What it’s really like to work on a cruise ship

Parties, food, seeing the world. There are many reasons why life on a cruise ship is fun. On the surface, no pun intended, the cruise life might sound like the perfect job. Being paid to see hundreds of new destinations, meeting people from all around the world and enjoying the magnificent oceans and sights our world has to offer sounds like a dream. In reality, however, there is a lot more underneath the surface.

I was lucky to be able to work my ship contracts with two incredible people, Beatrice Forler, with whom I am performing in Hamburg next month, and Jennifer Kohl, whose wedding I am attending this weekend. Yes, working on the cruise allowed me to collaborate with two wonderful musicians who have become lifelong friends. It’s also true that I got to explore many places that I wouldn’t have had the chance to see otherwise. Since I am a water lover, it was also amazing to spend so much time around the ocean. Unfortunately though, that’s where the list of positives end for me.

Struggles of a Sailing Singer

Me rocking the yellow Crew Cap and life jacket

I personally found life on the ship a very isolated experience. Thankfully I had my musical partners, but I seldom socialised with anyone else. Although I was officially a crew member, I wasn’t really accepted with the crew since I had a guest cabin, and I wasn’t a passenger either. It left me in a kind of No Man’s Land. Despite what I had heard of ship life with all night parties and fast friendships, I wasn’t able to experience it.

If you think office politics are bad, it’s nothing compared to the ship. Because you are literally living with your colleagues and there are only so many places to go, there is no escaping them. It’s like being in a small, floating village. And just like in small villages, people talk. Although there’s the attitude of “what happens on the ship, stays on the ship,” there was definitely no keeping secrets. Everybody knew everybody’s business. Given that I usually try to avoid gossip and drama, I found it a difficult environment to adapt to, with no escape when I was feeling overwhelmed.

The 1%

One of the most striking things on the cruise was the unbelievable difference between the passengers and the crew. On the ship, money plays no part. The passengers pay a small fortune to do round the world journeys, and they expect perfection. I often heard people complaining that their 5-Star restaurant food didn’t look exactly like the plate that the next table had received, and the way people would speak to the waiters and other staff was sometimes horrendous.

There is also a disgusting amount of waste on the ship. I once overheard a senior member of staff say that on average, they receive one tonne of food every time they restock, and more than half of it is simply thrown away. So I was left with the reality that this luxury ship with lavish food was travelling to some of the poorest countries in the world where people are starving, and instead of thinking about how we can help them, people were complaining that their food wasn’t good enough. It was the most jarring and eye opening experience I have ever had. For the first time, I got to truly understand how the ‘other half’ lived.

Where in the World is the WiFi?

Being on the ship also cut me off with my loved ones back home. The terrible and extortionate satellite internet could barely send a WhatsApp message at times, let alone allow for phone/video calls. I scavenged for free WiFi anytime I was on land so I could complain how much I was missing home. I probably spent half of my time trying to connect to the internet rather than exploring.

But in a lot of ways, I don’t feel like I missed much. After the first few destinations, everything started to blur together. Despite being in a different country with a new currency, language and culture, everything felt very familiar. All shops tended to be the same and it got old quite quickly. In fact, I developed the habit of walking around for an hour, then settling down in a coffee shop to steal some WiFi before going back on the ship. There were only a few places that really excited me that I made a plan for, like San Francisco in the USA and Yokohama in Japan.

The true Wonders of the World

Woman feeding fish to a family of stray cats in Morocco

Don’t misunderstand me though, the places I visited were amazing and I saw some incredible things. But the biggest impact on me was the world’s natural beauty and witnessing the love and kindness of people. Seeing a baby whale swimming with its mother in Mexico for example, and when I saw a school of dolphins swimming alongside the ship in the middle of the Atlantic. One of my personal favourite human stories was seeing an older lady in Morocco take a bag of fish to feed a group of stay cats on the street, something she does every day. Those acts of kindness encouraged me that there is still a lot of good in the world. And the solitude I experienced actually taught me several valuable lessons.

Whale watching in Mexico

Firstly, I learned that I can cope in a variety of situations. I relied heavily on the support of Jenny and Beatrice, though, so without them, it could have been a different story. But most importantly, I learned that love is the only thing that matters in this world. Whether that’s the love of a partner, parent or friend, being with your loved ones makes everything ok.

There are, of course, positives of working on a cruise ship, but it comes at a cost. For me, personally, I find it difficult and it isn’t my way of life. But for others, it is a great career. I met people who would work on the ship 10 or 11 months a year, take a month off and then start a new contract again! But one thing that I can definitely never deny: it was an experience I’ll never forget.