How to get a job on a cruise ship
Cruise ship jobs

“We are a family.  Strict rules and regulations apply, but we look out for each other.  I hope you join us.”


It’s that magical lifestyle that we have all seen in movies, magazines and on social media – sunset at sea, sipping cocktails on the lido deck, every day is sunshine and happiness, the ports are all beautiful…. having a cruise ship job seems like a dream!

Don’t believe the hype people – it is not that simple. Like every overly photoshopped image on Instagram, working on a cruise ship is not all that it is filtered to be…

Before I go any further, I want to make something abundantly clear.  I am, what we call a ‘lifer’.  I started on ships about twelve years ago and I am still on them – and I LOVE what I do and I AM what I do.

But a word from the wise here… if you are not prepared to forego aspects of your life in order to bring happiness into the lives of others, please don’t bother applying – especially not for the hotel department.

“She’s SO dramatic” I hear you say while rolling your eyes.

Not so.

The guests will permeate every being of your existence while on board.  Guests take priority over crew at all times – so if you are not prepared to stand back and let them go first, then this line of work is not for you.

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You may think that just because you work in the galley or in another department that doesn’t necessarily deal with guests in a one-on-one  capacity that this is not really an important factor to consider – but I would like to remind you that the guests are EVERYWHERE.  ALWAYS.

If you can put others before yourself and you have a fair bit of patience, and you already have a passport, read on.

Cruise ship jobs things to know


Before you even apply for a cruise ship job there are SO many things about having a cruise ship job and working on a cruise ship that you aren’t aware of until you get there – and then it is too late!

In the attempt to make things a little easier for you as a cruise ship job applicant, and for the crew onboard who have to train (and work with) you, I believe it is important that you know what you are getting yourself into before you even apply for a job on a cruise ship.

So, from one crew member to a potential other, here we go…


Safety Duties

Cruise ship jobs involve having safety duties.  Every singe crew member does.  Engine, deck, medical and security teams have their own duties to fulfill (firefighting etc), but if you are in the hotel department (the biggest department onboard) then you WILL be involved in something to do with either the guests or crew safety.

This is mandatory and if you aren’t prepared to do it and take safety seriously, don’t work on ships.  You will be trained in your safety duties and every two weeks a full crew drill is conducted onboard.  This means that ALL crew are trained in their safety duties and only a very few exemptions are allowed (in order to continue essential operations)

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Training

All cruise ship jobs involve lots of ongoing training.  When you join a ship, you will attend a barrage of ‘inductions’. These cover everything from ship safety, hygiene, environmental issues, company policies and procedures and personal survival and safety techniques.  You will have them EVERY contract FOREVER.  No matter if you’ve done one contract or twenty-two.

Cleaning

Speaking of things that are ongoing, let’s talk about cleaning. You will clean like you have never cleaned before!! I can promise you, if you are in the hotel department, you WILL be cleaning.  We always have, we always will.  Don’t worry, the correct personal protective equipment will be provided, and the relevant training for your cleaning equipment will also be given, but like breathing, cleaning will become part of your life!

Working and Schedule

If you have a cruise ship job, it means you will be working EVERY DAY.  We have a saying that every day is Monday.  I can not stress this enough!!  Crew members work up to thirteen hours every day. It is not like a normal 9-5 job where you get a half hour tea break and a lunch break.  Your lunch break is considered a break and is logged as such in your time sheet – so when I say thirteen hours a day, I DO mean physically working for thirteen hours a day.  It is not easy.  I will also note here that you are very likely to do less than that, however that is the maximum hours you can work.  After that, your supervisor gets into trouble for you going over your hours, so it is important that you log your working hours correctly.

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Food- yes it’s free

One of the biggest perk of a cruise ship job is that food is provided!  I know this sounds silly, but to be fair, a lot of new people don’t realize that there is food almost 24/7 available for crew.  The crew dining area is called a ‘mess’ (very military right?) and there is a crew mess, a staff mess and an officer’s mess.

Different mess’ cater for the tastes of the majority of crew who dine in their relevant areas, and the officers’ mess allows those crew members to be able to choose food off a menu as it is used as a training area for waiters before they start serving the guests

Laundry

Linen is also provided!  And washed, for free, whenever you want it.  There is a main laundromat where you can change your linen and towels, and even have your uniform cleaned.  Then there are crew laundromats all over the ship where you can wash your personal belongings (you’ll need your own washing detergent)

Accommodation

It may not surprise you, but the accommodation on a cruise ship can be cramped.  Living quarters for crew are normally pretty small – on old ships, you may have to use communal bathrooms.  There are normally anywhere between two and four people to a cabin in bunk beds.  As you work your way up through the ranks, your accommodation becomes better and less crowded.  On most cruise lines, officers with one stripe or above have their own cabins with their own bathrooms.

Your cabin will be checked every two weeks in what is called ‘Crew Rounds’ – this inspection is done by senior officers and another allocated person and it is done in order to ensure the health of the crew, and also to check if there are any defects in the cabin (cracked mirror, lighting issues etc) that can be fixed by the maintenance team.  Every person onboard has their cabin checked – including the captain!

Where You Stand 

Different departments have different sized cabins and different ‘allowances/privileges’ for crew.  Each department has their own rules and regulations, and I would suggest that you find out from your manning agent what they are before embarking on your cruise career.

You may or may not be allowed to do certain things without the permission of your supervisor – things like dinner in a specialty restaurant (you will pay for this by the way – just like any guest) or watching a show – but those things can be arranged and ARE allowed – just not every night for every crew member. Guests always have priority!

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Crew Shop

There is a crew shop onboard most ships.  This means that you don’t need to bring six month’s supply of toiletries with you. Snacks, small electronics, soap, washing powder, sometimes even socks and pantyhose can often be found in the crew shop – which is very convenient if you can’t get off the ship.

The Crew Bar

Yes, there is (on most ships) a crew bar.  Yes, it’s ridiculously cheap.  Yes, if you’re like me, it’s where you’ll spend most of your time. Yes, we have parties. No, I’m not going to tell you about them….

The Library

There is also normally a library as well as some games/ pool tables and other things to keep you occupied once you are in and settled. Most ships even have a Crew Welfare Coordinator whose sole job is making sure crew members are okay and have a variety of activities to keep them occupied. A lot of ships offer free courses for crew so that you can learn a new skill or even a different language while onboard.

IPM. 

That stands for In Port Manning and will be a vital part of any cruise ship job.  Legally, there needs to be a certain number of crew members onboard the ship at all times while in port (in case of an emergency so that we can get the guests off safely).  This means that there are times when you will not be allowed off the ship while in port.  Everyone has IPM duties and each individual department onboard has a certain number of slots that they need to fill. If you are in a smaller department like Cruise Staff, you will be IPM in every third port, as opposed to the bar waiters who only will have IPM every fifth port or so.

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Managers draw up the rosters of who is on IPM and when. You can always ask them to swap it out or change it (provided you give them enough warning).  If you are on a world cruise and only doing ports once, it is a bit of a pain as you will miss out some places – however if you are doing the standard cruising where you are returning to the same ports over and over again it doesn’t matter,  as you will have more than enough time to explore.

I-95 

If you are cruising in US waters, you will need an I-95.  Don’t worry, you get this onboard and the Crew Office (our administration crew) will take you through this process step by step.  It does mean that you won’t be able to get off in any US ports until you have one.

Health Care

Medically, you are covered while onboard.  There are various stipulations depending on the cruise line and the contract you sign, but there is a crew clinic and it is free.

FOMO

You will miss out on things at home.  Weddings, funerals, births, birthday parties, family, friends.  You will come home after your contract (however long it is) with a new appreciation for the world and having experienced and learned so much – and nothing would have changed at home.  While on your contract there will be days when you get homesick or wish you could teleport back for a specific event. Unfortunately, you’ll miss it. That’s just part of having a cruise ship job.

How much do cruise ship workers make?

Different companies will pay you different amounts for the same job. Every department pays differently, and most companies increase your pay the longer you work for them. Starting salaries are normally quite low – when I started working in the Bar department, my salary was US$325 a month.  But that was EXCLUDING gratuities etc and I ended up with well over $1300 a month.

When you take into account the lack of bills you have (not paying for food, rent, or really anything outside an internet card or drinks at the crew bar) it’s much more manageable. Todd was able to save $6,000 in the 6 months he was aboard.  All cruise ships also pay for your transportation to and from the ship so if you live in the US and work in Australia (like Todd did) that’s a $2500 RT flight. If you take everything into account it can be a great way to save some money while seeing the world.

They will also pay you in different ways.  With some companies, payment comes in the form of a debit card (there are crew ATM’s onboard) and other companies pay you in cash. You will negotiate your pay, currently, and frequency before starting your contract so you will know how much (and when) you will be paid. Some crew members open a new bank account in the ‘home port’ country and deposit their money each time they return, others keep all the cash under their mattress. To each their own..

Internet

Internet is charged for, but at reduced rates.  You can buy data onboard, but a lot of crew utilize anywhere with free wifi while in port because buying an internet card every other day can add up quickly.

Security Onboard the cruise ship

Security protocols are strict and necessary. You will be checked every time you leave and board the ship.  Please don’t give the security teams a hard time about it if they ask you to take your shoes off etc – they are just doing their job.

So what’s it really like having a cruise ship job?

The biggest thing that I wasn’t aware of, is how separate and yet inclusive cruise ships are. It is a bit like the army in many ways – you have to follow the rules and do as you are told by the senior officers – and that can upset some people who are not accustomed to it.  I would go so far as to say that cruise ships appear to be ‘elitist’ – officers have privileges that others do not and it often appears that some departments have (what we call) ‘an easy life’ while others are doing manual labour.

It is NOT an elitist world.  No one onboard has an easy day – we all work hard – some have more labour-intensive jobs whilst others have more mentally intensive jobs.  

As any job in the world, yes, we have a small number of people onboard who think they are God’s gift to mankind and throw their weight around – but the vast number of crew members that I have encountered have always been humble and welcoming, regardless of race, religion, and financial standing.  We understand the need to work – and to not interrupt others while they are doing their jobs – but if you join any ship, you will become part of this rather large family  and you will be taken care of.

There is no easy cruise ship job.  No department works harder or longer than any other.  I, myself have changed departments from one that is considered as ‘work’ (i.e. the bar department) to one that others perceive to be ‘easy’ (i.e. Entertainment) and I can tell you right now that being in Entertainment is just as hard as being in the Bar department.

We are a family.  Strict rules and regulations apply, but we look out for each other.

I hope you join us <3

Cruise Ship Jobs: The Application Process

Make Your Match, Do Your Homework

How to get a job on a Cruise Ship – Step One:

The number one decision to make to have a great working career or find the best cruise ship job is a fairly simple but very important one.  Which companies would suit you?

This means that you need to do a little research and homework towards the ethos and ethics of cruise ship companies. Let me give you an example.

Personally, I find children in large quantities annoying.  I get angry around kids because I don’t understand them very well – and they remind me a bit of small drunk adults.  This doesn’t mean that I dislike children, I just prefer to not have them around me all the time.  If you feel the same way, don’t work for Disney Cruise Lines.  Disney is a wonderful cruise line and I have many friends who have had magical experiences working there, but you must remember that Disney IS family based.  And families mean children.  Lots of children. I would love to work for such a well-established, internationally renowned company, but I think after a week onboard, the fairy dust would need to be ingested, not sprinkled to keep me there.

Every cruise company is different.  Some cater for families; some cater for elderly people.  There are small ships, more exclusive and more pricey ships while others are large and cheap.  All companies have different target markets, so find a few companies that suit your style and focus your applications around those.

Recruiting Agents

How to get a job on a Cruise Ship – Step Two –

Once you have done your homework and decided which companies you would like to apply for, you need to find out who their relevant recruiting/manning agents are.  Please be warned here, there are a LOT of fake recruiting agencies out there who are charging people to apply for cruise lines that don’t exist, or even cruise lines that DO exist but they aren’t the agents for.

That is why doing your homework is necessary. Check on the cruise company websites for the relevant recruiting agencies in your country and apply through them only.  You should not have to pay any fee in order to be admitted for an interview.  

Your CV

How to get a job on a Cruise Ship – Step Three –

Make sure your CV is no more than two pages long.  Also, make sure that any work experience that is relevant to the job you are applying for is clear and highlighted. I sincerely hope that you have previous relevant work experience – and if not, make sure that you have a damn good cover letter to secure that interview!  If you are anything like me, you may have to start in a department that is not necessarily your ideal posting and wait until you can ‘career path’ into somewhere you’d prefer.

Please double check for any spelling mistakes and make sure you use good English (or whatever language is required for your chosen company) on your CV.  Your cover letter should be a brief introduction as to who you are, why you are the best candidate for the job and why you match the job requirements and would suit the company.  Keep those things in mind!

The Interview

How to get a job on a Cruise Ship – Step Four –

You should have a follow up interview if you are successful in your application.  This may be conducted via Skype or in person.  Whichever way this happens, make sure that are presentable and punctual for your interview.

If it is happening online, make sure you have enough data for the duration of the call.  Read up about the company you are interviewing for – find out where they travel to, their history, the names of their ships etc so that you sound knowledgeable and interested. Remember, cruise lines are investing in you too, so recruiting agents are looking for someone who takes interest.

…and now, you wait. Fingers crossed!

Cruise Ship Jobs: Offer and Next Steps

Acceptance

How to get a job on a Cruise Ship – Step Five –

Now the good stuff starts!  Congratulations are in order.

First thing is first though.  You need to read your contract. And by ‘reading your contract’, I don’t mean a light skimming over it and signing it.  I do mean for you to read it.  Completely and properly. Read it all, fine print and everything – don’t do it for me, do it for you.

If you have any questions about the contract, make sure you contact your recruiting agent and have everything cleared up before you sign it.  You will then need to send your agent a copy and keep one copy with you to take onboard.

Once you have read and agreed to the conditions and stipulations included in the contract, your agency will then guide you towards medicals and visas.

Medicals are very thorough.  You may have to have blood, urine and stools tests (especially if working in the Food and Beverage Department), as well as chest x-rays, eyesight and hearing test.

If you wear glasses, take your glasses with you to the appointment. You will need to use the official doctor as prescribed by your agency.

Your manning agency will guide you step by step through the process of getting all your documentation in hand etc, and will give you information about life at sea, what to pack etc.  There may be online courses you need to do before starting your contract – in a post COVID world there may be additional medical or vaccine requirements.  Each company has their own policies and procedures, and your manning agent is your guide.

SO WHY DO I WORK ON A CRUISE SHIP – AND KEEP DOING IT?

In the most clichéd of terms – I am a people person.  As much as I love a quiet lifestyle, I adore people – from all cultures and backgrounds.  I love seeing what makes people tick.

Having a cruise ship job has allowed me to save money while traveling around the world.  I have been to places I never dreamed I would go to.  I have circumnavigated the globe twice by ship, seeing sights I never knew existed.

I have made friends from almost every country in the world and I have learned about their history, culture, political views and religion. I have gained a far greater understanding of life than I would have just staying at home working in a normal job.

I have learned that we are, deep down, all the same.  We all want the best for our family, we all want to live healthy, happy lives.

And honestly, for me there is NOTHING better than making someone smile in a day.

And that, my friends, is what working on cruise ships is all about.

Stay Gold.

Lauren

About Lauren Meyer

Lauren enjoys travelling, photography, single malt whiskey, history, deep sarcasm and dark humour. Her idea of a perfect vacation is hiking through the Scottish Highlands – but staying overnight somewhere with a flush toilet and a shower. Never one to shy away from her opinion, Lauren will keep you entertained with stories of life, love and travel. You’ve been warned…

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