How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?

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Royal Caribbean Crew Members smiling at the camera

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If you’re considering getting a job on a cruise ship or a curious passenger, 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 much work behind the scenes. From the cabin attendant to the captain, every role is important.

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 captain navigating Panama Canal from bridgePin

Business Insider says cruise ship workers earn an average annual salary of $16,000 to $20,000. Leadership positions can make substantially more with a yearly salary from $30,000 to over $100,000.

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

  • Free food and accommodations while working.
  • The chance to see the world.
  • Onboard discounts.
  • Minimal living expenses.
  • Flights to the vessel.
  • Discounts for you and your family.

It’s important to remember that most cruise ship workers earn towards the lower end of the salary range. Most cruise ship workers make $10,000-$15,000 before gratuities. At the top, the cruise ship captain can earn over $177,000 annually, depending on the ship’s size and years of experience.

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

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

Cruise ship employee contracts are between two and eleven months long, with the average lasting four to eight months with a two- or three-month break between contracts.

Working on a cruise ship means the workers are often away from family for long periods.

Like every organization, the salary of cruise ship employees varies by position, experience, and skills.

How did we get our numbers?

While compiling this post, we checked several sources, including Indeed, Payscale, ZipRecruiter, and Business Insider. We also spoke with 17 current and former cruise ship workers to get an idea of their salaries and what life is like working on a cruise ship.


Cruise Ship Captain

Average Salary: $98,000

Responsibilities: A captain’s role encompasses the overall operation and safety of the vessel, requiring a blend of maritime expertise and leadership abilities.

Cruise ship captains are responsible for:

  • Navigating the ship
  • Overseeing the distribution and use of food, fuel, and water
  • Ensuring passenger safety and satisfaction
  • Maintaining efficient operations throughout the ship

A cruise ship captain’s primary responsibility is navigating the ship, which involves plotting courses, interpreting weather patterns, and making crucial decisions about routes and speeds. The captain also ensures the ship’s maintenance and adherence to safety standards, including overseeing maintenance works and ensuring proper cargo stowage per maritime regulations​​​​.

The captain liaises with port authorities for smooth transit and compliance with various regulations. Captains are on call 24 hours a day and must be ready to take charge in emergencies.

They also play a crucial role in enhancing the guest experience by socializing and greeting passengers, attending to guest complaints, and ensuring high customer service. A captain’s multifaceted role demands strong communication, problem-solving skills, and the ability to remain calm in emergencies, making it a challenging yet rewarding position​​​​.

Cruise Director

Average Salary: $93,000

Responsibilities: As a senior officer on a cruise ship, the cruise director is pivotal in shaping the passenger experience. A cruise director is responsible for all onboard hospitality, entertainment, and social events.

The responsibilities of a cruise director include organizing and scheduling various activities and events, leading the entertainment team, and ensuring passengers’ safety and satisfaction. The cruise director also plays a significant role in public relations, making announcements and acting as the cruise company’s public face.

This role demands strong leadership, communication, and organizational skills, as they manage a diverse staff across multiple departments and maintain high service standards.

Entertainment Staff

Average Salary: $40,000

Responsibilities: Cruise ship entertainment staff are responsible for various activities to entertain passengers. This includes socializing, leading activities, hosting events like game shows and karaoke nights, teaching classes, live music, and performing in the ship’s shows—entertainers, including singers, dancers, and comedians.

Security Officer

A security guard standing next to the Virgin Voyages logo on the cruise ship Scarlet LadyPin

Average Salary: $35,000

Responsibilities: Cruise ship Security Officers are responsible for maintaining the safety and security of passengers and crew. Their duties include supervising entry points, enforcing ship rules and regulations, conducting safety inspections, coordinating with local port security, and overseeing luggage screenings. Security officers require security training and usually come from a military or police background, excellent communication skills, and the ability to work in a multicultural environment with language and cultural differences.

Engine Crew

Chief Engineer

Salary: $85,000

Responsibilities: The chief engineer on a cruise ship has a vital role that involves overseeing all the technical operations of the vessel, including engineering, electrical, and mechanical divisions. Their key responsibilities encompass maintaining and repairing the ship’s machinery.

The chief engineer ensures everything from propulsion systems and fresh water to air conditioning and life-saving equipment functions properly and meets safety standards. This role also requires managing a team of engineers, ensuring tasks are completed efficiently, and maintaining the ship’s operational readiness for inspections.

In addition to technical duties, the Chief Engineer must possess strong communication skills for liaising with other ship departments and external suppliers. They coordinate modifications and improvements to the vessel’s machinery and provide technical support.

Safety is a paramount concern, and the Chief Engineer must know maritime safety laws and regulations, including fire prevention protocols. This role demands technical expertise, strong leadership, and the ability to manage a diverse team effectively in various situations, including emergencies.

Deck Hand

Operations crew members on a cruise shipPin

Salary: $37,000

Responsibilities: Deckhands on cruise ships are integral to the vessel’s maintenance and safety. They are responsible for upkeep of the ship’s exterior, decks, and common areas.

A deckhand’s duties include:

  • Patrolling the decks
  • Ensuring passenger safety
  • Assisting with ship loading and securing
  • Performing maintenance tasks such as cleaning, painting, and repairing damage

The role requires physical strength, endurance, and knowledge of ropes and rigging. The job involves handling heavy equipment and working in all weather conditions. Deckhands typically work long hours and must adhere to safety protocols.


Hotel Manager


Responsibilities: The Hotel Manager on a cruise ship oversees the Hotel Division, including Entertainment, Food and Beverage, Housekeeping, and the Purser’s Office.

A hotel manager’s primary responsibilities involve

  • Ensuring high standards of operation across these departments
  • Managing hotel staff,
  • Supervising customer service
  • Coordinating with other ship departments
  • Overseeing financial aspects of the ship

They also handle guest queries and complaints and are responsible for onboard sales, maintenance, and administrative tasks. The Hotel Manager plays a crucial role in shaping the passengers’ experience and maintaining the quality and success of the cruise services.

Cabin Steward


Salary: $18,000

Responsibilities: Cabin stewards are responsible for the upkeep and cleanliness of passenger cabins. A stateroom attendant’s primary responsibility is to ensure a comfortable stay for guests. Their duties include cleaning, arranging bedding, stocking supplies, and providing room service.


Salary: $40,000

Responsibilities: The receptionist at guest services is a crucial frontline employee responsible for ensuring a positive guest experience. Receptionists manage inquiries and requests, provide information on ship amenities, and assist with embarkation and debarkation processes.

Executive Chef


Salary: $62,000

Responsibilities: An Executive Chef manages the entire galley staff, ensures food quality and safety, and oversees food preparation for guests and crew. The executive chef also handles administrative tasks like ordering and inventory control, budget management, and ensuring compliance with health regulations.


Salary: $18,000

Responsibilities: Servers are responsible for providing an excellent dining experience for guests. A server role includes:

  • Taking and delivering orders
  • Maintaining a clean and organized dining area
  • Adhering to safety and hygiene standards

It’s not easy serving thousands of passengers every night. Cruise ship servers manage dozens of tables, ensuring fast and top-tier customer service.


Salary: $17,000

Responsibilities: Bartenders are responsible for mixing and serving drinks, providing excellent service to guests, maintaining clean bar areas, and managing beverage stock and costs.

Medical Team

Cruise Ship Doctor

Salary: $80,000

Responsibilities: Cruise ship doctors are responsible for providing medical care to passengers and crew, handling various medical emergencies, and managing the ship’s medical facility. They typically need a specialization in emergency medicine or family medicine and a minimum of three years post-graduate clinical experience.


Salary: $70,000

Responsibilities: Cruise ship nurses provide medical care to passengers and crew, respond to emergencies, and administer treatments. They need a nursing license, at least three years of relevant clinical experience, and certifications like ACLS.

Cruise Ship Worker Benefits


Working on a cruise ship offers unique benefits catering to a different lifestyle than traditional land-based jobs. The long hours and time away from home aren’t for everyone.

Despite the disadvantages, the allure of the sea is hard to resist. Thousands of people flock to the cruise industry for an adventurous career.

Here are the benefits of working on a cruise ship:

  1. Financial Aspects: Cruise ship employees may have a lower salary than the average American, but their living costs are significantly reduced. Cruise lines cover almost all the daily expenses crew members face at sea. As a result, crew members can save most of their earnings.
  2. Comprehensive Employee Benefits: Cruise ship workers receive various benefits, including accommodation, food, training, laundry services, medical care, drink vouchers, and flights to and from the ship. Additionally, many cruise line employers offer access to cruise discounts for family members, contributions to retirement plans, and health and dental insurance.
  3. Accommodation Details: Crew members receive free accommodation on the ship. Most crew cabins are below sea level on deck 0 and are more functional than luxurious. Crew cabins lack amenities like portholes. Higher-ranking staff members have private cabins and more spacious stateroom accommodations.
  4. Dining and Refreshments: Cruise lines provide employees with complimentary food and basic drinks. Crew lines also provide drink vouchers and alcohol packages at reduced rates.
  5. Deals and Discounts: Cruise staff receive various perks and discounts, including reduced cruise fares for family members.
  6. Cultural and Travel Opportunities: Working on a cruise ship still offers the benefit of traveling to various destinations and experiencing different cultures. Crew members can get off the ship on their days off and explore the ports of call.

This blend of financial savings, unique benefits, and the opportunity to travel the world makes working on a cruise ship an attractive option for those seeking an unconventional career path. However, potential employees should weigh these benefits against the unique challenges of this work environment, such as long hours, strict regulations, and limited personal space.

Are there Expenses Incurred for Working on a Cruise Ship?

Royal Caribbean hotel staff pushing an empty cartPin

While working on a cruise ship offers several financial benefits, such as free meals and accommodation, crew members may still encounter additional expenses during their tenure. Here’s a closer look at what these expenses might entail:

Laundry Services: Cruise lines provide complimentary laundry services for staff uniforms. However, personal clothing items may incur a small charge for cleaning. Additionally, essentials like laundry soap and ironing services are available at discounted rates for staff members.

Communication and Internet Access: One of the significant costs for crew members is staying connected. While cruise ships offer “internet cafes” for crew usage, the access is not free. Crew members can purchase internet packages at a discounted rate compared to guests. It’s important to note that the internet connections for guests and crew are usually separate, and staff are generally not allowed to use the internet in guest areas.

Personal Grooming and Relaxation Services: Crew members can use the ship’s salon and spa services, such as haircuts, manicures, pedicures, and massages, at discounted rates. Some cruise ships encourage staff to utilize these facilities, especially when the boat is docked and most passengers are off-board.

Other Potential Expenses: Crew members may incur expenses for alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, and personal travel during time off or between contracts.

Despite incurring some additional expenses, cruise ship staff find that they can save more money than in many land-based jobs due to providing lodging and meals.

FAQs About Working on a Cruise Ship

How Many Hours a Day Do Cruise Ship Workers Work?

Cruise ship workers typically work long hours, often ranging from 10 to 14 hours per day. Some positions, such as entertainers, work fewer hours.

Do Cruise Ship Workers Get Days Off?

Cruise ship workers usually do not have traditional days off. Instead, they have specific hours or parts of the day when they are not scheduled to work. Their schedules are structured in shifts, allowing for some time to rest, but full days off are rare during their contract, which can last several months.

Do Crusie Ship Workers Share a Room?

Yes, most cruise ship workers share a room with one or more colleagues. Accommodations for staff are typically more compact and less luxurious than guest cabins. The number of people sharing a room varies by cruise ship and the worker’s position.

High-ranking employees like the captain and officers have solo accommodation and larger cabins.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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