Do Cruise Ship Employees Get Days Off?

Cruise Ship Sailing
Image by: Rob Lilley
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Many passengers would ask me after a week-long cruise if I was going to get the weekend off. I was always a little shocked they didn’t know the truth about our schedules, and they were just as shocked when they found out the real answer.

Most cruise ship employees do not get any days off. They work 7 days a week with contracts that last between 5 to 9 months at a time. Instead of days off, they get a certain number of hours off each day, which varies depending on their position. The only exception is if they are sick or injured in some way that prevents them from working temporarily. 

For example, as an Internet Cafe Manager, I worked an average of 9.5 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 month contracts. I would get 2 months of vacation time between contracts.

It’s hard for passengers to imagine we don’t get days off, but here are a number of reasons why this makes sense. And, there’s one unique position on board that does get days off, which you’ll see below….

Cruise ships only hire the minimal number of crew they need

You’d think cruise ships would hire a few extra people so crew members can take a few days off, but that’s just not the way it works.

Cruise ships won’t hire more crew than they absolutely need, and here’s why.

First, it keeps costs down. Each crew member represents another salary, more food, and administrative costs. The less crew, the more the cruise ship can save.

Second, there’s not a lot of space for crew members, especially cabin space. With 3 – 4 people per cabin, there just isn’t enough room to fit more.

So it stands to reason, if the absolute minimum number of crew are on board, there’s no chance to take a few days off here and there.

There’s little to no overlap in skills and duties

Another reason there are no days off for crew is that cruise ship jobs are very specific to the individual or department of crew members.

Cooks can’t do the passenger laundry, the cruise director isn’t qualified to fix a broken chair, and a carpenter isn’t going to be one of the dancers (though why not?)

The result is that if you’re not there to do your job, chances are no one else is going to be able to do it.

Cruise ships are a non-stop 24/7 machine

Passengers often think we’ll get a day off when the cruise is over, but most forget we’ve got a whole new group of passengers coming on board the same day, and sometimes in only a few hours.

This day is called ‘Turn Around Day” and can often be the busiest part of the whole cruise for many of the crew.

Imagine “resetting” an entire cruise ship in 4 – 5 hours, from disembarking 5000 passengers, restocking food and supplies, refueling, repairs, bringing on new crew, cleaning cabins and public areas, and so much more.

With such a quick turn around, the ship can’t afford to give crew days off.

But, some crew may get some extra time off on a Turn Around Day depending on their position. For example, a cook may not be needed until the evening meal, and can therefore spend a few more hours off.

Personally, as the Internet Manager, once I reset my passenger list and prepared the Internet room, I was free to leave until right before the new passengers came aboard – perfect for a little shopping in port.

Boredom!

You’d think crew members would never get bored while at sea, but it’s quite the opposite.

Many crew members have been to the same locations over and over and have lost their interest in exploring these same ports.

While on board, any downtime is spent either sleeping, hanging out with friends, or watching movies and TV shows in their cabins.

After months and months of this lifestyle, the crew would often complain of being bored while not on duty – as crazy as that seems.

So having days off would only add to that boredom for most.

Long vacations between contracts

As bad as not getting days off sounds, there is one major advantage – you get long vacation times.

Depending on the length of your cruise ship contract, you’ll most likely get between 1 to 2 months off at a time. This is perfect for going home to see your family and friends, doing errands of all kinds, and relaxing.

In fact, after a long contract, I’d usually crash for the first week and sleep for days.

The irony is that crew at sea very much long to be home, and once at home they long to be back at sea!

What cruise ship job does get days off?

If you work in the spa, you’ll usually get 1 day off every 2 weeks.

And I have no idea why!

Whether a fitness instructor, massage therapist, or hairstylist, you can count on either getting that full day off or taking part days.

Many spa employees would take full advantage of this on port days to help assist with tours or explore the ports on their own – what more could you ask for!

Is it worth working on a cruise ship if you’ll most likely never get a day off?

For me personally, I say yes! Even with the hours you’ll get off each day you’ll still see the world, and the friends you’ll make are more than worth it.

And, you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll adapt to working every day, making this lifestyle feel quite normal and routine.

A Little About the Author...

Rob Lilley is passionate about working on cruise ships, and spent 5 years of his life travelling the seven seas and touching ground on all 7 continents.  With the experience of 2 different job positions in multiple contracts with different cruise lines, from explorer ships to full-sized cruise liners, Rob is keen to share his insider insights with all of those interested in working at sea! More…

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