Do Cruise Ship Employees Hook Up?

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Before I worked on cruise ships, I always wondered whether a lot of the crew hooked up. It was way more than I thought!

In my estimation, 60% of single employees hook up with someone, and 40% of the “taken” people (those that are married, engaged, or in a relationship already) do as well. Some hooking up is inevitable, considering cruise ship employees are in extremely close quarters 24/7. We work, eat, and party together… people are bound to hook up and it definitely happens.

From complete debauchery to fully committed marriages; being “sea hot” and the “walk of shame”, read on to learn more about how relationships at sea work, and when they don’t. 

At sea, friendships and relationships happen much faster than on land

Much, much faster – from days to weeks.

Where it would take me 5 to 6 months to develop a friendship on land, it would only take days at sea. Within a few weeks of joining a ship, I would already have a good handful of regular friends.

It makes sense though, as you’re in very close quarters with lots of other people – all the time. After working, eating and hanging out with the same people every day, you very quickly get to know each other. 

As soon as you join, you also quickly start “checking out” who’s available and who’s not. And they’re checking you out too!

It’s a terrible term, but when you begin your contract you’re considered “fresh meat”, and people start to make claims on you based on who you interact with first.

I would see some relationships forming within weeks, if not days – crazy!

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I had just started dating a girl from the spa, and her single waitress friend jokingly complained that “she found me first” as I had talked with her before I met my spa girlfriend.

Too funny.

Cruise Ship Relationships

Sea Hot vs. Land Hot

One of the funniest things I noticed while working on cruise ships was the “sea hot vs. land hot” paradigm. 

It works like this – on a scale of “hotness” you might be a 6 on land, but at sea you’re suddenly an 8 – just like that. For males and females alike.

When you think about, there are a lot fewer people to choose from, which instantly makes you a lot hotter – supply and demand right?

This usually resulted in people getting a lot more attention than they would on land – which was great for me 🙂 

Some people call this having “sea goggles”, and it would lead to some very interesting situations. 

Like my bartender friend. After constantly being pursued by 5 or 6 different crewmates every night in the crew bar, she told me she’d never got this kind of attention on land and it was really addictive. This was the norm for many.

A few of my guy friends had similar luck. Many of them could never get a date on land, but once joining their first ship, they were suddenly choosing between girls. And, they were not unhappy about this 🙂

I remember a lot of conversations with my friends that would start with, “You know, I think so-and-so is kinda cute”. Which we would then respond with, “sea hot, or land hot?”.  If the answer wasn’t an instant “land hot!”, we’d get the usual hums and haws as they tried to justify their intentions. Too funny.

Another benefit of the “sea hot” miracle was seeing people much more open to connecting with people they normally wouldn’t on land. They were more accepting of different cultures, religions, orientations and very different personality types. This lead to some pretty unexpected relationships – some worked, and some did not.

Once, while on vacation between cruise ship contracts…

A friend of mine asked to see a picture of my cruise ship girlfriend. 

After looking at the picture, then looking me up and down, he said, “She wouldn’t even consider you if she met you on land right?”

“Probably not,” I replied. 

Enough said 🙂

The fishbowl effect

We would often joke that sea life was a casualty of the fishbowl effect – when a group of people are taken out of their usual norms and conventions and put in a completely different environment that’s way less restrictive.

At sea, the usual and healthy balancing effects of family and good friends are gone, with the added fuel of complete boredom and lots of cheap alcohol.

The result is that people tend to do things at sea they normally wouldn’t do on land. 

Complete debauchery can sometimes be the status quo on cruise ships

Whether away from home for the first time, lonely, bored or just sexually curious, you’ve probably heard that hooking up at sea can get pretty outrageous. 

In close quarters, you can’t help but hear about all the sleeping around and care-free sexual activity. I was always amazed to see who was sleeping with who, from the expected to the unexpected. 

There was a general understanding that if someone asked you to “watch a movie” or “have a few drinks” in their cabin, it pretty much meant sex.

And then there is the “Walk of Shame”. I always had early morning shifts and saw this one quite often. The “Walk of Shame” is where you’d see a crew member heading back to their cabin wearing last night’s uniform. 

This was particularly easy to spot with officers as their evening formal uniforms completely stood out. Accompanied by a red and tired face, disheveled clothing, and the absolute avoidance of any eye contact – you could pretty much guess they weren’t in their own cabin last night. Yep – Walk. Of. Shame!

It wasn’t just single people either. Many of my married friends and coworkers would have a significant other (or others) on board – no matter what rank or position.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I became great friends with a co-worker and his girlfriend. We explored the ports together and hung out all the time.

One day he informed me his wife was coming on board for a full week cruise. What? Really? You’re married?

It was a terribly awkward cruise to say the least. She eventually found out he was cheating on her and ended the marriage.

When this subject comes up, people always want to know about Captains. Do Captains cheat too? 

No position on ships is immune – and this is especially true for Captains. Being the ultimate “alpha-male” on board brings its own temptations, and not all Captains can resist. 

Once while working on cruise ships…

One of the younger engineers was suddenly sent home by the Captain on ridiculous and untrue accusations.

Feeling guilty because the Captain was married, she had broken up with him and started to show an interest in this engineer. 

And that sealed his fate!

Not all Captains are that bad, and you can read more about what Captains are like – from the dictators to the coolest person you’ll ever meet – in the upcoming, “What are Cruise Ship Captains Like” post.

Having said all this, there are a lot of “taken” people that do remain faithful to their significant others. I know many fellow shipmates that are happily married and thoroughly enjoy ship life without compromising their relationships.

Some crew relationships are more than just sex

Crew Party

Like on land though, you have the full range of relational hook-ups. Some are just for sex, others are the beginnings of meaningful relationships. I saw quite a few that led to happy marriages.

One friend of mine had a new girlfriend every contract. Within days of joining the ship he’d find “his girl” and would be steady and committed for the full contract. Once the contract ended, so did the relationship. He knew it. She knew it. It was just how it was.

Another friend dated the same girl for years over many contracts, and they did whatever they could be on the same ship over and over.

Others got married and also worked on the same ships for years too, and many finally left ships and began their new lives on land.

I personally only dated if I felt there was a true connection, and had some pretty amazing relationships as a result. Unfortunately, none of them worked out in the long run because of some pretty big hurdles to overcome, which you can read about next…

Crew relationships that don’t work out can get pretty nasty

One of the things I found frustrating about relationships at sea was how bad the break up can be – for everyone.

Like on land, things can get tense between you and your Ex. 

But unlike on land where you can escape or getaway, you’ll be seeing your Ex each and every glorious day while you’re at sea 🙁

Imagine having to be civil at every meal, seeing them in port, and the worst – your former friends already hitting on them at the crew bar. It definitely happens – ouch!

You probably met in the same group of friends too, so their friends are probably your friends – or at least they were.

Sadly, friends end up having to take sides, and groups of people that would normally hang out together end up getting split apart.

But it’s not always terrible. I’ve seen a lot of couples “mature it out…” and remain friends as best they can.

Why relationships at sea rarely work

In my estimation, I’d say only 10% of relationships at sea actually lead to lifelong committed relationships.

Along with all the same obstacles on land, here are a few unique to ships…

Cruise lines don’t accommodate couples that are just dating

The cruise lines have a fair amount of grace to try and help married or engaged couples work together, but not so much for people that are just dating.  

When going well, dating relationships can be great for the crew. But if things go sour, it’s messy – and couples break up all the time. I’ve seen people go from absolutely “in love” to fits of rage for each other in days. Huge drama!

From cabin changes to asking to be transferred to another ship, it’s a logistical nightmare for the HR Department and shore side staff. So they simply don’t try to accommodate people that are dating.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

My girlfriend and I had moved into the same cabin together – and then we had a terrible breakup!

Because the ship was so small with extremely limited crew cabin space, it took over 2 weeks before one of us could be moved out. 

With nowhere else to go, eating and hanging out in all the same places, it was pure agony!

Getting on the same ship at the same time is like playing roulette

Even if the cruise line did want you and your significant other on the same ship, they might not be able to.

Many of the crew that hook up are from different third-party companies that manage them – like the casino, spa and shop departments.

They have different contract lengths that most likely don’t start or end at the same time as the other person.

Even if there is some overlap, it might not be for long.

These third-party companies are also weary about trying to accommodate couples for the same reasons as the cruise lines – who knows what might happen with that relationship and if they’ll be asked to quickly shuffle them to another ship.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I was dating a girl from the casino and it was always challenging trying to get on the same ship at the same time.

We would be together on one ship, then miss a contract. Five months later we’d be together for a few weeks then apart again… so frustrating!

It’s heartbreaking, even when relationships do work out

If the relationship does survive the harsh realities of ship life and the choice has been made to go back to land life, there’s one more big decision that both people have to make – where are they going to live?

People on cruise ships come from many different countries. Chances are someone is going to have to make a major move!

That person may have to get used to a new country and potentially a new culture that’s completely different than their own. 

On top of that, they may even have to learn a new language. 

If this doesn’t sound daunting, the person moving will most likely have to make the biggest sacrifice of all – saying goodbye to their family and friends for long periods of time, if not indefinitely.

Couples from different religions and races may also deal with family and friends that don’t agree with their partner choice. My friend from India got engaged to a girl from Russia, and both their families struggled with it to the point of the relationship not working out.

Very challenging stuff.

Despite the very best of intentions, these issues often become the final deal-breakers, and the end to many cruise ship crew relationships.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I dated a girl from the Republic of Georgia, a small country below Russia. 

Between contracts I went to Georgia several times and met her family and friends. It was an amazing country of hard-working and friendly people – a mixture of the first and third world, its own language and very distinct culture.

The relationship sadly ended though, as the experience showed me my home country of Canada was truly the place I wanted to live out my life. I couldn’t imagine not being with my family. 

Some relationships survive

Crew Getting Married
Photo by Sokol Laliçi from Pexels

Having said all this, I do know of many relationships that have worked out. 

Sometimes the couples came from the same country and only had to move to a new town. A few even made the massive country/culture change and have fully embraced their new lives together. 

True love can take people on some pretty amazing journeys.

In all, cruise ship crew definitely hook up. Some are just in it for the short term pleasure, while others navigate the long and sometimes arduous path to fully committed relationships, defying all probability and borders. 

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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