Working on a cruise ship often involves long hours and few, if any, days off for months at a time. But there are advantages unique to cruise ship jobs, like the elimination of time-consuming tasks like commuting, shopping for groceries, and cooking.
That can be a major advantage to some workers, particularly those whose positions give them access to passenger dining areas. But those with lower-paying jobs, like bartenders and waiters, can sometimes be banned from eating with passengers and are at the mercy of the crew cafeteria. There, according to five people who have worked on cruise ships, the food leaves much to be desired. (Four of them requested anonymity due to a fear of reprisal from the cruise lines they’ve worked for.)
Some described their distaste for the food as a logistical issue. Since many ships employ crew members from around the world, the food served in the crew cafeteria can reflect that variety, making it difficult for some to find food similar to what they would eat at home on a consistent basis. Others described food of poor quality, like chicken with a rubber-like texture or sauteed fish heads.
“The food sucks,” a former employee for Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line said.
Workers would keep tuna, granola bars, and other snack foods in their rooms or favor simple foods that require little preparation, like fruit, cereal, and sandwiches, she said.
Jamile Viana, a former bar waitress and bartender for Island Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Costa Cruises, and Cunard Line, said that, while working for Cunard, she often complained to the chef who cooked for crew members. On Costa, crew members would sometimes eat just rice and watermelon since their other options were unappetizing.
“The food for the crew is really bad,” Viana said. “Sometimes, you cannot eat it.”
A former Carnival Cruise Line employee said he would advise crew members to refrain from eating the food he served them.
“‘Don’t eat that.’ I told them, ‘Do not touch it,'” he said.
Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Carnival Cruise Line, and the Cruise Lines International Association — a trade association for the cruise industry — did not respond to requests for comment.
Not all of the cruise ship employees Business Insider spoke to disliked the food in the crew cafeteria. Two former cruise ship employees said they enjoyed both the quality and variety of the food served to crew members.
“The same people that are cooking for the guests are cooking for the crew. I mean, I don’t think they knew how to cook badly,” said David Weber, a former musician for Celebrity Cruises.
“It was real easy to gain weight when you’re on the ships. Real easy.”
A prior version of this story suggested that former colleagues of Jamile Viana on Cunard Line would sometimes eat just rice and watermelon during a meal due to a lack of compelling alternatives. Viana was referring instead to former colleagues on Costa Cruises.
Have you worked on a cruise ship? Do you have a story to share? Email this reporter at [email protected].