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 . . . 

  • Crazy Monkey

    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

    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
  • darkness

    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

    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

    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

    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

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

  • Leonimae Macatigos

    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

    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

    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.

  • sally

    So do men and women share the same room?? Do white people make min. Wage?

  • melissa

    This comment is for SALLY… did you really just ask that question …your a disgusting if white people should not be paid minimum wage..I guess just the blacks and hispanics and whatever other ethnicities should be paid minimum wage? Why do people think so stupidly..ill never understand…I went on a rccl cruise and all the ethnic staff were above and beyond kind, courteous and worked so hard to make people happy..they deserve so much more then what they get..white people should get paid the same as everyone else .slavery is over idiot

  • chrissy

    amen melissa!

  • Brooke carson

    I worked on a cruise ship for years and I must say that I have never seen so many people shacking up in my life. Dancers from Essex were hooking up with the captains the dj was sleeping with guests. Everyone would play merry go round with partners. I had to quit because I couldn’t take seeing anymore married captains hook up with the burlesque dancers which in my opinion were no better than hookers. Good riddance celebrity cruise lines

  • John

    Question – a cruise staff member pursues the wife of the husband / family he looked after when the cruise was over by finding and contacting her via social media – is this acceptable?

  • Vee

    Have an exwife currently working onboard as staff –
    Life must be toooo good onboard seeing as to how.
    She will leave her kids and go with out even calling home !

    Guess the sailor will only understand that

  • Lydia

    hi guys,i am a scriptwriter working on a story that has to do with a ship and i just need more information about a passenger cabins.thank you.


    hi would like to know if life on a cruise ship is hard im getting ready to start my career as a sous chef what can i look forward to ///

  • Carlo Venter

    Well, I bet it is up to each individual to decide how he/she will conduct their time during the contract that they will serve. I do believe in equality, and one should not judge a person by the position they fill on board. We should never forget that a lot of people, or most maybe are there to generate an income for their families, which they possibly can not get while working in their own country. Nobodies shit smells like chocolate or lavender, so to those who think that they are regarded as ‘Better than the next, please remember this the next time you visit the loo. Food for thought.

  • abede georges

    I’m living in dominicani i have already have visa for royal carribbean cruiser so the compagne has been canceled all candidate until last november right now i would like to know if the process still stop to hiring employment as a cleaner or plz let me know because im still waiting for other opportunity

  • Silvio

    I want get Job with your cruce line; but I have to ley you know that I woerk befor for Royal cruce line, as asst.waiter

  • Trezz

    I am Starting work shortly as an Environmental Officer. I understand that I can expect to be frequently inundated with work, however what can I look forward to in regards to social life/ leisure time? What is typically the sentiment of those who hold higher positions on the ship? I imagine that most working aboard a cruise ship are relatively easy going and social regardless of rank; however I have been in similarly structured situations in the past where those atop quickly let their position go to their head. I am not personally one who typically enjoys status or privilege (Not that I will actually be holding that high of a rank), will spending time with folks of all positions be possible? I don’t want to get stuck spending all my time with people who are stuck up or snoody!

  • Ryan

    Hi everyone ! I’m going to start my first time career at celebrity cruises as pantry cook, this coming April I’ll be joining celebrity summit in Puerto Rico. Can anybody tell me or share thier experience working in a galley? And I wonder also if how I will get paid aboard the ship ? Is thecabin crew for galley ppositions are shared? Thank you guys ! 🙂

  • enio

    Im thinking about joning some cruise as junior officer or third officer. Im very interesed about duration of contrat and salary, so if somebody have some experience as junior or 3oow???

  • richard mordino

    If I get job as musician in house band or cocktail bar can I get room to bring my wife?

  • dirty_canary_007

    such a grand time of life it was! How many coronas? how many waves i surfed on cozumel’s east side while in port? how many late night intensities? indeed, how many boobies?

    honestly, if it weren’t for the ship, i wouldn’t be the musician i am today. nor could i count the time i was almost kidnapped in nassau among my most treasured memories….

  • romel flores

    my woman has cheating,,affair in other crewmen in Ms mariners of the sea.. where i can i complain of this matter

  • ricardo sanchez

    How about to fall in love with a crew member?

  • mariners crew

    my cabin crewmate..mariners of the sea cruise ship.the assistan housekep sleeping with here babes Jaamar/bndct

  • Len Evans

    On my ships the crew are only allowed to drink about two drinks. At every port crew gets fired for drinking to much and failing the drug tests. So, all this heavy drinking comes as a surprize to me.

  • Mircea


  • Lillian

    I need someone to answer this question for me. I began a good friendship with a crew member yrs ago. Now we just decided to start dating. Can this individual get in trouble?

  • eris

    So, I guess nobody has worked in the best department of all the ship, Housekeeping. I was an ACAT for Princess Cruises, in charge of the cleaning of the public areas and restrooms of the ship, I spent all my days doing an awesome work of patience with not-throwing up skills. The crew bar was the only place where people look at me not from above, of course, no uniform, no segmentation. I’m a girl, maybe not pretty, but on the ship most men don’t even care, they want body, not face. I can tell that my vice was alcohol rather than men, better to have fun and forget that being used I guess. Work sucks, all day cleaning and even talking about the shit I cleaned while eating with my mates, trying to smile when you just mopped the urine from the floor and unblocked the toilet which had a terribly monster shit and a passenger pass leaving shoe marks all the way and shaking its wet hands all over the sink and floor, asking why does it smells so bad and not even flushed their own product……..its just paradise.
    I can’t imagine how hard was for you other crew members with “few privileges”, sorry you couldn’t go to see the show or go ashore on your day-off (which we certainly don’t have).

  • Turco12

    Anyone out there with Deck Hand Experience? I am looking for info on Pay rate, Work Hours, typical day, and anything else that someone New in the industry might need to know. Also any tips on how to land a position would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  • Matthew


  • Grant

    Matthew, all seafarers have to have a minimum of 10 hours rest per 24 hour period, and made of of no more than 2 periods of rest where one has to be a minimum of 6 hours. Also, seafarers must have a minimum of 77 hours rest per week.

  • andy

    So it would seem that if an emergency occurs in the middle of the night, when the crew is “liquored up”, chances of things going wrong are pretty high then, eh?

    i guess that in the middle of the night i shouldn’t put much faith in the crew in charge of the lifeboat that’s supposed to carry me to safety.

    do the ships have crew who are ‘on call’ in the middle of the night and can’t drink? designated drivers, so to speak..

  • David smith

    Hi everyone!

    Does anybody have experience or knowledge onboard of Royal caribbean or Disney cruise for Head waiters position? Like interms of money , hours, duties, privileges. I hear too many different story, from 3k to 10k a month, from 50 to 100 hours a week.
    If anybody knows i d appreciate!

  • chris

    Does anyone know what its like to work as security for RCCL?