What it’s like Working on a Cruise Ship

What it’s like Working on a Cruise Ship

Working on a Cruise Ships is something many people in the world dream about doing. Traveling around the world, speaking different languages, and sleeping in a giant of steel over the seas might sound perfect. Especially if you are a wanderlust soul. But there is so much you should know about it. Not everything is so glamorous as it might seem. So if you are wondering how working on a cruise ship is really like, you arrived at the right place. Let me tell you everything you need to know before joining the controversial crew life.

What it’s like working on a cruise ship

I want to start by saying that working on a cruise ship is not for everyone. Though it might seem fun and exciting, it’s a pretty hard job. The hours are long, and there’s no such thing as a free day. You will be sharing a particularly small cabin with strangers, and be away from your family for several months.

But, if you think you have what it takes, it can be a great opportunity. The payment is good, you will have a roof and all foods cover, and you will get to see the world in a fast, different way.

Five years ago, before becoming a longtime traveler, I experienced the best and the worst of working on a cruise ship for several months.

So, today, I want to share with you all the information you will have to consider if you are wondering how life on a cruise ship works and if it’s the right job for you.

These are the main aspects of life on board:

life on a cruise ship
Ajaccio, France. Photo by Ashita Lopez.

Contract Length

Depending on the company you work for, and on the position you get, the contract length, the working hours and the free time can differ a lot.

Most cruise ship companies search for candidates willing to work somewhere between 4 and 11 months. You have to know that, during that time, you won’t have any day off. Yes, it sounds like a lot of work… And it is!

The thing is, the companies consider your off-board months as your vacation time, and they include your deserved days off in those months.

Let’s say you will work a 7 months-contract. After it finishes, they will send you home for 2 months, and you will re-embark once those months are over. The downside is that, during the off-board time, you will not get any payment.

Working hours and free time

The contract you sign will specify how many hours weekly you will be expected to work. Most positions demand really long hours. To give you a number, I was expected to work 11 hours a day, normally distributed in two shifts.

Yes, it’s definitely a lot of work. But, believe it or not, you will still have free time to get off at the different ports in which the ship stops. Not every time, of course, but since the itinerary is repeated weekly, you will have at least one chance to get to know a particular city.

For example, I was on board for 5 months. During that time, the ship made weekly stops at Venice. So I got to get off and enjoy Venice 1 of the 20 times we were there!

Even though you won’t be on a vacation, you will still find the time to feed your wanderlust a little. Thanks to my job at the cruise ship, I got to see cities I never thought I’s see, like Sarande, in Albany, or Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Accommodation and meals

One of the most important things you should know about working on a cruise ship is what kind of accommodation and meals deal you will get.

Every cruise ship employee will get free accommodation and all the meals included. But, depending on your position, the conditions might differ a lot.

For instance, crew and staff positions will be given shared cabins. Those cabins are really small, they normally have no windows and are located on the lower decks. That means, if you do get a window, you will be looking directly at the water… from the same level. On the other hand, if you have an important position, like an officer, you will be given a private spacious cabin on the upper decks.

The same thing goes to the meals. There are normally two different mess halls for employes at cruise ships, one for crew and one for staff. And they both have different food “quality”. Also, officers and high-rank employees can eat at the passenger halls, a benefit that some staff can also enjoy a few times a month.


Ok, now you know working on a cruise ship requires some sacrifices and hard work. But it’s all worth it when you get your payment!

If you are wondering how much a cruise ship employee earns, let me tell you that it depends on the position and experience. The first-timers earn way less than staff embarking for their second or third contract. But still, it’s good money.

As children entertainer on my first contract, I was paid 1100 euros per month. Yes, if you are from Europe or the US, you might think that’s not good enough for all the hard work you will be doing. But there are two main reasons why I’m telling you it’s good money.

First, because it’s taxes free. And also, because you already have a roof, meals, and the flights cover. You will receive the money in cash on board, and you can save all of it if you want.

Sure, no one who really wants to enjoy life on board will save it all. But, except for going off-board to have a nice meal, and buying cigarettes or cocktails on the crew parties, you won’t spend a penny.

Daily life on board

I discovered once on board, that nothing was quite like I imagined. You see, working on a cruise ship is an experience somewhere between highschool and prison. But don’t get scared! It’s quite fun too.

There are normally one or two decks where the employees live, eat, and spend their free time. All cabins are located in those two decks, except for the officer’s cabins.

At the mess hall assigned to your “category”, crew and staff from all over the world get together and talk animately during meals. There’s usually also a crew bar, that works during the day kind of like a coffee shop, and during the night it becomes the soul of the ship for workers.

Once a week, or once a month, depending on the company and the ship, there are “crew parties” on board. Every worker is invited, and most of them go, independently of the position they occupy. Those nights are some of the best memories I have from my time onboard.

We aware though, everybody knows everything about everybody on board. Gossip is all around, so if you want to keep your business private, you will have to be really careful.

There are also many rules for employes. Depending on the job you do, you will or not be allowed to go into certain areas on the ship. Most employes are restricted to use the passenger’s elevators, for example. If you are caught in a place you are not allowed to be, you will get in trouble.

Crew members often have also a small “pool” on the ship deck. But, to tell you the truth, ours was was more like a bathtub! Some ships also offer a gym for employees.

Advantages of working on a cruise ship

  • Being able to save much more money, as long as you don’t party too hard.
  • The possibility of visiting exotic new places, even if it’s only for a few hours.
  • You will improve your language skills, or even learn a new language or a few of them.
  • An international interesting environment that is full of people from all over the world.

Disadvantages of working on a cruise ship

  • Long work hours without days off. By the end of your contract, you will feel exhausted.
  • Strict discipline policies. You will be submitted even to drug and alcohol random tests!
  • The same itinerary over and over again. For over 4 months, I was always visiting Italy, Croatia, and Greece.
  • Discrimination. For me, it’s the worst part. Depending on your nationality and position, you are considered more or less a person. It’s horrible, right?

If after reading all this, you are still interested in a cruise ship job, congratulations! You definitely have what it takes! Keep reading to discover what you will need to do to find a cruise ship job.

work on a cruise ship
Enjoying a few free hours at Mikonos, Greece.

Requirements to work on a cruise ship

Since life on a cruise ship is not easy, crew recruiters search for very specific attributes to decide whether a person qualifies for it or not.

The requirements for working on a cruise ship change from company to company, and from position to position. But here there are the basic qualifications you will have to meet.

Minimum Age

Depending on the company you are applying to, and on the country you are for, the minimum age to work on a cruise ship can differ. For most, you should be at least 21 years old. For others, it’s ok if you are over 18.

It has to do more with whether your country and the company’s country consider you legally an adult or not.

The good news is, there is no maximum age to get a job at a cruise ship.

Good English Level

Independently of your mother tongue, all cruise ship companies expect their crew to speak, read, and understand English. It’s the official language on board, and so you will need it to interact with other crew members and passengers.

Depending on the position you will take, the English level required might range from basic to advance.

Let’s say, for example, you will be working in the kitchen or as cleaning staff. In that case, you won’t need to speak perfect English, as you won’t have as much contact with passengers. But if you are interested in being a salesman, or a tour guide, of course, your level will have to be close to native.

Other languages are a plus. The more languages you speak, the better chances of getting the job.

In my case, I embarked as a native Spanish speaker and with an intermedium English level. The good thing is, once onboard, my English got a lot better!


This is another basic requirement for working on any cruise ship. You have to have proven experience in the field you are interested in.

Most companies require that that experience was gained in the hospitality industry, like luxury hotels, four to upper start restaurants, and so on. They normally ask for a minimum of 1-year experience, and a recommendation letter from a former boss.

But don’t worry, I didn’t have that kind of “luxury” experience. Still, I applied to be a children’s animator, and I did have worked in a kindergarten for several years. So, once I got the recommendation letter, I was able to embark.

Good health

To get that dream job in the cruise ships industry, you will have to pass an exhaustive medical test.

Most times, the medical exam will be completely up to you. That means you will have to find a doctor, get tested, and pay for it.

Other companies will provide you an authorized clinic and take care of the expenses. But that’s not how most cases work.

To pass the exam, you will have to be a healthy person. But also one that doesn’t do drugs! They run blood and urine tests to search for any illegal substance, and if they find it, you can be automatically disqualified.

Once they know everything is ok, you can start gathering the next requirements for working on cruise ships.

STCW Certificate

The STCW courses are mandatory for every person that wants to work on a cruise ship. As they are often expensive, the companies won’t ask you to obtain them before guaranteeing you the job position on the ship.

STCW stands for the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. It establishes the standards of training and certifications that sailors and cruise ship workers from all countries are obliged to meet or exceed.

There are 4 basic courses you will have to take to obtain the STCW certificate. These are basic first aid, personal survival techniques, training in fire prevention and fire fighting, personal safety and social responsibilities. And, in my case, they also requested the crowd control course.

The company or agency will orientate you about the courses. They will tell you which ones you will need and where in your country you could obtain them. In my case, I had to take one week of courses at the national navy of my country.


Once you have met all the requirements to start your cruise ship staff career, you will have to put some documents in order.

The first one, of course, it’s your passport. You will have to present a current passport with validity lasting at least for 1 year starting at the embark date.

Also, you will have to present a negative criminal record certificate, and probably a yellow fever vaccine certificate. They will also ask for several 4×4 updated photos.

Besides, most companies will ask you a seaman’s book. But they will orientate you on how to get it. I embarked without one, and the company provided it for me once onboard. They charged me something like 45 dollars for it.

So far so good? Great! Let’s see now some of the most common positions on cruise ships.

inside a cruise ship life
A crowded day on a cruise ship.

Different positions at cruise ships

A cruise ship is pretty much a small city floating on the sea. There’s almost everything inside!

Depending on the company and the specific ship, you will find a casino, stores, a gym, swimming pools, discotheques, bars, a theater, restaurants, cinemas, and even a spa.

That means there’s a wide offer of jobs on cruise ship companies. These are the main departments where you could start working on a cruise ship:

Crew Positions

Crew positions include personal from a lot of different areas. From bar, restaurant, cleaning to maintenance positions. These are the most common jobs in the area:

  • Bartender
  • Waiter/waitress
  • Bellboy
  • Chefs
  • Cabin stewards
  • Bar crew
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers

Staff positions

These positions are also very diverse. They include pretty much any position that has to do with direct attention to passengers. As you will be expected to be in contact with passengers a lot, they require a higher English level. They are:

  • Cruise director and assistants
  • Receptionist
  • Chef
  • Sous Chef
  • Shop Assistant
  • Photographer
  • Musician
  • Actor/actress
  • Dancer
  • DJ
  • Entertainer
  • Children’s entertainer
  • Shore excursion staff
  • Casino staff
  • Fitness, swimming or dance professor
  • Spa and salon staff

Officers Positions

Officers are the elite group of employees on a cruise ship. This category includes deck officers, technical officers, and hotel managers. Getting this kind of job is nearly impossible for first-timers, but once on board, and after lots of contracts, you could become:

  • Hotel Director
  • Cruise Director
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Crew Trainer
  • Doctors
  • Safety Officers
  • Department’s Managers.

How to find a cruise ship job

Now that you know the requirements and the positions you might apply to, let’s see how could you manage to find a cruise ship job.

There are two main ways to find opportunities in the cruise ship industry: through cruise ship companies, and through recruitment agencies. For both, you are going to need a great resume where you list relevant experience, qualifications, and skills.

When I embarked, I prepared my resume in English and sent it to a recruitment agency. But, if you want to improve your chances, I strongly recommend that you send your resume to as many recruitment agencies and cruise ship companies as you can.

So this is a 4 steps mini-guide on how to find a cruise ship job:

cruising staff life
Working on a cruise ship will allow you to see the world.

Write a killer resume

The first step towards your dream job at a cruise ship is writing a great resume. Independently of which your residence country and your native language are, you are going to have to write it in English.

You will have to describe your work experience (and it should be relevant to the position you want to apply to), skills, and education.

Your resume should be typed, (not handwritten), and it should cover a maximum of 2 pages. Make sure you proofread it to avoid grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Another very important aspect of the resume is the cover or presentation letter you attach. On it, you should briefly describe your profile, your abilities and skills, and present yourself as a great addition to the company.

If you want more tips to write the perfect resume for a cruise ship job, I recommend this article on Cruise.jobs site.

Register on recruitment agencies

Now that you have your resume and cover letter, you should register in and upload it to several recruitment agencies. The more you try, the bigger your chances of success.

I would like to give you a list of some recruitment agencies for cruise ship jobs. You will also find a link to them to start applying right now.

Those are only a few of the many there are globally, but they don’t work with people from all nationalities. I recommend you to google something like “recruitment agency for cruise ship jobs in…” your country to find the ones that will better work for you. For example, back in Argentina, I found my position on board with an agency called Caux International Group.

Register on cruise ship companies sites

Currently, there are a lot of cruise ship companies working in the world, and you could find your opportunity at any of them.

As I already told you, each company has it’s own requirements, and it also offers different benefits. If you are interested in getting a job in the industry, it’s a great idea to also apply directly to as many cruise ship companies as you can.

Here you have a list of the main cruise ship companies from all over the world, and the link to their work with us section.

Get ready for the interview

You can never be too ready for an important job interview. And to obtain that job position on board, you will need to be.

I spent weeks getting ready for my interview! And, even though I was absolutely nervous, it went pretty well. So I suggest you do get ready as well.

First, practice a lot. Think about the possible questions they will ask and clever answers to give. You will find this extremely useful, especially if English is not your first language.

Also, have some questions in mind to ask yourself. They want to know you are truly interested in the company and the opportunity.

Make sure you give a committed impression. Let the interviewer know that you are 100% willing to work hard, that you fully understand the ups and the downsides, and that you are the person they need.

If you have your opportunity coming up, you might want to read this complete article by Careeradict on how to prepare for a cruise ship job interview.

Tips for your first contract on a cruise ship

Before I embarked, I was told that I should only pack a few clothes, as I was going to wear my uniform the whole time. Well, that’s not how it went! Turns out, a children animator uses its uniform during day time but dresses accordingly during theme nights.

On the ship I was at, they had an Italian night where everyone dressed in white, red and green, a 70’s night, where you had to dress in flowery dresses, and one gala night, among others. So, in the end, I had to buy a lot of clothes to use at work.

So make sure you check out what you will need so that it doesn’t happen to you.

Also, check out the itinerary your ship will be doing, and pack clothes according to the weather. But it’s always smart to pack some different weather clothes, as sometimes, the companies will move you from one ship to another in the middle of your contract. You might embark in the Bahamas and end up in Antarctica a few months later!

Make sure you have enough room in your suitcase because, by the end of your contract, you will also have to pack your uniforms and anything you have bought along the way. However, don’t take too many things with you when you embark. Remember that cabins have limited space.

If you have any doubts about what you should take with you, contact the agency or the company that hired you. They will surely be able to help you out.

croatia dubrovnik port
My ship at Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo by Ashita Lopez.

Ready to work on a cruise ship?

As you can see, the world of cruise ships is pretty peculiar. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a great experience to have under your belt.

There is a lot to be said about working onboard, and it is impossible to cover it all in one article. But I hope you have found some answers to your questions here.

If you have any doubts, feel free to use the comments section below. I will be happy to answer you as soon as possible.

Have a great adventure!

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