These Are The Secrets Your Cruise Ship Captain Won’t Tell You

The job of a cruise ship captain is anything but romantic. Actually, it’s quite stressful. These employees are responsible for thousands of passengers and hundreds of crew members hailing from different corners of the globe. Captains and employees do their best to give you an unforgettable vacation chock full of precious family memories. But that doesn’t mean that behind-the-scenes, way down there in the A-deck, things aren’t going awry.

Captains keep hundreds of cruise secrets close to their chest to protect the ship’s flawless image. But deep down, floating hotels are much more dramatic. Direct from employee’s mouths, here are 10 shocking cruise secrets that prove a life (and career) at sea is choppy at best.

1. We use code words for privacy

Captain Julian Burgess stands on board Queen Elizabeth cruise ship
They don’t want to alarm passengers. | Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

Employees on a cruise ship often speak in codes over the loudspeaker as to not alarm nosey passengers. They have a short code for almost every occasion that obscures what’s really happening on deck. Some of the most urgent secret ciphers are:

  • Code Bravo: Fire or other serious incidents.
  • Code Alpha: Medical emergency
  • Code Charlie: Security threats
  • Code Oscar: Passenger overboard

Additionally, when a crew member calls a passenger a “banana,” it means they are a particularly bad tipper.

Next: The real reason why you get sick on a boat

2. Germs spread like wildfire and there’s nothing you can do about it

Royal Caribbean Ship Carrying Hundreds Of Sick Passengers Returns To Port Early
Illnesses spread like crazy on ships. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

To hear captains tell it, fighting germs on a cruise ship is almost always a losing battle. Housekeeping makes every effort to disinfect surfaces and keep illnesses at bay (they’ll make the evening news cycle if too many passengers get sick) but it hardly helps.

Sickness can spread through a whole ship in a single day with no mercy. It’s for this reason crew members will sometimes quarantine sick passengers if they mention particularly violent symptoms. Still, many say it’s likely you’ll get sick if someone bunking near you is under the weather.

Next: Cruise secrets that prove privacy is overrated

3. You’re probably on camera

Man in hot tub on cruise ship
Unless you’re in your cabin, you’re on camera. | Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Even in the middle of the ocean, Big Brother can still find you. All those nooks and crannies on a cruise ship are usually being monitored discreetly. In fact, a cruise ship worker told Mental Floss that passengers are being filmed most of the time.

“It is safe to assume if you are outside of your cabin you are probably on camera,” he says. “In the event of any kind of emergency, they could pull security footage at any time.” So act accordingly.

Next: This is what happens when passengers act out

4. Ships have a jail — and a morgue — on board

Transporting dead
Death happens on board. | Pedro Nunes/AFP/Getty Images

There’s bound to be a few bad apples on a boat packed with thousands of guests. And when they act out, the cameras will catch them. Most ships have a security force and operational procedures for any type of criminal activity that occurs. Crime depending, unruly guests could find themselves in a holding cell, a small padded room, or locked into bodily restraints.

Unfortunately, death onboard a ship isn’t uncommon either. Many ships have small morgues that can store multiple bodies until they return to shore. According to one employee, people die on the ship “pretty regularly.”

Next: They can’t really stop a snooping passenger

5. The doors don’t lock

door with a please do not disturb sign
That’s the best you’ve got. | DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

The doors to your cabin do not lock. Actually, captains say most doors on the ship remain unlocked in case of emergency. This means two things: a “Do Not Disturb” sign is your only chance for privacy in your cabin and sneaky passengers can get into almost any room at night when curiosity gets the best of them.

Next: What captains think passengers miss out on most

6. The best view is not by the pool

cruise passenger by pool
Don’t sit around by the pool all day. | Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

Captains, like airline pilots, have the best seat in the house when chartering a boat through pristine waters. But distracted passengers hardly notice. Fox News interviewed Captain Rune Myre, a veteran of Norwegian Cruise Lines, to get the inside scoop about working on a boat. When asked about what guests often miss out on while at sea, he says it’s the marine life.

“A lot of people are hanging around the pool deck, listening to music, chilling, climbing the walls, whatever. I see birds, flying fish, dolphins, and sometimes a whale.”

Next: Sometimes, it’s like they’re sleeping with their eyes open.

7. We’re probably pretty tired

Workers and crew members gather during the delivery ceremony of the MSC Meraviglia cruise ship
They work a lot. | Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

Working as a cruise ship employee can be pretty demanding. One employee details a less-than-glamorous schedule for those not tasked with maneuvering the ship. In his words, “We often have a late shift immediately followed by a morning shift, which means 5 hours of sleep, max. Working less than 10 hours is considered to be an “easy” day, and we end up talking about what we’ll do on our hours off, rather than our days off.”

On the other hand, Captain Rune Myre tells Fox News he enjoys his work schedule. A full 10 weeks on board the ship can be rough without much sleep, but the 10 weeks off that follow are quite enjoyable.

Next: Salaries on board aren’t always worth it

8. We’re the only ones that make any real money

A foreign crew member serves drink on cruise ship
Other jobs don’t really make much money. | Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

With so much drama, disease, and danger aboard a cruise ship, it’s a wonder why people would choose to captain one as a profession. For most cruise jobs, the money isn’t worth the stress once you factor in the long hours and demanding workload. Cruise Critic broke down typical ship salaries and found cruise ship captains are the some of the only workers who earn significant cash on board. Some other noteworthy salaries include:

  • Captain: More than $150,000
  • Hotel director: About $100,000
  • Executive chef: Roughly $4,000 to $8,000 per month
  • Bartenders: Roughly $1,800 to $2,500 per month
  • Housekeeping: Roughly $1,300 per month

Next: Employees are at the mercy of passengers

9. Passengers control how much the crew gets paid

A crew member of the Costa Fascinosa, th
Reviews break down pay. | Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images

Tips and bonuses make up must of a cruise ship worker’s wages. Many lines charge guests a mandatory gratuity that gets divided among employees at the end of each charter. But it’s passenger reviews that influence the breakdown of pay since it’s what supervisors pay attention to most. One guest complaint that mentions an employee by name could mean a thinner paycheck for one worker while another rave review could translate to serious cash for another.

Next: This one thing is the most valuable item for cruise ship workers.

10. Crew members exchange external hard drives like candy

MS Europa 2, a cruise ship operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
They need to stay connected to dry land to stay sane. | Birute Vijeikiene/iStock/Getty Images

Wi-Fi is one of the most expensive things on a cruise ship — and workers aren’t entitled to a staff discount. Employees on a ship for weeks at a time burn through data checking social feeds and staying connected to the outside world faster than most people on land ever would.

An employee confesses to Buzzfeed that external hard drives pre-loaded with movies, music, and other entertainment are treated like treasure and get passed around from employee to employee frequently. It’s one of the few ways they stay sane.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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