Joining a Cruise Ship for the First Time: Essential Tips for New Crew Members

Apr 19, 2023

When you are at home before your first cruise ship assignment, you don't know how many different things are going to happen when you board the ship. Everything you probably heard from those employment agencies back home is only the good side of the story. When you pack your luggage and finally set to join the cruise ship for the first time, just take a deep breath; in the end, everything will be ok. Be brave and prepare yourself for a unique, beautiful, challenging journey.

You will understand that this is no ordinary job once you arrive onboard the cruise ship for the first day of your contract. Whether it's your first or fifth contract, what happens on your first day can be overwhelming. As a first-time crewmember, know what to expect on your first day working on a cruise ship.

Crew Boarding Procedures

Every cruise ship terminal worldwide has a different layout and varying degrees of security. Generally, you will arrive at a security gate that may or not be close to the ship. Some cruise ports are humungous, with dozens of ships, while others are tiny.

You will show your passport and employment letter to the port security, and then they will let you proceed to the ship. Some cruise ports have terminal cruise buildings, while others may not. This is sometimes an additional step, as you must have your luggage screened and your passport rechecked in the terminal building before proceeding to the ship's gangway.

This is where you realize if you've brought too much luggage or not. Generally, there is no one to help you pull or carry all your bags. There are no luggage carts either. It would be best to be self-sufficient until you get onboard and to your cabin.

Once at the security at the bottom of the gangway, you must show your employment letter and passport again before being let on the ship by the security officer. Someone from the crew office typically meets the new joiners at the bottom of the gangway (or in the crew terminal building) and escorts them to the crew office.

Following the Crew Manager to the crew office, you see what happens on a turnaround day. You pass crew loading on provisions. You see forklifts within the ship moving around cages full of passengers' luggage. As you head to the crew office, it's a busy and noisy place.

At the crew office, you sign the Ship's Articles, a large book that is a legal document containing signatures of all leavers and joiners. You fill out other information, such as a declaration of your personal effects. This will be used for customs to prove what you came to the ship with and what you are leaving with when you go home. You will also give your passport to the crew office for your contract.

You will be given items such as a ship's map and information about the training you must attend. You may get your cabin assignment at this point or be given this once you meet your supervisor. You may also be instructed when and where to get your ship's ID (photo identification that replaces your passport while you work onboard).

You will understand that the crew office is where you will be paid your salary, where you will pay your shipboard account, and where you will report if your luggage has been delayed by the airlines.

Cruise Ship Crew Cabin Assignment

Once you leave the crew office, you must figure out where to go. Although your crew map will show where most places are around the ship, the maps typically could be more detailed when finding your cabin. Many crew areas devoted to cabin space feel like a maze until you get used to them.

You may not be able to put your luggage into your cabin immediately because the leaver (that you are replacing) might still need to leave. If you have to share a cabin, you may not get to meet your cabin mate at this point either since they are probably working. Your cabin mate will generally be someone from your department.

Get to Know the Cruise Ship

Once you know where your cabin is, it's time to get familiar with other parts of the ship. If you're prepared, you would have researched the rest of the ship's layout before you left home. (All ship deck plans are available on the cruise lines' website). Before you wander the ship, note when and where you need to be for all your orientation and safety inductions. Organize everything else around these crucial times.

Depending on your rank will determine if you need to put your uniform on before meeting your supervisor. You may already have your uniforms or have to go to the uniform store on the ship to get them. You will soon find out that the uniform store has specific hours of operation, too. Next, you must find out where and when to get alterations done if necessary.

At some point, you will meet your supervisor and find out where and when you must report to your shift and where you are allowed to eat. Take any extra time before starting to get familiar with the ship. Understand forward, aft, port, and starboard, as well as any other areas that are pertinent to your cruise job.

Safety Inductions and Training

You will be expected to attend safety training during your first day onboard. Read the instructions carefully that the crew office (or your supervisor) has given you as to what you need to bring. Learn more about safety training in the article, The Crew's Role in Cruise Ship Emergencies.

Your First Shift on a Cruise Ship

Your first day on a cruise ship can be overwhelming even before you start working. Once you start your first shift onboard, ensure you understand what is expected of you. Be bold and clarify with your supervisor anything you are unsure of. Your colleagues will probably help you adjust because they remember what it was like on their first day working on a cruise ship.

When you arrive on the ship for the first time, everything happens quickly, and things are amazingly difficult initially. But as time progresses, you will become more familiar with ship procedures and protocols and more experienced.

If you see someone on board who is new and who looks lost and overwhelmed by everything, pause for a second, and give them a hug or a couple of words of support. A little gesture like that can make a significantly positive impact on someone's first day on the ship.