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How Working on a Cruise Ship Works

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Life at Sea

Cruise ships are designed to help passengers relax, but operating a vacation vessel is a lot of work. Staffers and crew members typically can expect to work upward of 70 hours per week, more for cooks and other restaurant workers. There is no such thing as a "weekend" in the life of a cruise ship employee, and there are no days off. Instead, workers usually serve several months on the job, followed by a long stretch of vacation time that may or may not be paid [sources: Motter, Norwegian Cruise Line].

Royal Caribbean, for example, offers most workers assignments lasting from four to six months. At the end of the assignment, each worker gets about eight to 10 weeks of vacation before taking on another assignment. Similarly, assignments with Norwegian Cruise Line range from four to nine months, with several weeks of vacation to follow. Both companies offer paid vacation time to some senior level employees. Other benefits, like health insurance, retirement plans and – yes – cruise discounts vary, based on position.

When staff and crew members aren't working, most ships are equipped with facilities designed to help workers make the most of their downtime. That often includes an employee gym, lounge, library, game room, Internet café and mess hall. It also likely entails at least one crew bar, where many ship employees like to put the "work hard, play hard" philosophy to the test. Although most ships operate under strict fraternization rules prohibiting a worker from being alone with a passenger, those rules do not apply to co-worker relationships. Ask a cruise ship veteran what it's like working aboard a vessel and they're likely to trot out some tired cliché, about the ships being like Las Vegas: What happens there, stays there.