What Happens To Crews Of Docked Cruise Ships?

Filed Under: Travel

As I’ve written about a couple of times, one of the things that I like most about living in Miami is that I get to watch planes fly overhead all day, given how close the city is to the airport. That gets especially interesting with some of the “unique” planes we see, like a 64 year old cargo plane that always comes from Honduras

While I’m not personally a cruise ship fan nowadays (though I was as a kid), I also have an awesome view of the cruise port from when I live. I’m usually happy to not be on a cruise ship, though I do love watching all the ships arriving in the mornings and departing in the evenings, especially given that they make a 180 degree turn as they pull in.

While cruise ships usually all pull in and depart the same day, the past few days we’ve seen some boats parked here (seemingly) indefinitely, given that many cruise lines have suspended operations.

For example, Virgin Voyages was supposed to launch operations this month, but they’ve now postponed the inaugural season until July, and the ship has been parked in the harbor for several days now.

I’m far from a cruise ship expert, so I have a question, because collectively you guys seem to know just about everything — as I watch these ships parked so close by, what happens to all the crews?

Many of these ships have thousands of staff members coming from dozens of countries. At least when I took cruises back in the day, I remember there being a lot of Filipino staff, and you can’t really get much further than Miami to Manila…

Are all crews being flown home? Are they in their usual accommodations on the ship just waiting this out? Are they partying it up on the lido deck? Presumably the captain and some amount of crew stay onboard? If so, is there also a chef, or who is making their food?

Does the answer vary depending on whether the season is delayed all the way until summer (in which case I imagine they’re taken off the ship), vs. if a cruise line is suspending operations for just 30 days?

I know there are some random questions in there — I’m a naturally curious person, and as I see these ships parked here for days on end, I can’t help but wonder what’s happening onboard.

If anyone has a sense of how this stuff works, I’d love to know (and I imagine I’m not alone)!

  1. A family member currently works on Celebrity Edge in the Caribbean. Captain just moved all crew members in to guest cabins. They had a raffle for who received suites, balcony rooms, etc. All restaurants/bars on board half price/crew member prices. Wifi is now free for everyone. Everyone still receiving their traditional pay while docked in the ocean for 30 days. Those whose contracts are ending at certain dates are being released but responsible for own travel once back on land.

  2. I have been on over 100 cruises. And some of those cruises were 100+ days. So I’ve become friends with many crew over the years.

    The crew still is working several hours a day. But they also are getting time off. I’ve seen pictures from friends with the crew is swimming in the pools designated for passengers. Sitting in quiet corners of the ship reading a book. Although the responsibilities have not ended, for once they were able to enjoy some of the perks of being a paid passenger.

  3. There are some Royal Caribbean crew we follow on youtube who are vlogging. The Oasis of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas and probably others are anchored off of the Bahamas. The entire crew is onboard, cleaning and maintaining the ships. They are being tested everyday for the virus, but are being allowed to enjoy the ships amenities. They are still being paid, but not gratuities, which are usually a big part of their income.

  4. Most service staff don’t actually work for the cruise line but work for a staffing agency. This agency has offices in countries all over the world to recruit staff. With the downturn most staff are flown home (there are special seafarer fares). As you can imagine the staff on these ships are the primary bread winners for the family which has now dried up.

  5. My friend was a performing magician at the HAL Westerdam that got rejected by 5 countries.. He was flown back to Singapore (he’s Singaporean) and was quarantined for 2 weeks. Think he was supposed to be on 7 months contract with Princess cruise but due to the situation I guess that got cancelled and as a result he’s just staying around

  6. I was working on a Renaissance Cruise ship in the Mediterranean when 9/11 happened. I was on the entertainment staff. We operated for a day or two after, but the cruise company was so inundated with canceled bookings that, combined with the immediate aftermath in terms of security and panic, it went BANKRUPT and closed operations while we were at sea.

    One evening, while my roommate and I were hanging out in our stateroom, staff went around banging on people’s doors to turn on the TV. Whoever was operating the CCTV had put on hard-core porn to tell us that, in essense, we were all f#*$cked. Given how cruises operate and the regulations of international waters and local jurisdictions we, and all the passenegers, were left floating off of Gibraltar until we could get clearance to dock someplace to let our passengers out.

    I forget what port exactly, but we were finally unloaded off a port in England. Passengers got off immediately (I don’t know the compensation/help they were offered) and us employees had to stay on board until we could all be processed. Remember, staffs are made up of people from many countries and everyone on the manifest has to be cleared/recorded by the local authorities. We might have stayed on 2 or 3 days after passengers disembarked before we left. That was us entertainment staff…us being mostly Americans and Canadians, our lives were fairly luxe and easy by example when compared to the food and hospitality staff. They had to stay on longer.

    All in all, I was probably on board 5-6 days following the porn. And, believe me, no bottle of vodka made it out alive.

    The company that hired us (not the cruise line) was on the hook for getting us back home. I don’t even think I got my final check. I ended up living in England with a friend for a year (I was in college, I had that freedom).

    Crazy times.

  7. I flew out of Dubai on Monday after spending two days aboard a cruise ship that was supposed to sail to Athens, but never left the dock. The Red Sea and Mediterranean ports we were going to visit all shut-down.

    There were nine huge cruise ships docked at Dubai and as far as I could tell they were all empty, because at night there were almost no lights on. The crew of our ship did not know if they would be flown home or not, as the cancellation of our cruise was very sudden. Dinner in the dining room was great. Everyone was excited. Then at 22:30 a PA announcement was made that the ship would not be sailing and all passengers would be flown home the next day.

    My husband said “This was a long way to come just for dinner…”

  8. Would the ships be moored or docked instead if parked? I’m not a sailor so maybe “parking” a ship is what you do.

  9. Several Princess ships are docked at Bahamas. Crews remain on board and are able to enjoy the amenities but they dont seem to stay at guest cabins. OTOH Princess has already announced to pay Diamond Princess crew 2 months full pay + normal gratuities once they can leave the ship and go home. I would imagine Princess would do the same for the rest of the ships now the company has voluntarily suspended global operation for 60 days, the second cruise line to do so, following Viking’s announcement on May 10. Princess made its announcement on May 11. We the booked passengers received the email to our inbox like 2 to 3am of May 11, with 2 options to choose from for our refund – 150% future cruise credit or 100% refund + 25% future cruise credit. Port charges, taxes and fees do not belong to cruise lines therefore those are always refunded to original form of payment.

    The 60 days voluntary suspension is already a 2nd revised cancellation policy followed by a 1st one that allowing people to cancel and receive back the cancellation fee in the form of future cruise credit. Princess since then has yet a 3rd policy in place to take care of those sailings between May 11 and Jul 30.

    Refunds from the 1st policy came quickly due to most people’s cancellation penalty already were in 75% of 100% – i.e. mostly FCC except the port charges, taxes and fee.
    Refunds from the 2nd policy would be much slower as this not only fleet wide, but also can be 100% refund instead of FCC.

    Ours is booked with Chase Ultimate Reward points (for the CSR benefit). It will be fun time to sort this out once refund finally hits Connexions card. Since right now per data points reported on Cruise Critics, people who paid with their own cards are still waiting for their refunds, I am in no hurry to follow up with Connexions.

  10. @TT
    Some of the information you provided is incorrect. Salaries among onboard cruise line employees vary enormously based on position and seniority. There is a clear distinction between the staff (i.e., those in higher roles who are salaried such as Front Desk, Entertainment, Navigation Officers, etc.) and crew (i.e., those on service positions that rely primarily on gratuities as their income). For the crew/service employees, even if they are getting paid their minimum salary based on the minimum daily gratuity that cruise lines charge all guests depending on cabin class (e.g., On Celebrity Interior-Oceanview pay the least, followed by Concierge Class, Aqua Class, and of course Suites pay the most) this is still a very small percentage compared to the additional tips that most guests give to service employees for their hard work. Most service employees make the sacrifice of working on ships to support large families in their home countries so I can only imagine how stressful this must be for them.

  11. Who cares they are safe. What about the cruise ship in limbo on the seas with no where to go. Like NCL SPIRIT

  12. As David wrote employees receive different wages depends of their jobs. I worked in cruise industry for 15 years and I was one of the supervising engineers during Diamond Princess construction in MHI shipyard in Nagasaki. I did a contract on Grand Princess as well.

    Salaries and benefits depends on CBA and mayors like Norwegian and RCL are considered as companies which have good conditions for their employees. Many crew members in hotel operations are recruited by agencies which take care about their wages and repatriation and usually are considered as not so great employers.

    At the moment no crew changes are permitted and those who are docked are staying onboard, no shore leave for anyone. Internet access is free, they can enjoy some pax areas. CBA defines how are they paid so some of them receive full wages and benefits while others no, very similar like during the dry dock operations. Some companies have flown some of crew members home where they have to go through quarantine or self-quarantine for 14 days.

    Technical operations did not change much, there are forwarded maintenance projects as now there is an opportunity to perform them. Ship’s diesels still run, HVAC, safety equipment etc. If industry comes to laying off the ships they will keep minimum number of crew members to run maintenance needed.

  13. @Robert Mitchell

    Hi Robert,

    I worked for NCL for 11 years and I spent 3 years on Spirit, still some colleagues are over there. There is no lack of food or anything but everybody is aware that times are more than difficult. NCL will take the best care of them and even if there is uncertainty at the moment I am sure they are doing everything they can for pax and crew benefit. Pls do not take sailing for granted and these days especially. NCL is great company and crew and officers will do everything they can to bring everybody safe and healthy into first convenient port.

  14. Follow @captainkatemccue on Instagram (she’s the Captain of Celebrity Edge and she’s awesome).

  15. Ditto on Captain Kate. She’s amazing… really taking care of her crew. She’s posting a lot about her and her crew during this time. #JustCrewIt

  16. Not in any way a cruise expert, but I am a Physician in Tampa, I have (non US citizen) patients who work for cruise lines. I have had multiple requests for early medication refills from patients who are being sent back to their home countries until business resumes.

  17. @TT
    There is no way 1500-2000 crew members on RCL ships docked in the Bahamas are “being tested for the virus everyday”. The hospital I work at is doling out tests on patients with high index of suspicion only, because we are STILL really short on test kits so your statement is completely ludicrous. Maybe they’re being screened everyday with temperature and symptom checks but testing everyday??? Fat chance.

  18. As there has not been anything in the “news” yet, one cruiseline is sending their crew members home. All but the deck and engine crews. I have to imagine we will see this hit the news in the near future, I can only speculate that this particular cruise line believes they are suspending their itineraries for more than a few more weeks. Sending over 1500 crew members home has to be more expensive than maintaining the crew on board.
    While I am certainly disappointed by this news because I was hoping to be cruising in April, I am concerned for the crew members and their families during this time. It is a sacrifice to the family to work on a cruise ship. If there were adequate employment opportunities at home, many would not choose to work away from home for months at a time.

  19. Not all cruise ship employees are being taken care of, only the ones currently on a ship.

    I was supposed to start on a cruise ship last week, and they sent me home instead.

    Now the company in question won’t return emails and who knows if the onboarding HR members are even working or if they rage quit.

    Tempted to bail from this company but not many options given restaurants and casinos are all shut down.

  20. Crew members due to join ships have had their contracts terminated at short notice with no pay Is this legal?

  21. Since there are a lot more insiders here than I thought.

    I have one big question.

    What the hell allegedly (really) happened on Diamond Princess.
    How did quarantine resulted in 600+ infected. Did Princess or Japan dropped the ball. Or quarantine means another typical day at sea until they let us disembark.

    From the reports its obvious the execution is terrible. But who is the biggest blame.

  22. @ Eskimo — Cruise ships are petri dishes at the best of times. Japan likely made the wrong call there, as those ships aren’t designed for “isolation” procedures at all….it’s like keeping water from spilling into adjacent sections of an ice cube tray.

  23. Janice- dependz on your contract, I have to keep things kind of unspecific because I’m afraid of talking out in fear of losing my job. I know in my case I technically have a case if they don’t send me or pay me because of the contract I signed. The thing is it would take forever to see a dime.

    Eskimo- relying on corporate training is a joke, I’ve worked for several billion dollar corporations and they all give lip service to training and safety. Yes they say it’s their number one priority but the training programs are a joke and are the absolute minimum.

  24. A Disney ship arrived in San Diego yesterday and is supposed to be here for a month. The news reported that over 800 crew will remain on the boat and some others had their contracts end and will be leaving.

  25. My husband is a chef in one of Carnival cruise ships. Since he just came from a vacation, the company put him in quarantine in his own cabin for 14 days and the food is just being served by one of the crew. Everyday, he is required to visit the ship’s clinic for them to check his temperature. The good thing is, the days are still paid.

  26. I’m going to be honest and say up front that I am biased. I was on that Disney ship. The only reason I was there was to visit my spouse. So when they forced me to debark and leave them behind it crushed my heart beyond words. Said spouse is not in an operational role and has no real reason to be there other than to not break contract. If you ask me it is pretty damn heartless at a time like this.
    Although, if you look at it the other way round if the ship is virus free then they will just say it would be more dangerous to have their employees travel amidst the outbreak. So they are doing it for their best interest… Unless of course your contract is up, because then you can bet you are getting debarked without a second thought.

  27. I am on Norwegian Escape now. I am musician. My country is Ukraine and it is closed. So they cant send me and my collegues home. We and many other crew members stay onboard. Somebody continue work every day like kooks, stewards, etc. We dont have any duties. I dont know about salary… will see, but nobody tald us about cutting the montly wage. Now we just watching movies, eating, reading, sleeping, visiting gym, practicing prof. skills. And waiting…

  28. I am on Norwegian Escape now,
    I got information from a friend on N Epic that some crew like 560+got transfered from N.Sun to the NEpic.
    They are kept in passenger cabins without work. The HR Director on the sign on day told everyone will b
    Continued to b paid as long as you all are onboard.But after few days captain announced no N.Sun crew will b paid.NCL is cheating its crew because 565+ crew didnt sign off on 21 march.they planned 21,22,23and so on but it was clear dat some countries closed their airports already.HR Director mentioned it on NEpic when crew transfered on 21,that some nationalities like india ,mauritius crew will stay longer n will be paid .But NCL refusing saying sign off crew from sun.
    How can crew sign off when they are transfered?
    Is crew going on another ship when signing off or going home?
    NCL is full of shit showing real colour now. Liars

  29. I work for Norwegian Cruise Line. They just fired most of the crew. They are going to terminate all our contracts disregarding how long we had left, only paying 2 weeks severance pay. 2 days ago they made us sign that we were going to get paid 20% less as we stay on the ships until June 30th, but now they fired us like nothing starting tomorrow. They have no respect for their crew members.

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