“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton
For a certain sort of soul, the allure of setting off across the sea and never staying put for more than a few days can be just as rewarding as a steady paycheck. While other jobs partially fit the lover of travel (flight attendants, pilots, travel photographers, etc.) there’s a timeless charm in pushing into foreign waters until the arrival in an exotic port. If this rings a bell, and you’re looking to take on travelling by boat for longer than a vacation, then you might just be a great fit for working on a cruise ship. And luckily for you, there are scores of different ways to obtain employment on a cruise ship. Jobs from deck crew, to janitorial staff, to master chefs, to massage therapists are all commonly available in these massive floating resorts. Crew often have to work hard and have less time in port than paying passengers, but enjoy many of the same amenities including (often) free meals, free lodging on the ship, free cruising, and access to many ship amenities on off days. If all this still sounds good (it should!) then proceed below for our guide on how to gain a job on a cruis ship.
Step 1: Appraise Your Skills
There are a huge range of positions available on cruise ships. Generally all of the positions that need filling at hotels and large resorts also need filling on a cruise ship. Furthermore, where hotels and resorts often have the benefit of being around other amenities that their customers can enjoy, cruise ships are out to sea. So they have to bring amenities with them. This means that many cruise ships employ a wide range of restaurant, bar, entertainment, recreation, fitness, and logistical staff. As one might expect, some positions require a great deal of training, experience, and knowledge, while other positions have few prerequisites.
For hospitality roles on a cruise ship, one should first assess their skills and experience and compare those to the openings. Applicants generally interface with cruise companies through an agency that represents them, which we will touch on more in the next section. At first one should generally just appraise their skills and try to ascertain what level of position they may be eligible for (or they may prefer) generally manual labor intensive jobs as well as restaurant waiters, housekeeping and cabin stewards are recruited from countries with lower pay (parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, and Africa). So if you’re from a higher earning nation, it’s hard to compete for those positions without being willing to take an often substantial drop in pay. There are often tiers of cruise ship workers. Those who are untested at sea or are less qualified for positions may be hired for shorter periods rather than as permanent employees. Being a temporary hire can be a great way to gain experience in the industry, and there is often great opportunity for temp cruise jobs.
It may also be useful to think outside the box regarding your skills. Unlike many hospitality positions not on cruise ships, cruise ships employ a wide range of entertainers. Those with experience in music, dance, theater, or recreation are often in high demand on cruise ships. If you’re a hospitality worker with traditional hospitality skills and skills in one of the previous domains, you may be able to increase your chances of being hired.
Step 2: Find a Cruise Line Recruiting Agency
As mentioned previously, cruise lines often don’t interface with applicants directly. Rather, potential or current cruise staff sign up with an agency that informs them when jobs that might be a good match crop up. Note that cruise recruiting agencies that place applicants take a small fee for each day of the placement. Don’t be put off, however, as this arrangement often provides quality job opportunities for applicants while upholding the quality of candidates for cruise ship companies. Placements will vary from as little as a few days to several months, and are often dictated by the region and cruise lines you end up applying for. For this reason, if you have a preference about the length of your placement, check out the common cruises of different cruise lines, then pick a recruiting agency that interfaces with the cruise lines you’re interested in.
Some of the largest recruiting agencies include the following (recruiting agency / region recruited from / cruise lines recruiting for):
- Cast-a-Way/ North America, the British Commonwealth/ Regent Seven Seas, Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, Starboard Cruise Services and Steiner Leisure.
- Seven Seas Group (SSG Evropa)/ Europe and the US/ Azamara Club Cruises, Royal Caribbean, the Image Group, Celebrity Cruises and the Norwegian Cruise Line.
- Cruceros Bonavista/South America/ Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, and NCL.
- CTI Group/ Southeast Asia / Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, and NCL.
- Ismira Recruitment/ Eastern Europe/ Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Oceania Cruises, and Crystal Cruises.
- V. Hospitality (V-Ships)/ Worldwide / P&O Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, and Starboard Cruise Services
Step 3: Appraise Job Opportunities
Assuming a recruiting agency has picked you up as a client and you have skills applicable to a cruise ship position, you should have some choice as to what cruise openings you accept. Some crucial distinctions between positions that should be weighed carefully include the length of the contract, whether you are offered a position as a permanent crew member or a temporary one, and whether the position is structured around tips or a base salary. We’ll jump into what those distinctions mean below.
First is the length of the contract. Generally short contracts mean that you will not be paid, but will receive free room, board, and (often) gratuity. Many short term contracts will also allow you to bring a spouse for free, as well as provide discounts on other cruise amenities. Longer term contracts are almost always paid with a wage and often last from several months to a few years. A common length of time for longer term placements is 5-6 months, in which you may have to lock up your residency and move from cruise to cruise throughout the period. After 5-6 months of being onboard a ship, permanent workers will often get a few weeks to a few weeks at home. The general rule is that the more senior your position on the ship, the more often you’re at home and the shorter your stay on the ship.
Secondly is a distinction related to the first. Permanent crew are offered contracts that persist through stints at home. This means that permanent contracts will build in time away from work and a guaranteed placement on future cruises afterwards depending on the length of the contract. Some potential cruise workers don’t want to be away from home or at sea for that long, however. So generally some workers do prefer an arrangement called ‘work your passage’ in which you may go on shorter trips and enjoy many of the amenities that passengers do, but not take home pay or be obligated to participate in future voyages.
The third distinction involves differences in how pay is structured between roles on cruise ships. Common positions that rely on gratuity (tips) as part of income include massage therapists, bartenders, waiters, busboys and concierges. Other positions are salaried, with more common positions such as deck hands, housekeeping and cabin stewards often filled by applicants from lower income regions including Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, South America, and Africa. These roles, and particularly these roles who serve the staff such as staff waiters and snack stewards are most commonly non-tipping positions. These positions are often reserved for those without as much experience or without a good command of English. Those in non-tipping hospitality roles, however, have a good chance of being promoted to tipping roles in the future if they continue their work. One final note about income on cruise ships is that income earned on cruise ships is not subject to income tax unless you are from a country that requires you to report income earned abroad.
One final note is that in many ways the cruise industry is like other hospitality fields. Those with additional schooling or experience in hospitality positions will have a greater chance of being hired onto cruise ships and to accelerate through the ranks of the ship more quickly. For more information on hospitality management degrees, check out our ranking page for the best online degrees for hospitality management and related fields.