hand. My first IPM was in Amsterdam. It was 12 years ago and I’m still pissed off about it!