A career on the high seas enables you to see the world, widen international networks and gain a raft of transferrable skills. With jobs spanning a range of functions, discover if working on a cruise ship is the right choice for you
Travel and tourism is one of the UK's fastest-growing industries and 1.9 million UK holidaymakers take at least one cruise a year. Cruise line companies constantly strive to build bigger and better ships, which means that there are an ever-increasing number of opportunities for those who'd like to work at sea.
Why work on a cruise ship?
There are a number of reasons why cruise ship jobs are a popular choice, and the opportunity to travel the world is major draw. As an on-board member of staff you'll see far-flung destinations such as the Caribbean, South America, the Mediterranean, Europe and Asia, and all costs are covered. Find out more about working abroad.
'The best part of working for any cruise line is travelling the world and seeing so many different places and cultures,' says Nicola Robinson, senior HR advisor with Saga Cruises. 'All travel expenses to and from each ship are paid for and you are well looked after on board.'
The variety of jobs is also an attraction. From accommodation, bar and fitness staff to entertainers, nannies and retail workers, there is something for everyone.
Costs such as accommodation and food are taken care of. As you're usually on board ship for at least six months of the year, it's easier to save money without rent or other living costs to pay for and whatever you earn you keep as disposable income.
Another advantage is the connections you make when working on board. You'll meet a variety of people from all backgrounds, forge new friendships and make international contacts that will come in useful during the course of your career.
Also worth a mention are the opportunities for progression. Cruise line companies invest time and money into training their employees, and once on board you'll be encouraged to seek promotion.
Working on a cruise ship is starting to sound pretty good, but life at sea isn't for everyone.
To reflect the fact that accommodation and living expenses are taken care of, salaries are often low, although earning tips can top up your wages.
And while you might be travelling the world it's certainly not a holiday. Hours for staff are long and days off are a rarity. Homesickness can also affect your time on board.
You'll share your living quarters with other crew members and as such you'll have to adapt to living in small, cramped conditions. It's also difficult to strike a good work/life balance as you're confined to the ship the majority of the time. You don't get the luxury of clocking off and going home like those working on land.
What jobs are on offer?
There are 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 students and graduates with an interest in hospitality.
- 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. Roles will suit those with a degree or experience in engineering.
- Entertainment staff - one of the most competitive routes, these roles suit graduates who can dance, sing, host, or are qualified swimming instructors. You may even be tasked with arranging and leading excursions in a holiday representative, tourism officer or tour manager capacity.
- Fitness and beauty staff - for graduates with experience of, and qualifications in, areas including hairdressing, manicures, pedicures, massage and personal training.
- IT staff - on board information technology teams oversee and support all shipboard IT systems and operations. Roles suit those with a degree or experience in information technology.
- Managers - positions are available with cruise companies both on land and at sea. These roles are ideal for those with experience or qualifications in business, management or leisure, travel or tourism management. Discover how to answer common management interview questions.
- Medical staff - cruise companies are responsible for the health and safety of all passengers so medical staff are essential. Available jobs include on board doctors, nurses and paramedics.
- 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.
Cruise lines typically promote from within, so entry-level jobs focus on front-line functions and customer service roles. Employers look for people with administrative and general management backgrounds, as well as people with customer service and sales skills.
'Some larger cruise lines offer graduate schemes on board in HR, finance, deck/engine and hotel. Here at Saga, we offer opportunities in way of cadetships in areas such as deck, engine, electrical and hotel,' explains Nicola.
Seasonal or full-time work is available. Many seasonal vacancies operate on contracts lasting between three and six months, with others stretching to a year.
Which cruise companies can I work for?
Cruise ship jobs are available with a variety of cruise companies, including:
- Avalon Waterways
- Carnival Cruises
- Celebrity Cruises
- Costa Cruises
- Cruise and Maritime Cruises
- Crystal Cruises
- Disney Cruises
- Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
- Holland America Line
- Marella Cruises (formally Thomson Cruises)
- MSC Cruises
- Oceania Cruises
- P&O Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Royal Caribbean
- Saga Cruises
- Silversea Cruises
- Titan River Cruises.
What qualifications do I need?
Cruise ship jobs are incredibly competitive so any relevant qualifications or work experience that you can add to your CV will help you to stand out to employers.
The type and level of required qualification depends on the job you're applying for and the cruise company you're applying to. Entry requirements vary between cruise operators so make sure you do your research before applying.
Degrees or professional qualifications are highly valued by employers and demonstrate a high level of competence in an industry where excellent customer service is essential.
It's likely that you'll need to be educated to at least degree level to get into IT, management and medical roles. A degree in an engineering subject may come in useful for those wanting to work in the engine room.
Professional qualifications are generally preferred if you'd like to work as a chef, beauty therapist, personal trainer, or nanny.
Accommodation, bar and restaurant staff and entertainers typically need some previous experience in a similar role.
It is possible to get a job on a cruise ship with no qualifications or experience, but you'll need to be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up.
'Experience plays a huge part when we look to recruit,' says Nicola. 'Basic safety training must be completed that are incorporated in the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) such as personal survival techniques, basic fire fighting and elementary first aid. All individuals must also pass and possess a seafarers medical certificate. There are also various visa requirements for many ports around the world.'
How do I get a cruise ship job?
To start with you'll need to be 21 years of age or older. As well as the right qualifications you'll also need a valid passport, clean criminal record and English language proficiency.
When applying for jobs you should aim to discover as much as you can about the company that you're interested in working for. Knowledge of what the company offers and who their target market is crucial. Each cruise company has a different strap line, which you’ll need to know and understand when applying for jobs.
Most large cruise companies recruit via recruitment agencies so make sure that you also read and understand the agency's application procedures.
Most applications are made with a CV and cover letter, or by completing an application form. Just like for any job you'll need to tailor your application to the specific role. Strive to stand out, as there will potentially be hundreds of people applying for each position, and be sure to include any relevant experience. For entertainment positions you’re generally required to submit a photograph with your application. Bear in mind that you're applying to work for the company, not on a specific ship.
Your personality is a key indicator of your suitability. Applicants must have a positive, can-do attitude. Employers desire confident and outgoing members of staff who are passionate about providing excellent customer service.
'You'll need lots of enthusiasm, energy and commitment, as many contracts vary in length and you often spend months away from home,' adds Nicola. 'A willingness to commit to long contracts is also important. If you work on a cruise ship you should accept that you'll miss family life and events back home.'
On the plus side Nicola adds, 'Working on a cruise ship is great fun. You'll work hard but the job is incredibly rewarding. You'll also inherit a second family on board and leave with friends that will remain with you for life.'
Find out more
- Gain an insight in to the leisure, sport and tourism sector.
- Learn more about travel and tourism courses.