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What Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know

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The allegations that cruise ship employees are paid “slave wages” come up all the time, and it never fails to astound me how brazenly some people will misrepresent the truth in order to create a sensationalized “news” story.

It reminds of the true story of Meg Whitman who admitted to paying her illegal immigrant housekeeper $23/hour until she was notified by the Social Security Administration that the SS# the woman submitted did not match her name. Whitman had to fire the woman under federal law, yet she was demonized by people who opposed her candidacy because “she didn’t help the woman.” Help her do what? To stay in the country illegally? Somehow this poor, exploited illegal immigrant was able to get legal counsel from one of the most powerful lawyers in California. Not surprisingly, this lawyer’s main goal had nothing to do with actually helping the maid. It was to derail Whitman’s political career – and it worked.

The cruise lines are also regularly accused of abusing their help in much the same way. But the people hired to work on cruise ships are not illegal immigrants. They are citizens of nations around the world such as the Philippines, China, Slovakia, Indonesia, Mexico, El Salvador, etc. They are hired legally, and not only paid well, but also well fed, kept warm and dry and even get health and even dental insurance.

A television show called “Cruises Undercover – the Truth Below Deck” just aired in the U.K. on Monday night. Sadly, the channel on which the program appeared does not even have the resources to make the show available for viewing in the U.S. – even on the Internet. But in promotions for the show I have seen statements like “They make $2.25/hour” or “$50/month” in salary, but like so many “half-truths” (also known as “lies”) they do not mention that these workers also make a great deal more money in gratuities which the cruise lines collect for them.

On average, the recommended tip for a cruise ship room steward is $3.00 per passenger per day. In a seven-day cruise that comes out to $42 week (double occupancy) per cabin, or $168/month. If you have 12 cabins on your watch that comes out to $2016. Now, if you hail from the Philippines where the yearly salary is $4140 year, then you are making a fortune. What if you are a waiter and you have 10 tables on your watch, each table with four people, at $3 per person per day, that comes out to $3360/month.

To verify these rough numbers is an article written by a prominent maritime attorney in Miami named Charles Lipcon who by his own estimation says a cruise ship room steward can make as much as $4000/month.

Here are more examples of typical cruise ship workers salaries from a web site for people looking for cruise ship careers:

Food and Beverage Manager from $3000 to $4200 per month.
Maitre d’ Hotel from $1700 to $3200 per month.
Executive Chef from $3500 to $5000 per month.
Pastry Chef from $1500 to $2400 per month.
Chef de Partie $1900 to $2400 per month.
Sous Chef from $2200 to $2600 per month.
First Cook from $1800 to $2400 per month.
General / Second / Third Cook from $1600 to $2000 per month.
Baker from $1200 to $2000 per month.
Butcher from $1200 to $2000 per month.
Dishwasher from $900 to $1200 per month.
Busboy $1000 to $1400 per month.
Restaurant / Dining Room Manager from $2600 to $4000 per month.
Dining Room Head Waiter from $2400 to $3800 per month.
Dining Room Wait Staff from 2400 to $3600 per month.
Café Wait Staff from $1600 to $2000 per month.
Buffet Server $1200 to $1400 per month.
Cocktail Waiter / Waitress $1600 to $2400 per month.
Bar Staff $1600 to $3000 per month.
Bar Manager from $2000 to $3200 per month.
Bartender from $1600 to $2800 per month.
Wine Steward from $1800 to $2400 per month.

Now – remember what I said; these workers do not pay for rent, food, utilities, health or dental care. In fact everything they make is pretty much pure profit. Now, I realize this is a “best case scenario” and I have heard stories about workers getting stiffed, about having to “tip out” in order to get their jobs done, etc. There are a lot of ways of doing business in the third world, which is where most of these workers come from, that we in the U.S. may not understand.

But I can tell you this, I have worked on cruise ships and I have seen plenty of cruise ship workers, and in my personal experience I would testify in court that the vast, vast majority of cruise ship workers are ecstatically happy with their jobs and their biggest worry is losing that job. Not only are they well paid, they live carefree and adventurous lives.

This is the reality; cruise ship workers may work long hours, but they never have to spend a weekend mowing the lawn, washing the car, balancing their checkbook or even doing their own dishes or making a bed. Every free moment they have is truly free time. Not only that, but they do not have to put half of their salary aside for their mortgage, another 30% for health care, etc, etc, etc.

That’s it – that is all I have to say. If you want to believe cruise lines are wicked corporate slave drivers then it is because you choose to believe what you want for your own political or personal reasons. In today’s political climate I am no longer surprised when people choose to believe anything that is proven not to be true simply because they want to believe it.

Why would these workers want us to believe these lies? Think about it. I have heard plenty of stories about cruise ship workers telling guests how rough they have it. Why? because they are depending upon them to give out money at the end of every cruise. Yes, it is that simple.

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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 2, 2012 at 5:49 am

Paul – you state “the vast majority of cruise workers are extactically happy with their jobs” true, and I would only hope so and expect nothing less.

However, there is the carping and griping passenger, not happy with anything that could cause a passenger to upset a crew member.

On last thing, there are a couple of major cruise lies out there that DO NOT LET THEIR CREW OFF THE SHIP IN PORT> At least not far from a pay phone. They never go to the beach and indeed do seem indentured WHY I ask???

And, then, there are the ones that belittle the cruise line, sob about supporting their families back home, I really like “they feed us bad food, we have to pay for good food on the ship” and the ulimate, we have to buy our clothes! Give me a frickin break.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time October 2, 2012 at 7:07 am

In all my yars of working on cruise ships I do not recall a single incident when crewmembers were not allowed off of a ship except ONE time when we docked in Los Angeles back in 1983 (it was still the cold war) and our Polish Musicians were not allowed off because they didn’t have visas. And that was just one time, other times they were allowed off.

If anytime a crewmember is not allowed off it is the local law, not the cruise line, making the rule.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time October 2, 2012 at 7:19 am

It is important to understand that crew people are NOT like average US workers. They are generally poor but driven to do better. They WANT to work hard and make all that extra money. They are the kind of people who used to come to America for a better life.

It takes a certain kind of personality to be a crew member, and it is an elite bunch and they take a lot of pride in that. In the same way the cruise lines take a lot of pride in their crew members.

Comment from David Beers
Time October 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

On a Royal Caribbean cruise a few years ago our waiter’s wife was also a waiter in another section of the dining room, so they were both raking in good money. They were from the Philippines and on, I think, their 9th or 10th contracts with the cruise line. They were saving it up to buy a house and start their own business back home, and do both without needing to borrow money. I really admired them for sticking to their goals, plus they were charming and outstanding at their jobs.

Comment from
Time October 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm

The one thing you do not mention is the withholding of a percentage of the monies they make. I believe this is standard procedure with most lines. When we took over the entertainment on Silversea, I was advised to retain 15% of the Artists pay as the previous producer did. I said no. Our starting pay is $1,000 weekly and goes up according to the skill sets they bring to the program.

As to not getting off in ports, totally concur the visa situation. We have a Filipina national who is treated differently from her US counterparts simply because of the passport she holds. We’ve had Artists not allowed off in China because they had no visa. I don’t envy the cruise lines onboard HR departments dealing with all the different nationalities and how they effect the different ports of call. It’s a tough tough job. I saw for myself a bias toward the Brits I was traveling with disembarking in St. Lucia. The U.S. passports were processed first, the Brits last. The immigration laws of each country you port in has the final word as to who gets off and who has to stay.

But in large part I agree with you Paul. The vast majority are happy with their jobs. I have worked for Princess, RCCL and now Silversea and I have heard very few complaints from the employees who work on these ships. They work hard and send money home and are saving for a better future for themselves. I admire maritime crews immensely for the work they do.

Comment from Amy
Time October 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Many of them are probably laughing all the way to the bank at all the people in their fancy resort wear clothing. Many of those people are going into debt to be on the cruise while the workers get many of the same benefits and are paid for it!

Comment from express shuttle LAX
Time November 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

This article or post is truly an eye opener. And i agree that if you hail form a third world country and working on a cruise line, then you sure are being benefited.

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