Can You Work On a Cruise Ship With a Child? - Life of Iris (2023)

Maybe you’re thinking of working onboard a cruise ship and you have a child. You wonder if you could bring them with you and give them a chance to see the world. Maybe your spouse just got a job offer working onboard and you’re wondering if you and the kids can go sail with them. Or, perhaps you’ve been working onboard for awhile and are figuring out your future. To answer the question of can you work on a cruise ship with a child we need to dive into all the variables that can exist with that question. We are going to do our best to unpack this question and the multitude of variables and assumptions that go with it. Let’s break it down.

Can You Work on a Cruise Ship If You Have a Child?

The base question of whether or not you can work on a cruise ship with a child to me implies bringing the child with you onboard but let’s get this other variation out of the way right from the get-go.

Yes, you can work onboard a cruise ship if you have a child. A huge percentage of people working on cruise ships have kids. Most of those kids are not onboard though. The majority of crew member that have children have family members at home taking care of them while the crew member works onboard. The family at home may be a spouse, sibling, or their parents (the kids grandparents).

It’s not uncommon to have spouses sailing on the same ship and their children are at home being looked after by the grandparents. In these situations the spouses sailing onboard will likely send a good portion of their earnings home to help take care of the grandparents as well as the kids.

For some crew members, their children might even be born while they are onboard and their partner is at home. It’s always sad when a crew member can’t be home for the birth of their child but it is a somewhat common occurrence. When contracts are often 8 or 9 months long with only a few months off in between it can make it hard to be there for even big life events like births.

Can You Work On a Cruise Ship With Your Child Onboard?

This part of the question is where we get into a lot of variables. The short answer is – it depends. Honestly there is no short answer on this one.

COVID Note: Many cruise lines have restricted or reduced family onboard privileges during the pandemic. Hopefully these privileges fully come back soon!

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Some Cruise Ship Crew Can Bring Their Children Onboard

There are some cruise ship crew that can bring their children onboard to sail with them. Which crew members can do this depends entirely on their rank/position onboard and what benefits the company allows those ranks.

Cruise lines will often let officers bring spouses and children onboard. However, some cruise lines will let any crew member that has a position that is guaranteed their own cabin (meaning they will never have a roommate). This allows crew members in positions that may not technically be officer positions onboard a cruise ship the opportunity to bring their family members onboard.

If They Can Bring Their Children Onboard, And They Have an Emergency Function, Their Kids Need a Responsible Adult Aside from the Crew Member

This part might seem complicated but stick with me.

Nearly all crew members onboard a cruise ship have an emergency function of some sort. This means that if an alarm goes off the crew members will have to respond in some way. (Although, not all crew members have to respond to every alarm – that depends on your emergency function).

So, say it’s 2:00am and the emergency alarm goes off and the emergency function that you have requires you to respond. You have your two year old child onboard the ship with you. You can’t bring the two year old with you to go fight a fire on the ship. Who is going to watch your two year old while you go fight fires? Exactly.

Even if your position (and corresponding rank) allows you to bring a child onboard to sail with you if you have an emergency function that child needs to have an adult that is onboard that is responsible for them. This is part of why it’s complicated for couples to sail onboard working together and have their kids sail with them at the same time. If you and your partner both work onboard and would be eligible to bring children onboard ask to read the fine print of the employee rules – there may be possibilities of you having a “chaperone” for the kids onboard. The chaperone/nanny/responsible person would be the one that would be responsible for the kids in the case of an emergency. They wouldn’t be onboard as a crew member, but rather would be there to take care of the crew kids. I’ve never personally seen this done but have heard of it being done. Let’s be honest though – it’s not common.

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But Not All Crew Members Have Emergency Functions…So These Positions Sometimes Don’t Need That Other Responsible Adult

You may have seen Guest Entertainers (magicians, singers, comedians, etc) that bring their children onboard with them. The majority of Guest Entertainers onboard cruise ships do not have an emergency function and are typically considered to be a “guest”. Often this is a slight variation on a true passenger – they might not be able to eat in the dining room every night and every once in awhile they’re allowed in crew areas; but, for the purposes of an emergency they are a passenger.

Many cruise lines have extended this type of “passenger” position – with certain guest privileges that other crew members don’t have – to other entertainers onboard.

Depending on the cruise line these “guest status” type “passengers” may be able to bring their child onboard to sail without having an additional responsible adult onboard. This is because should an emergency arise their responsibilities are the same as if they were a passenger. No fighting fires, no checking staterooms, and no traffic directing, just returning to their stateroom, getting their life jackets, and mustering when told to do so.

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If You Do Bring Your Child Onboard, Can They Go to the Kids Club?

If you are able to bring your children onboard to sail with you they will almost always be allowed to participate in kids club activities onboard the ship if activities are being offered for passenger children. If, however, there are no other kids onboard the ship the cruise line won’t provide specific additional entertainment for the child. Additionally, if the kids club is past capacity there is a chance that the “crew kid” (as they are affectionately known) may be unable to participate for that particular cruise.

There may be specific and additional rules that the children have to follow depending on the cruise line. If you are thinking of bringing your children onboard with you check with either the Human Resources Manager or your supervisor.

How Long Can a Child Sail Onboard?

Once again – it depends and this is where it can get a bit tricky.

If you’re in a “guest status” situation – like as a guest entertainer – you should negotiate this and discuss it when agreeing to the contract. If you’re in an officer like position your situation will be more based on general company policy.

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Different companies have different policies on this. If your position is able to have a child sail with you it will most likely be for nearly the length of your contract. The official rule could be between 120-180 days a year but depending on the company could potentially be longer. If the child is either your biological child, legally adopted child, or legal step-child they would likely eligible to sail the most days. The legal parts can come into play here though. Say for instance you have been in a committed relationship for 10 years and consider your partners child to be your step-child but you aren’t married and they aren’t legally your step-child. Well, there’s a chance that child either won’t be able to sail with you or may not be able to sail for as long. And, unless you’ve provided paperwork declaring your relationship, your partner might not be able to sail for that long, either.

That might all seem complicated, but most of the time once you have filed the paperwork with the company once (marriage license, birth certificates, etc), it’s pretty simple to put the request in to sail with the crew member.

Can the Child Always Sail Onboard?

No. Anytime a crew member wants to bring their family onboard the ship, whether if it’s for a day, a month, or even a year they need to file paperwork with the head office to get it approved. This approval will get the names of these family members onto the correct manifest on the ship.

However, simply putting the paperwork request in does not guarantee that it will be a yes. On every ship there needs to be enough space in the lifeboats and life rafts for everyone onboard the ship. If for some reason it is an incredibly busy sailing there may be a chance that you are denied because there simply aren’t enough spaces in the life boats for the additional family members.

Most likely they also wouldn’t be able to be onboard during things like dry-docks or ship refurbishments.

Where Would My Child Stay if I Brought Them Onboard While I’m Working?

If you are able to bring your child onboard a cruise ship with you – that’s awesome! Don’t expect an extra cabin though. Different cruise lines will have different rules about this, but most of the time the expectation is that any family members sailing with a crew member will have to stay in that crew members cabin. So, if you are bringing on a spouse and two kids – you will all be staying in the on crew cabin (better hope it’s a big one)!

There are some stories of families coming on for a week or so that get to stay in a nicer passenger cabin – but that’s the exception and certainly not the rule. Some cruise lines have tried to crack down on this, too. Definitely not something to plan on.

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How Old Does a Child Have to Be To Sail While I’m Working?

This depends not only on the cruise line but might also depend where the ship is sailing.

Many cruise lines have policies that babies aren’t allowed to sail until they are six months old. However, for transatlantic cruises or cruises with many sea days the baby might have to be at least a year old.

This Infant Policy was taken from Royal Caribbean’s FAQ’s – while this is taken from the passenger section of the website, it mostly translates to crew families, too.

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Can You Work On a Cruise Ship With a Child? – It Depends.

As with most things on a cruise ship there are a lot of variables. The good news is though that there are potential options to bring your kids onboard! I’ve known many kids that have sailed onboard cruise ships as “crew kids” that have been able to go all the way around the world and see more countries and places than most people see in an entire lifetime.

© Cover photo (beach with the ship) courtesy of Christina from @wanderingjayhawk.

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