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A former bartender answers the internet's questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship

01 Mar 2024
Allie Hubers

Have you ever wondered what it’s like being a bartender on one of the world’s biggest cruise ships?

Bartender Cover

Operating a cruise ship is a massive undertaking, especially onboard one of the biggest cruise ships in the world. Each of Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships have thousands of crew members working hard to ensure guests have a fantastic vacation.

Perhaps one of the most demanding jobs onboard a cruise ship is being a bartender. Although all crew members work tirelessly with long hours, bartenders are working in a fast-paced environment in cramped spaces. 

Additionally, drinking is an integral component of cruising for many. Most cruise ships have anywhere from 10 to 15 bars and lounges onboard, even the smaller cruise ships. Moreover, cruise ship passengers are drinking from sun up to sun down thanks to Royal Caribbean's unlimited drink package. That’s a lot of alcohol flowing from the bartenders into the hands of cruisers!


This week, one of Royal Caribbean’s former bartenders took to social media to anonymously answer questions from curious cruisers. On the r/royalcaribbean subreddit on Reddit, one former bartender from Oasis of the Seas posed an AMA - or ask me anything - to followers. The post was titled "Worked as a bartender aboard Oasis of The Seas AMA."

The former bartender shared in the description, “For everyone interested about cruise life, tips and tricks or wanting to know how is the job - ask me anything, would be glad to answer.”

The open-ended question prompted quite the response from followers. The former bartender received hundreds of responses from curious Royal Caribbean cruisers. These included all sorts of questions, such as how tipping works, handling rude or drunk passengers, how much bartenders get paid and more.

Here’s what it’s like being a bartender onboard one of Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships from a former bartender.

Gratuities and Tipping

The most popular responses for the former bartender included questions about tips and gratuities. For instance, for guests who purchase a drink package, gratuities are already prepaid with an 18% service charge. Additionally, a-la-carte drink purchases from the bar have a service charge. How does it all work?

First, many were wondering whether Royal Caribbean’s bartenders receive prepaid gratuities. The former bartender explained there is a difference between guests with drink packages and those purchasing a-la-carte.

With a-la-carte purchases, guests automatically pay 18% for a service charge and the bartenders receive a portion of this. For Oasis of the Seas bartenders, he explains, “If you purchases a $14 cocktail, the bartenders receive $1.12 from your drink.”

For guests who choose to leave a cash tip, the former bartender shared that 100% of cash tips will always go directly to the bartender. 

Similarly, tips that you leave on your drink receipt do, indeed, go directly to the bartender. However, these receipts need to be entered into Royal Caribbean’s system for tracking. This is not as preferred as a cash tip, as it's a slightly tedious process and slows down bartenders from serving more drinks.

“Just my advice. Bring cash tips of one dollar bills. It takes 1 minute to punch a check tip - it's a drag. The same is true if you have like 20 checks with tips, you lose around 15 min instead of rest,” replied the bartender.

Another cruiser asked if tipping upfront - such as $20 on the first day of the cruise - has any difference with service and drink quality from the bar. The former bartender responded that it depends on the situation, as some bartenders work in the same bar for the entire cruise while others rotate as needed; for example, the pool attendants usually rotate more frequently.

“Find someone that’s stationed and is eager to serve you all the time. If you tip in advance, you will get the best service from that guy. If you tip a bar support guy, he will do the same, but you won’t find him everyday all day at the pool,” he responded.

The former bartender continued to share that it’s rare for guests to tip at the beginning of a cruise. Typically a handful of passengers will tip anywhere from $30 to $100 at the end of the cruise. Instead, most guests choose to tip $1 to $2 with each drink along the way.

As for drinking in the casino? The former bartender revealed those workers rely solely on tips - and “get paid nothing."

Read more: Tipping on a cruise ship: what you should and shouldn't do

Drink Package

Bionic Bar on Ovation of the Seas

Along with tipping, many comments inquired about how the drink package works from the bartender’s perspective. Since guests who purchase drink packages already prepay gratuities, many users on Reddit were wondering how this works for bartenders actually receiving the service charges.

Following up with many tipping questions, the former bartender explained how Royal Caribbean has a system called package check value for drink packages. With this system, Royal Caribbean calculates the gratuity amount for each drink served onboard every sailing. 

The check value is calculated based on the total cost of drink packages sold by the cruise line. This can differ week by week depending on the itinerary and how many packages were sold.


On Oasis of the Seas, he stated the check value was around $1.00 USD per drink on average, although it can fluctuate based on the sailing. For every cocktail sold, he would receive around $1.00 per drink. On an average sea day, the former bartender estimated that he made anywhere from 80 to 250 drinks.

He also shared that smaller ships typically have a lower check value, as low as $0.50 USD per drink. This means that bartenders on smaller ships need to sell more drinks to reach their base pay threshold. Therefore, bartenders prefer to work on newer ships because these vessels have the best check values for tipping compared to older ships. In the same way, no one wants to work on a brand-new ship because these vessels have the stricter beverage departments.

Even still, the former bartender shared, “Oasis is one of the stricter ships for beverage department, which comes from the bar managers and supervisors. But, the check value is one of the highest, if not the highest in the fleet right now.”

Read more: How much is a Royal Caribbean drink package?


The former bartender explains this is why it’s so important for your SeaPass to be scanned even when the bartender knows you have the drink package. This ensures the employees receive their service charge per drink.

Finally, one responder asked if the bartenders prefer to serve customers who have drink packages or if there is more incentive from a-la-carte purchases.

The former Oasis bartender responded, “People that are a-la-carte complain more just for the sake of it sometimes. But, if you have the drink package, you don't complain, you just swap drinks. I prefer package because [there is] less drama all in all.”

Guest Interactions

As you can imagine, the former bartender had varying experiences onboard Oasis of the Seas when it comes to guest interactions. From rude passengers to bonding with others like family, the former bartender shared multiple instances of notable guests onboard.

First, Royal Caribbean's bartenders will cut off passengers who show signs of being overly intoxicated. “If you show signs of toxicity, most bartenders will stop serving because we can lose our job. It doesn’t matter if someone gambles or not. Management strictness has big role in this.”

One responder posed a question about whether the bartender noticed any change among passengers from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic. He responded that the guest behavior typically depends on cruise prices. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean Drink Prices

Two cocktails

"In my experience, the truth is sad. The cheaper cruises have more bad apples than the expensive ones, percentile wise. But, in my experience, I have rarely had rude guests because part of being in hospitality is to handle people and volatile characters."

When it comes to behavior and overindulgence on a cruise, the bartender shared that this really depends on the person. He found that some are very friendly and others are not friendly. However, his approach was always to be professional and he was confident in his ability to handle every situation.

The former bartender also reveals that guests can have their alcohol access and drink packages revoked, per Royal Caribbean’s policy. Bartenders are alerted to guests who they are not allowed to serve alcohol to, typically because of a guest’s actions that resulted in alcohol restriction.

One responder asked whether bartenders on Royal Caribbean ships are actively looking for people sharing their drink packages, as this is not allowed onboard.

“Not necessarily,” he responded. “We notice everything, but if you are rude and try to make me a fool when I advice you to be more subtle with sharing, I am reporting you.”

The former bartender shares he once reported a guest who thought he could outsmart the bartenders. However, at the end of the cruise, Royal Caribbean revoked the guest's drink package and charged the passenger for every drink consumed during the cruise - at the normal price.

“He had a $3,000 charge for drinks,” shared the former Oasis of the Seas bartender.

But what’s the craziest bartending experience he had while onboard? 

“I had become so close to two couples in their 40s. They tipped me $500+ and offered me a job at their company if I somehow could get a green card. We talked a lot - and we cried at the end.”

Salary and Job Satisfaction

There is no denying that crew members commit to contracts with long work hours and very few days off. Some of the responses to the former bartender asked about how he obtained his job, his salary and overall job satisfaction with working long days onboard.

According to the former bartender, he applied for his position from an advertisement in his home country, somewhere in Europe. The whole process from application to getting onboard Oasis of the Seas took about six months, in his experience. It cost around $500 in his country for medical and personal preparation, which was paid for out-of-pocket.

Additionally, the former Oasis bartender continued to share that he believes Royal Caribbean is the best cruise line for employment in regards to the beverage department. While some cruise lines only provide a fixed payment for bartenders - typically around $1,500 to $2,500 each month - Royal Caribbean’s bartenders can earn much more.

Read more: 25 times Royal Caribbean crew members wowed cruise ship passengers with excellent service

In his responses, the former bartender shared that he was paid "extremely well" and made around $5,000 per month during his seven months onboard - and estimates he served some 40,000 cocktails!

Within one month, the bartender estimates he worked a minimum of 300 hours, although sometimes he worked closer to 400 hours. He received a minimum base pay regardless of the number of drinks he served, but he often earned much more than that with gratuities and tips.

The biggest perk of the job, says the former bartender, is getting to see the world. “Only perk I would say after pay is traveling and seeing stuff you won’t be able to see in your lifetime without being a millionaire.”

Oasis Class ship docked in Nassau

Finally, the bartender reveals he no longer works for Royal Caribbean because his goal was always to work and save his money for education. Since he had a long term relationship back in his home country, he was returning there to attend school with the money he earned.

The former Oasis bartender felt that while being away from everyone he knew back home was hard, the salary made it worthwhile.

“Is it worth making your monthly salary back home in 2 days? Absolutely. It’s all sacrifice, I started school when I saved enough, so I did a bit of sacrifice but I won’t need to go again,” he concluded.

Allie Hubers has been cruising since she was a tiny toddler. What started as a yearly vacation with family quickly turned into a passion for travel, cruising and adventure. Allie's been on nearly 30 cruises all over the world. She even studied abroad on Semester at Sea, sailing the world on a ship while taking courses for college and visiting 4 continents.

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