How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?



Marcello De Lio

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.
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If you’re considering a career on a cruise ship or even just sailed on one, you’re probably wondering how much do cruise ship workers make? Although the salary is low, there are minimal living expenses while you’re on contract. Many cruise ship workers can save a high percentage of their income.

According to Business Insiderthe median annual earnings of cruise ship workers is between $16,000 to $20,000. But top positions can make over $100,000 per year.

While it may sound like the exotic vacation of a lifetime, there is a great deal of work behind the scenes. Long working hours are just the start, and not everyone will love living at sea.

This article will help you understand how much cruise ship workers make and provide information on some of the positions on a ship.

How Much do Cruise Ship Workers Make?

Cruise ship workers earn an average annual salary of $16,000 to $20,000. Higher-level positions can make substantially more with a yearly salary from $30,000 to over $100,000.

We calculated the average earnings from the 2018 annual regulatory filings of the three largest cruise operators; Carnival Corporation & plc, Royal Caribbean Group, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Although the average salary differs between cruise lines, these three companies provide valuable insight into the wages of cruise ship workers.

  • Carnival Corporation & plc: $16,622
  • Royal Caribbean Group: $19,396
  • Norwegian Cruise Line : $20,101

Cruise ship workers make far less than the median annual income in the US of $31,561 (in 2017). While the median annual earnings of cruise ship workers are low relative to the US, there are plenty of benefits from working on a cruise ship that is discussed later in the article.

It’s important to remember that most cruise ship workers are on the low end, making $10,000-$15,000 before tips. At the top, the cruise ship captain can make over $177,000 per year, depending on the ship’s size and years of experience.

Working on a cruise ship is a great profession. You can see the world, travel to exotic destinations, and meet amazing people.

It’s important to remember that the annual salary figures don’t consider the number of hours worked. Cruise ship workers are known to work long hours of up to 14 hours per day, seven days a week.

Other workers, such as the ship’s entertainers, may only work a few hours daily.

Cruise ship employee contracts are between two to eleven months long, with the average lasting four to eight months.

Working on a cruise ship means the workers are often away from family for long periods. Many cruise ship employees return home for a few months between contracts.

Cruise Ship Worker Salary by Position

Cruise ship captain navigating Panama Canal from bridge

Like every organization, the salary of cruise ship employees varies by position, experience, and skills. Below, we’ve listed the most common staff positions with salary data provided by PayScale.

How Much Does a Cruise Ship Captain Make?

The average salary of a cruise ship captain is $96,000. Salaries for ship captains range between $44,000 to $177,000 depending on the size of the ship and years of experience.

The cruise ship’s captain is the highest-ranking officer on the vessel. They control the ship and make decisions on operations, navigation, and the safety of guests and crew.

Due to the demanding nature of the role, the ship captain often works on shorter contracts, typically three or four months. While on the ship, they are on call 24 hours a day.

To learn more about the role and responsibilities of cruise ship captains, check out our article on the average cruise ship captain’s salary.

How Much Does a Cruise Ship Director Make?

The average salary of a Cruise Director is $65,000. New cruise directors start at $45,000, while experienced cruise directors can make over $100,000 yearly.

The cruise director oversees all the daily onboard activities and events around the ship.

You will often see the cruise director hosting onboard activities, introducing shows, telling jokes, and kicking off the evening theatre shows.

But, behind the scenes, the cruise director has much more responsibility. As head of the ship’s entertainment, they are responsible for hundreds of crew members, including the performers, musicians, youth staff, activities staff, sound and lighting technicians, and stage staff.

Cruise directors work six to eight hours on port days and up to fourteen hours per day on sea days. They usually work for six-month contracts followed by a six-week break.

Environmental Health & Safety Officer

The Environmental Health & Safety Officer is responsible for safety procedures on the ship. Their role is to implement safety procedures and protocols, generate safety plans, create safety reports, and coordinate the disposal of hazardous components.

They are also responsible for performing regular safety audits of the ship.

The Environmental Health & Safety Officer makes an average of $87,000 annually.

How Much Does the Hotel Manager Make?

Hotel managers are responsible for guest accommodations. Their responsibilities include supervising the department employees, coordinating hotel services, and ensuring positive guest experiences.

The hotel manager on a cruise ship can expect to make $50,000 per year, plus tips.

How Much do Cruise Ship Cabin Stewards Make?

Cabin stewards are among the lowest-paid workers on a cruise ship.

Cabin stewards have a base salary of $10,800 but can make as high as $24,000 with tips.

How Much do the Ship’s Engineers Make?

The cruise ship’s mechanical and engineering department is responsible for repairing, maintaining, and operating the ship’s technical and mechanical systems.

They are responsible for everything from the HVAC systems in the cabin to the engine propulsion systems.

An engineer makes between $30,000 and $85,000 for the chief engineer.

Operations crew members on a cruise ship

How Much Does an Executive Chef Make on a Cruise Ship?

The executive chef is responsible for planning and preparing the meals for the ship’s guests. The executive chef takes inventory, orders supplies, and manages the kitchen staff and operations.

The average salary of the executive chef is $64,000.

How Much do the Assitant Chefs/Sous Chefs Make on a Cruise Ship?

The sous chef is responsible for preparing passengers’ and crew’s food. In addition to cooking, the sous chef is responsible for helping with menu planning, minimizing food waste, and keeping the kitchen budget.

Sous Chefs have an average annual salary of $47,000.

How Much do Cruise Ship Servers Make?

The salary for cruise ship servers varies from $22,000 per year to $50,000 per year for the head waiter. These salary numbers include the gratuities that cruise lines collect and share among the staff.

Servers often work long hours as they are responsible for serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They may make additional money if customers choose to tip more.

How Much do Cruise Ship Bartenders Make?

Bartenders make between $20,000 and $30,000, including automatic gratuities. 

Like servers, bartenders can make more money when passengers tip cash. They also work long hours averaging 12 hours per day, with almost no days off.

How Much do Cruise Ship Performers Make?

The salary of cruise ship performers varies depending on their performance, experience, and cruise line.

  • Musicians make an average of $29,000 per year. 
  • Dancers make an average of $37,200 per year.
  • Guest entertainers make an average of $72,000 per year. This number may be even higher depending on the entertainer and the act’s popularity.

How Much do Cruise Ship Nurses Make?

Cruise ship nurses have an average salary of $71,000 per year. They provide medical treatment and care to the passengers and crew.

In addition to taking care of injuries and sicknesses, they also respond to medical emergencies on the ship.

Cruise Ship Worker Benefits

Although a cruise ship employee’s salary is lower than the average American’s, so are their living costs.

Employee benefits may include accommodation, food, training, laundry services, medical care, flights to and from the ship, cruise discounts for family, retirement plan contributions, and health and dental insurance.

While on contract, crew members receive free accommodation on the cruise ship. The rooms aren’t nearly as luxurious as the passenger cabins, and they are responsible for cleaning their stateroom. Staff performs weekly inspections to ensure that the crew performs routine cleaning.

Fun Fact: Most crew cabins are below sea level, on deck 0. Most crew cabins don’t have a porthole (window) to look out – a luxury reserved for high-ranking staff.

Depending on your position, staff may have a cabin all to themselves or have to share it with one or two other crew members.

Cruise Ship worker decorating desserts for passengers

It’s common for cruise lines to provide three meals a day for crew members. Snacks and coffee are also served, usually in the afternoon and at midnight. However, staff and crew don’t have access to room service.

Cruise ship workers receive a drink allowance redeemed at the crew-only bar. Additionally, they can order more drinks for a reduced price.

Another benefit is the deals and discounts crew members receive. Some cruise lines give perks to their staff, especially if they have been working for multiple years.

Discounts on cruise fares often extend to the crew’s family so they can travel as guests at an affordable price.

Because of the benefits and minimal living expenses, most cruise ship employees can save most of their basic pay. If you add up the savings over many years, it can add up to a substantial amount of money.

Are there Expenses Incurred for Working on a Cruise Ship?

Royal Caribbean hotel staff pushing an empty cart

Although meals and room accommodations are free while working on a cruise ship, crew members may incur additional expenses. The living expenses are minimal, and some cruise lines may cover everything.

Cruise lines typically include complimentary laundry services for staff uniforms. However, the price for cleaning personal clothing items is minimal. The cost of laundry soap and ironing is also discounted for staff members.

Phones and the internet are also not included for crew members. Although cruise ships usually have “internet cafes” where crew members can connect to the internet at a price cheaper than what guests pay.

Additionally, the crew can purchase phone plans and WiFi packages to easily access the ship’s network. Cruise ships usually have different connections for guests and crew and typically prohibit staff from using the internet in guest areas.

The staff uses the ship’s salons and spas for haircuts, manicures, pedicures, and massages at discounted rates. Some ships even encourage workers to use the spa services when the ship is at the port, and most passengers aren’t using the facilities.

FAQs About Working on a Cruise Ship

How Many Hours a Day do Cruise Ship Workers Work?

Most cruise ship workers work between 10 to 12 hours daily, with regular breaks. The number of hours crew members work depends on their positions. The ship’s entertainers may only work three hours a day, while the Cruise Director can work up to 14 hours in a single day.

Do Cruise Ship Workers get Days Off?

Most cruise ship workers don’t get days off. They generally work long hours, seven days a week, for the duration of their contract. At the end of their contract, many crew members will return home for a few weeks before the start of their next contract.

Where to Cruise Ship Employees Live?

The cruise ship employees live on the crew decks. These staff-only decks are usually just above sea level, but many crew members sleep below sea level on Deck 0.

The crew cabins are much smaller than the passengers’, and many don’t have a porthole or window. The captain and high-ranking officers typically have solo accommodations near the bridge.

Do Crusie Ship Workers Share a Room?

Depending on the employee’s position, they may share a room with one or two other crew members. Most cruise ship workers share room accommodations with other staff members.

It is common for crew cabins to have bunk beds and private bathrooms. Although, some older ships have shared bathrooms for the crew. High-ranking employees, such as the captain and officers, usually have larger single rooms.

Do Crusie Ship Workers Get Free Accommodations?

Cruise ship workers have free accommodation while working on the cruise ship. Most of the cruise ship workers we interviewed said free accommodation and traveling the world are the first reasons they want to work on a cruise ship.

Do Crusie Ship Workers Get Free Food?

Cruise ship workers get free food and have separate cafeterias and bars from the guests.

Do cruise ship employees Get Free WiFi?

Most cruise ship employees don’t get free WiFi on the ship. Staff can purchase an internet plan at a reduced rate from passengers’ pay. Most cruise ship employees wait until they are at a port to find a free WiFi hotspot to connect with family and friends back home.

Bottom Line

Cruise ship workers don’t get paid much for the work they do. But with minimal expenses and the chance to travel the world, it’s no wonder cruise ship crew members love what they do.

If you’re considering a career in the cruise industry, check out our article on how to get a job on a cruise ship.

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About the author

Marcello De Lio

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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