The Dark Side of Cruise Ship Spas


When it comes to relaxation from the inside out, nothing beats a trip to the spa. From the minute you step inside, the soothing ambiance begins to work its magic. Renew yourself with premium beauty and wellness therapies, like hot stone massages, aromatherapy or full-body wraps. This is your time to be spoiled, indulged and beautified. Lay back, close your eyes, and feel the stress sail away as your body and mind experience total tranquility.”

Sounds amazing doesn’t it? This is one major cruise line’s pitch for their on-board spa services. 

When I was in massage therapy school I was vaguely aware that the cruise lines employed lots of massage therapists, but I didn’t really give it much thought at the time. I had a busy family life and major commitments that kept me planted with deep roots so I knew that work environment would never be a good fit for me. I heard a few of the younger, unattached students talking about the prospect of working for a cruise line. Sounded exciting and pretty exotic. No one at the school had any direct experience so we weren’t able to hear any first hand accounts. Our school didn’t have any sort of affiliation with the cruise lines. I later learned that a major massage school chain, Cortiva, does in fact have a very close affiliation with the cruise lines. I figured that out rather quickly last September when I traveled to Boston to take a class at Cortiva, Boston. The cruise line influence was overwhelming. Giant posters that painted a rosy picture of life on a cruise ship and literature galore! Here’s what one flyer exclaimed:

"The biggest and most obvious advantage of being a travel massage 
therapist is that you get to see the world. If you are lucky enough to 
be chosen for a position on a cruise ship, you will be going wherever 
the ship takes you. Since cruises take vacationers to some of the most 
beautiful locales on the planet, you will be able to experience many of 
the same things that the passengers pay to see and do. Being tied down 
to a physical building can become very boring very quickly for some 
people. Becoming a cruise ship massage therapist is a dynamic career 
that offers you something new each day on the job.

I had heard that working as a massage therapist on a cruise ship was difficult, that therapists worked long hours and had few breaks, but again, I never spoke to anyone directly who had ever done it. 

Yesterday, I came across the most interesting account by massage therapist Sheryl Rapee-Adams who did, indeed, work on a cruise ship. She did it back in 1997 and states that conditions have improved in the last 17 years, but I wonder… how much? It went into great detail about what life was like… from the meals to the accommodations, the work, the pay, her fellow massage therapists and the “caste-like” system that exists among those employed on a cruise ship.

What an eye opener. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work on a cruise ship? It would certainly depend on your job, but for massage therapists it’s grueling work. I’ve only taken one cruise and I don’t know that I’ll ever do it again. It made me feel a bit claustrophobic. But, if I do ever go cruising again, I seriously doubt I’ll get an on-board massage. Why not? When massage therapists are worked to the bone, they don’t tend to do their best work. Pretty simple.

I thought Sheryl’s account was fascinating. I encourage you to read it and think about it next time you get ready to book that on-board massage.


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1 Response to The Dark Side of Cruise Ship Spas

  1. Melissa says:

    Thankyou for the posting! Warning others is a wonderful thing! Cruise massage is not for the faint at heart. My friend did it for 3 months and hated it! Its a short lived career for most. You have no quality time to yourself to enjoy anything aboard or at Port stops. You are so tired 2 after your 3 months on board that all you want to do is sleep! Oh and the pain you endure is NOT fun ! DON’T DO IT!

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