There are lots of advantages to working on a cruise ship and jobs on board span a variety of functions. Find out if setting sail is the right choice for you

Travel and tourism is one of the UK's fastest-growing industries and 1.8 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 is 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.

'The best part of working for any cruise line is travelling the world and seeing so many different places,' says Nicola Robinson, marine personnel advisor with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. 'All travel expenses to and from each ship are paid for and you are well looked after on board.'

The variety of available jobs is also an attraction. From accommodation, bar and fitness staff to entertainers, nannies and retail workers, there is something for everyone with an interest in leisure, hospitality and tourism.

Costs such as accommodation and food are taken care of. It's easier to save money without rent or other living costs to pay for and whatever you earn you keep as disposable income. 'There is also free medical care on board should you become ill during your contract,' adds Nicola.

Another advantage is the connections you stand to make when working on a cruise ship. You'll meet a variety of people from all types of backgrounds, forge new friendships and make international contacts that will undoubtedly 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 and there are some clear disadvantages.

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 cruise ship staff are long and days off are a rarity. Homesickness can affect your time on board, as you'll usually be at sea for at least six months of the year.

You'll share your living quarters with other crewmembers 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 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 in a holiday representative, tourism officer or tour manager capacity.
  • Fitness and beauty staff - these roles are 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 will 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.
  • 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.

'At Princess Cruises we typically promote from within so entry-level jobs are focused on front line services and customer service roles,' explains Christopher Gillis, human resources director at Princess Cruises. 'This could be as a front desk agent in the hotel department, a bar tender or as a cadet in our deck or technical departments.'

'We need people with administrative and general management backgrounds, as well as people with customer service and sales skills. In addition to this we employ a range of professionals and trades including doctors, nurses, paramedics, carpenters, electricians, engineers and sailors,' adds Christopher.

Seasonal or full-time work is available. Many seasonal vacancies operate on contracts lasting between three and six months, with others stretching to around 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
  • Cruise and Maritime Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Cunard
  • Disney Cruises
  • Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
  • Holland America Line
  • MSC Cruises
  • Oceania Cruises
  • P&O Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Saga
  • Seabourn
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Titan River Cruises
  • Viking Ocean Cruises.

What qualifications do I need?

Cruise ship jobs are incredibly competitive so any relevant qualifications or experience that you have to 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 will 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 will 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,' explains Nicola. 'Certain training must be completed such as the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, commonly referred to as STCW and first aid. All candidates must also pass a medical exam and have the correct visas for the many ports around the world.'

Regardless of your employment status days will be busy and time off minimal. 'Cruise ship working environments are dynamic and logistically complex. The skills required to be successful include the ability to be flexible, adaptable, communicative and most of all dedicated and hardworking,' says Christopher.

Search postgraduate courses.

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. 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 job 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'll generally be 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.

There will likely be several application stages and these may include a video or telephone interview before you receive an invitation to be interviewed face-to-face.

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 and energy. A willingness to commit to long contracts is also important. If you work on a cruise ship you need to accept that you'll miss out on family events such as birthdays,' says Nicola.

On the plus side Nicola adds, 'Working on a cruise ship is great fun. You'll work hard but the job is incredibly rewarding.'

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