Cruise-ship workers reveal how much money they make

There was a significant gap between the highest and lowest monthly earnings cruise-ship workers reported to Business Insider.

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There was a significant gap between the highest and lowest monthly earnings cruise-ship workers reported to Business Insider.
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There’s a big gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid cruise-ship workers.

Business Insider spoke with 35 current and former cruise-ship employees, who reported monthly earnings between $500 and $10,000. Some 40% said their monthly earnings were equal to or less than $2,000.

A former Carnival Cruise Line galley worker had the lowest monthly earnings, while a former Royal Caribbean International first officer had the highest. The workers’ tenures range from 2004 to this year.

Read more: A former Royal Caribbean employee reveals the one question you should always ask cruise ship workers

Many cruise-ship workers, particularly those in lower-paid positions, come from regions with lower median incomes than the United States, like the Caribbean, South America, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia. A former bartender for Royal Caribbean who made between $1,600 and $1,800 a month said the pay was better than what he had made in Chile, his home country.

A cruise-ship employee’s living costs can be much lower than those of a land-based worker, since they don’t have to pay rent or buy food. But cruise-ship employees also have demanding and unconventional schedules that can lead them to work more hours than those with more traditional five-day, 40-hour-a-week schedules.

“It was a lot of work, and by American standards it’s not a good venture, because when you break it down you’re looking at only getting $5 to $10 an hour sometimes,” said a former Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line employee who worked as a casino dealer and manager. “Financially, it’s not a good business prospect, which is why I stopped doing it.”

The 35 current and former cruise-ship employees who spoke with Business Insider had average monthly earnings of about $3,233 and median monthly earnings of about $2,600. The three largest cruise companies – Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – reported in regulatory filings the following median annual earnings for 2018:

  • Carnival Corporation: $16,622
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises: $19,396
  • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: $20,101

Each company said its median employee worked on one of its ships. Carnival said many of its ship-based employees worked between six and 11 months each year, while Norwegian said six to 10 months was common for its ship-based employees.

The annual median income in the United States was $31,099 in 2016 (the latest year for which data is available), according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That would translate to median monthly earnings of about $2,592.

“In addition to their salary, crew members typically receive free medical care, room and board, meals, and many other benefits that are often unavailable in their home countries,” said a representative for the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade association for the cruise industry. “Crew members are very satisfied with their jobs and the opportunities for career advancement, which explains why employee retention rates in the cruise industry are upwards of 80%.”

Carnival, Norwegian, and Holland America did not respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.

Have you worked on a cruise ship? Do you have a story to share? Email this reporter at mmatousek@businessinsider.com.