Ten years ago I spent the better part of a year working abroad the Queen Mary 2, a UK-based cruise ship operated by the Cunard Line. We traveled back and forth across the Atlantic and toured Europe, the Carribean, and Central America. I can tell you it was a wild, fun, and well-paid journey. I saw the world, drank my weight in poolside cocktails, and earned more money than I’ve ever made before or since. My experience was slightly unusual, as I worked in the entertainment department as a singer, but the options for onboard positions are plentiful. You -- yes, you! -- could very likely work on a cruise ship if you put your mind to it.
You have questions, I can tell. Well, after tracking down a number of my ex-colleagues from my life on the ocean waves, I have some answers for you. Let’s set sail!
MORE: Maybe try to get a job on one of the coolest new cruise ships in the world
How do you even find work on a cruise ship?
Every person I spoke to had a different story, so the good news is that the options are endless. This is in part due to the sheer amount of different positions needed aboard a cruise ship to make it function and also due to the high staff turnover. Remember, cruise ships are basically floating cities, complete with all the jobs required to make them run efficiently. Recruitment is always ongoing. There are various departments to explore: some require a certain amount of training, but others are easily accessible. For those trying to find something that they can apply for now, check out the following departments: entertainment, food and beverage, photo, childcare, sports, lectures, beauty/spa, and deck.
Cruise ships recruit for their staff in a variety of different ways. David Carboni, a self-confessed “cruise geek” who has worked as a booking executive for Carnival UK for the last 8 years, took me through some of the ways he has seen the ships staffed:
“For deck and technical jobs, a cadetship is required. However, the cruise lines will usually pay for this and pay a salary on top of that. It’s actually a cracking alternative to university for those just out of school," Carboni said. "For positions such as store assistants, spa staff, sports directors, and those in the childcare department, the big cruise lines accept direct submissions online. A basic level of experience and winning personality is really all you need.”
I asked Carboni if there were any special skills that might give a potential application an edge over the competition.
“The ability to speak multiple languages is always very helpful," he told me. "Cruise lines have guests from all over the world, so being bilingual is helpful. For example, right now Cunard Line is looking for Japanese speakers, because the Queen Elizabeth's itinerary is now out in Japan a lot and so the guest-count from Japan has shot right up.”
Criminal background checks are run of the mill on most crew members and all must have a physical exam before signing a contract. However, a convicted felon is eligible to work on a cruise ship, depending on where the ship is docking. The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand do not allow entry to US felons, but other countries have more relaxed laws.
What is it like working on a cruise?
I don’t want to “teach the world to sing”: that would be awful, and frankly I don’t have the time. But if you work on a cruise ship you do get a glimpse into a hippy-dippy rainbow world where all nationalities pull together to get a day’s work done. It’s kind of beautiful. My experience included a melting pot of Filipino engine workers, Indian engineers, Ukrainian dancers, American sports captains, and a bunch of Brits who drank a lot. (I think they had jobs too, but those occupations were a mere inconvenience to the onboard parties.)