For some people, cruises are the ultimate getaway when planning their travels. They're like miniature worlds, with accommodation, food, and anything you might need all in one place. But they also come with their own set of rules and realities. So whether you're a luxury liner expert or thinking of taking one for the first time, you'll want to look through these cruise secrets before hopping on board. From unheard-of amenities to things crew members know but never tell the guests, these facts will shed new light on the whole experience.
A Morgue Lurks Within Every Cruise Ship
Vacations and cruises are supposed to be a time to let go and have fun. However, there's often a darker side to many cruises that passengers don't see. Since a large portion of the clientele usually tends to be older people, it's actually not all that uncommon for people to pass away while on a cruise. At least, that's what one former crew member said when they estimated that around three people pass away every month on a cruise.
For this reason, all cruise ships are required to have a morgue on board, which is off-limits to passengers and usually has room for around three to six bodies.
It Might Sound Eerie but Crew Members Write Down Everything That Guests Do
Because crew members are required to be as pleasant as possible to passengers, they don't usually get a chance to say everything they'd like to say. So, cruise ships keep a log where they write down everything that happens while on a trip. These logs can include something as big as a fire that happened or something as mundane as a comment a guest made. It all serves a purpose.
All of that information helps an incoming crew best prepare and spot potential hazards and how to manage them best. We're sure the log is also sometimes just used as a venting mechanism.
The Creepy Hidden Pools of Cruise Ships
If you've ever seen photos of a cruise ship's pool, then you probably know that these are often the most crowded places on the ship. People just gravitate toward the pools on ships for some reason. Anyway, it turns out that most cruise ships have "secret" pools reserved for their staff. These are usually much less crowded since only the staff are permitted to use them, but it's also possible for guests to be invited.
Of course, a guest would have to make quite the impression on the crew in order to be invited to the secret pool, which might actually be more difficult than you'd think, considering some of the rules on board.
Crew Members Speak in Code to Keep Guests in the Dark
Maintaining passengers' safety onboard is paramount for the crew. So, sometimes they're forced to speak in code, so they don't incite panic while still being able to act quickly during an emergency. Some of these codes are used for cleaning up spills, dealing with medical emergencies, reacting to a fire, or responding if someone falls overboard. And if you're curious about what code word is usually used for the last item on that list, then it's "oscar."
This actually makes a lot of sense, considering the last thing you want is to scare passengers or create enough panic to impede your ability to respond to a situation.
Gambling Rules on Board Aren't as Legal as You Think
Many cruise ships have casinos on board, and since they spend a lot of time traveling through international waters, it's perfectly legal. However, that also means that they aren't subject to a single area's laws concerning gambling. So, the rules onboard will sometimes change depending on whatever country or city is nearest. For example, your odds of winning can change dramatically depending on where in the ocean you are.
Cruise ships might switch up the number of decks they use for blackjack, etc. In short, just be aware that the rules governing their games aren't set in stone, and they often change.
Even Cruise Ships Are Vulnerable to Mysterious Accidents
The captain has the final say when you're on a boat or ship. That's a great system when it works, and it usually does. After all, you'd rather have one person with experience calling the shots during an emergency than two or more people wasting time arguing over a decision in a crisis. However, even captains make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can be disastrous for a ship or its passengers.
It doesn't happen very often, which is why when it does, it usually makes the news. But a few cruise ships have been sunk when close to port due to a captain's decisions.
You Can Hire Someone to Follow You Around Like a Butler
Many cruise lines offer a special service they refer to as "genies." Genies act like personal wait staff and can bring you almost anything you ask for, and a lot of people who take cruises swear by this service. However, this is the top-tier package for most cruise lines, and the price reflects that. Still, they can do things like bring dinner directly to your room and get you special tickets to events.
Since they're so expensive, many choose to use genies as their concierge and ask them to do everything from bringing them coffee in the morning to booking reservations for dinner at night.
Sometimes Passengers Vanish at Sea and Go Missing
Weird things happen while out at sea, and one of those weird things involves people going missing. Around 165 people reportedly went missing while on a cruise from 1995 to 2011. Some people think that number is possibly higher. And we're not talking about passengers that fall overboard — although that is one likely explanation for those numbers. We're talking about people who simply disappeared without a trace and were never seen again.
Apart from going overboard, other likely explanations include people being kidnapped and taking their own lives while on a cruise. However, we wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of a passenger throwing another person overboard.
Cruise Ships Struggle in Rough Waters Because of Their Size
This might not immediately come to mind when thinking about a cruise since most cruise line commercials show ships sailing in calm waters. But no ship is completely immune to rough seas, especially not cruise ships. They may be large, but they're still fairly top-heavy, and that makes them more prone to rock and sway while navigating through storms and rough seas. As you might imagine, the experience is not a comfortable one.
If you haven't gotten your sea legs under you yet, then you're probably going to spend a lot of your time in the bathroom waiting for the water to calm.
There's a Risk of Pirates Coming Onboard
Sometimes you'll hear that pirates attacked a cargo ship or something similar, but you don't often hear of a cruise ship being targeted. Still, it does happen, and the crew is trained for it. A cruise ship was targeted in 2005, and the crew used some kind of acoustic weapon to assault the pirates' eardrums. It worked; the attack was foiled, and everyone on board went about enjoying their vacations.
However, as a precaution, pretty much every crew member is trained on how to deal with pirates if an attack does occur. But the details of that training are closely guarded.
Crew Members and Their Forbidden Desires for Each Other
This one makes a lot of sense if you think about it; it's not uncommon for crew members to cozy up to one another while on a trip. After all, they're spending weeks and sometimes maybe even longer out on the ocean together. It's apparently so common that there are unwritten rules associated with hooking up with coworkers, such as mutual understanding about how long relationships are expected to last.
Some former cruise ship employees have even described the culture around hooking up with coworkers to be on par, if not worse, than that of college dorms.
There Are Consequences for Crew Members if They Fraternize With Guests
While crew members frequently hook up with their coworkers, they are not allowed to fraternize with passengers while on board. In fact, even being suspected of doing so is sometimes enough to get them into big trouble. This rule is mainly in place to protect the crew from being accused of anything inappropriate and, of course, to also keep the cruise company safe from being sued by a passenger.
After all, it's much easier and less public for a cruise company to take care of issues within its staff than it is to take care of issues involving passengers.
Don't Get Thrown Into Cruise Ship Jail
Odds are you've heard of the brig before. It's basically a jail cell on a ship, and it's reserved for passengers that break the law, get in fights, or otherwise threaten the safety of other passengers or crew. There is no judge on a ship, at least not one that's there for work, so if you're thrown in the brig, you'll most likely spend the rest of your vacation there.
At least until the ship makes port and can offload you to the authorities, which may or may not be in the same country that you sailed from in the first place.
Some Ships Have Hidden Armed Guards on Board
Most ships have a brig for a reason, and they're probably used more than most people would like to think. There have been a number of high-profile crimes committed on cruise ships, but most are usually pretty petty. Luckily, cruise ships are equipped with cameras pretty much everywhere, and crews are trained on all to deal with all types of crimes. Some ships even carry armed guards though they are often out of sight.
There has been everything from bomb threats to assaults on cruises. There have also been missing people, which likely involved a heinous act on more than one occasion.
There's No Guarantee the Cruise Will Dock Where You Expect It to
This doesn't happen often, but unfortunately, it's always a possibility. Even though a cruise itinerary might say it will stop at certain ports, whether or not the ship actually stops depends on a couple of factors. Firstly, the captain will decide if the ship stops or doesn't, which is usually decided based on safety reasons. Secondly, the port itself has the final say in whether or not passengers can disembark.
For those reasons, most trips will say in fine print that there's always a possibility the ship might not dock as expected when you go to book your ticket.
Rescuing Passengers Who Went Overboard Isn't Simple
It's never good when a passenger goes overboard, especially in rough seas. That's why it's important to know what to do. If someone goes overboard during a cruise, you might see crew members or other passengers throwing stuff over the side in order to mark where they are in the water. It might seem like a simple task to remember where someone went overboard, but it's actually extremely difficult.
There are no landmarks in the ocean, meaning your brain doesn't have anything to refer to when trying to locate an overboard passenger from the top of a very high cruise ship.
Even Crew Members Are Drinking All Day on Cruises
If you ever notice that your crew seems particularly happy or in a good mood, then it might be because they've had a little bit to drink. Crew members get steep discounts on alcohol. That said, most cruise lines say they randomly test their employees to ensure that they're not drinking while on the job. Still, we're sure it happens from time to time. And according to former crew members, it happens more than from time to time.
Some former crew members have also come out and said that drinking among crew members is much more common than some cruise companies would have their passengers believe.
Even With an All-Inclusive Package, It's Easy to Get Scammed With Random Charges
Even though most cruise lines do offer all-inclusive options, it's still not uncommon for them to hit you with some unexpected charges and fees while on board. For example, if you're eating at a restaurant, you might get charged for soda or alcoholic beverages depending on the package you booked. That's why it's important to read the fine print and work out exactly what you're paying for and what it covers.
That said, no matter how much you order or what package you book, the same level of service you get on a ship is usually going to be cheaper than what you'd pay on land.
You're Being Watched All of the Time
Similar to casinos, the security and surveillance on cruise ships are tight. Like, really tight. You can pretty much expect to be watched anywhere you while on a cruise ship, except your own room. This is done for a couple of reasons, including passenger safety in case of a crime or someone falling overboard. However, it's also done so that people can review footage after an emergency to determine what went wrong.
Think of all of that security, kind of like a ship's version of a black box you might find on an airplane. It's there to make sure nothing bad happens and fix any issues in the event something does happen.
The Crew Often Isn't Paid Well
Living on a cruise ship and working almost constantly might seem like it would merit decent pay, but that's actually not the case. More often than not, crew members on ships aren't paid very well at all. This is because of a couple of reasons, but the main one is that operating in international waters means that cruise ships aren't required to follow laws as strictly as other employers.
It puts them in a sort of grey area, which means that they can pretty much ignore things like overtime and minimum wage if they so choose. This doesn't mean that all cruise lines do this, but many have definitely been documented doing so.
Disease Outbreaks Aren't Uncommon
Everyone remembers the outbreaks onboard cruise ships whenever covid-19 hit. They just seemed to be especially bad onboard cruise ships, and that was because that's simply what happens when you have thousands of people situated together in a tight space. It creates a perfect storm for bacteria and viruses to spread. However, there have been plenty of outbreaks onboard cruise ships even before the pandemic. One such outbreak happened in 2014.
That's when around eight cruise ships and many of their passengers were hit with the norovirus. There have been more procedures and rules to limit the spread of sickness during an outbreak in recent years, but the risk is always going to be there.
Crew Members Are Mostly From Outside of the USA
There are a lot of reasons, many of which are on this list, that cruise lines don't tend to hire American workers. However, one of the reasons is simply that Americans wouldn't put up with the long hours required on a cruise ship. The typical American work week is around 40 hours long, compared to the sometimes 100-hour long work week on a cruise ship.
Pair that with different and less generous overtime rules and lower pay, and it's not hard to see why there aren't as many Americans in the cruise industry as there are in other sectors.
Medical Care Can Be Spotty
Because cruise ships aren't really required to operate to the same standards as other companies in the U.S., the medical care available to passengers can sometimes be hit or miss. It's not uncommon for cruise ships to hire doctors from countries with lower medical standards than in the U.S. It's also not uncommon for the facilities on board a cruise ship to be not quite as great as you'd find on land.
Pair that with the fact that doctors on cruise ships basically can't be sued for malpractice, and it paints a not-so-great picture of what potential care is like on a lot of cruise ships.
Most Doors Onboard Aren't Locked
This one might seem kind of horrifying at first, but it's actually for a good reason. Most of the doors on cruise ships, except passengers' cabin doors, don't actually lock. This is for safety reasons. If there is an emergency on a ship, the crew and passengers must be able to get to wherever they need to go in order to evacuate or look for other passengers.
You can also imagine the issue with people accidentally being locked in somewhere if a ship sank or there was a fire on board somewhere.
Cruise Ships Have Been Caught Dumping Tons of Waste Into the Ocean
Where does the human waste go when you're on a ship and out at the ocean, you might ask? Well, it goes exactly where you probably expected it to go: out into the ocean. Cruise ships simply dump waste when they are around 12 miles from sure. Of course, they are required to treat it first, but it still isn't great for the environment. Not all countries have the same laws either.
This means that sometimes cruise ships will discharge waste when they're nearer a country with more lax laws, such was the case recently when Canadians complained about U.S. cruise ships dumping near British Columbia.
There's Always a Fire Risk
For as long as people have been building boats, they've had to worry about those boats catching on fire. When you're out at sea, one of the worst things that can happen is for a fire to break out. And the bigger the boat, the more likely there will be a fire. That's because all of those events, entertainment venues, and amenities are powered by electricity and sometimes even involve flames.
Since 2005, there have been about 79 reported fires aboard cruise ships. That might not sound like a lot, but any one of those could've ended in a boat being sunk if they got out of hand.
Cramped Quarters for the Crew
Rooms for crew members are usually much different than the rooms for guests on cruise ships. Crew quarters are cramped in comparison, and more often than not, crew members share a room. That said, crew members do have their own break areas with things like crew-only events, classes, and even a pool reserved for staff. However, they don't really get to enjoy all of that stuff very often, considering they're working most of the time.
It turns out that working on a cruise ship is much less glamorous than most people might imagine and even downright difficult. At least they get discounted drinks, we suppose.
Cruise Ships Might Soon Be More Expensive
One of the big reasons that cruise lines are able to keep their trips so affordable is that they use tax loopholes. If you know a little bit about maritime shipping, then you're probably aware that a lot of shipping companies will register their boats in foreign countries in order to avoid having to pay U.S. taxes. The same is true of a lot for a lot of cruise companies.
That said, cruise costs might one day be a bit more expensive since, recently, many places have called for addressing this loophole. But for now, it's one of the main reasons cruises are so cheap.
Adult-Only Areas Are Great for a Little Peace and Quiet
There are usually thousands of people packed onboard a cruise ship. That includes families and their kids, meaning that sometimes it might be difficult to find a little relaxation while you're on vacation. Luckily, there's a special area on cruises you can go to find just that. Most cruise ships have an adult-only area for passengers looking to escape from the crowds. These areas usually aren't too hard to find.
However, if you do find yourself in need of a hand, you can usually just ask a member of the crew, and they'll be able to tell you where the area is.
It's Almost Impossible to Get a Refund
Because of the nature of cruises, it's really difficult to cancel your ticket and still get a refund. Usually, you're going to be left paying for that ticket you booked even if it turns out that you can't make the cruise. Not only that, but if you booked a stay while in port, then you're probably still going to have to pay for those accommodations as well, in addition to anything else you booked through the cruise line.
Strangely enough, many cruise lines used to be much more flexible with their cancelation policies and refunds, which temporarily saw a return during the height of the covid-19 pandemic.
"All You Can Eat" Has a Very Real Downside to It
This one isn't really a secret, nor is it sinister, but it is something to watch out for a while on board a cruise ship. And that is how much you consume while you're on vacation. It might sound kind of shocking to some, but most people will gain around 5 to 10 pounds after their cruise. That said, pretty much every cruise ship out there is equipped with a gym.
Exercising is the last thing most people want to do on vacation, but this is probably one of those times when it really pays to stick to your routine or even start a new one.
Cruise Ships Wait For No One
This is kind of a no-brainer, but it's important to remember that a cruise ship isn't going to wait at port for a couple of passengers who failed to get back in time. Instead, if you're late to getting back to the ship, you're going to likely be watching from shore as your ship sails off into the distance. It just doesn't make sense that a cruise ship with thousands of passengers would wait for a couple of people.
That's why it's important that you always remember to get back to the ship well before it's scheduled to depart. It's also not a bad idea to carry your documents and passport with you just in case you're left behind.
They're (really, Really) Bad for the Environment
Cruise ships are among the worst offenders when it comes to environmental impact. Part of the reason for this is that they use a fuel that's sometimes referred to as "bunker fuel." It has around 5,000 times more sulfur in it than normal gasoline. Needless to say, that makes it absolutely terrible for the environment. In recent years, some cruise ships have installed filters in order to trap some of their emissions.
It's actually estimated that cruise ships produce more carbon dioxide annually than any other type of ship, partly due to all of the amenities they have to keep running on board.
Crews Rely on Reviews for a Good Paycheck
Everything about a cruise ship ensures that passengers have a good time while on board. For example, even much of the crew's pay is determined by reviews that passengers leave. If passengers leave crew members good reviews, then they receive a nice bonus to help offset their low earnings. However, if they get bad reviews, then they can kiss their bonus goodbye, and they're just left with a meager salary.
It's kind of similar to the way waiters rely on tips instead of a base salary. However, it also means that many crew members aren't really paid all that well to do their base jobs.
Preparing the Kitchen Is Done With Military Precision
It's no surprise that most cruise ship kitchens run their operations with military-like precision. They have to ensure that they have enough food on board for everyone while also ensuring that they're not wasting any money by purchasing more food than is necessary. Some kitchens are reportedly so precise that they can predict consumption down to a margin of two meals for a week, which is really impressive considering the number of people on board.
Sometimes crews even change up how much they order based on the nationality of their guests, according to some former members of cruise ships and directors. For example, a ship with many Americans might order more ketchup than one with a majority of other nationalities.
Some Cruise Ships Have Special Themes
Because the cruise industry is so competitive, no one cruise is the same. Different cruises and companies offer their guests very different services than their competitors. For example, some might offer free coffee or other amenities to set themselves apart from the competition. It's also one of the reasons why themed cruises are such a big thing. It's so that the industry appeals to every different type of passenger possible.
That's why it's important to research the specific company and cruise you plan on taking, as each one is different, and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Hiding Drinks Isn't Easy
No matter where you go or where you stay, drinks will always be one of the more expensive parts of your vacation. Cruise lines are no different, only that instead of having the option to go to a cheap bar, you're forced to use the bars on the ship. For this reason, people have figured out how to smuggle their own booze onto cruises, and we have to say, these methods are pretty inventive.
One method of sneaking alcohol on board a cruise ship involves filling a plastic bladder with booze in order to evade x-ray detection. Another involves filling mouthwash bottles with alcohol and then using food coloring to dye them a specific color.
What Happens on the Cruise Stays on the Cruise
We imagine spending long amounts of time on board a cruise ship that's out to sea is a bit like working any other job away from home for long amounts of time. It tends to lead to people creating these sorts of double lives for themselves. For example, it gives crew members a chance to be someone they weren't while they were back at home or might even cause them to omit telling colleagues about important portions of their lives.
In short, it pretty much means that whatever happens on a cruise ship pretty much stays on a cruise ship unless, of course, you break the law or company rules.
They Can Charge For Just About Anything
Even after you pay for your ticket, you're likely going to find yourself paying for things you never would've thought about paying for before. It's no secret that a cruise line is going to make you pay for things like drinks and such, but some will even make you pay for a boat ride to land or wifi. It's not uncommon for around a quarter of a cruise's profit to come directly from surcharges.
That's why it's so important always to read the fine print so that you're not surprised when you get hit with an expensive bill out of nowhere. Reading or watching reviews can also help.
Crew Members Get to Party for Cheap
There are rules against crew members partying too much, especially with guests, but it's not uncommon to see them unwinding and letting go just a bit. A large part of this has to do with just how much they work and how little they actually have to spend on drinks. They usually pay around $1 to $2 per drink. Compare that with passenger drinks which can set you back $10 or usually more, and it's not hard to see why crew members might be the life of the party.
Still, most cruise lines will have at least a couple of clauses in their contracts that dictate how much crew members can drink and how much they can interact with guests.
Not All Rooms Are Spacious
If you don't splurge the big bucks on a room, chances are you'll get stuck in a tiny cabin without much space for everyone. Cramped quarters are never good, especially if you brought kids along. Luckily, there's usually tons to do on cruise ships so you won't have to spend much time in the room. Still, in the evening and morning hours, it's not much fun to be stuck together in such a small space.
Unless you want to be packed in like a sardine, we really suggest investing in a larger room. This way, everyone has the space to move around comfortably.