Crew Members Tell This Common Lie to Passengers (and Other Crazy Cruise Ship Secrets)

Is life at sea really all it’s cracked up to be? Of course, your answer depends entirely on the experience you’ve had. For passengers, spending a couple of days on a ship may be the best version of a dream vacation. But for those who call the staff quarters their home for months on end, it’s a whole different story. From terrible food to overbearing guests, there’s an entire world living below deck; a world filled with cruise ship secrets galore.

We’re guessing you’re pretty eager to find out what this common lie is, right? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s start with some things you never knew about sailing the open seas, according to those who’ve called a cruise ship their home office.

1. They don’t eat the same food as guests (and their food sucks)

MS Europa 2, a cruise ship operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Their food is really bad. | Birute Vijeikiene/iStock/Getty Images

Gourmet food on a cruise ship? Fat chance. Before all the cruising fanatics push us overboard here, we’ll admit that there are some good food options on board cruise ships, so there’s that. However, the crew doesn’t dine on the same cuisine the guests do, and most employees agree that their food is absolutely terrible.

According to one cruise ship employee, the “crew food is bloody awful unless you like living on boiled rice.” Apparently, the whole “this food is absolute garbage” notion is a sentiment felt by many a cruise ship crew member.

Next: Here’s why American workers aren’t welcomed.  

2. Cruise ships avoid employing Americans

Cruise ship on Alaska Marine
Very few ships want to pay to take on Americans. | oksanaphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Thanks to international exchange rates, cruise lines attract a wide array of workers from around the world. However, Americans don’t always make the cut, and there’s a reason for it.

According to one Reddit user, “Cruise ships ALWAYS avoid having American staff because they are to [sic] expensive. For this reason you will find few (if not zero) strictly American bound (National) cruises. If they do not stop in a foreign port they are obligated to have American staff.”

Next: There are other parties going on you can’t see.

3. Employees party harder than the passengers

Smiling young women on cruise
It’s more likely the crew will be partying hard. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

What do you think of when you picture cruise ship passengers? Perhaps it’s a brood of overly-intoxicated, definitely sunburned adults hoping to relive their glory days. That visual may be spot-on, but it may not be the passengers who take the cake on overindulgent partying. Turns out, cruise ship crews are known for throwing down while they’re not on duty.

Next: The crew wouldn’t be caught dead drinking with the guests. 

4. And even have their own crew bar (and sometimes hot tub)

Drunk guys at a bar
The crew is partying it up at their own bar. | Polka Dot Images/iStock/Getty Images

To elaborate on the previous point, you may be surprised to learn that there’s a special bar just for the crew. It’s here that employees can partake in any and all after-hours (read: nonworking hours) shenanigans they wish. In some cases, ships may even have two crew bars, at which crew members can find cheap drinks and, of course, a place to get loose. Still not enough for you? Would you believe that some cruises even have crew-dedicated hot tubs? Now that’s a party.

Next: Work is nonstop. 

5. They work 10-16 hour shifts, 7 days a week

Workers and crew members gather during the delivery ceremony of the MSC Meraviglia cruise ship
If they seem overtired it’s probably because they are. | Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

Working on a cruise ship doesn’t provide the most glamorous of conditions. That’s because employees are working nonstop, literally — day in and day out, for months at a time. Ask anyone who’s been employed on the high seas, and it’s clear that down time isn’t a luxury afforded to crew members.

Next: Be sure to tip your crew member.

6. They work on salary and aren’t paid overtime

MSC Musica cruise ship approaching the port in Kotor
Tip your crew. | Makinwa/iStock/Getty Images

We already know that cruise ship crew are worked to the bone, so how about passengers throw them a bone every once in a while, eh? “We’re salaried, so there’s no OT,” one guy said. Overworked and underpaid? Nobody wants that. So, if you ever find yourself on a cruise, do the staff a favor. Don’t forget to tip your bartender, server, and any other crew that’s assisted you along the way.

Next: Here’s what crew members lie to passengers about. 

7. Crew members lie to passengers about nonexistent places on board

This is actually pretty funny. | iStock/Getty Images

The crew deserves to have a little fun. And whether it comes at the expense of paying customers isn’t really their main concern. Turns out, it’s fairly common for crew members to tell little white lies; lies they hope the passengers will fall for.

For example, one Reddit user says that messing with passengers was a regular pastime. This former cruise ship employee admits that he would tell another crew member — loud enough so that nearby passengers could hear — that he’d meet him in the bowling alley later that night. Of course, there was no bowling alley, and the comment cards would ask why the crew gets a bowling alley but the passengers don’t. Go figure.

Next: Travel is a huge part of the lifestyle.

8. Most crew members working on cruise ships do so to see the world

Cruise Ship Vacation Holiday Summer Illustration
It’s a way to see the world. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images

Travel is expensive, there’s no doubt about it. But figure out a way to have your rent, food, and transportation paid for, and you’re looking at the traveling lifestyle of a cruise ship employee. Despite all the awfulness that comes along with it, like living in cramped quarters and serving stuck-up passengers around the clock, there’s a major upside to working on a cruise ship.

Plenty of crew members agree that suffering through the sub par conditions on board is totally worth it. After all, crew are lucky enough to travel the world on someone else’s dime, and that’s pretty special.

Next: It can get really, really old.  

9. Same shit, different day

Friends enjoying sunset on cruise
The passengers may change, but they’re all basically the same. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

Ever feel like you’re on a hamster wheel? Or that you’re living the plot of Groundhog Day? Unfortunately for cruise ship employees, that’s the reality. As one Reddit user put it, “It got mundane really fast. It was basically the same comedy of errors each day of the week, with a different ‘cast’ of passengers each week.” So, the next time you’re on a cruise, don’t think you’re anything but a different dollar sign for the week.

Next: Here’s one of the downsides to going on a cruise.

10. You’ll always end up paying more than you originally thought

The cruise ship Norwegian Epic sails past the Statue of Liberty
All those hidden costs add up. | DON EMMERT/Getty Images

Are cruise ships a total rip-off? Pretty much. With all the added expenses and overpriced items — like Wifi that never works efficiently — it’s no wonder you’ll be spending more than you bargained for. But you probably already knew that. From the moment you step foot on a cruise ship to the second you step off, you need to keep a watchful eye on hidden costs.

Next: The crew members get to know each other very, very well. 

11. Hooking up below deck is completely standard

Cruise Line Carnival, cruise ship Victory Sails from Port George Town
There is definitely canoodling below deck. |

According to just about every Reddit user who’s ever been employed by a cruise line, crew members get down and dirty on the reg. It probably doesn’t help that employees are stuffed into crew quarters like sardines, and they live, work, and party together 24/7. Couple that with being stuck at sea for months on end, and you’re looking at a recipe for disaster for any relationship left on land.

Next: Getting close to guests is a big no no. 

12. But fraternizing with guests is strictly forbidden

Cruise vacation
But not with any of the guests. | levkr/iStock/Getty Images

Hook up with a passenger, and earn a ticket home. That’s the rule on board cruise ships, and it’s in place for a reason. Just think about it. As soon as that line is crossed, professionalism is out the window and the place becomes an orgy at sea. While getting busy below deck may be OK, doing so with the guests is totally unacceptable.

Next: This one may surprise you.

13. When it’s a port day, the crew are off, so don’t bother them

The Carnival Freedom
Leave the staff alone on port days. | KAREN BLEIER/Getty Images

Cruise ship staff work hard, we’ve already established that. So on the rare occasions when they’re actually allowed to unwind and have some time to themselves, it’s important that passengers let them do just that. If the ship is docked for the day, and crew members disembark, don’t bother them. Please.

Unless they’re specifically leading shore excursions or something of the like, it’s best to give them their due space.

Next: Apparently, this is still a thing.

14. They’re trained for pirate attacks

They won’t be like Jack Sparrow. | Disney

Strange as it sounds, a pirate attack is a real threat, and cruise lines need to be prepared. As most cruise ship workers will tell you, they’ve been trained to handle the unlikely event, should it happen. Just take a look at this terrifying situation, for instance, where a ship had to go dark for 10 nights in an effort to dodge one such attack.

In this case, cruise ship employees had been trained to “spray them with fire hoses or activate a sonic boom to deter them.” Furthermore, according to The Points Guy, Princess Cruises said this in an email regarding the event: “In addition to our normal ongoing security training, additional piracy specific training is conducted prior to any of our vessels entering areas of concern.” Yikes.

Next: Can you figure out what these codes mean?

15. They talk in code

Cruise Ship Sea Ocean Tropical Scenic Concept
They have special codes so as not to alarm passengers. | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

Things happen on cruises, but obviously, the crew would never want to send passengers into a full-blown panic. For this reason, crew members talk in code. According to Mental Floss, “Crew members have shorthand codes for everything from fires to medical emergencies, which they can announce over the loudspeaker without alarming passengers.”

Here are a few examples of code terms used aboard cruise ships: Code Adam (missing child), Code Alpha (medical emergency), Code Oscar (man overboard), and Code Bravo (fire on board).

So, there you have it. All the secrets of cruise ship employees revealed. Did we miss any?

Read more: 20 Rookie Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make on Your First Cruise