Crew members work hard on cruise ships. Waiters and cabin attendants earn wages from Royal Caribbean of only $50 a month. That’s right. $50 a month. That’s something like $1.67 a day. They depend almost exclusively on tips from the passengers to support their families back home.

Utility cleaners are not entitled to tips, and they earn around only $545 a month. That’s around $18.30 a day. 

Crew members work a minimum of 12 hours a day, sometimes more.

Norovirus Explorer of the Seas - Royal CaribbeanThey work 7 days a week. Every single day of the month. For 8 months.

When a norovirus outbreak occurs, they are pressed into duty to try and sanitize the huge ship. That involves hours and hours of extra spraying and wiping and scrubbing everything in sight.

I cannot imagine the extra work required of the cabin attendants who clean as many as 18 cabins and bathrooms a day. I don’t know how these men and women clean so many cabins and bathroom when there’s no gastrointestinal illness outbreak. But when noro virus strikes and the puking and diarrhea starts, there are literally millions and millions of noro infected microbes floating around in an aerosolized form. The microbes can fall into the fabric of the furniture, the duvet covers on the bed, into the carpet fibers, and all the tiny nooks and crannies of the bathroom tiles.  

When the passengers leave the cruise ship at the last day of this cruise from hell, will they tip these hardworking crew members?  Many passengers are mad and feel ripped off. They didn’t obtain the vacations which they paid for with their family. They want their money back from the cruise line. Are they going to track down the public bathroom cleaners responsible for sanitizing all of the public restrooms and give them a $50 tip?

Today Royal Caribbean announced "compensation" for the passengers: a 50% refund and a 50% future credit. Is that fair? Some will accept it. Others will think that they are being mistreated again. Some people were sailing on the Explorer as a replacement cruise after the Grandeur of the Seas caught on fire last year. Are they interested in testing their luck one more time? 

Whatever you think of the cruise line’s offer of compensation, remember one thing. The crew is not getting a nickel extra from the cruise line. So if you are a passenger and want to bitch, whine, moan and complain, don’t forget about all of those crew members you left behind. Remember that they were the ones cleaning up all of your vomit and removing your bio-hazard bags. They are not receiving any compensation at all.  They are busy trying to get the cruise ship in shape for the next 3,000 guests who will soon board.

Explorer of the Seas Norovirus

Photo Credit: Top – Getty Images

  • John Goldsmith

    Jim, I agree 110% with the post. While I can neither confirm or dispute the wages paid, “I’m pretty sure you can prove that” That wage is seriously pitiful. The employees I have met, and still correspond with have been good at sharing information, And within a year, a room stewards daughter will be travelling here for University Education. He works hard and has sent two others to Universities so they would not have to clean rooms.I tip well, for our family works and worked in the customer service industry.
    Now a 50/50 rebate from RCCL is just plain stupid on their part.I would be insulted with such an offer, but also I carry insurance for just that reason.
    Now cruise travelers…get to know about your steward and ask about their families, and make great friends. I have and have pictures of out bartenders little girl, that she gave us when she visited.
    I agree with Jim.I can’t imagine the work load they have and they have to work hard. appreciate them folks.

  • blubayoubilly

    First off, the passengers are essentially getting a 100% refund of their cruise fare. Fifty percent now, and fifty percent of what they paid for this cruise to use toward a future cruise. So, in my opinion, they’re being reimbursed fairly.

    It is truly unfortunate, that these crew members have worked double duty, and now miss out on two days of gratuity due to the 10 day cruise being cut to 8.

    Having been on sister ship Navigator in 2012 on a back to back cruise, which had “noro” outbreaks, I can attest to the fact that crew work extra hard in these circumstances.

    After a certain point in the noro outbreak, the buffet becomes “hands off” for guests. ALL non-officer crew (including stage performers, maintenance, kids staff, etc) are pressed into service to serve food in the buffet lines, in addition to their normal work schedule.

    It would be nice to think that RCI would “do the right thing”, and at least make up the lost gratuity to their crew. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Recently, I was able to verify with service crew during my last cruise, that RCI IS apparently skimming from the automatic gratuities intended for the service crew (maybe that’s how the can afford Quantum?). So, why expect them to do the right thing now?

  • Cynthia Neu

    Woh. Wait a minute. While I’m sure the clean up crew is doing all it can to protect Royal Caribbean from spreading disease isn’t there a chance they are not doing their job well on purpose? Is there a chance of sabotage going on by cruise ship workers to draw so much negative media attention the AFL-CIO will be justified to ‘demand’ better pay and benefits for cruise ship workers everywhere? Who needs more members? American unions. We already know the U.S. Senate is investigating all the cruise lines’ claims they pay taxes. Come on, Mr. Walker. Please. Lighten up. The Cruise Industry is not as evil as you imply. Royal Caribbean literally saved the life of my 80 year old closest friend who had a heart attack on board ship. When she was delivered by ambulance to the hospital in Wellington, New Zealand off the ship the first thing the doctors there told me to my face was that she was alive only because of the superb medical care she had received on board ship during her previous 24 hours. Her $55,000 (fifty five thousand dollars) 15 day medical bill abroad was paid by Royal Caribbean’s insurance policy, which she had purchased for only $119. Why don’t you tell these stories too? I will give you names, dates and actual facts of this event if you call me…and I have many other miracles Royal Caribbean has performed for our travel agency’s guests when they fell ill and/or were hurt on a cruise. We sell only Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Nothing else. In 17 years of business our agency and our customers have been treated Royally. We do get upset with the so called Revenue Dept. We call it the Anti-Revenue Dept. Otherwise Royal has been straight up fine with us. Call me any time. I double dog dare you to tell a positive story about Royal Caribbean. My number is 703-827-0414. Cynthia Neu, Cruise Coordinator for the Fun & Fitness Travel Club CLIA ….4153 McLean, VA 22102 800-955-9942 or you can contact

  • Cynthia:

    I am glad, truly, that your 80 year old friend survived her heart attack. And I’m glad that the insurance company did not try and cheat her.

    But this article is not about the “Loyal to Royal” travel agents and cruise passengers.

    It’s about the crew. They are paid a pittance. They work incredible hours and their pay is decreasing. Royal Caribbean is dipping into the new pre-paid gratuities scheme and stealing their tips.

    When you have happy stories about the hard working crew please contact me!

    Regards Jim Walker

  • Marianne

    Touche Jim well said ms Cynthia can continue to profit from an industry that avoids paying American taxes; uses the services of the us coast guard at no charge ; and cheats and under pays their workers along with making people sick literally .. It’s the American way

  • michael

    Cynthia Neu,you should be working as a dish washer your whole life.Then you gonna understand what crew onboard are going through.You get moved by the free services you get,no matter the crew dies.I do cruising a lot and have interacted with crew a lot.They are going through a lot of pain,when we passengers are having fun.Think again Cynthia Neu.

  • Lorrindè

    As a previous crew member if RCCL I can assure you that the pitiful wage some crewmembers are true. I’ve also had the chance of working on the Oasis OTS and we worked at least 93 hours a week (I say at least because that was the amount of hours we were legally allowed to work, but our time sheets never corresponded with hours we actually worked. Work it out yourself, thats more hours working than resting) and I was fortunate to work in the shops.
    To the lovely lady that accuse crew members of sabotaging the system please think on this; why would anyone want to clean someone else’s vomit or diarhee? Or work extra hours without more wages? It’s not the crew’s fault if one guest fail to wash their hands before they touch their food, and that’s all it takes, one person. I’ve seen guests eat at the free buffet until they get sick (right there by the table) and carry on eating. I’ve seen guests take plates of pizza and sandwiches to their rooms, stacked so high it looks like a clown at the circus trying to balance everything.
    I once tried to compliment a guest on her ring and when she showed it to me there was meat stuck in it.
    So please, before you turn anything on the crew, think for yourself. These people are human beings that are fighting for a better life. They will always put your comfort and safety first.

    And if they don’t like the way a cruiseline is treating them for the amount of wages they earn, somebody else will love to fill that position.

  • Dan K.

    Stop talking out of your ass. The ships are foreign flagged vessels and are not subject to US labor laws and it would be impossible for the workers to unionize. I suggest you go read the Republican Party Platform when that old Socialist Dwight Eisenhower ran for President and get rid of your hatred for unions. Unions and poor people didn’t crash the US economy.

  • Dan

    Now whether it’s right that the cruise line skims from the auto gratuities… I’m sure they receive more dependable tips that way, but I agree it’s not nice to take from the hardest working people on the ship.

  • lasell

    not to mention the the pressure that sickening crew member!

  • rasti

    dear cynthia….this is not about a family memeber of yours..It is about the modern day slavery that these people undergo. And I do know what I am talking about because I spent last 12 years working for Celebrity cruises. Yes they do make more money with the tips but it is done in a very wrong way…..

  • Ryan Ver Berkmoes

    An excellent post – as always – but especially relevant as the crew remains mostly faceless. I spend a lot of my year working in Bali and have many friends there who work for the major cruise lines. While they are able to make real savings relative to what they could earn at home, the conditions they report are often deplorable and they consider their time on cruise ships as indentured servitude. Their stories are depressing and often shocking.

    I also write about the Caribbean. I’ve stopped being surprised by the strong arm tactics and other thuggish behavior of the cruise lines across the region.

    Thanks Jim for shining some light on crew conditions. As for Cynthia Neu, your creation of a union straw man is laughable, while your fantastical suggestion that crews are not properly cleaning the ships is both deplorable and offensive. Shame on you. That you find it noteworthy that the RCI insurance policy actually paid out benefits as promised is ironic indeed.

  • Marc

    I heard once from Cruise Director – Don’t like it? Go home! I think this is it. That story goes all around Cruise Industry.

  • Annie

    I also worked for a cruise line and I am glad people are becoming more aware of issues onboard, but some of your comments (and parts of the article) are Dan is correct the money is not up to American standards but for those from other countries it is good pay. The reason the staff rely on tips is because cruisers keep demanding lower prices and more perks. We were regulated by ILO (International Labour Organization) and had a maximum number of hours you could work. As for Norovirus, if people would wash their hands frequently, properly and go to see Medical when they are unwell, most of the cases could be avoided.

    You wanted a good story about crew members? How about a ship working together with the company to help provide a crew members baby with life saving heart surgery? I would love for you to write about something good that happens instead of always with your negative bias.

  • Sarah Smith
  • John Goldsmith

    If nothing ever comes out of this fiasco, one thing is for sure. People have commented and made great points.
    1) The wages for the crew are low.
    2) The crew agents arrange the contracts.
    3) As long as the foreign registered ships are allowed to dock in the U.S and Canada, without being subject to the labour laws. Nothing will change.
    4) The affordability of cruising IS the sales point.
    5) The cruise industry WILL exploit for profit wherever they can.It’s their business.
    6) Travel and Cruise agents will be the apologist for the mothercorp. Because they have to..Its Their business.
    7) Law firms will take a case against the industries because… It’s their job.
    8) The crews who work the ships, long hours, low wages,
    questionable conditions. Will continue to work, as per their contract…You guessed it… It’s their job.
    9) Myself and others will continue to cruise. We are more aware of the dangers, pitfalls, and crime and corruption and general B.S. It’s our choice.
    10) Contact your elected reps, and ask if they want to change the law. That is their job.

  • SBGW

    I totally agree, we work a lot, but isnt MCCL in place since August and they have to be paid overtime? Unless they do not swipe in, forced to work overtime, then it is a big time story. I also work on the cruise ship, not for Royal, thanks God! In general I think the salaries should befixed everywhere, of course it depends from company to company, tips should be an extra thing that the guests appreciate the crew and its upon their discression . They should stop charging for airfares, medicals etc. too.And they should start having an insurance for crew members if smth happens at least the family gets smth. Plus there is no retirement plan, what will these seamans do once they reach 40 or 50 ,no? We should look into these things too….

  • Chedo Shishkovski

    It’s not try, only 50 US$ monthly.. If they can’t make 1000 $ tips from the guests the company will pay difference from how much they make from tips till 1050$. So in any case they will have 1050 USD.

  • Amanda

    I used to work for Royal.

    Many of the low wage workers are from the Philippines. American money is worth so much more than their currency that when their money is exchanged, many of them can BUY A HOUSE. Support their families for years. No one is forcing them to keep these jobs.

    The entire crew puts a lot of effort into cleaning and disinfecting around the clock when this happens. And the cruise line gets blamed. But what about the passengers? They don’t wash their hands!!! I saw it over and over again in Alaska.

  • Patty

    wow … I think this is the FIRST time I have agreed with you Jim. Thanks for the reminder that everyone needs to remember their servers even on a trip like this one.

  • Anibal Tapia

    I totally agree, I am really glad someone talk about the crew, I was working in cruise ships and It was a hell when some kind of desease was around there,

  • Gaspar

    Thank you!

  • Molly


    I have to say that after reading through all the
    comments, I am glad that most of you are
    aware of the situation crew members are
    having on board ships. I am fortunate enough to work
    for Celebrity, I love what I do and I am respected.
    I worked for Carnival as well, long time ago but
    I had a great time there as well. Most of the crew
    appreciate their job and the opportunity that
    they can support their families. If they are not
    happy with what they do, they can always leave
    or lately the management is willing to help the crew
    to change position if they think they could do better.
    Of course only if the supervisors believe the person is
    really ready to learn and spend their free time
    and put extra effort for the change. So overall
    they are supportive. They pay attention to crew
    requeries in regards to well being. They organize
    tours and other programs so if someone has
    enough hours off and does not want to rest, can sign-up
    for fun. As for the money, yes, salaries are like
    that. However I still enjoy of what I do, I love
    to see happy guests. In fact, when I was changing
    position, one of the guests spoke behind my back
    with my supervisor to help me. Amazing.
    Outbreak… Big time, I can tell. You cannot imagine
    how hard it is for the crew. And yes, please learn
    to wash hands people! And just a question to close
    concerns mainly guests? Crew members are rarily
    sick although they are the ones also who are
    cleaning up the mess. Think about it. And yes,
    guests are nr one to us.

  • Shawie

    I worked in the one of the royal carribean before,even in norwegian cruiseline i worked for 8yrs,and yeah right no words can explain how we worked very hard,we even called our selfves a “slave”,when we had a norovirus strike we worked 15 a hours a day,it feels like a hell to us…i know this is the career that we chose,most of the time we didnt get respect from the angry passenger because their cruise was ruined,it feels like we are the one should get the blame….but still we serve them with all out hearst,even we only had 3-4 a sleep a night..
    Now im glad im working now in canada…but what ive learne hard time on ship makes me a stronger person now…
    So pls if ever youll gonna be passenger in the cruiseline,give some respect to the people who work there…because for me they are real hero!

  • Sean


    They apparently must love it and its a huge upgrade from a typical job, if so many people are doing it. The guy was correct, they usually buy a house in their country.

    My one waiter was HAVING A HOUSE BUILT!!

    So Jim, why are we talking about the underpaid workers, what about the over paid exec’s that profit off these people?

    Why not shed some light on the HIGHER UPS, who profit from all this!!!!

    Why not talk about the Exec’s who EXPLOIT this?

    Why would we talk about people who willfully volunteer and sign up for a job to leave their country and have a better life than they have?

    You are comparing foreign labor to american labor workers also. Which is a slippery slope, IMO.

    I just feel like, if you want to shine a light. Lets look at ALL the people profiting!!!

    ALL OF THEM. Isnt that the right thing to do? Since you are so worried about them.

  • Olivia

    This doesn’t begin to describe what goes into cleaning and sanitizing a ship during an outbreak. I am a former cruise ship entertainer who experienced this first hand. My first contract was going through this for four months! We didn’t get any help or recognition cause our ship was in Europe. We weren’t in America so we got no news coverage. Thank god! This happens on every ship and it sucks but it’s part of it. They have every single crew member (not just the ones mentioned) on their hands and knees in hazmat suits inhaling bleach everyday to try and rid of it. Passengers should be informed that this is a very common occurrence on cruises. It was more than enough to offer that to passengers. And fuck yeah, the crew should be compensated for the extra work!

  • tiago silva

    as a former RCCL officer i must say that live onboard ships is quite good however the CALLED salary of 50 dollars a month its a joke not to mention the guest who will just walk away without tipping at the end of the cruise….specially American guests

  • tiago silva

    We all know that the american is looking for compensation for everything in fact we know guests who got sick on purpose to get same compensation they are the worst cruise guests complain about everything and beaching and at the end of the cruise no tipping or tipping short

  • john

    I agree with basic tip compensation for the crew provided good service was actually performed, but to tip extra or anything because they must sanitize extra, no I don’t think so…let their employer compensate them better…they are the ones giving them that funny little amount that makes them rely almost exclusively on tips. As far as cruise lines or this one in particular being evil….you better believe it…the only reason why they offered up is because it became such a big story…you can believe they don’t care about stupid negative yelp comments. If only a handful of passengers were affected, you can believe they wouldn’t do anything as compensation. My brother and I were recently forced to disembark our dream Hawaii cruise after sailing only a third of our would be 15 day cruise…the cruise lines lied and said my brother was not fit to cruise. This because a cockroach was crawling on my brothers leg in our room. The company wanted us to c. ontinue in the infested room after putting some kind of gel bait in the corners that would take days to go into effect. While trying to plead with them for another room, my brother mentioned to them that he had discussed the roaches with other passengers and that they agreed they wouldn’t feel comfortable staying in the same room with such a slow acting resolve. After that things got weird…they clearly didn’t want anyone else to know about the roaches. They used a excuse to say that my brother wasn’t fit to sail. He is a simple diabetic and was never in any unstable condition. In fact I am an EMT of 12 years and work on an ambulance. In the end, they not only disembarked my brother against his will, but they also made me go with him even though I had paid my own fare and have zero medical issues and had not broken any ship rules…they determined my brother could not travel alone which is funny cause he drives a car and hundreds of miles at a time sometimes and they are going to act like hee can’t navigate a airport by himself. My brother was never examined by the ships Dr, and immediately after being dumped in Honolulu, my brother went to document his health by going to a hospital E.R. where the Dr determined him fit to sail by Air or Cruise ship and put it in a official letter. Despite this proof, and the fact that I had no reason to be disembarked, the cruise line refused to pay any refund to either of us. They acknowledged that they only made me disembark to accompany my brother and they still didn’t think I deserved to be compensated a penny. Extremely bold….had my brother really had a medical issue making him unfit to travel, you still cannot make anyone else responsible for them even a brother…its not their call….this is the same company in this story…they do not care, and only bend when many many eyes are watching….shy of that you are at they’re mercy for everything including your safety onboard.

  • 30 years at sea

    For starters a teacher, dental hygienist, plumber etc make less than 400 usd a month in the countries these Cruise lines hire their employees from. With tips, waiters and cabin staff make easily 2500-3000 usd a month. *menial jobs* as dishwasher, cleaner are stepping stones for higher income jobs. Who is forcing the world to work on the cruise ships? Does Royal Caribbean have enforcers around the world to take human slaves? Go take a look in the hiring partners offices around Asia, Eastern Europe, the willing potential hires line up around the block. The fact of the matter is that the cruise lines take advantage of world economy, how are the ships under US flag doing? And if one does not like it, who is forcing one to return after one contract? Please find another bone to pick – who ever put up this self-deserving site!

  • “30 Years at Sea”

    First you are a coward to hide your name.

    Your IP address indicates that you are writing from Finland. Sounds like you are an officer.

    No waiter or cabin staff can earn $3000 in tips any more. Some of the tips are being stolen by the cruise line, some go to pay salaries of non-tip employees, and some into the cruise line’s pockets. No it was never easy either. You have never cleaned 20 cabins a day. Doesn’t sound like you ever worked as an utility cleaner doing the real work either.

    Your suggestion that someone who has borrowed to pay an agent, has paid their pre-employment physicals and flight, and earned only $545 a month can just quit is wrong.

    What arrogance you demonstrate. You are an example of what is wrong with the industry.