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Working on Cruise Ships vs. Superyachts – A Vast Sea of Difference

Here’s an excerpt from The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess: Confessions from My Years Afloat with the Rich and Famous:

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I Must Confess…

We yachties sort of frowned upon what life might be like aboard the ol’ cruise ships.

We were attempting to exit a small port in Bermuda when the yacht I was working on got stuck behind a massive cruise liner. Several of my fellow crewmembers and I were seated on the bow (that’s the front end) of our boat observing as the cruise ship workers scrambled to herd on last-minute stragglers from their day’s excursion ashore.

A disembodied voice bellowed out from the speakers, instructing passengers to line up at “the starboard embarkation point on Deck DD-2 near the Happy Day Lounge.” Or something like that.

We watched and listened in horror before one of our deckhands finally spoke up. He made the comparison between cruise ships and superyachts as being similar to Target vs. Neiman Marcus.

To top that, one of my fellow stewardesses chimed in with, “Or perhaps even more appropriately: Walmart vs. the Gucci store on the Champs Élysées in Paris.”

I thought that was an accurate analogy. (She said it, I didn’t.)

Champs Elysees Paris

Image credit:

M/Y Kogo Superyacht Crew

© Suki Finnerty Yachting Today TV

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Read more yacht crew confessions from Julie Perry by picking up a copy of her book, The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess, 2nd Edition.

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In all seriousness, I can remember coming home during my vacation time from yacht jobs, back to my land-locked hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana — in the heart of America’s Midwest. I would run into old friends or acquaintances, and when I told them where I’d been and what I’d been doing, their reaction was always one of confusion:

“The what industry?”

No matter how distinct and straightforward I tried to put it — “I work in the luxury-yachting industry” — this answer was always met with blank stares.

I would rephrase my response to be more specific: “I’m a stewardess on a luxury megayacht.”

“Ohhh,” they would nod (un)knowingly, “like a cruise ship.”

Ugh! That dreaded comparison.

It was inevitable. I could never just state my vocation and have people get it right away.

I suppose it makes sense that my friends back home wouldn’t be familiar with the yachting industry, or at least that it wouldn’t pop readily into their minds. Let’s face it: Everyone knows about employment opportunities that exist on cruise ships. But the same opportunities (and I call them golden opportunities) to work aboard luxury yachts seem to remain unheard of.

Why is that?

Even if you have never traveled on a cruise ship before, you have no doubt been subjected to the trillions of dollars worth of advertising done by the large cruise lines, inviting the masses to come aboard and “live the life of luxury.” Nearly everyone has been exposed to the all-affordable cruise line vacation and knows what it must be like to travel on these floating resorts.

So, when I told my friends I worked on a superyacht, cruise ships were their most obvious point of reference. They clearly picked up on some key similarities between the two types of jobs.

When I said I was a yacht stewardess, they gathered that:

  1. I worked on some type of boat.
  2. that boat was a pleasure cruising vessel on which people vacationed.
  3. I provided service for the vacationing guests aboard this pleasure cruiser.

What my friends perhaps didn’t pick up on was that:

  1. the boat I worked on was privately owned and privately chartered: more like a floating palace than a floating resort.
  2. the pleasure cruising vessel I worked on was owned and visited by some of the world’s wealthiest, and oftentimes most famous, people—the type for whom money is no object. And note: Most of them wouldn’t be caught dead on a cruise ship.
  3. the service I was hired to provide for guests was expected to be as top-notch as it comes—five-star quality, if not six. Sure, the duties might be similar to working on a cruise ship: serving food, making beds, cleaning, and doing laundry… But as a stewardess on a yacht, I handled all of these tasks, not just some of them. I also carried them out to much higher standards; nothing short of impeccable pampering was delivered. And the most unique part: I was providing this service to only a small number of people—a maximum of 12 on any given trip, with a crew-to-guest ratio that was nearly 1:1.
  4. oh yeah, and I got paid boatloads of money to travel by sea to some of the most beautiful and exotic ports in the world.
Crew of M/Y "Big Aron" - circa 2011 Photo by Suki Finnerty of Yachting Today TV

Superyacht Crew of M/Y “Big Aron” – circa 2011
Photo by Suki Finnerty of Yachting Today TV

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Why Work on a Cruise Ship When You Can Work on a Luxury Yacht Instead?

To me, this is a no-brainer. On luxury yachts, the posh clientele, the unique travel opportunities, and more important, the money you can earn and the luxurious surroundings you live within make for an entirely different work environment than on commercial cruise liners. Sure, the service expectations are much higher on yachts; but if you are dedicated and receive the proper training, you can land a job on a yacht just as easily as you can on a cruise ship.

I’m not putting down the cruise line industry. After all, given my income level, if I were to take a vacation at sea, it would be my wallet’s best option. What I am trying to point out is that commercial cruises are for The Everyman. They are marketed to the masses, and therefore we are all familiar with them, both as a form of vacation and as a form of employment. So when comparing the cruise industry to the yachting industry—and more specifically, the jobs one would hold in either—then yes, yacht professionals do wish to remain in a far separate category.

The Crew of Megayacht "Allegria" (2010). Photo by Suki Finnerty of YachtingToday.TV

The Crew of Megayacht “Allegria” (2010).
Photo by Suki Finnerty of YachtingToday.TV

Moreover, when it comes to payoffs for the crew, yacht jobs take the cake. Base salaries for stewardesses, when compared with those of food and beverage servers, cabin stews, and laundry staff on cruise ships, are slightly higher. But where the potential income differences become dramatic is when you consider the tips one can earn working on luxury charter yachts, or the bonuses and perks afforded the crew on solely private yachts.

For more on the benefits to your bank account, check out Chapter 2 of The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess. Meanwhile, I can tell you now with total confidence: The money and other perks you can obtain working on luxury yachts beats those offered on cruise ships hand over fist.

Cruise Ships vs. Luxury Yachts—A Vast Sea of Difference

Here’s a more direct comparison of working on cruise ships vs. superyachts:

Cruise Ships vs. Superyachts

OwnershipCommercially owned and operatedPrivately owned and used
Charter FormulaPassengers rent by cabin or block of cabinsOne person or group of people charter the entire vessel
Size and StyleFloating Resorts: Sizes vary greatly depending on the line, but averages for some of the larger cruise lines are in the 800- to 900-foot rangeFloating Palaces/Hotels: 80 to 500 feet in length, with an average of about 170 feet
Number of GuestsHordes: Averages hover around 1,000 and can reach 3,000 on the larger ocean linersUp to 12. In rare cases, 18 to 36
Number of CrewCrew ranges from 300 to around 1,200Crew ranges from 1 to 36, but the average for megayachts is around 6 to 10
Crew-to-Guest Ratio1:3 and higher (1:2 in the case of the higher-end lines)Small, often 1:1 or 1:1.5
Destinations VisitedWell-known, with itineraries etched in stoneMore remote, with itineraries that are determined by the guests and can change on a daily (if not hourly!) basis
ClienteleA mixed bag of John Does A well-to-do bunch of heavyweights
Quality of ServiceAverage to highThe highest
Crew PayVariesVaries, but tips are infinitely juicier

And there you go! If the pay and benefits that come from accompanying the rich and famous on their private journeys around the world is news to you—and appeals to you—then that’s where I come in. Consider me your coach on how to become a part of it all.

But let’s get one thing straight right now: I will make no attempt to hide my passion for what I consider to be one of the world’s greatest jobs. Oh, and to all my dear friends back home in Indiana, I NEVER WORKED ON A CRUISE SHIP.

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Read more yacht crew confessions from Julie Perry by picking up a copy of her book, The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess, 2nd Edition.

Don’t want to wait? Start learning more about what it’s really like to live and work “below deck” with a career in the luxury yachting industry by downloading Chapter 1 here.

The Insiders Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess 2nd Edition by Julie Perry Download Chapter 1