I work on cruise ships. Here’s what it’s really like living on board, from windowless cabins to crew parties.

I work on cruise ships. Here’s what it’s really like living on board, from windowless cabins to crew parties.

  • I’ve worked on cruise ships for six years, so I’m familiar with how the crew lives on board.
  • Staffers typically live with a roommate in tiny cabins that have bunk beds and small closets. 
  • We usually eat at our own buffet and hang out after work at the crew bar.

Between the unlimited buffet, glamorous destinations, and entertainment around the clock, living on a cruise ship sounds luxurious, but there’s a whole other world below deck.

I’ve worked on cruise ships for six years, so I’m very familiar with how crew members eat, sleep, and live.

Here’s what it’s really like living on board, based on my experience: 

Most crew cabins are tiny

Crew cabin on cruise ship that is white and blue with a door, desk, and cabinet

The average cabin is about 120 square feet.

Erica DePascale


Measuring around 120 square feet, crew cabins are typically tight and don’t have windows.

a small closet with clothes hung and life vests on top next to a photo of a mini fridge with a tv above it

We have closet space and a small fridge.

Erica DePascale


They’re commonly furnished with a set of bunk beds with privacy curtains, a

mini-fridge
, a desk, a closet, and a TV with a side table.

The crew bathroom on a cruise ship, which is very small with a tiolet, sink, and shower

The bathrooms are extremely small.

Erica DePascale


Although every cabin is equipped with its own bathroom, it’s typically so tiny that you can brush your teeth, use the toilet, and shower at the same time.  

A small room on a cruise ship showing the entrance to a bathroom, bunk beds, a desk, and a door

The rooms come with some furniture.

Erica DePascale


Crew members in higher positions have better cabins

Based on my experience, managers and officers typically have cabins with a porthole and full-size bed, plus an additional fold-down bed for guests.

They also typically receive daily housekeeping while most crew members are responsible for cleaning their own cabins.

Most crew members have roommates 

A crew cabin onboard the cruise ship with bunk beds, a small closet and white walls

Most cabins have bunk beds.

Erica DePascale


Roommates are typically assigned by division, but I’ve found it’s easy to move in with a friend if you’d like.

The bottom bunk is highly coveted in the crew world — roommates usually claim it as soon as the other ends their contract. 

Cabins are divided into ‘neighborhoods’

crew members sitting in a long, beige hallway and chatting

The crew corridors are named after avenues and famous places.

Erica DePascale


There are crew cabins on several floors, from deck 00 — below sea level — to deck three, though the captain and bridge officers typically live adjacent to the bridge higher up.

The main crew corridor that runs up and down the entire ship is nicknamed the I-95, after the popular American highway. It’s always busy with foot traffic and tons of trolleys and carts, so we have to be attentive when walking through it. 

Crew members have to sort their own trash

All of the ship’s trash winds up in the incinerator room, but there are a lot of categories to sort the garbage into.

Although housekeepers sort guest garbage, the crew is responsible for separating their trash into the correct bins.

We also typically do our own laundry

On larger ships, there are multiple crew laundry areas, which resemble laundromats.

But our uniforms can be dry cleaned at the formal laundry area for free.

Staff members often enjoy after-hour parties and events at the crew bar

Cruise ship employees posing for a photo in a room

There are crew activities just about every day.

Erica DePascale


After work, most of the staff hangs out at the crew bar, which is usually a covered outdoor area with a functioning bar and dance floor.

Events like bingo, karaoke, all-crew parties, and trivia happen almost daily.

There is a separate buffet for the crew

The crew mess is a buffet with set times for meals at different points throughout the day.

It typically features more international foods — like Filipino, Indian, and Caribbean cuisine — than the guest buffet to represent the hundreds of staffers from different countries.

The mess often offers special themes, like crepes with the captain or barbecue day, as well as late-night options like pizza and lasagna.  

There are other places for the crew to hang out

Most ships have a crew café where they can order coffee and juice.

There are usually also computer, training, and game rooms. The game room has video-game consoles and popular arcade picks like foosball, air hockey, pool, and darts. 

There’s also a dedicated front or back deck for the staff to enjoy the sunshine on lounge chairs. Some companies even offer a crew pool. 

We also have a human-resources center for discussing needs regarding cabins, payroll, contracts, or crew life.

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