The early cruise ships began plying in the 1850s serving the rich aristocracy and royalty. Cruises were always luxurious, serving fine food and offering stately accommodation. Crew conditions, however, were far from fair.
The class divide before modern labour laws came in was huge. Staff were expected to make life as comfortable as possible for guests with no thought for their own.
Ships like the Titanic had bath and bedroom stewards who served guests in their rooms and even assisted them with dressing. They were poorly paid and often overworked. Some were in charge of anywhere between three and 25 rooms depending on guests.
Downstairs, engineers and coal men worked hard to keep the ship running smoothly, shovelling coal non-stop in shifts for days on end. The working conditions were harsh – extreme heat, long hours and poor safety.
Most crew lived in cramped quarters and their food was certainly nothing to write home about. It was basic and mostly bland, served to offer nutrition more than to appetise. This was in stark contrast to passengers in first class who were served meals that would be considered rather fancy.
Safety was another major concern for cruise ship crew back in the day. With constricted living spaces and poor safety measures at work, conditions were ideal for disasters. However, as time went by and the cruise industry boomed – in small part credited to the Nazis who sent their officers on paid trips as bonuses – management took more precautions to safeguard ships with regard to hygiene in particular.
Today, holding cruise ship jobs is coveted in developing countries and also with gap-year students as the pay is excellent and living conditions are decent. Things might not be luxurious but it is still a far cry from cramped bunks with shared toilets. Crew now live two to a cabin with an en-suite bathroom, television and even Wi-Fi connectivity.
Cruise line companies look for people with specific qualifications and work experience, especially in positions that deal directly with guests, while decades ago anyone looking for a job and agreeable with the conditions on board could be taken on and trained.
Pay scales are on the rise, and many crew today are able to support entire families at home on the back of the compensation they receive. Management also ensures that crew receive medical insurance with an on-board pharmacy and nursing room, leave following the end of a contract, the minimum number of hours off duty while at work, discounted alcohol, free food, and even organised entertainment.
Thanks to the internet and recruiting companies like Kamaxi Overseas, aspirants can avail of cruise ship jobs from a range of companies based on their preference. Working on board a cruise ship sets crew up for an exciting life ahead – at sea, or back on land – owing to the strict adherence to standards and excellent exposure.
The biggest advancements have come in the sector of safety and security. Today’s cruise companies have policies in place for every role and all crew are trained in matters of safety – from fighting fire to life-saving and even personal hygiene to avoid the spread of diseases.
Like any other job, the world of cruise work continues to forge ahead with advancements and conditions for crew continue to get better each day.