As there are over 500 cruise ships belonging to more than 60 different liners around the world, the first mission is clearly to choose which company is best for you. A lot of these decisions may also depend on other important factors (i.e. itinerary of cruise, type of ship, origin of liner), but our advice is to narrow down your applications to the companies that are most suitable for you and spend more time concentrating on a shortlist, rather than simply whacking out a blanket CV to them all. These days, the power of the Internet makes it the best method to cross international borders and time zones and get your profile out there. It is a good idea to go directly to the cruise liner’s website to research the type of company you are applying to. There will also be a separate link for recruitment which should give you all the information on where and how to apply.
Since cruise ships employ people from all over the world, it would be very difficult to manage all the applications themselves; therefore most liners use the service of recruitment agencies to sign up new workers. Most agencies look after a number of different cruise liners at once, so it is a good idea to ensure your CV is in their email inbox, as a lot of the time it is hard to keep track of direct applications to the liner. Agencies are helpful and professional, and will have specific criteria in which applications are screened. Several websites have comprehensive lists of all global recruitment agencies, as well as employee insights and what it is really like to work for a cruise ship.
Do watch out for rogue agencies however. There have been many reports of illegitimate organisations that demand a ‘registration fee’ for ‘guaranteed employment’, although they rarely deliver any form of contract. Our advice is avoid paying at all costs and with a bit of leg work you can research all the openings yourself.
Our only recommended payment is for registering on the cruise jobs website, CruiseJobFinder. This is really the bees knees for finding extensive information on cruise work, and a mere $3.95 for a 5 day membership will give you all the essential facts and an invaluable catalogue of all the direct cruise contacts you would ever need.
A cruise ship is often described as a ‘floating city’ and contains a vast range of different roles for the crew. Employees are typically divided into departments relating to the type of work they perform.
One option would be the Hotel department, where there are opportunities for service and hospitability, and typical jobs include waiters, bar staff, chefs, kitchen assistants or cabin stewards, as well as receptionists, tour escorts and international hosts.
Or maybe you would like to dabble in the Entertainment department, where ships seek dancers, singers, musicians, DJs, cruise staff/social hosts, youth counsellors, stage managers and light/sound technicians.
Then there is the Concessionaires department; these are the personnel that offer services on the cruise but are primarily handled by external agents/ companies. This department includes spa/fitness/beautician work, retail, photographers, port and shopping consultants and art directors.
The Deck and Engine department employs other types of staff that control the ship, from the ship’s officers to the firemen, maintenance, engineers, electricians, nurse/doctors and security officers.
Finally, you may find some office-based jobs on land and at sea, involving cruise consultants, pursers, immigration and cashier officers.
- Depending on which waters your ships will anchor in, you will need to apply, in advance, for a C/1D Visa for ships calling at US ports, and/or British Seaman’s book for ships registered in the UK. You will have to shell out for this yourself, but the documentation is valid for up to 10 years.
- You will now be a sailor too! All ships also require a sea safety training course and passing a medical before you embark to ensure you are fit and ready for life on the waves.
- The sea is not always a fisherman’s friend! Be prepared for rough seas at times and bring seasick tablets if you’re worried about a rolling stomach!
Phew! So, as you can see, there is a wide range of jobs available on a ship and it’s important to choose carefully what you want to do. Some jobs are somewhat vocational – dancers, nurses/doctors, chefs and officers, for example – and you will certainly require the necessary qualifications to apply. Other applicants are still accepted after just six months experience, for jobs such as waiters/bar staff, retail assistants, and technicians. Roles with more authority (and generally for a lot more dollar!) such as Hotel Director, Cruise Director or Assistant Cruise Director, nearly always depend on previous ship experience. Younger, less experienced jobseekers, particularly university graduates, can apply for the more entry-level roles such as cruise/entertainment staff, DJs, photographers and tour escorts.
Contracts for all these types of jobs normally last from 5 to 8 months depending on the ship, and then you are requested to take a compulsory 4-6 weeks leave (unpaid), between starting another contract.
Cruise ships might actually be more appropriately described as a ‘floating world’, as nearly all major cruise liners hire their personnel from over 70 countries worldwide. European crewmembers are sought more in the areas with the most passenger interaction, such as Entertainment, Retail and the Excursion sections of the ship. The Deck department is nearly always made up of Western European or American officers. Other concession vacancies such as Casino and Photography are widely mixed and may consist of a team with members from many points of the globe.
Don’t be disheartened, cruise companies do vary in their hiring practices and you just need the right level of persistence to find the right job for you. Our advice is to be specific: many cruise liners have said that applications that simply state ‘I would like any job on a cruise ship’ get thrown in the bin straightaway as they indicate a lack of commitment or consideration. Also remember that cruise liners receive hundreds of applications every week, and to avoid your CV being shredded, state exactly what you position you are seeking and relate your work experience and skills to the requirements of the role.
Whilst experience on your CV is handy, if you’re lacking in it, try to promote your personality as much as you can. Cruise ship interviewers are impressed by confident, outgoing and knowledgeable candidates who can demonstrate that they can contribute something positive to the passengers’ cruise experience. Additional foreign languages are also a big plus, although the main requirement is that you can speak the mother tongue of the cruise world…English!
Most importantly, choose something that a) you think you are good at, and b) you will enjoy! There’s nothing worse than being on a ship thousands of miles away from home and dreading getting up for work every morning. Don’t forget that for 5-8 months your work is also your home so you might as well enjoy it whilst you are there!
One of the biggest perks of working on a cruise ship is that you get a free ticket to dock at some of the most beautiful places in the world. Cruise ships set sail all around the seven seas, from the Caribbean and the Americas, to Europe and North Africa, and to Asia and the South Pacific.
Cruise itineraries can vary immensely, although like any travel and tourism industry, cruises also work in seasons and visit different ports according to the time of year and the weather (so the sun always shines on you whilst you work!).
The Caribbean has been the cruising hotspot for decades, and many American cruise ships do voyage around the rum islands year-round. Most European based cruise liners make the Atlantic crossing in November for the busiest phase until mid-April. September to April is normally considered the busiest cruise season, when most fleets head to Australasia, the Far East, Central and South America and the South Pacific. From April to September, the Mediterranean ports are occupied for the European summer season, which also includes Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and North Africa. American passengers tend to seek more penguins and polar bears this time of year, and harbours in Alaska are also at their peak during this period. However, it is important to note that you will very rarely get to choose which ship you will embark on. If you want to go to a particular area of the world, then our advice is to get your envelopes licked a few months before the season starts. You can also get your stamps ready a few months prior to a launch of a new ship, when new crew will be most sought-after, as well as the first year of a new ship when staff turnover can be fairly high as they adjust the positions on board.
- CaribbeanCentral and North America
- Panama Canal
- Mediterranean & North Africa
- Scandinavia and Russia
- Far East, Asia
- Australasia and South Pacific
- Central, North & South America
- Panama Canal
- Some European Ports
Cruise liners do recruit all year round and are constantly seeking new faces to join them, so make sure your CV is out there as soon as possible, and in the right place. Be persistent with your applications but do not harass the company. If you are selective about whom you want to work for, you can afford to bide your time. We’ve known crewmembers that have waited up to three months before the company finally wiped off the dust and called them for a vacancy that arose. However painstakingly frustrating it might be at times, patience is a virtue, but when that call does come you know it will be worth it. And once you have shined in the interview and are offered a contract, our advice is fairly stereotypical but nevertheless:
‘Carpe Diem!’ – seize the day! As long as the contract sounds fair, take the opportunity you have and enjoy it! It is hard work, but great fun, and you will make friends with people from the most diverse cultural backgrounds and be paid to travel to some the world’s most picturesque shorelines. We are certain that it will be one of the best life experiences you’ll ever have, so put your life jacket on and submit your application…you won’t regret it!