Dirty Little Secrets of Big Cruise Ships
Cruise ships are a great way to visit a lot of different places at once. You travel in luxury as you sail to different parts of the world, stopping to explore each new destination. Lots of people pay good money every year to get the chance to get their sea legs under them and book an incredible vacation on board one of the many high-end cruise lines. The cruises themselves have a lot to offer from great restaurants to fun activities like water slides, rock climbing, and zip lining. However, what many don't know is that these cruises all hide some dirty little secrets that they would rather their guest not know about, before you book your next cruise, scroll through this gallery to find out what those secrets are.
The double lives of crew members
One thing about the crew of big ships is that the nature of their jobs makes them develop some unusual habits. Because they have to spend a significant amount of time in the company of strangers, they do some strange things like lying to their colleagues about being married.
While onboard the ships, crew members typically lead double lives but the good thing is there’s an unstated "don’t ask policy" concerning the private lives of crewmembers. In some cases, an openly gay crew member might live in the closet off the ship.
Sewage goes into the ocean
During the course of a weeklong cruise, a cruise ship typically dumps as much as 210,000 gallons of waste products into the sea. All of that waste is dumped into the sea after it has been treated to eliminate moisture from the mix.
The only restriction imposed on sewage disposal is that ships are required to be twelve miles from shore before dumping their waste. What this means is twelve miles away from some of the world’s finest beaches, ships are busy dumping human waste into the water.
What do they earn?
The pay that crew members of a cruise liner get after each trip isn’t a direct affair as passengers are asked to give reviews of their trip, and give their opinions and suggestions for improvement. This may be something you want to keep in mind next time you fill out a survey.
These reviews make it back to the corporate HQ, and they have a sizable impact on what the crew members take home for each trip. Crew members that get negative comments might lose their bonuses completely, which is undesirable because those bonuses are as crucial as their actual wages.
Crew members are not allowed to date guests
One of the quickest ways for crew members to lose their jobs is by having any kind of intimacy with a passenger. This is no different from other companies who share this same policy, although due to the number of time passengers spend with the crew, it can get tricky at times.
This rule is enforced through strict monitoring by cruise security, and the implication is that developing a relationship with a guest during a trip might be pointless at the end of the day unless you can both be as stealthy as a professional spy. Crew members that get caught with a passenger typically get tossed off at the next port.
Crew Members can date other crew members
While crew members of cruise ships are not allowed to have any kind of relationship with passengers, they’re free to do so with their coworkers, and because this practice is allowed, it has become commonplace.
If you look closely on your next cruise, you will be able to see some crew members getting really comfortable with their co-workers. This doesn't always mean they are in a relationship but chances are they may be since they are out together on cruises for long periods of time.
Ready for sudden deaths
Accidents can happen at any time, especially when you are trapped on a floating ship miles away from land. What you may not know is that ships are better equipped than you’d expect to handle deaths on the ships, and they even have onboard morgues so they can deal with unexpected deaths of passengers during trips.
These morgues became commonplace because the sudden death of passengers onboard is fairly common. According to a cruise ship worker, an average of three people die on these ships every month which isn’t perplexing because the elderly typically go on lots of cruises. Cruise ships also feature a lot of alcohol, which causes a good amount of drunken accidents.
Did you know that crew members get heavy discounts on their alcohol purchases? While passengers shell out $10+ for drinks, crew members get access to bars where they buy their drinks for $1 each.
Add that to the free time that the crew gets sometimes, and you begin to comprehend why crew members are usually drunk. While some ships talk about subjecting their crew to breathalyzer tests to curb the trend, few actually go through with it, and crew members can get dead drunk if they so desire.
Cruise ships are typically equipped with surveillance cameras that are blanketed and therefore difficult to notice. What this means is that passengers on cruise ships are being watched at every point in time, so be very careful with your actions.
Surveillance is carried out with the cameras so there’d be security footage to replay in the case of an emergency but it also means that bad behavior goes on the record too. Just as supermarkets are filmed for surveillance and footage is stored, cruise ships do the exact same thing.
Food is ordered all at once
The food purchases on cruise ships are handled by meal planners, a remarkably precise group that ensures they purchase all the food that will be eaten on the cruise at once.
To do their jobs effectively, first, they must estimate the amount of food that will be eaten during the cruise based on the expected turnout of passengers and crew members. Their margin for error is two-meals, and they often deliver just what is required, which is especially impressive since some chefs struggle to do that themselves.
Exploring tax loopholes
Cruise ships are typically affordable considering what they offer passengers, even with all the hidden surcharges. They manage to keep ticket prices low and affordable by being aware of tax loopholes and exploiting them.
It all starts from the fact that these ships are often incorporated in countries like Panama, the Bahamas, and Liberia where tax laws are typically loose. Even American cruise ships get incorporated in these countries because a loophole allows them to do so and they also enjoy the protection of the Coast Guard.
What if you fall overboard?
All hope is not lost in the event that a passenger missteps and ends up falling over the rails and into the water as there are steps that can be taken to ensure survival. Having a hat in this case can be advantageous as it makes it easier to spot a fallen passenger in the water, and if there’s more than one person overboard, detecting them becomes easier if they link their arms in a circle.
The circle should be kept tight, with your leg up to your chest as doing this helps increase the water temperature in the circle. If you are worried about falling overboard, an interesting stat is that most deaths on cruise ships happen on the ship itself, rather than from someone falling off the ship.
The cancellation and refund policies
Canceling a trip on a cruise line is a complicated matter because you may not be entitled to a full refund. Some cruise lines have complicated cancellation policies that are extremely strict, and in some cases, passengers are required to cancel up to 4 months ahead in order to qualify for a refund.
Cruise lines like Holland America and Norwegian regard ticket name change as cancellations, leaving unaware passengers in a bind. In order to make informed choices, passengers need to be aware of all these unwritten rules of cruise travel.
Passengers get pranked
Apparently, it's not an uncommon practice for crew members to play around with passengers and prank them for the fun of it. According to one ship worker, the workers themselves sometimes get bored during the long cruises, and so they decide to play pranks on unsuspecting passengers for good measure.
In one case, a ship worker talked about meeting another crew member at the bowling alley even though most ships do not have such facilities. This led to the guest asking other crew members where the bowling alley is and when they responded "there isn't one," the passengers were left confused.
Not really all-inclusive
Going on a cruise means you need to be aware of some potential surcharges, especially if you’re on a budget. Some places like the buffets, specialty restaurants, and dining rooms are free but in some cases, passengers are required to pay an admission fee that ranges from $10 to $30.
Places like salons and spas are, however, not free for all, the gym isn’t either as classes require extra payment. Expensive cruises end up being cheaper because the extra payments have been offset by the initial ticket cost.
The genie on ships
Becoming friends with crew members of cruise ships is desirable for those that want extra perks like access to restricted areas, and cheaper drinks. Befriending them is difficult as a result of their professional conduct, and the fact that they’re trained not to have favorite passengers.
However, in some cases, ships have genies that attend to VIP customers. These genies offer endless possibilities to those that pay well enough, offering whatever you need as long as your desires are available on the ship.
Adult-only areas of cruise ships are part of the ships’ special sections, and they help mitigate the general scarcity of privacy and peace on cruise ships. There’s a hidden staff-only pool that may be difficult to find but these 18+ zones on the ships are equally nice too.
Many people on board are not even aware that these sections exist so the presence of so many passengers is reduced there. The quickest way to find these sections is by asking the staff, who are compelled to help you identify all options.
Gaining some weight
Before going on a cruise to escape the stress of everyday living, you should know that everyone gains weight during cruises. Passengers typically gain between 5 to 10 pounds after a week-long cruise because people actually drink and eat more frequently than hitting the gym areas of the ship.
And while extra gym classes might be more expensive, they’re usually worth the extra funds because they help offset all the drinking and dining you do onboard, making it easier for you to get back to your day-to-day.
You can get left behind
There are some crucial things to know about port stops before going on a cruise. While these stops enhance the cruise experience by allowing everyone to take a cruise-enhancing break, everyone must work according to the schedule.
There’s a real chance that you get left behind in an unknown place while all your things are on the ship that set sail without you in it if you don’t return on time. Passengers get a day off at port stops but not making a quick return is where things get risky because the ship will leave without anyone that doesn’t make it back in time.
Cruises are bad for the environment
Customers feel the brunt of extra costs and crimes on cruise ships but these are not the only damages caused by ships. The truth is cruises are unhealthy for the oceans and our environment because they leave a carbon footprint that is worse than airplanes.
According to George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network, an average cruise causes the emission of 7.6 times the carbon emission of an equivalent airplane trip. This is unhealthy for everyone on board, and also bad for the environment.
The burn book
This is one of the craziest secrets of cruise ships, and while it might not necessarily be true for all ships, it is for a fraction of them at least. According to information sourced from leaks, some crew members and captains actually keep a burn book on cruises to keep records of every negative thing they’d love to say but wouldn’t want the passengers to be aware of.
The crews typically keep records of hilarious questions and statements by passengers to be passed down to new crews. We are sure this book is highly guarded by crew members as having a passenger find it could mean really bad news for the cruise line.
Pro LGBTQ+ stance
Apparently, cruise liners are friendly to the LGBTQ+ community. This is apparent because it’s not unusual to find members of the community holding regular meetings on board ships, this helps educate people from all over the world about their community.
These meetings are usually publicized as "Friends of Dorothy" meetings in the schedules of cruise ships but they’re typically held out of sight in the private sections of the ships. The meetings began to show up on the daily programs of ships in the 1980s as members of the community began to organize their own discussions.
Secret cruise code language
While you might not know about it, the staff of cruise ships have their own code words with which they communicate whenever something happens. This code is crucial to ensuring passengers don’t get spooked whenever something doesn’t go as planned.
One of their codes is 30-30, which is used when the crew wants a mess to be cleaned up by maintenance. Another is Alpha, a code for a medical emergency, Kilo, a request for every crew member to report to their emergency posts, and Bravo, a code for fire.
Before going on a cruise, passengers get to decide if they want the unlimited booze packages that ships offer so they can have all they want on board. However, less than 10 percent of passengers end up purchasing this package, and they get monitored in the bars of ships.
First of all, alcoholic drinks are poured with jiggers (a measure), and the SeaPasses of intoxicated and unruly passengers typically get disabled temporarily so they don’t get served any more drinks. And in case you were wondering, a cinnamon fireball shot is the most popularly ordered drink on board.
Sanitation and the Norovirus
In most cases, passengers get to see a playful jingle about washing their hands on their cabin TV screens. These jingles are supposed to make people turn to the pumps strategically located at high-traffic points like the entrance of the main dining hall.
They are part of the efforts of cruise ship crews to ward off the highly-contagious Norovirus that spreads from an infected person through contaminated surfaces and food and water. This is one undesirable and potentially deadly virus that inspires passengers to wash their hands periodically.
Cruise ships are moving vessels with a lot of the same attractions and treats that can be found on land. Some passengers are unaware of all the attractions available on ships so crew members embark on subliminal messaging to encourage them.
They subtly encourage passengers to spend more on attractions like the casino or karaoke bar. Some crew members might even record newscasts with Starbucks in hand so passengers know they can get a Starbucks as well.
The freezers on board Cruise Ships
The freezers that hold food for cruises on ships are usually about the same size as mini apartments on land, and they’re articulately stocked before cruises. Before ships set sail, the inventory unit is given enough ingredients to provide for as many as 20 dining locations, and some extra for the crew members.
The cost of these ingredients and other consumables typically runs into hundreds of thousands, and getting the cost right is crucial to the profitability of each voyage. They need to accurately predict what the average passenger will consume for the duration of the trip.
Outbreak prevention plans
According to reports, the deadly Norovirus is usually brought on board by affected passengers, and not poor sanitary conditions so the US Health Department has strict requirements for ship crews to adhere to. Every ship must maintain a detailed Outbreak Prevention Plan or OPP.
OPP is usually declared when a 6 in 6 happens, meaning about six passengers have become ill in about 6 hours. Once this happens, the crew typically becomes more direct about their request for passengers to wash their hands.
Ship services on port days
Once the ship arrives in a port to experience the new destination, most passengers often get off but no one compels them to get off. Anyone who doesn’t want to go explore the new destination is allowed to stay on board, and they get to enjoy some ship services with some privacy during port days.
Some services on ships are closed during port days but others like the waterslides, pools, and bars typically operate on such days too. Passengers that opt to stay back also enjoy discounts at the spa on port days.
Booking your next cruise
A lot of people don’t know that you can book your next cruise while on board a cruise ship because many cruise ships feature a future cruise desk where passengers can sign up for another cruise at a discounted rate. These offers can’t be beaten by at-home bookings, and they usually come in the form of credit attached to the next booking.
You only have to make a small deposit to access the savings or percentage discount. In most cases, passengers don’t even know where the next cruise is but putting down a deposit means they get to choose the specifics later.
Magnetic cruise rooms
Most cruise rooms are magnetic and made of metal. By bringing some magnets with you on a cruise, you get to keep all your reservation notices, excursion tickets, and more hung on the doors and walls of your cabin.
Magnets are also great for hanging your hats, jackets, and swimwear as long as you get magnetic hooks meant to hold barbecue utensils as those are designed to hold a couple of pounds at once. You can also use your TV as a nightlight because inside cabins rarely come with natural light.
The appearance of seasick bags
The captain of the ship is the final authority, and the individual saddled with caring for the welfare of everyone on board. Once the captain finds that the ship is heading into a storm, the first thing he does is alert the crew members so they can put necessary safety measures in place.
Some of the things they do are clearing the sun loungers from decks, securing gift shops, and putting seasick bags at strategic points. As a result, seeing seasick bags suddenly is often a sign that a storm is up ahead.
Trained to withstand pirates
You probably didn’t know that the workers of cruise ships are trained for possible pirate attacks. While pirates rarely attack huge cruise ships, if it does happen, you can rest easy knowing that the entire crew around has been trained for it.
Depending on the training they receive and their roles, you’ll find some crew members ushering you away from the windows during the attacks, and they’ll even spray water cannons at intruders as some cruise ships are equipped to overrun smaller ships with water.
Not a lot of Americans work on Cruise Ships
Americans are great at a lot of things but being competent cruise ship workers might not be one of them. Apparently, the bulk of the staff and crew of most big cruise liners are not from the US as lots of nationalities are represented in crews.
One possible explanation for this trend is the fact that cruise ship workers have to work for long hours with little to no time off, so it’s the kind of job that most Americans detest. Americans are used to 40-hour workweeks so the endless hours that come with being a cruise ship worker isn’t very appealing.
Unappealing food for crew members
Working as a cruise ship crew member is great for those that want to shed a few pounds because while passengers eat steaks, and delicious seafood, the crew members have to settle for less. Imagine having no control over what you eat three times a day, and seven days a week for several weeks.
The combination of so-so food and long hours of work usually results in crew members losing a noticeable amount of weight during voyages because no one’s getting fat off of leftovers.
Room service is free or cheap
While room service is mostly free on cruise ships, there are service charges that must be paid on some cruises in certain cases. Late-night orders by passengers attract an extra $4.95 charge, while orders on Norwegian and Royal Caribbean also attract a fee with some exceptions.
Holland America and Carnival, on the other hand, provide free room service menus to customers along with their menus. While in-room dining isn’t as enjoyable on cruise ships as it is in a hotel room, you should still tip the person that delivers.
Locks are rarely locked
Before you get knocked down by seasickness, you should go explore all the sights and activities that your cruise ship has to offer. You can literally walk around the ship because they don’t lock most doors on a cruise ship.
There are very few doors that get locked on a cruise ship, most doors are left open in case of an emergency so whoever’s feeling curious can simply look around and explore the different sections of the ship whenever they so desire.
The adoption of facial recognition software
Cruise ships have come a long way since the days of huge vessels with little technology. The beasts we have today are increasingly adopting facial recognition software to enhance services and safety.
Liners are rarely printing out photographs anymore, opting to instead feed them into their facial recognition software for future identification and surveillance purposes. In some cases, the cabin number of a passenger is all that is required to access photos of a passenger on board; this software was a big help when contact tracing of Covid cases had to be done.
There are rat guards now
If you look closely at most cruise ships, you’ll see circular wooden discs located towards the end of the ropes that tie ships in ports. These discs are called rat guards, and they’re in place to effectively stop the export and import of rats, which could climb up and down the ropes to go from country to country.
That’s no longer possible with the adoption of rat guards which eliminate the potentially hazardous and expensive-to-fix infestation of rats in the world’s cities.
Where no one’s looking
There are crew doors on ships that passengers are encouraged to stay away from without ever knowing what lies behind them. The deck plans of ships feature the bars, lounges, casino, and cabins in the brightly-colored areas while the black and white areas aren't labeled on the maps.
These black and white areas contain a ship within the ship, and another world exists in them. In some cases, a cruise ship might have a passageway that runs its entire length so crew members can quickly get around.
More concealed facilities
These days, modern cruise ships are usually equipped with areas where helicopters can land in case an emergency med-evac is required. These landing pads are typically hidden from sight on the open decks that house them.
They’re characterized by a big letter H or a prominent yellow dot that looks you in the face without you noticing. In some cases, some ships might not have a dedicated landing area so the area close to the ship’s swimming pool is used instead.
The marketing role of funnels
A ship’s funnel is a difficult-to-miss component whose role has differed greatly over the years. These funnels basically hide in plain sight these days.
In the days of old, when coal engines powered the world’s most powerful liners, the presence of funnels indicated loads of speed and power but these days, funnels are featured in ship design for marketing and aesthetic purposes for the most part. While funnels still control fumes and pull air in, they are typically built bigger than what is needed.
No Deck 13
Another thing about cruise ships is that they rarely feature a deck 13, and there’s a reason for that. Cruise ships don’t have deck 13 because there’s a lot of superstition surrounding the number, and according to myth, the number is supposed to bring bad luck, something a cruise ship could certainly do without.
As a result of the superstition surrounding the number 13, you’ll often find decks 12 and 14, but no deck 13. In some cases, ships opt to skip the number 17 instead, as in some cultures, 17 is considered a superstitious number.
Beneath your door
One nice perk that comes with going on a cruise ship is the newsletter some ships offer passengers. The newsletter is usually left under the door of each passenger at night for the purpose of updating everyone about the upcoming activities the following day.
They typically contain details of available restaurants and excursions; you can also find details like discounted sales, special upcoming events, as well as freebies. And on some more interesting cruises, you’ll find some steamy secrets that others might have missed.
In the US, I-95 is the name of one of the country’s busiest highways but when it comes to cruise ships, I-95 symbolizes a kind of hallway that can be found on all cruise ships.
This hallway is usually located on deck O, and it is in this space that workers spend a significant chunk of their time. Every crew member sees the I-95 as their survival center, and they also do things like visit the nurse, do their laundry, and transfer guest luggage there.
A central database of records
You might not know it but it is the responsibility of the cruise ship crew to ensure that all your needs are attended to. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised when a crew member immediately knows your name or how you like your coffee.
They have access to all this information about you thanks to the existence of a central database, where all details of your likes and dislikes are kept. It is because of this database that your information gets shared with the new crew if you go on another cruise.
Auto-pilot to the rescue
Like airplanes, cruise ships are also equipped with auto-pilot so captains don’t have to be behind the wheel all day. Cruise ships are designed to function with the aid and command of a computer, allowing them to sail on auto-pilot for at least a portion of every day when called upon.
However, while auto-pilot does a great job of keeping the voyage on track when all is well, the captain will still be required for exiting and entering ports, and during bad weather.
Petty crime exists
One not-so-glamorous thing about cruise ships is the fact that petty crimes are perpetrated on them, and even worse is the fact that these crimes typically go uninvestigated, and unsolved. Cruise ship workers are compelled to report thefts of at least $10,000.
The fact that they’re not required to report anything less than that means no one can really assess how much of these crimes happen on the ships. One thing’s for sure though, a lot of theft happens on cruise ships so you need to know a thing or two about keeping your valuables safe.
Expensive cruise terminals
For passengers that arrive for their cruise by car, parking in the cruise terminal is the first option for many but this might not be the best option, especially from a financial perspective. The reason is the cruise terminal charges owners a significant fee to leave their vehicles for the duration of the trip.
A better option is to leave your car at an off-site car park, which will save you half the money you’d spend at the cruise terminal. A benefit of off-site car parks is they also offer shuttle services in most cases.
Delayed luggage after check-in
In most cases, travelers are required to leave their luggage on the deck to be moved into their individual cabins by crew members. This measure was designed for a seamless cruise experience but you should be aware that it often comes with some delays as your luggage might not arrive immediately once you check-in.
Therefore, it is a smart choice to pack a carry-on with essentials like emergency medication, swimwear, and whatever else you might need for a couple of hours until your luggage gets to you.