I quit my desk job to work on cruises 10 years ago. It has its drawbacks, but I've seen 79 countries. (2024)

After I graduated from college with a journalism degree, I got a job at a highly regarded publication in New York City.

However, my two-hour commute and crowded cubicle were anything but glamorous. I started getting stress-induced bald spotsandendlessly scrolled through Instagram, desperate to find a way to make a living as a nomad.

When I learned that onboard cruise-ship employees get a paycheck while traveling and meeting new people every day, I auditioned to be an entertainment host for a major cruise line. When I got the job, I left New York for good on my first contract, which lasted seven months.

Now, I've worked on cruise ships for nearly a decade and have visited 79 countries. Here are seven things that first surprised me most about working on a cruise.

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I've barely met any other Americans working on cruise ships

I quit my desk job to work on cruises 10 years ago. It has its drawbacks, but I've seen 79 countries. (1)

The first day I boarded a cruise ship, my crew members coined me "Erica from America" since I was just one of nine American employees.

I've noticed similar numbers since. Crew members come from all over the world, and I've always found a very small percentage of Americans working on board.

Even years later, everyone in my life calls me Erica from America — and it's the name on my TikTok handle.

The first week of working on a ship can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful

Safety is the most important thing on cruises. So, whether a crew member is a brand-new hire or they've been working there for 20 years, they have to complete safety training during the first few weeks — and that's in addition to their regular job prep.

Between presenting all of my medical paperwork to officers to learning about fire codes, I've always found the crews' onboarding process intimidating.

The first day I walked on a ship, I learned how to operate a deadly, watertight door.I cried in the bathroom every day for a week straight. The requirements were a lot to handle, especially after hours of travel, but life on board got so much easier after the first few weeks.

The crew cabins are seriously cramped

I quit my desk job to work on cruises 10 years ago. It has its drawbacks, but I've seen 79 countries. (2)

On the ships where I've worked, the crew cabins are about half the size of a walk-in closet, and the wardrobes have just enough space to fit five hangers on each side. Not to mention, I've usually lived in those tiny spaces with two other employees I don't know.

The cabins typically also have a mini fridge and a flat-screen TV that can swing to face the top bunk.

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The bathroom is usually so tiny that I can bathe, brush my teeth, and use the toilet without taking barely any steps. Showers are often so small that the curtain clings to my butt when I'm in it.

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My roommates and I also have to prepare for mandatory cabin inspections once per week, which is when staff checks that our quarters are orderly.

The dating culture is dramatic but can also be amazing

I expected to experience college-like drama on the ship, but the reality was even wilder.

As a crew member, I'm often surrounded by adults who are away from home for nine months at a time, working extremely hard, and trotting around the world.

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Some are married, some are single, and some are married but "single" on ships. Many of the people I meet are truly amazing partners, but others are not. Life on a ship brings many heartbreaks, but it also leads to plenty of amazing love stories.

It wasn't hard for me to adjust to the lifestyle

Working on a ship isn't for everyone, and I've seen many people quit within their first month.

Some crew members work eight to 12 hours per day, with no days off, for seven months straight. However, my coworkers love this lifestyle and their jobs. If you don't, you probably won't make it very long on board.

Working on a ship, we wake up in a different country virtually every day and appreciate every free moment. Being part of such an amazing group of people is the most special experience I've ever had. I feel such a sense of community and morale with the other crew members.

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Contracts can vary, but I often have time to relax for a few months between them where I can eat junk food, sleep all day, and catch up on pop culture.

Crew life is a blast, even after work

I quit my desk job to work on cruises 10 years ago. It has its drawbacks, but I've seen 79 countries. (3)

Cruise-ship crews are known for partying after work, and in my experience, that's partially true. However, there are very strict alcohol policies for the staff when they're working,so learning a level of self-control is crucial.

There's usually an onboard bar for crew members, where the drinks are cheap and the parties are so much fun. Ships usually have a human-resource team on board that plans events for the crew, offers support, and organizes onshore crew tours.

Some cruise employees, like entertainment hosts, get more time off in the ports than others because they don't interact with guests as much when the ship is docked. I've been lucky to explore parts of the world I never thought I'd see in person. I've gone dogsledding in Alaska, run around Petra, and gone cave-diving for glowworms in New Zealand.

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This journey can feel full of love but also lonely

Although I've made amazing friends who feel like family since boarding my first ship, I realized that I'm truly on my own throughout this journey.

It's special to be surrounded by hundreds of crew members and passengers, but no one will ever experience things exactly the same way I do.

I feel close to other crew members because of our shared lifestyle on the water. However, when I return home from a contract, I sometimes find it harder to relate to land-based friends and family. Still, I'm so lucky to have a supportive family who visits me a lot.

It's hard to describe my lifestyle to people who have never experienced ship life. The truth is that I can feel lonely at times, but living on the ships is the most enthralling and fulfilling thing I've ever chosen to do.

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This story was originally published on May 10, 2021, and most recently updated on July 9, 2024.

I quit my desk job to work on cruises 10 years ago. It has its drawbacks, but I've seen 79 countries. (2024)
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