- J. Alexander of “The Shiplife” was working on cruise ships when he started his YouTube account.
- Now he takes around 20 cruises a year and works on his channel full-time.
- “My work is literally vacationing,” he says, adding that “the hardest part is finding a balance.”
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with J. Alexander, a former cruise ship crew member-turned-YouTuber who runs the channel The Shiplife, which has more than 195,000 subscribers. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
I never expected any of this to happen. Originally I’m from the south side of Chicago, and I didn’t go to college. I had always wanted to travel as a kid, but my parents never had the money to do it. But back in high school, I became a professional break dancer.
I ended up working for Harlem Globetrotters for six years, first as a dancer and eventually as an international tour manager. That’s when I got a taste of traveling and knew it was what I wanted to do.
I realized working for a giant corporate company just wasn’t for me, so I left. After that, I was an Uber driver and just trying to make it in the entertainment industry. A guy that I knew who worked for Norwegian Cruise Line told me they just happened to be looking for an African American hip hop dancer.
Next thing I know, I’m in a room with a bunch of Broadway types, performing on a cruise ship. Podcasting was rising at the time, so one day, I took my iPhone 6 in my room, sat it on some books, and started talking about what the first day is like working on cruise ships.
From cruise crew member to cruise YouTuber
I figured I’d get maybe 100 views on YouTube. I woke up the next morning and had almost 30,000 views. So I just kept going with it. I did a tour of my room, the crew bar, larger cabins, and officer cabins. I broke down how much money you can make. And the channel just kept growing and growing.
At first, I was still doing Uber in between cruise contracts, but was making some nice side money with Google AdSense on my YouTube videos. In 2020, when the pandemic was starting, I heard rumors from cruise ships that there were hundreds of people on board with COVID-19 and that they were talking about sending everybody home.
The next thing I know, my channel kind of blew up.
In 2021, when the cruise ship industry was coming back, I started jumping on every ship that I could as a guest. I was spending most of my money paying for cruises to make content. Eventually, I got a sponsor, which pays for about half of my cruises in exchange for a shout-out. I no longer work for any cruise companies and was able to go full-time with my YouTube channel in 2022.
I took 22 cruises last year. This year will probably be about 30.
Vacationing for a living
I jump on every new cruise ship that comes out from a major line, and then in between that I’ll throw in a cheaper or interesting cruise line, like a German or British line.
If I’m on a ship I’ve already been on, I’m a lot more relaxed. But if I go on a brand new cruise ship it can be stressful, because I do very in-depth reviews and videos. I try to do as much research as I can before, and when I get on board I have to go by every single element of the ship. But I’m passionate about it and I’m interested in it, so I don’t really consider it a lot of work.
I make great money now living what I call a “millionaire lifestyle.” I’m not making millionaire money — it’s a lot of money, more than I would’ve ever thought I’d see with any job — but I have time. I can go anywhere I want, whenever I want, and I have the time and availability to do so, which is absolutely insane to me.
For me, my work is literally vacationing. I’m having drinks, I’m eating food, I’m meeting people. I try to interview at least a hundred people on every cruise. The hardest part is finding a balance. I have no problem hanging out, getting some drinks, but I have to know when to leave and do work.
I’ve never gotten a free cruise from a cruise line, so I can be objective with my videos. I talk about the good, the bad, the ugly, no matter what. I’m not afraid to go on a cruise ship and say, “The entertainment isn’t that great.” But being a crew member first put me in a very realistic state of mind when I’m on the ship.
I always encourage people to travel and take cruises
Now when I go on ships, a lot of people know me from my videos. If it’s a crew member, they tell me it is because of my videos they even thought about applying. If it’s a passenger, they tell me it’s because of watching my content that they finally decided to book the cruise.
It warms my heart. Because outside of cruising, I just love traveling. I think travel’s the greatest teacher and that the world will be a better place if everybody travels. Now I’ve been to 78 countries. I’m traveling to all these places and seeing all these amazing things. It’s changed my whole perspective on how I see things.
I always tell people, “Look, join a cruise.” It’s a nice, safe, non-hassle way of travel. You can taste-test a couple different places and if you like it, fly back over there and actually get to know the area that you spent three hours at.