Working on a cruise ship

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
July, 2016

Life at sea certainly isn't for everyone, but many of those who experience working on a cruise ship find it incredibly enjoyable…

Seasonal or full-time work is available with cruise companies. Many seasonal vacancies are on contracts lasting for 3-6 months, with others stretching to around a year. Regardless of your employment status, your hours will be long, every day will be busy and time off will be minimal, so you'll need to be very energetic.

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

There are many advantages to working on a cruise ship. 'Getting to see the world is the first,' explains Horst Pint, hotel operations director at Saga Shipping. 'In addition, the salary is competitive and the crew are highly engaged. There's a good and often quick career path.'

You can also make friends from around the globe - living with them for an extended period - and have the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping passengers to enjoy a great holiday. What's more, with food and accommodation often paid-for and your bills non-existent, you get to keep more of your wages to spend on what you like. This, coupled to the fact that you could accrue plenty of money in tips, means that your income can be impressive.

However, there are also clear disadvantages - most notably, claims Horst, having to deal with the effects of homesickness. 'It can be difficult being away from friends and family for months,' he admits. You'll also have to adapt to living in a small, windowless cabin (potentially sharing with others) and, in some cases, be comfortable with helping passengers to cope with the effects of seasickness.

What roles are on offer?

There are various different jobs that you can do at sea. For example, cruise companies need:

  • Accommodation staff - Positions include laundry staff, cleaners and stewards. These are for hospitality students and graduates.
  • Bar, restaurant and kitchen staff - The former is ideal for those with experience of bar work, especially if it involves cocktail-making. Experienced waiting staff and professional chefs are also required by cruise companies.
  • Casino staff - If you're an experienced croupier, working in the ship's casino could be a great option.
  • Deck and engine room staff - These are responsible for maintenance and, therefore, the safety of passengers. Language skills may be extremely useful for these positions.
  • Entertainment staff - One of the most competitive routes, these roles suit students who can dance, sing, host, or are qualified swimming instructors. You may even be tasked with arranging and leading excursions, almost in a holiday representative, tourism officer or tour manager capacity.
  • Fitness and beauty staff - There are roles for graduates with experience of and qualifications in areas including hairdressing, manicures, pedicures, massage and personal training.
  • Nannies and children's entertainers - Qualified nannies and people with experience of leading kids' clubs are in high demand, to babysit in the evenings or provide daytime entertainment. These openings may be ideal if you've studied childcare.
  • Retail staff - On-board shops will employ graduates with experience of working in a retail environment.

How do I get a job?

Your personality is a key indicator of your suitability. Employers desire energetic, confident and outgoing members of staff who are passionate about providing excellent customer service. If you're shy, working at sea probably isn't for you.

'Keenness, intelligence, motivation and the ability to work autonomously are essential characteristics,' adds Stuart Ferguson, head of quality and resources at Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. He bases most of his selection criteria around candidates' previous experience. 'Outside of required certification, we look for an individual that stands out as an achiever.'

Horst agrees that graduates must have a positive, can-do attitude - even where their roles aren't based at sea. Trainees at Saga begin as Cadets during their studies before being eased into the operation through a junior management development programme. 'Before we look at achievements and experience, we spend time with the individual themselves - a lot is determined during the initial conversations,' he explains.

'People skills are a big factor at Saga. We have to be adaptable and work with many different nationalities and lifestyles while at sea and in ports, for crew, passengers and suppliers.'

To succeed in an application, you should discover as much as you can about the company that you're interested in working for, including which recruitment agencies (if any) staff them.

Then, tailor your CV towards the specific job role. You must strive to stand out, as potentially hundreds of people are applying for each position. You should also be aware that you'll probably apply to work for a company, not to work on a specific a specific ship - meaning that you could end up working anywhere in the world.