What are the perks of working on a cruise?

Working on a cruise ship can be an exciting and rewarding experience for those looking to travel and see the world while earning a living. Cruise ship jobs offer unique benefits and perks that aren’t typically found in land-based jobs. In this article, we’ll explore some of the top perks of working on a cruise ship.

Travel Opportunities

One of the biggest perks of working on a cruise ship is the ability to travel and see the world, often visiting multiple countries and cities in a single contract period. Most cruise ship jobs include free travel, meals, and accommodations as part of the compensation package. Employees have the chance to explore international destinations they may not have had the opportunity or funds to visit otherwise. Ports of call may include exotic Caribbean islands, the Mediterranean coast, Alaska glaciers, Hawaiian volcanoes, and more depending on the cruise line and ship deployment. For those with a restless spirit and wanderlust, a cruise ship job literally pays you to travel.

Tax-Free Income

Because cruise ships are typically registered in foreign countries and travel in international waters, on-board employees are able to earn an income free of U.S. income taxes. This tax-free income results in a significantly higher take-home pay that goes further when traveling abroad. Employees from the U.S. and other countries only pay taxes in their country of citizenship, not where the ship is registered. It’s important to note that taxes still need to be filed and paid in one’s home country. However, the tax benefits alone can equate to a sizeable effective raise for cruise ship workers.

Room and Board

In addition to a paycheck, most cruise line jobs also offer free room and board including your own personal cabin and all meals in the crew mess hall. The room and board benefit eliminates the need to pay for housing, utilities, and food – expenses that could eat up a big chunk of your take-home income if working a land-based job. Having these basics covered frees up more of your earnings to save or spend during travels. Crew cabins also ensure you have your own personal space to rest between work shifts.

Low Cost of Living

Not only is room and board covered, but living expenses in general are very low when working on a cruise ship. Since you have limited opportunities to spend money while at sea, there is little need for non-essential personal items or shopping. Any purchases made in ports of call while on personal time are usually tax and duty-free. Meals are provided at scheduled times in the crew mess halls. Shipboard crews also have access to gyms, pools, sports facilities and other recreational activities at no cost that would normally carry a fee on land. Your income stretches a lot further when basic needs are already met.

New Friends & Social Life

Cruise ships employ staff and crew from all over the world, providing an incredible opportunity to meet people from various cultures. Long-term friendships and relationships often form from the unique experience of living and working in close quarters on a cruise ship. The social environment also lends itself to forming tight bonds and camaraderie with your fellow shipmates. Crew members will likely spend their free time together enjoying activities, sharing meals, and taking advantage of shore leave. If you appreciate diversity and making connections worldwide, you’ll find a sense of community and belonging.

Career Development Opportunities

Working on cruise ships allows you to develop your skills and grow your career in ways that are more limited in land-based jobs. Many cruise lines offer internal training programs and opportunities for advancement and promotion as you gain experience. You can often move between departments or up the ranks to earn higher pay and take on more responsibility over successive contracts. The training and global expertise you gain are highly valued by future employers. Those with natural ambition and motivation can benefit greatly from the accelerated career development.

Flexible Schedule

While onboard the ship, employees work on a rotational schedule that provides blocks of free time between shifts. The work schedule varies by position, but commonly follows a pattern like 2 months working followed by 2 months of leave/vacation time. During leave periods you are free to travel independently, return home, or even find temporary land-based jobs. This can make it easier to maintain personal relationships and commitments back home. The rotational schedule also provides a nice balance of work and quality rest periods compared to unending daily 9-5 schedules common on land.

Tips & Gratuities

Certain cruise ship positions that involve guest interactions such as waiters, bartenders, and cabin stewards, are eligible to receive tips and gratuities from passengers. This can result in hundreds of dollars of additional income per month on top of your base pay. Payments by credit card onboard also give you access to cash gratuities upfront rather than waiting until payday. Just keep in mind that gratuities are taxable income. The potential for tips provides a nice boost and reward for good customer service.

Free Uniforms

Cruise lines want their staff looking sharp, so they take care of providing uniforms appropriate to each job function free of cost. The cruise line laundry facilities also handle cleaning the uniforms so you don’t have to hassle with doing laundry yourself. One less thing to supply and maintain. Having uniforms pre-selected lets you roll out of bed and get straight to work looking pulled together. They help distinguish crew from passengers when on duty. Certain positions may also receive a uniform allowance to purchase approved shoes.

Adventure & Variety

Working on a cruise ship is hardly your normal routine office or retail position. Every day offers new adventures and opportunities for unique experiences that most land-based jobs do not. You may help with shore excursions one day and then serve elegant meals in a fine dining room the next. No two days are exactly alike with constantly changing views and passengers. There are always new places to explore on your time off. The constantly changing environment and job duties keep things interesting and engaging for those who crave variety.

Friendly Passengers

A major perk frequently cited by cruise ship employees is getting to interact with the friendly, happy passengers that choose to vacation on cruises. Cruise guests are often in a great mood enjoying their vacation while being served. They tend to be very appreciative of the hard-working staff and go out of their way to be polite. Developing positive relationships with considerate passengers can be very rewarding. You help create enjoyable, lasting memories for them. It’s simply more fun reporting to work each day in a pleasant environment with positive attitudes all around.

Recreational Activities

After a hard day’s work, crew members can blow off steam by taking advantage of the many recreational facilities available onboard most cruise ships. These include swimming pools, water slides, gyms, sports courts, jogging tracks, movie theaters, bars and dance clubs exclusively for crew members. There are tons of fun ways to spend your free time that help you recharge and bond with your fellow shipmates without ever paying a cent. Most ships also organize recreational activities and tournaments adding camaraderie. The activities make the confined environment more entertaining.

Spa & Salon Discounts

Pampering yourself is made affordable with hefty crew member discounts at the onboard spas, salons, fitness classes and thermal suites. Take advantage of discounted teeth whitening, hair styling, massages, acupuncture and more at a fraction of what passengers pay. Look your best and take time to relax when off duty without breaking the bank. Most ships offer crew-only hours so you can enjoy uncrowded appointments. Discounts range from 25-75% off making services budget friendly.

Future References

In addition to gaining transferable skills, working on cruise ships can give you an advantage by bolstering your resume and credentials for future job opportunities. Recruiters and hiring managers look favorably on the international service experience and cultural adaptability of cruise ship employees. Living and working in close quarters cultivates teamwork abilities as well. Being able to obtain references from cruise directors, department heads or long-term colleagues after establishing your abilities strengthens future job prospects.

Global Networking

A major advantage to working internationally is all of the networking opportunities it provides. You will undoubtedly cross paths with thousands of people from all corners of the globe, both crew members from a wide array of departments as well as worldly passengers. These connections may lead to career openings you would have never encountered back home. Friends made onboard often span geographical distances and cultures. The global networking possibilities from a close-knit on-ship community are invaluable.

Free or Discounted Cruises

One big perk for cruise ship employees is the chance to cruise for free or at a steep discount on your time off. Taking advantage of open bunks or discounted companion fares allows you to continue exploring exotic destinations, often with a friend or family member. Familiarity with the cruise line helps secure bookings since you already understand the company culture and services. Free or cheap cruising is a great way to unwind between contracts while deepening your knowledge as an employee.

Perks by Position

While all cruise ship jobs come with amazing travel, room and board benefits, some positions offer additional advantages.

Performers & Guest Entertainers

Ship entertainers and theater performers receive costumes and makeup provided by the cruise line for shows. Specialty acts often have large production budgets allowing for spectacular sets and effects. Backup musicians and bands are provided for musical acts. Entertainment jobs provide publicity and exposure.

Retail Shop Staff

Employees in onboard retail shops have access to shop inventory at heavily discounted prices and boutique shopping events. This allows for deeply discounted designer clothing and jewelry. Retail employees also receive higher commissions from sales than land-based jobs.

Youth Staff

Youth program employees have opportunities to implement creative activities and themes when supervising kids clubs and teen events. Events often include character costumes and interactive entertainment elements. Youth staffers get to make activities fun rather than simply supervising play.

Bar & Casino Staff

Those working in bars, lounges and casinos earn much higher tips than comparable land-based positions. Casino employees receive free meals in the crew mess during work hours. Casino and bar personnel also typically receive nicer uniforms than other positions.

Spa & Salon Staff

Employees at the spa, gym and salon have unlimited access to specialized equipment like hydrotherapy pools, saunas, steam rooms and fitness classes for self-use without paying passenger fees. They can schedule free services during off-peak times subject to availability. Hair stylists get deep product discounts.

Photographers & Videographers

Imaging professionals receive formal photo gear and extensive supplies like albums, frames and editing software from the cruise line. They gain expertise through diverse settings and subjects while traveling. Adding new portfolios expands skills.

Challenges to Consider

While cruise ship jobs do offer some alluring perks and benefits, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are some real challenges and drawbacks to weigh as well when considering working onboard.

Long Hours

Most shipboard positions involve working longer days than traditional 8 hour shifts. Certain departments like entertainment, restaurants and guest services routinely work 10-14 hours when ships are sailing. Hours are sometimes extended when employees are understaffed. Schedules usually encompass early mornings, late nights, weekends and holidays. The long hours are tough but do afford more days off between contracts.

Little Private Time

Between shared crew cabins and lengthy workdays, personal time is limited onboard busy ships. Cabins are small with roommates on opposing schedules. Time alone in your cabin may be early morning or late at night. Days off are better for personal time but still involve communal crew areas. true privacy or solitude is hard to find outside your cabin. Introverts may find the constant company taxing.

Limited Communication

While communication capabilities have improved onboard cruise ships, staying in touch routinely with family and friends back home can still prove challenging. Internet access is constrained by bandwidth limitations, especially the farther ships sail from land. Phone calls are expensive from sea, usually around $7-10 per minute. Communication requires planning for optimal times when close to shore.

Confined Space

Regardless of a ship’s size, crew members are confined to that floating space for the entirety of their contract. For those used to wide-open freedom on land, the containment can take getting used to. You cannot simply hop in your car and escape when feeling cooped up. Cabin fever is not uncommon near the end of long contracts. Be prepared to find creative outlets when off duty. Outdoor deck space provides relief.

Rough Seas

Seasickness is a very real issue that affects some crew unaccustomed to the constant motion of waves. Overflowing pools and tosses dishes in the dining room during stormy weather can make for challenging working conditions. Big waves tossing a massive ship take getting used to. Medicine and acclimation help, but rough waters present an occupational hazard for those prone to sickness.

Tax Requirements

While cruise ship income is free of U.S. taxes, employees still have to file taxes back home including forms for foreign earned income. Consulting an accountant helps ensure you avoid penalties and complications. Taxes must be set aside from each paycheck. American cruising employees still pay applicable Social Security, Medicare and self-employment taxes.

Tight Quarters

Ship cabins are notoriously compact, with square footage comparing to a small bathroom or closet on land. Employees seldom spend much time in their cabins when not sleeping, but the tight space can be uncomfortable. Between bunk beds, a roommate, and cramped bathroom, you live on top of your cabin mate. Personal items must be well organized and stowed. It takes compromising and cooperation in tight quarters.

Is a Cruise Ship Job Right for You?

Working onboard a cruise ship certainly has some alluring advantages, but also comes with real challenges. Ultimately, you have to decide if the pros outweigh the cons based on your personality, values, lifestyle and career ambitions. Free travel and low expenses are a dream for some, but unappealing for homebodies. Here are some tips for deciding if cruise ship work fits you:

– Consider your career aspirations and if the experience aligns with future goals
– Determine your needs for personal space, privacy, communication and free time
– Assess your comfort with extended periods in confined spaces and crowded areas
– Reflect on your ability to tolerate long workdays and variable schedules
– Think about your susceptibility to loneliness or isolation when away from home for months
– Analyze typical offshore weather patterns and your tolerance for sea conditions
– Research the culture and employee satisfaction rates of various cruise lines
– Talk to people who have worked on cruise ships to gain first-hand perspectives

Carefully weighing the benefits and challenges will determine if the cruise ship lifestyle suits you. An open mind, flexibility and adventurous spirit tend to predict satisfaction and success working at sea. It’s a unique opportunity unsuitable for everyone, but immensely rewarding for those well-suited.


Working onboard a cruise ship offers a chance to earn a living while traveling the globe, gaining new experiences and developing skills. The combination of tax-free income, free room and board, low living costs and benefits like discounted travel perks can enable substantial savings. Employees also enjoy social activities, recreational amenities, career development and exotic adventures not found in land-based jobs. However, the confined living conditions, long work hours, limited communication, rough seas, tax requirements and lack of privacy pose challenges for some. Weighing the pros and cons based on your own preferences and abilities will determine if ship life suits you. For travel-loving, ambitious, social and adventurous individuals, a cruise ship job can be the opportunity of a lifetime!

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