How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Really Earn? The Truth About Their Pay

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Have you ever found yourself mesmerised by the glamorous life on a cruise ship? I mean, who hasn’t? It’s like a floating city filled with endless entertainment, exotic destinations, and the crew that makes everything happen. 

But have you ever wondered about the folks working behind the scenes? You know, the cheerful waiter or the ever-smiling cruise director. How much do they really make for living the dream at sea? 

A welcoming group of waitstaff aboard an MSC cruise ship, dressed in crisp white uniforms with bow ties and smiling as they prepare to provide guests with exceptional dining service.

Let’s unpack the paychecks and perks of cruise ship staff from the high seas with Carnival, Disney, and Royal Caribbean. And who knows? By the end of this article, you might even consider a career on a cruise ship.

What’s in the Wallet of Cruise Ship Crews?

Curious about the earnings of those who keep your cruise experience smooth sailing? Well, the financial tides may surprise you. 

While the median salary for a cruise ship worker might be less than your average Joe in the States. Back in 2018, Carnival Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, and Royal Caribbean Group shared some figures:

  • Carnival Group dished out about $16,622
  • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings was a bit more generous with $20,101
  • Royal Caribbean Group wasn’t far behind at $19,396

We haven’t seen new stats since 2018, so hopefully, those salaries have gone up since then. 

Global Earnings

We can also compare these with the median annual earnings of the populations of various countries:

  • The USA boasts a hefty $46,625
  • Down under in Australia, it’s $35,518
  • The UK’s at a cosy $25,383
  • Spain and Lithuania hover around $25,000 and $21,000, respectively
  • Russia grabs $16,163
  • Chile’s chilling at $10,058
  • And India, bless, is at $2,473

Seeing the big picture? The average cruise crew member’s salary might look slim in a US wallet, but it’s a fortune in many corners of the globe. It’s no wonder that dreamy three-bedroom sea-view houses are within reach for many crew members from developing nations.

The Reality of Cruise Ship Life

Before you jump ship and sign up, let’s talk hours and contracts. It’s not all sunshine and sea breezes; some crew members grind up to sixteen hours a day, every day of the week.

Meanwhile, the entertainers might just work a couple of hours daily. Contracts can range from a couple of months to nearly a year, but you get a break to touch base now and then.

A lively host engages with an enthusiastic audience aboard a Carnival cruise ship, captured in a moment of interactive entertainment in the ship's theater, with guests raising their hands and participating in the fun event.

Perks on Board: More Than Just a Salary

Life at sea comes with its own set of perks. We’re talking about basics like food, accommodation, laundry, and nice-to-haves like training, medical care, and even flights to and from the ship. 

And let’s not forget the discounts for family cruises. However, if you want to Instagram your adventures, you’ll have to pay for the WiFi or hunt down hotspots on port days.

Who Makes What

Ever wonder who’s bagging the most loot? From the captain’s deck to the service floors, here’s a sneak peek:


The captains command an impressive $8,200 monthly. With potential bonuses and perks, their leadership not only steers the ship but secures a prosperous voyage for themselves.

Related reading: Revealing What Cruise Ship Captains Really Earn

Captain Henrik Loy stands proudly in front of Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas, with the massive cruise ship's hull towering in the background, moored with thick blue ropes, illustrating the grand scale of the vessel and the esteem of its captain.

Cruise Directors

At $4,900 monthly, cruise directors are the heart of onboard entertainment, orchestrating a symphony of activities that bring joy and laughter to passengers. Their earnings reflect the pivotal role they play in enhancing the cruise experience, making every moment on the high seas memorable.

Medical and Engineering Marvels

The unsung heroes of health and machinery, doctors and chief engineers pocket a handsome $9,750 and $9,000, respectively. Their expertise ensures the wellbeing of all onboard and the smooth sailing of the ship, marking them as invaluable assets to the crew.

Royal Caribbean's Chief Engineer, Staale Johan Ludviksen, stands confidently in the engine room, donning his white uniform with epaulettes indicating his rank, set against the complex machinery of the cruise ship's operational heart.

The Culinary and Service Maestros

Waiters and chefs, with their impeccable service and culinary delights, earn around $3,300 monthly. Their dedication to gastronomic excellence and guest satisfaction adds a rich flavour to the cruise experience.

A team of chefs in white uniforms and chef hats busily preparing meals in the bustling kitchen of a Carnival cruise ship, showcasing the focused and skilled culinary work that goes into creating exquisite dining experiences for guests.

The Entertainers and Beauty Specialists

From guest entertainers earning up to $6,000 to beauticians, massage therapists, and nail technicians, each making $3,300, these professionals add sparkle and relaxation to the voyage. Whether it’s through captivating performances or rejuvenating spa treatments, they ensure guests enjoy a holistic and entertaining journey.

A comedian performing at the Punchliner Comedy Club on a Carnival cruise ship, engaging with the audience, under the warm spotlight against the backdrop of a brick wall with the club's logo, creating a classic comedy club atmosphere.

Supporting Stars

The hardworking individuals behind the scenes, including gift shop assistants, photographers, musicians, and youth staff, with earnings ranging from $2,150 to $2,400, play crucial roles in enriching the cruise experience.

Shoppers and staff in a fashionable boutique aboard the MSC Divina, browsing through a colorful display of handbags and accessories, with the store's modern design and lighting creating an inviting shopping experience.

Is a Cruise Ship Job Worth the Plunge?

Chatting about cruise ship life and the money that comes with it has been a blast. The salary might not be a landlubber’s dream, but with all expenses covered and some unique perks, it’s an adventure worth considering. 

Whether you’re drawn to the sea for the travel, the job, or just the thrill, knowing the score helps you navigate your decisions. Who knows? Maybe the next time we talk, you’ll send postcards from exotic locations, courtesy of your new life on a cruise ship. 

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I'm Hannah and I've been cruising for as long as I can remember.

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