Working Aboard a Cruise Ship

Meet Dominic, who has spent time working on a cruise ship. Dominic is a native of Romsey, and is 22 years of age. Here he explains what it’s like to work at sea for a major cruise line.

What job were you doing abroad?

I worked for Europe’s largest cruise line, Costa Cruises, onboard the Costa Magica. My actual job title was ‘Cruise Staff’. I was part of the team which delivered the entertainment programme on the cruises. We hosted games and activities, as well as greeted, socialised, and danced with the passengers. All in all we were responsible for making sure the guests had the most enjoyable holiday possible. I started off in the Mediterranean for a few weeks then we sailed across the Atlantic to the many ports of the Caribbean, where I spent the next six months sailing out of Florida each week.

How did you find the job?

I found the job through an agency on the Internet that deal with most of the major cruise lines.

Do you need to be qualified to work on a cruise ship?

Not necessarily for the cruise staff role, but it depends on what job you want to do. To go higher up it would probably be a huge advantage, but some of my colleagues left school at 16. Cruise jobs are open to a wide range of people.

What training or experience did you have to work as cruise staff?

I only really had experience of doing a lot of presentations before on the microphone. Some entertainment or travel industry background is obviously advantageous, as well as good people and social skills, confidence and a flair for creativity. Any language skills are also a huge bonus for Costa as it is a mixed European audience. I only had to speak English, as the majority of passengers were American in the Caribbean.

Did you have to undertake any other training or courses to be able to work on a cruise ship?

You have to do a Basic Sea Safety training course i.e. a few hours of theory and some practical such as putting lifeboats in water and jumping from a certain height on the diving board. I think it works out to be about 32 hours in all over 4/5 full days. It is long and you do have to pay for it, but it is essential to be trained as you will be working as a sailor too!

What was your day to day routine on port days and on sea days?

On a standard weeks cruise you would have 4 port days, 2 sea days and the start and end/embarkation and disembarkation day at your home port. Embarkation and disembarkation days were the hardest, because if you were on the rota you would have to spend the full day greeting or saying goodbye to guests from silly o’clock in the morning. On sea days you could work up to 16 hours, although most of the time it was a lot of fun.

From 9am till 6pm, we would host activities such as quizzes, arts and crafts, library duties, karaoke, dance lessons and perform games by the pool. Then in the early evening, you would have other duties such as getting suited and booted for the captain’s cocktail parties. Every night we would then have to do a couple of fun games in one of the bars, this would be followed by a themed evening from around 11pm till 1am where we would have some crazy costumes and do different activities depending on the evening. Typical nights included Mediterranean Night, 70s night, Italian Night and Roman Night with a guest talent show in the main theatre.

The port days were relatively easy.

You would have to do disembarkation at 2 out of the 4 ports, which means getting up early and just organising all the guests that go out on the ships excursions. This would usually last for around 2 hours max: you would be free for the rest of the day to chill out on a sandy beach, eat at nice restaurants, take a tour of the island, or just simply catch up on sleep! This was usually until about 4pm when you would have to come back on board and do a couple of afternoon activities by the pool. We were then normally free most days from around 6pm till 9pm before the evening’s entertainment.

What’s the salary like?

It wasn’t great, particularly for first contract crewmembers. But it wasn’t bad either – I think it was around 900 Euros a month, but you could also make a few dollars in tips every week as well as ship’s bonuses if you got good scores from the passenger evaluations. And don’t forget we didn’t have to pay for food or accommodation!

What was the food and accommodation (‘crew digs’) like?

The food started off really nice, but then got a bit repetitive as the weeks went on. The ‘chicken with banana in the middle’ seemed to be the butt of a lot of the cruise staff jokes. However most days, the entertainment crew were allowed to eat from the
passenger events such as the midnight buffet.

The accommodation side of things was pretty good, as it was a reasonably new ship and we had all the essentials like a wardrobe, desk, TV, DVD player and en-suite bathroom. You had to share a cabin with one other person (normally someone in the same department as you). This can be looked at as a downside, although you tend to spend very little time in your cabin as you only use it to sleep and get changed.

What’s the night life and social life like onboard?

The nightlife was pretty good onboard as you could go to the disco every night and party with the passengers, who would always buy drinks for you. Although the general perception is that cruising is full of old people, it was certainly not on the Magica, where a plethora of the younger generation came on just to party, especially around the American holiday times…roll on spring break 2008!

What was the best thing about working on a cruise ship?

Meeting so many new people from all over the world. There were around 84 different nationalities represented in the 1000 crew onboard, even before you start chatting to the 3,500 different passengers each week!

What is the hardest thing about working on a cruise ship? The hours can be very tough as you are contracted to a 77 hour week, although you don’t always work that many. The fact that you always have to wake up with a smile when you’re in passenger areas is sometimes hard, especially if you are having a rough day or a hangover! The final negative is being away from friends and family for so long, especially over Christmas, but it can be ok because the rest of the crew are quiet simply ‘in the same boat’!

Do you plan on doing another contract working abroad?

I have just joined Oceania Cruises as the salary is much higher than before and I get to go to South America, which is somewhere I always wanted to go. Also, it’s a great stepping stone to becoming promoted to a Cruise Director, although I am not sure yet whether that’s for me.

Do you feel this experience will help you in your future career?

Definitely, although when I joined the ship I was quite a confident person, it just put my confidence through the roof. There are just so many invaluable experiences that you can learn from working on a cruise ship!

Life on a Cruise Ship =>