Dating on a Cruise Ship

Romance at sea. Watching the sun set over the ocean. The band lightly playing in the background as you watch the sky turn from blue to gold and into stars and shimmering moonlight. It’s a formal night and you are both dressed up. You just came from dinner where you had escargot and lobster. You are drinking a glass of champagne. You’re about to go see a show. Aww, romance.

It sounds incredibly romantic to fall in love on a cruise ship. It was portrayed on the aptly named The Love Boat (ad), on the Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon classic Out To Sea (ad) (if you haven’t seen this, you should, it’s a classic), and on reality shows like Below Deck (ad). None of these portrayal’s are quite the reality I experienced. I would like to say it’s all a bit more normal than any of that, but in a lot of ways it’s anything but normal. Today we are going to dive into what dating is like as a crew member on a cruise ship. The below synopsis is based on both my personal experience, my friends experiences, and my observations over the years.

Now, there are some truths about cruise ship dating that I would like to review before we go any further. Some of these aren’t that fun but they are entirely true:

  • Passengers and crew aren’t allowed to date. Sorry, Doc from The Love Boat, you would have been fired many times.
  • The crew gossip a lot.
  • Some people might be married and say they aren’t.
  • “Stripe chasers” is a term used for primarily women that are after officers with the most stripes (meaning higher ranking) that they can find. They do this figuring they will get to stay in a bigger cabin and later in life not have to work and get to live the life of luxury. This entire concept is a post for another day because I have a lot of opinions on the subject.
  • Pick-up lines aren’t any better when said by someone with an accent. They’re still terrible.

Meeting someone is kind of like meeting someone anywhere. You have your bubble of people that you know, until you randomly meet them in the elevator, or end up sitting with them at lunch because there weren’t any other empty seats. Maybe you meet at a crew party or like so many great romances in the crew bar. You make googly eyes at each other. You have reviewed the aforementioned truths and decided that neither party is a passenger or married, no one is a stripe chaser, and they haven’t used the pick up line, “if you come back with me you can sleep in a proper sized bed.” (Officer cabins typically have larger beds. Side note: I saw someone try that pick up line, it didn’t work.)

Now, cruise ship gossip can be vicious. Some ships are worse for this than others and others are pretty tame. On a gossipy ship a rumor can start from something as simple as a door shutting in a hallway at an odd time or if you were seen getting out of an elevator together. If you find yourself in the chaos of cruise ship gossip, the best you can do is ignore it. When you first start to make googly eyes with someone the easier option by far is to try to play it cool to avoid being a rumor at all. Otherwise it’s like having to be “Facebook Official” after meeting for coffee once. To avoid that you do what you can to keep things on the down-low. You make sure you don’t leave the bar together, instead using the “5 minute rule” (one person leaves, the other waits 5 minutes and then leaves). If you want to go ashore together you meet somewhere instead of leaving the ship together to avoid the prying eyes of the officers on the bridge and the security guards on the gangway.

If you keep your ear open you start to figure out who the people that really spread the gossip and rumors are. Over time you learn to avoid them and at some point you realize you’re not avoiding them to stay out of rumors but instead simply because they are toxic people.

Once you’re ready to be “ship official” dating is still super weird. Either you are on a work schedule where you see each other literally all the time, or, you’re on completely opposite work schedules and hardly ever see each other. If you have work schedules that line up you are susceptible to the cruise ship dating paradox: one week = one month, one month = one year. The reason for this is that first week you might eat lunch with them three times, dinner four, have drinks with them six times, go see a show, go ashore somewhere incredible (nothing like being able to go on dates in places like Bora Bora, Honolulu, Sydney, Bali, etc to move the romance along), have a formal evening at a fancy steak house and then go see a show. It is easy to fit the equivalent of 16 dates into one week, more if you really wanted to. It can be a lot of togetherness.

Or, if you’re on very different work schedules it can be staying up late or waking up early to try to see them. It can be a lot of effort to see them at all. If they’re on the night shift you will basically get to spend lunch together and that’s about it, or you’ll find yourself napping constantly to try to make up for the missed sleep of trying to see each other.

You find that all the togetherness doesn’t bother you. It’s exciting, it’s fun. You live and work in the same little floating world and everything seems fabulous. But, what happens when one of you is scheduled to go home? On a ship there are people coming and going constantly, and from countries all around the world. When someone goes home you can find yourself getting into the “big relationship questions” very early in a relationship. It’s always great to have to decide to either commit to someone long term or break up entirely within a few weeks of going out, right? Usually these situations fall into three categories:

  • ‘Til Gangway Do Us Part”
    • you agree that the relationship won’t go any further than that contract. Once one of you leaves the ship or goes across the gangway, you are done. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…
  • Long Distance
    • possibly with the “promise” of seeing each other on land, but not sure you’ll do your next contract together. I’ve seen this either result in a slow fizzling out of a relationship or turn into marriage and everything in between. You find out just how much they likely by whether or not they’ll fly around the world for you. And, I would walk 500 miles…
  • Line Up Your Next Contracts Together
    • This is the big one. If you line your next contracts up together and break up before hand you are stuck on the ship with your ex. If you don’t line them up and stay together you end up on different ships and facing a very challenging long distance situation. Such massive pressure so early in a relationship. ‘Cause I want it all, or nothing at all…

The first option is fairly self-explanatory. The second option can go a few ways. Let’s say you go with that last option, you fly to see each other between contracts, you line up your next contracts together and things start to get serious. So, what’s next? Check out my post next Tuesday to find out.

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