What Are Crew Cabins Like on Cruise Ships?

Entertainer Cabin
Image by: Zach Tyner

One of the most frequently asked questions I received while working on Cruise Ships was… What are the crew cabins like?

And it’s a great question because passengers know our cabin accommodations probably aren’t the best, so they’re intrigued to know exactly how bad the crew cabins can really be.

85% of cruise ship employees (mostly crew) live below the waterline and share very small and dark 9 x 9 cabins with 2 to 4 people in each one. There are bunk beds to sleep in, a small desk and chair, tv, phone, a wardrobe and mirror, a small fridge, and only one bathroom with a sink and shower, shared by all.

Some of the crew member jobs in these types of cabins include cooks, waiters, bar staff, laundry staff and more.

Crew Cabin
My Crew Cabin
Crew Bathroom
Crew Bathroom

These cabins are also so notoriously small that only one person can be standing at a time – everyone else has to jump in their bunks, waiting their turn.

Having a small cabin with lots of people also means you’ll have to get used to waiting for the bathroom. If you all have similar job positions, you’ll need to be creative in terms of working out a schedule so everyone makes it to work on time.

Earplugs are also a must. You’d be surprised how loud someone snoring in a small cabin can be. Or, if they’re doing other things you may not appreciate – like having sex. Yep – be prepared for it!

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I shared a cabin with the Sommelier (Wine Steward). It was a tiny cabin with a small bunk bed (you can see the image above). I had the bottom bunk and he had the top – separating us vertically by no more than 3 feet. One night I was woken by the sounds of him and his casino girlfriend trying to “quietly” have sex together.

Unfortunately, the noises only got louder, and worse. After 20 minutes with no end in sight(!), I put in my earplugs and finally fell back to sleep again.

This happened every other night (as they had the courtesy to spend every other night in her room) and after about the 3rd time I didn’t even hear it anymore.

I know, strange right? It’s amazing what you get used to working on a cruise ship!

You may also want an eye mask as well, as people are coming in and out at all times of the night and the light from the corridor can be blinding. If they’re really courteous, they won’t turn on the cabin light when they come in!

Small cabins like this really suffer if one or more people are messy. Make sure you always keep your small section clean – don’t leave clothes and dirty laundry hanging around.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

As the Internet Cafe Manager, one contract had me in my own cabin for most of my contract. Near the end, a brand new bar waiter was put in my cabin, which is always a little frustrating when you’re used to your own space for so long.

This was his first time at sea and first time away from home. He didn’t really understand the concept of cleaning up after himself, and I was constantly asking him not to leave his dirty clothes all over the floor.

Things finally came to a head one night after I found his dirtly underwear on my pillow. Yep. On my pillow. Last straw…

After a quick chat with the HR manager, he was thankfully moved to another cabin soon after.

And you guessed it – the lower your rank or rung on the ship’s hierarchy, the deeper into the depths of the ship you’ll be. So don’t expect a porthole or window.

In some cases, your lower position may even place you near the bow (front) or stern (back) of the ship where the worst weather is felt as the ship heaves up and down in the waves.

If you’re tendering at a port where the ship can’t dock alongside, the bow of the ship may have the gut-wrenching sound of the ship’s anchor being dropped in the early morning.

The stern has those big ship engines that continuously hum. You may love that sound, or not.

Having said all this, many of my friends in these cabins did get used to the close quarters and really loved it. They made some life-long friends and created some amazing memories.

Also, being in such close quarters and learning to constantly share and be graceful with others can definitely make you a better person, if you choose to learn from it.

The higher your rank, the better your accommodations

If you are one of the staff, you’ll most likely have a slightly larger cabin (10 x 10), but chances are you’ll only share it with one other person or have it all to yourself – making it feel much bigger.

Along with all the amenities you’ll find in the lower ranking cabins (desk, chair, tv, phone, wardrobe etc.) there may be a small couch to hang out on – perfect for having small parties or taking a nap.

Internet Manager Cabin
My Internet Manager Cabin
Entertainer Cabin
Staff Cabin (single) – Courtesy of Zach Tyner
Entertainer Cabin
Courtesy of Zach Tyner

There may be a slightly larger single bed due to the extra space.

You’ll also have your own bathroom, or at worst, be sharing a bathroom with the cabin next to you.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I had a cabin that shared a bathroom with the cabin next to me. When using it, the trick was always to remember to lock their bathroom door, so they don’t walk in on you.

You can imagine how many times I forgot to do that. And how many times I forgot to unlock their door after I was done. Sometimes I was not very popular with the neighbors!

And being above or on the waterline, you may even get to enjoy a porthole or window as well. But, while in port or tendering, be sure to be discreet as I’ve had passengers looking in my porthole!

Staff positions that get cabins like these include managers of departments, concessions like gift shop, casino, spa, music, entertainers and more…

I was fortunate enough to spend half my ship career in these types of cabins – sometimes on my own, but often with roommates.

And roommates can often be the best thing about a contract, especially if you get along and are respectful of each other’s space.

Once, while working on cruise ships…

I had a roommate who had a hard time waking up each morning.

His phone alarm went off at 5:30am every morning – an annoying little tune that would repeat itself continously until his final alarm at 6am.

Since I didn’t have to get up until 7am, it drove me absolutely crazy. I would throw my pillows and yell at him to turn it off EVERY morning.

After no success, I resorted to turning his first alarm off when he was in the bathroom. He soon figured this out and checked each night before going to sleep.

I then turned the volume off on the alarm, which he also discovered. I even overwrote the alarm sound with a white-noise file. He figured that out too.

After 3 months, his contract ended and I was finally able to get some sleep. We remain good friends to this day, but not without always reminding him about his annoying alarm habits!

Who has the best crew cabins on a cruise ship?

By far, Officers have the best cabins. Complete with spacious larger rooms, sitting areas, office areas, large personal bathrooms, decorative art on the walls and more, the officers often have mini-suites instead of cabins. 

And the higher your rank, the better your “suite”.

The Captain obviously has the best of all these accommodations. The bed is usually a double too, if not a queen. And don’t be surprised to see a dresser or chest of drawers as well.

This isn’t too surprising though, as many of the senior officers have their family onboard from time to time and need the extra space.

You’ll also find many of the officers on the top decks at the front of the ship right near the bridge – the perfect place to be if there are any emergencies.

But it’s not all roses for the officers – being at the front of the ship means they feel the brunt of the bad weather.

And when the fog horns are going all night, guess who doesn’t get a good sleep?

Once, while working on cruise ships…

My position as the IT/Communications Officer placed my cabin on deck 10 near the bridge. I was right beside the Hotel Directors cabin, who was often up late at night taking care of passenger issues.

The number of phone calls he would get after midnight, along with our paper-thin walls, made for some pretty sleepless nights.

But other than that it was a great cabin with a big window and an amazing view, and I was lucky to have it.

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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