- I quit my 9-to-5 job in New York City to work as an entertainment host for a major cruise line.
- The first few weeks were overwhelming, but I quickly adjusted to the lifestyle.
- The living quarters are incredibly small and have mandatory weekly inspections.
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Growing up, I was often told I was going to “make it” in New York City, and I always believed it was what I wanted.
So when I graduated from Temple University in 2014 with a journalism degree, I made my way to NYC and got a job at a highly regarded publication in the biz.
But my two-hour commute and cubicle filled with boxes wasn’t glamorous at all. I started getting bald spots in my hair from the stress and often daydreamed about traveling the world full-time, scrolling endlessly on Instagram to discover how I could get paid to be a nomad.
When I found out that onboard cruise-ship employees get a paycheck to travel and meet new people every day, I auditioned to be an entertainment host for a major cruise line, got the job, and left NYC for good on my first contract: seven months out of Baltimore, Maryland, a mere two hours from my hometown.
I joined despite feeling discouraged, and now, six years and 65 countries later, here are the seven things that have surprised me the most about the job:
There are barely any Americans working onboard
I was coined “Erica from America” the very first day I boarded the ship.
As the sole American on a bus full of employees (some who’d worked on ships for over 20 years) about to join their contracts, I stood out like a hotdog at a hamburger party.
There were only nine other Americans working onboard my first ship, and every contract after that, the same pattern followed. The crew comes from over 150 countries, but there’s a very small percentage of Americans working onboard.
Even today, everyone in my life calls me Erica from America.
The first week can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful
The whole onboarding process is always intimidating, from presenting all of your medical paperwork to officers to being thrown headfirst into learning what each fire extinguisher does. I was learning how to operate a deadly, watertight door on my first ship day.
Safety is the most important thing on cruise ships. So whether they’re returning from vacation or are a brand-new hire, every crew member has hours of safety training during their first weeks in addition to their job prep.
I cried in the bathroom every day for a week straight. It is a lot to handle after hours of traveling across the world to join a ship, but life onboard gets so much easier after the first few weeks.
The crew cabins are seriously cramped
Cut a big walk-in closet in half and put two random humans from different countries in there with a wardrobe that has just enough space on each side for exactly five hangers and you have yourself a crew cabin.
Despite the fun of having a mini-fridge to store foods we’re not supposed to keep and a flat-screen TV that can swing to face the top bunk, the shower curtain clings to your butt, and the bathroom is so tiny that you can bathe, brush your teeth over the sink, and use the toilet all in one swoop.
And don’t forget mandatory cabin inspections once a week where staff checks how orderly our space is.
The dating culture is dramatic but can also be amazing
I expected to experience college-like drama on the ship, but the reality was even wilder.
Picture adults who are away for seven to nine months at a time, working extremely hard and under stress but having an incredibly glamorous life trotting around the world.
Some are married. Some are single. Some are married but “single” on ships. Some are undercover. Some are truly amazing partners – but most of the time, you find out the hard way that they’re not.
There are so many heartbreaks but also plenty of amazing love stories on the seas.
It wasn’t hard for me to adjust to the lifestyle
Working onboard a ship isn’t for everyone, and I have seen many people quit within their first month.
We typically work eight to 12 hours per day, with no days off for seven months straight. However, it’s easy to see that the crew who work onboard absolutely love the lifestyle and what they do. You won’t make it otherwise.
As crew members, we wake up in a different country virtually every day and appreciate our free moments 10 times more. Being in such an amazing group is the most special thing I’ve ever felt a part of – we have the biggest sense of community and morale.
Plus we have a three-month vacation between contracts to eat junk food, sleep all day, and catch up on every bit of pop culture.
Crew life is a blast, even after work
Cruise-ship crews are known for partying after work, and let me tell you, we (sometimes) live up to that standard.
There are very strict alcohol policies for the staff, but the crew-bar drinks are cheap and the parties are so much fun, so learning a level of self-control is crucial.
There is an entire HR team on board dedicated to the staff who plan multiple events a week, offer support of all kinds, and organize crew tours onshore.
Some staff positions, like mine in entertainment, get more time off in the ports than others because we don’t work with guests as much while docked.
So I was lucky to have a lot of chances onshore to explore depths of the world I never thought possible, like dog sledding in Alaska, running around Petra in Jordan, and cave diving for glowworms in New Zealand, to name a few.
I was totally alone on this journey
Although I made amazing friends who feel like family onboard, I realized after a while that I was truly on my own throughout this ship journey.
Constantly being surrounded by hundreds of crew members and passengers and becoming close with everyone you encounter is special, but no one will ever experience it exactly the same way as me.
Crew members share a sense of closeness because of our common familiarity with being global citizens, but every time I came home from a contract, it was harder to relate to friends and family on land.
I’m so lucky to have a supportive family who came to visit a ton. It’s hard to describe to someone who’s never experienced ship life, but it can get lonely while also being the most enthralling and fulfilling thing you could ever choose to do.
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