Working on a cruise ship? Here's what you need to know.
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
Have you accepted a job working on a cruise? Or are you considering it but wouldn’t even know where to start? How and what do I pack? What’s the deal with cell phone service, wifi, and international phone plans? What’s it like to travel the world? First of all, take a breath and relax. It’s a lot easier than you may think and I’ll help you with the knowledge I’ve gained while traveling the world.
First of all, congratulations! Reading this means you've probably accepted a contract or are highly considering one! I work in the entertainment department as a singer and I've done two contracts and a total of 9 months at sea. I am not an expert but I am often asked by friends what to expect and these are my personal opinions/knowledge based on my own experience and research.
Let’s talk cell phones:
While being away, you’re going to want to keep in contact with your loved ones and of course post on your social media but a very important aspect many don’t think about is navigating through places you’ve never been to. The last thing you want is to get in a cab, be dropped off at a cute destination and have no service to get yourself back. Even just asking for directions back to your ship in a place that doesn’t speak your language can be very difficult and I always rest assured knowing I have my phone service no matter where I go.
First, talk to your cell phone provider. Some providers have international service options and will match the plan you are currently paying for while overseas. Some plans seem expensive by the daily rate until you realize there’s a monthly rate that comes at an even cheaper price!
If your provider doesn’t offer international or if their international plan isn’t for you, SIM cards are available to purchase everywhere. These do come with a few down sides like possibly having to change your number, having to know how many minutes or gigabytes of data you have and of course, where you can use them. A SIM card bought in France doesn’t always work in other countries so depending on what you buy, it’s not always universal. Do your research before you leave to help you once you’re on the ship, otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of whatever you can get your hands on at the time you dock. Hot Tip: Some of my friends recommend Google Fi which is worth looking into.
My current plan is $100/month (not the cheapest option but the most convenient for me) for unlimited talk, text and data in 230+ countries. I have service everywhere and can easily navigate around without being worried about what I’m using. It provides me with peace of mind and instant gratification if I need something translated or have any questions about the area. It also saves me a lot of money when it comes to shipboard wifi since I have no need to use it. I have service during the day/in port and when we sail, I just don't use my phone.
Speaking of wifi: It's not always included in your package onboard. Some crew plans allow you to use things like Whatsapp, (which is a great app to connect with people out of the country) Messenger and sometimes even iMessage to stay connected however anything further you will need to pay for megabytes or minutes. For things like social media and high data usage, I suggest a plan with minutes. If you're more of a blog reader and it doesn't take too much data, I recommend a minutes plan. Overall, You'll find what works for you.
Cell phone hack: Turn off “automatic” in your cell phone network selection. You will have to choose your own network once you’re in port but it also prevents you from having to use airplane mode while sailing or accidentally connecting to “Cellular at Sea” which will often cost you a lot of money if you don’t realize you’re connected to it. This also assures you'll stay connected to land based service as long as possible, even while you're sailing!
What do I pack?
Pack lightly. Read that again. I can’t stress this enough, if you even have a question about whether or not you’ll wear or use something…just leave it behind. You’re going to want to shop and fly home with souvenirs or new clothes and you need to save space for it all. You are also going to have access to purchase almost anything you need while traveling (depending on ports, some are better than others for shopping). I promise you won’t need multiple pajama options, your five favorite sweatshirts or those adult coloring books you may only use once (which I learned from experience). No one really takes notice if you rewear outfits or your favorite t-shirt every night to bed. Everyone understands you’re all “in the same boat” of having to manage what you bring.
Here are some essentials/helpful tips to consider:
Universal plug/outlet adapters are key when traveling overseas.
Portable phone chargers are key when traveling in port all day. A dead phone is useless when you need to navigate around.
Magnets are a huge help in your cabin since all of the walls are magnetic! (Consider this a good souvenir method from your favorite ports since they are practical while sailing. The smaller and the lighter, the better!)
An external hard drive is a great way to bring your favorite movies and tv shows with you. So many people use them and share what they have. (Download speeds on the ship wifi will never work and sometimes you don’t want to waste a port day at a coffee shop hoping their wifi is fast enough to download things.)
A backpack as a carry on item (if you have one) is a great way to bring something that you’re going to use without having to account for it inside of your luggage.
Over the door shoe organizers are for more than just shoe organization. I see people use them for makeup, jewelry, clothes, bathroom products and more.
A light raincoat doubling as a jacket or a poncho are more efficient than an umbrella which isn't always easy to pack. (Sometimes your ship will let you use a spare umbrella for guests or you can buy a cheap umbrella anywhere and donate it before you fly home.)
Underarmor/thermals are more efficient than packing heavy/bulky winter coats and you can always layer up if it’s cold. (Unless you will be full time in cold weather, consider this option.)
Low wattage power strips for your cabin. (Anything too high in wattage might not be allowed onboard due to fire prevention.)
Soap, shampoo and conditioner bars are lighter and take up less space than bottles.
Cosmetics and snacks you cannot live without should be prioritized when you fly out because there is no guarantee they’ll have them in other countries. (This also helps provide you with more room on your way back since you hopefully won’t be flying home with all of what you brought.)
Photos, string lights, your favorite pillow or "home-y" items are good to prioritize. (Anything to make you feel a little more at home away from home since you’ll be away for so long.)
Think ahead to the seasons and where you’ll be and only bring options that make sense for your location and the time of year. (You don't need multiple bathing suits if you will be in the Arctic Circle/Baltics for most of your contract.)
Think ahead to holidays. If you’re celebrating Halloween, Christmas or something else onboard consider packing something to wear to enjoy the holiday as if you were home.
Traveling The World:
The life of cruising, working on the high seas and traveling the world is a dream come true for most, let alone the fact of getting paid for it all. It’s hard to believe you could be waking up in new countries or destinations every day, getting a taste of cultures around the globe and working with people who live in places you’ve never even heard of. But how can you make the most of traveling while saving money, remembering everything you did and making sure you're taking care of yourself?
Here are some helpful travel tips and tricks:
Don’t take cabs from the port. They will almost always over charge you. Walk a little into town if you can or call the company itself to pick you up somewhere.
If you take a cab into a big city, try negotiating with them to wait and drive you back later. Sometimes cabs from larger cities won’t like driving out of their way to bring you back to a small port town. At least the cab driver who is waiting for you will be able to get some rides throughout the day and they most likely won’t say no to waiting around for a few hours if it means they'll make the money.
Don't forget public transportation options! They're a great way to save money (at a fraction of the price of a car) if you want to get into a big city near the port.
If you opt for public transit, look into city daily passes as they most likely include unlimited public transportation costing less than a round trip!
If you have the option to host or go on an excursion provided by your cruise ship, do it! Some excursions on your own could cost a lot of money and hosting them onboard or taking crew tours could save you a lot.
Get to know people (this is a no-brainer) but sometimes you realize you’ll be in someone’s home country and they’ll give you the best hikes, restaurants, nightlife, etc from their own experience.
Document as much of your travels as you can. Whether that’s writing things down, taking pictures or getting one of the many travel apps available. This will help you when you want to look back, remember which ports are good for certain things (like shopping, food, or sight seeing) or of course tell stories!
Make the most of your spare time. Don't forget to rest when you can, take care of your mental health and give your body what it needs. Being away from home, friends and family for a long time is extremely taxing if you aren't taking care of yourself.
Money, Money, Money:
It's so easy to get lost in traveling that you forget to humble yourself with your experiences. It's easy to live a lavish life, buy expensive things and drop money on airbnbs, private boat tours and fancy dinners but I promise there are different ways to experience exotic places.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to save and spend money:
Credit cards over debit cards. I know it's a hard pill to swallow for some but if you get hacked, tapped by a "touchless" device, or pick-pocketed while in another country, your credit card company is meant to fight for you to get your money back. Not all banks or debit cards will do the same.
A lot of debit cards (and some credit cards) have international fees! Talk to your companies before you travel so you don't get hit with these surprise fees every time you use your card.
Talk to your companies about traveling. The last thing you want is to have your card flagged for fraud on your first purchase in another country.
Street food is almost always cheaper and more authentic than going to a restaurant. Don't be afraid to ask locals where to go for the best meals and deals!
Cash advance is a great option for you to get money directly from your paycheck without ATM fees. Ask your ship about this option, how often they have it and how much you can take out a month.
Some ships offer money exchange for crew, look into this option and save time while in port!
Cash is the easiest way to make a deal or haggle with street vendors while shopping.
Have a car? Save money by dropping your insurance coverage to state minimum (or closest to it), especially if your car is stored in a safe place off of the street. You can always reup your policy when you get back home.
Have an apartment? Consider subletting so someone can pay your rent while you're away.
Have/want a storage unit? Consider sharing with a friend to split the cost and make it more affordable.
However you decide to experience ship life (as people who work on cruises call it), I hope you realize, like all things in life, it's not one size fits all. The amount of knowledge you can gain while being exposed to eclectic groups of people and places you were only able to dream about seeing is insurmountable to any other experience. Take advantage of all the options you can to explore, save money and experience your best life possible. Feel free to leave your best cruising and travel tips/tricks below in the comments and I might even feature them on this post!