Every year, over 20,000,000 people embark on cruises. For every ship that sails, between 800 -- 1,500 crew members are needed to take care of them. And just like with hotels, if you want to know what's really going on, check with the staff.
Reddit user maudiestirling asked "Cruise ship staff (cleaners in particular), what are some disturbing secrets passengers should know?"
Here is the behind the scenes look at cruise ships.
Cruise ships have a different safety standard in construction for collisions since it's so unlikely, meaning if there is a major collision it has a higher chance of sinking compared to similar sized ships but the odds are still low to sink since all ships are really well built.
Worked in advertising for 2 different cruise lines. The dirtiest secret I know is that cruises are environmental disasters. Aside from the ecosystem damage a large ship can do in port, once a ship is in international waters normal fuel standards do not apply. So most burn the cheapest, dirtiest fuel they can to save money. It's gross and if you care about the planet you really shouldn't take cruises.
Most massive ships are 2 stroke engines (sometimes more on cruises to reduce vibrations). They have to use thick soupy oil to power these things, and I'm not just referring to cruises, but tankers and cargo ships. It's the only fuel that won't go up like a rocket in the pressure of a 10 ton piston.
There is literally no other fuel that can power engines that big, not because they hate the environment.
When a cruise ship needs to go in for repairs they have a set schedule they have to meet and a ton of money to throw at it. Although, they pay exorbitant amounts of money for the repairs due to the schedule, every contractor has to do a rush job so a great many of the repairs are done shoddily and the ship has no choice but to just leave any unfinished non-critical work undone and sail away.
I used to work as a cleaner (and bartender, and in the restaurant, and in the cafe, and in the dishes) on cruise ships in the Baltic Sea for about 4 years before I went back to school.
We do have a "jail" for the drunkards and the passengers who make a fuss, and as a clearer we started 4-5 in the morning, and every morning I usually walked past and peaked in to see what that night's bounty was.
Ahhh. Nobody mention the roaches. Or what happens when the ship is fumigated.
Playing the Odds
A casino staff member told us that the poker machine payouts are set higher in the first two days to make you win, and thus make you want to play more, then as the ship enters international waters they don't need to have the same regulated payout percentages and it gets lowered so you have a very very slim chance at winning anything after the first few days.
This is why gambling on poker machines is so utterly stupid - they can be programmed to deliver payouts whenever the owners want. It's not like gambling on roulette, or a card game: those are based on physical objects which can't be manipulated like a computer program can. Hell, you could program a poker machine to never pay out, but you can't stop a roulette ball from falling in slots with a particular probability.
I work in corporate for a cruise ship company. A majority of the labor workforce on these cruise ships are recruited from the Philippines, Indonesia, and India. All things being equal. A white crew member will always be paid more than an Asian. Even if they have the same job title and are doing the same work. It's pretty messed up.
Ships are very segregated with respect to culture/race and job. It's comically stereotypical on some ships, with Asians doing laundry and Indians cleaning rooms and Filipenos doing grunt work and cleaning the deck. And of course, Italians running the ship and the engine room.
Tales to Tell
I worked casinos on 23 ships from 89-2000. Over 400 cruises. I could write a book on what goes on. I remember a photog (cruise ship photographer) told me he was asked to go down and take photos somewhere on the lowest deck and he said there was a foot of water down there. We continued to sail for months after that. Nothing was ever mentioned about it again.
Many times I have stepped into an elevator and there were small fires in the free standing ashtrays.
I was working (if I can use this word to apply to casino staff) on a ship sailing across the Baltic from Karlskrona (Sweden) to Gdansk (Poland) with mostly Swedes as passengers. As staff on this particular ship we never did a boat drill or were issued life vests. Unbelievable I know. The Baltic is notorious for rough seas and on one of those nights (I'm talking really bad weather) after work our neighbor, totally freaking out, knocks the door and says "come look at this". We had the only 2 occupied cabins on this row. 3 cabins down the porthole had blown in and water was pouring into the cabin. The ship is flying every which way and my cabin mate starts putting on all his clothes like Joey in friends saying if we're going down I'm not leaving anything. He was a bit of an idiot tbh. I had been in worse storms (Hurricane Andrew to name one) and I'm a pretty calm person so I said we should go to the bridge and check out what's going on. There was one guy up there and he said this is normal. "It's an old ship. Don't worry." I just went to one of the bars. In the morning the ship docked and it was trashed inside. Windows broken with stuff all over the floors. No alarm was ever sounded. We sailed that evening as usual.
Running a Tab
Drinks at the crew bar are INSANELY CHEAPER than at passenger bars.
If I remember correctly, Carnival gave us 30% discounts, as crew members, at passenger bars, and it was still 5x more expensive than drinking below deck.
Spic & Span
I worked on a ship for two summers and could answer loads of questions, but the cleaning standards are very high! There's an organization I can't remember the name of that visits ships randomly to check cleanliness and if the ship doesn't meet standards they can't sail. I worked in the kids activity center and the last day of every cruise we would do a 2-hour special clean with a certain cleaning solution and rags in literally every nook and cranny. Toys get steam cleaned, toys with small holes in them get hand washed, toys with lots of crevices get cleaned with q-tips, etc. Last inspection my ship passed with like a 94% or something like that.
I've been working on ships for almost a decade now, engineering department. When the Ebola scare of 2014 went down I was crewing a passenger ferry. During a safety meeting someone asked what would happen if we got a passenger showing symptoms. We were told the ship would be quarantined until the disease had run its course. Imagine just sitting in the bay on an Ebola ridden ship.
Death on the High Seas
That if you die on board at sea from something other than natural causes (heart attack, old age) your death will probably not be investigated properly. Ships need to get back to port on time to load up the next set of passengers. *sweeps details under rug
Anyone that works below deck and not always in view of passengers usually works 70-80 hour weeks while sharing a cabin the size of a closet with 4 people.
I worked as a musician on cruise ships for a year, ending a few months ago. My main concern was how the cleaning staff are treated. As a musician, we get amazing privileges. The cleaners were doing 7 hour split shifts, so 7 hours on, 5 hours off, 7 hours on, 5 hours off, every day, 7 days a week for up to 9 months straight. All of this for a basic wage of $500. It was appalling. I was on 6 times that amount, doing 3 hours work. On top of this, they're not allowed in guest areas without permission other than the corridor of rooms they clean, meaning they have to wander around the dinghy crew areas every day without barely seeing sunlight.
Modern day slavery.
Just In Case
Getting airlifted off a ship in a medical emergency costs a fortune, and your insurance will likely not cover it. It's the best reason for purchasing travel insurance.
Travel insurance is also cheap. I think it was $20 for a week and included like $1 million in airlifting coverage on top of other stuff.
I'm a student working sidejob on a cruise ships every week. When a ship makes a turnover at the port, we would come and help the crews doing luggage/housekeeping jobs. Since we are only external helpers, I don't know much about what happens during the trip. But during the turnover the schedule is pretty tight. Basically you have to clean rooms/deliver luggage to 3000+ passengers in around 6-7 hours. Everyone is rushed and the rooms might not be cleaned well. Sometime they don't even change the bed/pillow covers, so if you are unlucky, you might get some that have been used for weeks by 10+ people.
Also they don't care about the luggage. It gets thrown pretty violently. At the end of every shift there usually 3-4 broken wheels lying around. (Small tips: check in early, buy luggage with 4 wheels. If we can push you luggage easily, we will be more careful with it, and the later the shift gets, people will be more and more violent with the luggage since we are too tired to do it properly)
Most of the crew doing the hard work are Asian, they have to work 12-13 hours a day and only get paid 5-6$ per hour.
Please for the love of God and all things good, do not get in the swimming pool. I bet you did not know three toddlers defecated in there within the hour did you?
This must vary by cruise. The one I was on, the pool was constantly being drained because of human waste, and they "had to" drain it each time for legal reasons.
Are the stewards trained to read minds? Or are they just amazing at their jobs? Do they have monitors watching the doors to see when you leave so they can clean?
I was taken along on a ladies cruise by a cruise-crazy family member (husband's aunt), and I'd never been on a cruise before. We stayed in the Concierge level (because the one who was paying was posh). My room steward was a Filipino man and he absolutely made my stay amazing. I asked about an extra pillow one day to use as a body pillow, and he took pillows and sheets and made me this big Tootsie roll thing for a body pillow. Every day it was re-rolled with a clean sheet. I loved the toiletries and used up an entire bottle of lotion every day on my sun-burnt body, so each day I began finding 3 bottles of lotion with the clean towels. I ordered an iced tea with 2 lemons in my room after dinner 2 nights in a row and for the remaining nights of the trip, when I came back to my cabin after dinner there was a cold iced tea, 2 lemons each time. I swear the second I left the room for meals it got cleaned or turned down or fancied up. I was a poor slob who spent a week feeling like a queen because of that guy. I asked my posh host about tipping etiquette at the end and she gave me an envelope for him. It had $400 in it. I added another $100 from my spending money. He made the trip for me. Thank you, Filipino steward dude on my Celebrity cruise in April 2013, you rock.
We had a couple leave out 7 sex toys on the counter with a note asking if their steward would like to join the fun.
The note had a yes, no, maybe check box, like in 3rd grade.
We All Go Sometime
I was touring a ship for a future event. The ship was about to leave for a 100+ day cruise. I saw alot of old people getting on with oxygen tanks. I asked him what happens if they die on board. He said it was very common for old people blow their life savings to come spend their last days on this cruise. He also said they have a fully functional morgue.
A lot of people die. Depending on the line, it's not unusual for a couple a week. Depending on the age of the ship, there are decent odds someone died in that room. Also, if you receive an upgrade mid cruise, there's a reason why a room is suddenly available.