Life Below Deck 4: What Passengers Don't Know & the Cruise Lines Won't Tell Them

Former cruise ship performer and soon-to-be-lawyer Danielle Gauer returns for another inside look at the cruise industry. You can read Danielle's prior articles about life as a cruise ship dancer here and what Canadians should know about cruising here.  Thanks Danielle for another great blog: 

Many cruise ship passengers wonder where the crew lives and what it's like “down below.”

Beneath the beautifully decorated lounges, restaurants, art galleries and shops is another city with its own rules and hierarchical structure. The jobs on a cruise ship are pretty much based on nationality which designates the type of living arrangement that crew member will have. Because the "lowest" jobs on the totem pole are the cleaners, those employees are usually situated on the lowest deck of the ship, in shared cabins with a communal washroom and shower to be shared with those living in that Cruise Ship Crew Barparticular corridor.

The type of job also determines status in the crew hierarchy.  Hierarchy determines crew privileges and the kind of unspoken social rules that they must follow. As a dancer, I was considered a “non-striped” officer. As a result I was allowed to go in the guest areas of the ship, have a drink in a lounge, go to the top deck and sunbathe, and watch other entertainers on nights I wasn’t working. My “status” also permitted me to "hang out" with the high ranking officers who lived on the upper decks of the ship.

A cabin steward would not dare to try and socialize with an officer, and vice versa. There are cases where male officers would “shack up” with low ranking employees for the duration of their contract. The officer coin the subordinate crew member as their “mistress.”

For those who followed the Costa Concordia disaster, you may recall the good captain and his girlfriend. That is business as usual. 

The majority of crew members do not have any special privileges. These crew members include the cabin stewards and waiters who are predominantly Indonesian or Filipino, and who work 12-15 hours a day for little money. They are lucky to get time off in port to call home to their loved ones, as satellite calling cards on the ship can be quite expensive ($20 for 17 minutes of talk time back in 2006).

But the real question is . . .  what happens after work and the passengers are out of sight?

Usually located on deck 3 or on the “I-95” (the term is used to describe the main deck or “corridor” of the crew area), the general crew bar is open to all crew members. This means that even the highest Cruise Ship Bar ranked officers can party with the lowest men and women on the totem pole. There is also an Officer’s Bar which is designated to only the officers on the ship.

Aside from blatant segregation, the crew bar is alive with music and cheap booze, allowing crew members to party and get “tanked” till the early hours of the morning. The bartender working in the crew bar typically works on the ship in another capacity during the regular work day, but takes on the responsibility to get his/her fellow crew members liquored up so that they can actually enjoy their time on board the ship.

With lots of alcohol inevitably comes inappropriate behaviors involving both passengers and crew members. Much of this misconduct flies well below the radar. The only concern for the crew members is when they wake up with a hangover the next morning, or they find themselves terminated following an alcohol test. With that said, this is a risk that many crew members see worth taking.

I guess the common phrase still holds true, what happens in the crew bar stays in the crew bar . . . 

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Comments (11) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Crazy Monkey - February 2, 2013 6:40 PM

What happens in the Crew Bar Stays in the Crew Bar so true, I wrote an article on Onboard relationships, it is like a fast forward button, one night in the crew bar, then your cabin, and you have a relationship for the duration of the contract, some call it mistress others call it house mouse, so many terms so many things happen down there my motto:

We are the men and woman serving on the Seven Oceans, the men and woman who carry the flag of convenience, this is our life, a life on its own, a life only we will understand, a secret society, this is our family, our memories, the men and woman serving the Seven Oceans

I can only smile when i read this article if only they knew what goes on :)))) This is only our privilege our society.

nica queen - March 13, 2013 4:07 PM

One of the many reasons i love working on the NCL EPIC. yes we have entertainers on board and yes they do have certain privileges that other crew members dont have, like having a cabin steward or room service delivery, but besides that the "regular" crew can enjoy all the ships restaurants, bars and lounges, take a swim in the guest pool or just relax and soak up some sun on the pool deck. On that ship the crew is not limited to decks 2, 3 and 4 as is the case on others, crew cabins go from deck 2 all the way up to deck 14, regardless or nationality, rank or department. Life on the seven seas is not always the best or the easiest and i think the Crews Lines should ensure that the crew is happy and not segregated. as they say Happy crew...Happy guests!.... Go Team Epic for your great environment!!!!

Isabel Hernandez - April 1, 2013 9:17 PM

I know there are certain cruise lines that have that Rank issues very serious; not where I work. Yes certain crew members can go around and go to guest areaa but in the same way if a guest complaint about them they are in real trouble. I've seen crew members (called staff members just to make a difference between us: Cleaners, housekeeping staff, dining room staff and beverage staff, or whatever the future lawyer call lower Rank crew members) getting fired just because a guest didn't like how he/she was looking at his/her girfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband...They go place the complaint in Guest services and then voila! You don't work for that cruise line anymore!!! Then I wouldn't like to have such those privileges. And to let you know, bartenders in the crew bar aren't entitled to get the crew drunk for them to enjoy their lives, we have a responsibility with our colleagues, same as we have with our guests, and again, the cruise lines hire adults, so not a single colleague crew member have to babysit another one. When we come the company they tell us what we can do and what we can't do, so whoever doesn't like rules can go home and find a different type of job. I'm not defending the cruise lines because the abuse starts when you allow it, so if we sign a contract for a certain period of time and we don't like what is going on, we can pack our suitcases and go home... And by the way, the most annoying crew members on all cruise lines are those singers and dancers that they go there to live a different life that they can't live at home, because they love to hide things from their families, if you understand what I mean!!!

darkness - April 26, 2013 8:13 PM

i should feel sorry for the entertainer at this point? what is the point of this article? there is no information in it, only some vaguely hints about the life under the deck from an officers point of view... in the company i work they have privileges and they are not affraid to show it. theyr attitude is horrible. in this includes also the spa "crew", the shops, and the casino. they are the vip's of the cruise industry.and they act like it.
i dont know if its that much of a big pleasure to be part of that "secret society" because all but ALL crew members are lying and cheating someone.
on the basic human level the "society" on the cruies ships is the most horrible. i really dont mind that, because i care for no one, but the thing that does the most harm is the fakeness of the crew. all of them.
and the depraved life style goes somethimes beyond some moral standards.


btw, Crazy Monkey you think too much of your self :)

thats it. enjoy your cruises :)

Valentin Angelov - August 25, 2013 5:40 PM

The last person who should write something about the relations on board and getting trashed by alcohol is somebody from the entertainment onboard. Everyone working on a ship would know what I mean.

Canuck - September 17, 2013 4:16 AM

Valentino ... Yep!! You're absolutely correct.
And, having worked on 14 different RCCL ships during the past 10 years, I have never seen a communal bathroom or shower on any deck. I did many, many cabin inspections and was privy to all cabins, and, just no. Maximum 2 person cabins with their own bathroom.
Any bartender would gladly work the crew bar as opposed to pax bars. Yes, they did have extra duties during the day at the pool bar, and this shift was rotated on a bi weekly basis as to even out the fairness in tips. BTW, the crew bar had the highest tips, by far. These bartenders are not the martyrs you make them out to be. If you ever had a conversation with any "low ranking" crew member, you would realize this. And you would realize they preferred the separate officer bar so they could chill out in peace away from them.
If there's any elitism in the crew, it would come from the entertainers and perhaps some of the officers. The rest of us are happy to congregate amongst ourselves.

Kimm Eko - October 19, 2013 10:21 AM

Pwahahahahaha that's the most weirdest bunch of ideas I've read in a while, and while yes some people do form crazy relationships on board whilst being married etc the majority of us just enjoy the living it up. I met my current partner on board and my friend met her husband on board too so it's not all secret mistresses and twisted fantasies.

Also I don't feel the segregation myself but I can understand why it's been written about- I think due to my mixed heritage I get to hang with both officers and 'below' decks as so amusingly put in this article. I would say though that these people are the happier of the two groups hands down I have never met a sad or grumpy room steward in my entire time on board.

Pay I think is fair in relation to work, hands to all people who work on board ships we should be paid better for the million hours we work but the sad truth is we never will be.

karl - October 26, 2013 11:42 AM

I took pics of my onboard squeeze at sea, in her cabin. Can I post them ?

Leonimae Macatigos - December 3, 2013 1:53 AM

I got a question here :

what if passengers will force those crew members to like chill with them and do stupid stuffs? like sleep with them. Can Crew members/waiters has the privilege to decline their offer?

What if passengers will threaten those crew members and make up stories. then report them to the management
does crew member will be given a privilege to defend themselves?

Poppy - January 28, 2014 2:51 AM

I agree that of the two DCL ships I worked on the only crew that segregated themselves in such a manner were entertainment. I was the lower ranking of an assistant server/beverage server and I mixed with all crew. I very much enjoyed my ship experience. I shall go back hopefully next year but in a different position. I admit the lack of privileges was disheartening, however I worked too much to notice really. I feel I had plenty of time in ports. The only thing I would say is food for crew leaves a lot to be desired. However when catering to so many different nationalities they do well. I had close relationships with my guests but not of the sordid nature, to the point we still talk via Facebook. Hopefully next year I shall be sailing the seas once more.

Writer - February 5, 2014 5:17 PM

I appreciate all the comments that have been posted. Yes, I agree that many people do find love while working on a cruise ship. This is not being disputed. While everyone has a different experience, whether good or bad, there is no denying that there is a divide within the crew. It is apparent and I would argue that in most cases one can easily guess what the particular crew member does on board just by looking at them. This is the problem. It reinforces stereotypes. In terms of priveleges, I have never been on a vessel where bartenders have the same privileges as dancers, or dancers have the same privileges as a 1st engineer. This is the issue, what you can and can't do is associated with your position, which is associated with nationality. As for communal washrooms, Carnival Ecstasy.

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