Working Abroad Magazine always goes to the source when it comes to finding out what a particular work experience is truly like! Many adventurous sorts, who love travel, think that they’d love to work on a cruise ship. But do they really? We interviewed Daniel, 23, to find out how he got his cruise job and to learn what he thinks of the career move!
He is the Spa and Beauty Manager on the M/S Insignia, part of the fleet managed by Oceania Cruises.
How long have you been working on cruise ships?
Since I was 19, I have been working onboard a number of ships before joining Insignia. I had an 8 month contract with Carnival Destiny, 8 months with Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas, 2 contracts with Disney Magic, as well as contracts with Voyager of the Seas and Oceania Regatta. I have been to some fantastic places around the world, including the Caribbean, East Coast of USA, Canada, Mediterranean, South America and Antarctica.
What job(s) were you doing?
I started out as a hairdresser in the Spa for 3 contracts. For Disney I also worked as a Spa Receptionist, before being promoted to Manager after 6 weeks of my second contract.
Why did you choose to work on cruise ships?
I was at a dead end in the UK. I was living alone, the cost of living in England was really expensive, so I was looking for something different. I sent my CV to so many salons in the UK before I applied to Steiner through the “Hairdresser’s Journal.”
So what happened at the interview?
Steiner gave a 2 hour presentation giving all the details of working life on cruise ships and the career opportunities available. It was really useful because it was very direct about the reality of what it is really like to work on a cruise ship. It didn’t hide anything about hours, potential earnings and the bare facts that you most want to know before considering a career at sea.
Then we had to have a practical examination with a model we had to bring with us. I had to do all sorts of different hairdressing styles, whilst I was asked questions about things like my experience and why I wanted the job, etc.
What do you need to get past the application process?
To get an interview, you do need to have at least a NVQ from a spa and beauty college course. I did an NVQ Level 2 hairdressing course at Nelson and Colne College in Nelson, Lancashire. Of course spa and salon work experience always helps, yet it is not essential as Steiner do often take on recent college graduates.
Once you passed the interview, what happened next?
All successful applicants then have to go through the Steiner International Academy, based in London. The courses can last anything from 1 and a half weeks to 12 weeks. You are taught everything to do with the cruise spa and beauty industry relevant to you. I learnt new invaluable skills such as teeth whitening, as well as training on how to communicate with cruise passengers, customer service and retail. The length of the course really depends on how well you improve as the course goes on. We are all provided with food and accommodation at the YMCA, which is definitely an experience to start things off! You share dormitories and meal time with the other candidates ranging from hairdressers, massage therapists, nail technicians, fitness instructors, all sorts. It’s a handy jumping point to get used to a similar communal crew life on board a ship. This is also the one training base for all applicants around the world, so you also get to meet a complete mix of different people and nationalities.
What’s your day-to-day routine onboard?
I have to start quite early, at 7.30am, and first of all I normally hold a team meeting with the other staff to discuss the cruise/day/bookings, etc. Then our staff begin their appointments with guests from 8am and go until around 1.00pm. I spend time mostly on reception, controlling the bookings, guest inquiries, staff training, there’s always something to do! After lunch we then have appointments until 7pm and break for dinner, before working until around 8pm on a port day, or 10:00pm on a sea day.
Wow, that’s a long day, do you get any time off?
It is a long day and it can get tiring, but it can go quickly for the team, especially if they are kept busy and have a lot of appointments. Normally staff such as the massage therapists are entitled to 1 and a half days off every 7 days, and can earn extra time off if they have good retail sales or a guest’s compliment on the end of cruise comment cards. I organise my own time off around the team’s different schedules, so I can normally allow few hours off here and there when we are in port.
What’s the salary like?
It depends on how hard you are willing to work! As a manager, it’s pretty good but can still depend greatly on the level of sales and appointments made on each cruise. As for the beauty and fitness consultants, if you are pro-active and manage to do a good service and book a number of guests in, then of course you are able to earn big bucks. The salary here is commission based, so the more you sell, the more you earn! It really does vary according to the type of ship you are on (big or small) & the type of guests, and even the length of cruises (shorter cruises have a higher guest turnover). There is an element of retail sales after the treatment, and once you have mastered this, there really is great earning potential. I have friends that are doing so well that they have earned over $3000 (£1500) in 4 days! You also have the opportunity to earn from tips too, I once got a $200 tip for a haircut! It’s a lot about self-promotion and the passion for the job.
What’s the best and worst experience you have had whilst working on cruise ships?
The best is the lifelong friends I made and when I found out I was promoted to become manager on Disney Magic. The team were so close knit it was such a good feeling to know I did a good job!
The worst was when we were in the Caribbean for Hurricane Wilma on the Enchantment of the Seas (Royal Caribbean). The gales destroyed the dock at Fort Lauderdale so we couldn’t dock for 2 days and I had never been seasick until then. Then the next cruise we went back to Cozumel, Mexico, and the whole portside had been flattened by the storm. The bars where we were drinking at just a week earlier were then completely gone!
Can you describe what its like to manage a team of crew members from the spa and fitness centre?
Well again it varies according to the ship. Here I manage a team of 9, whereas on Disney it was a team of 23. I have to advise our consultants on the right training, treatments, recommendations, as well as keep them motivated and ensure it’s a happy place to work! I have to keep discipline also. Even to my friends I’m ready to hand out written warnings if they are hungover or late for their shifts. We have to remember we are dealing with a 5 star luxury cruise line, so there are expected high levels of service and appearance. I have no problem with my staff going out and having a good time, as long as they can burn the candle at both ends, I say do it!
Are there any negatives to working on a cruise ship?
Of course, a long contract with these hours can eventually take its toll on you, and it is exhausting by the end. By the time it comes to my vacation I sleep for two days straight before seeing family and friends!
Living onboard a ship can somewhat distort your sense of reality occasionally too. On some ships I have worked on, there has been very little British news coverage. I didn’t even know Gordon Brown was the Prime Minister until I arrived home 3 months later!
Do you have to organise anything else before you start the job?
To be honest there is a lot of outlay for your first contract. You have to make a one off payment for the Maritime Insurance Fee (£250), as well as obtaining your Visas, Seamans book and Medical papers. This is standard though for any cruise ship job, and once you have the documents you can use them for many contracts to come!
Do you think working on cruise ships has helped your career?
I think it has definitely helped me both socially and professionally. I have developed bags of confidence, as well as patience and other skills – the whole experience has been a huge learning curve. Also, I know that salons and employers in the UK have a lot of respect for people who have worked on cruise ships, as they are aware of the long hours, hard work and the essence of you earning commission and being proactive since it’s really like running your own business whilst working on a ship.