Cruise Line Employee Pay, Benefits, and other Compensation

Pay is a big factor for cruise ship employees. If you’ve found yourself wondering how much you can earn and how much you can save while working on a cruise ship, you’re not alone. Here we discuss in greater detail some of the earning potential and pay-related issues that cruise ship employees commonly ask about.

Crew Member Sarah Poses before Reboarding Cruise Ship

The pay you can earn by working on a cruise ship is largely determined by your position. There are, however, a number of other factors that can contribute to your earnings. The size of the ship, the type of ship, the clientele, the cruise liner, tips earned and your job experience will all affect your earning potential. How much you earn will also depend on whether or not your pay is salary or commission-based. Each of these factors should be taken into account when trying to forecast the money you can earn or save by working in the cruise industry.

As a paid cruise ship employee you will have to pay all the income taxes you would normally pay working at a land-based job. Keep in mind though, that there are some big differences to land-based jobs. For example, in most cases, on a cruise ship, your cabin is free. Additionally, for the duration of your contract you will likely have no grocery bills, and in many cases, uniforms are provided by the cruise line. Some companies will even pay laundry expenses. This means that it is possible to bank nearly all your earnings, especially if you don’t have too many land-based expenses.

“I would have saved virtually everything, but I had a lot of shore -based bills, like a car and student loan payments. Before you go, definitely get rid of expenses you don’t need while on board, like car and rent payments. Practically everything was paid for, we really didn’t have any living worries at all. No cooking, no laundry, and our rooms were cleaned for us every day; we even got free dry-cleaning. We did have to pay our room steward ten dollars per week, and that was pretty much it. Of course, alcohol and restaurant stuff is really expensive on the ship. For instance, a beer cost almost four bucks, so if you go over your bar allowance (which I always did), it can cost you a lot.”

A gift shop employee offers this insight:

“I managed to save some money during my six-month contract since I had no expenses and my commissions [tips] started adding up. I could have saved a lot more, though, if I hadn’t done so much shopping in the different ports of call that I went to. Unfortunately, we visited Hawaii right before the end of my contract, and I really spent a lot of money there. I knew someone who worked in a gift shop on a ship and came back after ten months with $12,000 in the bank, but most people don’t make close to this much. Commissions varied a lot, and the most I ever got was $800 a month. A lot of it depends on what kind of passengers you have. Our line was kind of a budget one that offered lower prices. We jokingly called it ‘K-Mart Cruises.’ The passengers tended to be cheap, but that’s not true on all lines. Some of them are really upscale.”

It is true that compensation can vary greatly from cruise line to cruise line. However, on large lines, staff and entry-level positions such as aerobics instructors, youth counselors, junior purser, disc jockeys, and hosts, will receive an industry-standard wage around $1,200-$1,500 per month. Casino workers, waiters, and bartenders depend heavily on tips, which can sometimes double salaries.

Positions such as these tend to be in high demand because of the increased earning potential, and not surprisingly, are harder to procure.

Raises are relatively rare for people who remain the cruise staff, although wages will increase with experience on some ships. Wages increase dramatically when a staff member takes on a new position like that of a cruise director or assistant cruise director. In positions like these, cruise ship employees can make as much as $4,500 a month. Keep in mind though, that these positions are very competitive. One of the top-earning positions onboard is that of a cruise director, a position that can command as much as  $80,000 per year! Although, the average cruise ship director salary is $50,000 annually. Of course, competition for these positions can be fierce, with many qualified applicants competing for only two or three positions per ship.

Luxury Cruise Ship off of St. Thomas, VI Photo

So what can you expect to make? The majority of positions are based on an hourly wage and most employment opportunities on a cruise ship earn $1,200-$1,500 a month. There are though, a large number of positions that can make as much as $2,500 a month equating to $13 an hour. Because work weeks on a cruise ship are typically longer than your typical work week, a cruise ship employee can expect to work over 45 hours in a week on average. Some cruise ship employees will work closer to 60. While this may seem long and arduous, the earning potential of all those hours worked is an excellent payoff.

Again, earnings will vary depending on the cruise line you are contracted with, but in general, you can expect to at least secure a comfortable existence while on board, and have money in your pocket when you depart. Most cruise ship employees do.

Almost every cruise line offers a cruise discount for employees who have been with the company for over a year. Taking your family on a cruise for as little as $15 a day can add up to thousands of dollars in saved vacation expenses, and give your family the chance to see places they might not be able to otherwise experience. While you probably won’t become a million by going to sea, it is possible to enrich your life with a healthy sum of money, and, perhaps more importantly, fond memories.

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