Most large cruise ships are not American ships. Most are registered in the Bahamas or Liberia. Most don't have American crews or hotel staff. You probably won't be a member of the crew if you work on a cruise ship. Members of the crew are the documented seamen who sign the ship’s Articles of Sailing and who perform a job listed on the ship’s minimum-safe-manning document. More than likely, if you're an American working on a cruise ship, you'll be a member of the hotel staff.
Pro: New People, Cultures
The hotel staff, of which you'll be a member, doesn't associate with the ship's passengers. Instead, the hotel staff and crew members have their own dining and recreation areas aboard. These are the people you'll associate with daily. Cruise ships are like floating international hotels, and the staff is routinely multinational, although few members are European. There are typically 25 to 30 in the ship’s crew, but the hotel staff will number between 800 and 1,000, so you’ll have the opportunity not only to meet new people, but to encounter new cultures.
Pro: Cheap Adventure
You have the opportunity to travel and get paid -- sometimes to tourist destinations to which everyone travels, sometimes to places off the beaten path. Your living expenses are minimal. You won’t spend money on utilities -- the ship has generators that provide virtually unlimited power -- and the cost of your cabin and groceries is less than it is onshore. Working at sea also provides a unique job experience. If you work in the food and beverage industry, cruise line experience can prove invaluable in future employment.
Con: Homesickness, Compensation
You’re on one side of the world; your family and friends are on another. A typical contract with a cruise line lasts six months, with little opportunity for outside contact. Shore leave is generally less than five hours, and you'll soon learn to purchase the cheapest phone cards available and write letters. You might carry your cellphone, but the cost of using it will quickly eat up your funds. You are a member of the ship’s staff, not a vacationer.
Wages are not high and vary according to your job. If you're a member of the hotel staff, your total compensation package includes the cost of your room and board, a detail some cruise lines fail to mention. In addition, most cruise lines expect you to work, at least part of the time, without compensation of any kind, and you may find yourself asked to work at any time that you’re aboard.
Con: Quarters, Food
Your cabin won't be private. You'll have as many as five roommates, all of different nationalities and none of whom speak the same language. While cabins may be arranged "boy-girl-boy-girl" on the ship, the individual cabins are not coed. The food is adequate and plentiful, if not gourmet. Most cruise lines have adopted -- for staff -- the same 77-item menu offered to crews in the industry. It isn’t the same fare offered to the passengers and, while there is variety, the quality is that of any other microwavable food. You'll also likely not partake of the fresh food the crew gets in addition to the microwavable staff food.