Sex, Lies and Cruising: Author Cathryn Chapman reveals what really happens on board cruise ships

Author Cathryn Chapman was shocked and heartbroken when she found out the man she was dating was also seeing nine other women at the same time.

Chapman, who was working on a cruise ship, said the officer would page her when he was available to catch up.

"He had 10 women on board," she said. "And he used to page them to fit into his schedule. When I found out he had 10, I said now you have nine.

"Although I naively got into those situations without realising up front, as soon as I found out, I was out. But other people didn't feel that way because they accept they have a ship wife or ship husband."

Chapman, who had two stints working on cruise ships but almost a decade apart, says the level of cheating in crew quarters was shocking. 

"People cheat on their partners at home," she said. "People cheat on their partners on the ship. People cheat when their partner on the ship has gone home for vacation. I was surprised at the level people would stoop too."

And it was not just confined to the crew. The officers were often the worst offenders.

"Some of the higher ranked officers who have long contracts, and earn the big bucks, they'd have their shipboard girlfriend and she would live in his cabin and then the night before his wife comes onboard (to visit) she moves all her stuff out. The night the wife goes home the girlfriend moves back into the cabin again. I used to think what is wrong with you. Why can't you find someone who doesn't have a wife.

"I found that really shocking. It was that next level that I never would have been prepared to go to."


Chapman's book Sex, Lies and Cruising, which she admits the cruise companies probably won't like, is a work of fiction but at least 50 per cent of it is based on what she saw when working on cruise ships in the Caribbean, the Bahamas and on the Mexican Riviera.

"I borrowed from real life here and there and made the rest up," she said.

"Maybe half of it was inspired by things that I actually witnessed or experienced. Then again the things that are made up aren't beyond the realms of possibility. I also interviewed a few ex-colleagues and got them to tell me their crazy stories, so some of them made it in there as well."

The book, set on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, is a romantic comedy about Ellie Green who dumps her ex-boyfriend and runs away to sea and ends up working in the photography department. Chapman also worked in the photography department during her first cruise contract. She won't name the cruise lines she worked for, but the Brisbane-based author says she is in the very early stages of discussions with a company in Los Angeles regarding turning the book into a TV series.  

Chapman equates life as crew on a ship to living in a "floating moral vacuum" and said that she found the lack of privacy difficult to deal with. Crew sometimes share rooms with three other people.

"I only had to share with one person, but some crew definitely have to sleep in a cabin of four. It's very cramped and you don't have any privacy.

"You get to know a lot more about your cabin mate then you probably want to know. On my first ship I shared with a girl who I think decided she hated me on day one, and on the day I left she didn't even get out of bed to say goodbye."

Chapman said the cruise lines had strict policies on drugs, excessive alcohol consumption and staff/guest relationships. If staff crossed the line they were immediately dismissed.

"I knew of crew who were sacked for it. A couple of waiters were found kissing passengers up on the top deck and they got thrown off the next day basically at the next island," she said.

"See you later. Here are your bags. Off you go. The cruise lines take that very seriously. 

"It's too much of risk legally I think for passenger relationships and for the most part there are so many crew to choose from that it's often not an issue."

Chapman said crew were often subjected to drug tests and sniffer dog inspections. She did say it was difficult for cruise lines to police the amount of drinking that occurred.

"People drink to excess all the time despite the cruise companies doing their best to stop it. They have a crew bar, the crew bar serves alcohol, so of course it happens."

Sex, Lies, and Cruising is currently available for pre-order (release date 16 July) as an ebook or paperback through most major online retailers. For more information visit

See also: Richard Branson reveals his Virgin Cruises plans