Once a month, we're going to talk about awesome/weird/adventurous jobs that you (maybe) didn't even know existed and talk to people who have done them. If you're sick of your current gig, get to applying!
If you’d like to travel and work simultaneously (like, literally traverse the ocean while you’re on the clock) you should check out cruise ship work.
Ships need people to fill all the ‘usual’ hospitality positions (house keeping, reception, craft services) but big cruise lines also employ entertainers, educators, fitness and spa staff and many more. While life on a floating city isn't always easy, many travelers have found that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Krista currently works for a cannot-be-named cruise line and shares her insight with us!
Can you tell us about your specific cruise ship experience?
I started out working as a librarian on a ship that was sailing to Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico. That contract was 4.5 months long and it was a great stepping stone into “ship life”. The line I work with has a fairly extensive library on every ship (well, for a ship anyway), and it was my job to keep everything organized and assist guests with all things in the library: from books to board games, even card game groups. I liked it, but I was interested in another position onboard. I applied through my ship connections and now I’m working for four months in a program where I’m teaching basic computer and digital media classes to passengers.
Can you tell us about the application process?
As librarian, all I had was an online application and one phone interview. For my current job I sent in my resume and cover letter and then I had two phone interviews before a face-to-face interview. For the librarian job, I mainly had to be outgoing, but for my current job I have to teach and give presentations on a daily basis which is why the process was so different.
For the most part, you should be able to apply for any ship position online and go from there, but for some positions you may need an agent, agency, or you might even have to go to a specific training school. On our line, all of the salon and spa workers typically come from South Africa or England, because they hire from a training school based there. Any requirements like that will be clear if you look at the employment page of the cruise line’s website.
How do cruise ships usually prepare its employees for the experience?
In terms of your job, you usually have all the major skills you need before you get on the ship, either from previous experience/education or training programs. If you’re brand new, you’ll usually have another employee in your department walking you through the day-to-day work for a week or so. In some positions, you may come onboard a week before the person you’re replacing leaves, so that they can walk you through everything before you take over.
For just the general lifestyle change, we received welcome packets that answered basic questions prior to embarking on the ship, like dress codes, things to pack, things you can’t bring on the ship (weapons, drugs, pets), how you receive mail, etc.
Can you tell us about an average day in the life of a cruise ship employee?
It’s long! On a sea day, you’ll have 10-14 hour days where you’re working (or at least socializing) with guests if you’re not officially on duty. It will vary from position to position (entertainer positions like singers, dancers, or band members typically don’t start working until later in the day and don’t work quite as many hours) but that’s typical.
When you do have time off you’ll eat meals, go to the gym or take naps. If you have time during the evenings you can usually catch one of the shows onboard or eat at one of the nicer restaurants. Since most people don’t get off of work until 10:00 pm, crew members socialize late at night, either at a bar or lounge in public areas or at the crew bar (cheaper drinks and you don’t have to be in dress code).
On a port day, when the ship is docked somewhere (hopefully somewhere exciting!) You tend to have fewer hours since there are fewer passengers onboard. On those days you usually have anywhere from 3-9 hours to get off the ship and explore. You learn to treat these hours as your “day off” because once you start your contract onboard you will not have a day off until you finish.
You may also have some other safety duties during the day, like assisting with a passenger safety drill (where everyone learns where their lifeboat is, in case of emergency), and crew members also have at least one safety drill a month to attend. This is where you learn all your “worst case scenario” (ie, the ship is sinking, there is a fire, etc.) skills. We take it very seriously, but we also know that a true emergency where we would have to abandon ship is very unlikely.
How much money have you made working on a cruise ship?
My husband and I are on salary. With my previous position we made around $3,000 monthly after taxes. Doesn’t sound like a lot, however we have very few expenses: no rent, no utilities, no grocery bill. So we keep the majority of our pay. With my promotion we are making more than that, but even with my previous salary we were able to save around $4,000 in just four months. On land there were some months where we just broke even between our paychecks and our monthly bills. While the salary we receive (we are paid per day) may seem low if you calculate it by how many hours you work, they are factoring in your living expenses to your salary and that makes a huge difference.
Many positions onboard are paid in part by commission. You may have a base pay that is quite low, but you can make more through tips or you get a certain percentage of your sales.
What were the biggest challenges about your cruise ship experience?
Getting used to the long hours, constantly changing time zones and not having a day off. Learning the hierarchy onboard: there are so many different elements to a cruise ship, from navigational officers to social staff, and learning how to communicate and work with all the different departments can feel like a bureaucratic maze.
Also, people are always coming and going. Every week or two some crewmembers disembark and others join to replace them. It’s hard to make great relationships (personal or working) and then lose those people and have to start over with someone new.
For many people it’s challenging to be apart from their friends or family, but since my husband and I work together this is not too difficult, though we do miss our dog/furry child!
What were the biggest benefits?
While it’s challenging to have so many staff changes, it can also be great because you meet a lot of new people, and if you’re having trouble with a boss or co-worker, you won’t be working with them forever! We love working with people from all over the world, and meeting guests from all walks of life as well.
The travel is probably the biggest benefit, though. I've been able to really explore the different ports, visiting places I might not have otherwise. Second to travel, the opportunity to save money is a HUGE benefit.
What did you take away from your experience?
I feel like I am less western-centric in my thinking since I've been working with people from all over the world. I also have much more compassion for people working in the service industry. I've seen a lot of people on the ship treat their waiters, housekeepers and other service staff with less respect than I would like, which is upsetting because every crewmember I know works really hard. I hope to be a more understanding customer, a better tipper and thankful for anyone who serves me.
I've also learned what it’s like to really love a job! My current position is more than I can ask for, and I hope that in my future employment I am this passionate about my work!
Who would be a good fit for working on a cruise ship?
Being tough helps because it’s not always a warm and fuzzy environment. Stuff has to get done and people don’t always take the time to encourage you. You need to be a people person who can work with a variety of people. Pretty much everyone who works on a ship has regular contact with guests and cruisers tend to have very high expectations, so you must have a customer service attitude even when you’re dealing with someone who is completely unreasonable and difficult. The more energetic you are, the better.
Your best bet is to look at the websites of different cruise lines. On their employment pages you’ll learn a lot about job requirements and job offerings. You’ll also learn a lot by just browsing through the site as a whole: where the ships go, the types of passengers they cater to, the corporate culture, etc. Working for a luxury line with very expensive cruises will be very different from working for a cruise geared toward families looking for an affordable vacation.
Cruiseshipjobs.com // Life on board cruise ships // Working on cruise ships // Cruise ship resume and interview tips // FAQ about working on cruise ships // 5 best/worst reasons to work on a cruise ship
Have you ever worked on a cruise ship? Share your tips!
Have you ever worked on a cruise ship? Share your tips!