Drawing upon the organisational socialisation and sensemaking literatures, this article examines the implications of potential mismatches between prospective cruise workers' perceptions and their subjectively defined reality of working on board. The study reveals how individuals make sense of this mismatch and how they define their onboard experiences. Participants, who were former cruise ship workers, were asked about their perceptions and expectations relating to working on board — before joining the ship, while on board and after returning home. Though claiming to have few prior expectations, direct questions about surprises when joining the ship highlighted that participants had tacit expectations. Participants differentiated between working and living on board, and although their expectations of work were realistic, their expectations of life on board proved unrealistic. Their awareness of being in an unusual working environment led them to describe the cruise ship as another world, which was described as impossible for people who had not lived in that world to understand. The liminality of their situation, betwixt and between two social worlds, appeared an important feature of their sensemaking, although in many cases it was not until they returned home that they fully recognised this. This revealed a mismatch not only between their tacit expectations and experienced reality, but also between the cruise ship workers and their peers and family back on land. Reflecting on their return home, participants displayed a degree of nostalgia for working on board, and romanticised about cruise ship life which was portrayed as carefree and secure, involving both freedom and captivity.