10 Things to Know Before Applying for Cruise Ship Jobs

royal caribbean ships docked in Cozumel

Before I first joined the cruise ship and even considered applying for cruise ship jobs, I didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t imagine spending 7 months onboard a cruise ship, far away from my country, friends, and family.

Suggested article: Working on a Cruise Ship: How to Apply for a Cruise Ship Job?

I had a friend who worked as a Sales associate in the Sales department onboard Royal Caribbean International, and his experience was great. He kept telling me how cool life on the ship was and how many beautiful places he traveled to. He motivated me to apply for the job position of Shore excursions staff and I have never regretted it so far.

Working on cruise ships has been one of my greatest job and life experiences ever, but however, there are things to be aware of once you start considering applying for cruise ship jobs.

1. Cruise Ship Jobs Mean Hard Work

Cruise ship jobs are hard. There is no day off, and contracts vary from 2 to 9 months (sometimes even longer). Working hours are long and can take all day. Of course, there are breaks in between and you do get some time to rest, but most of the time you work from morning to late evening.

Independence of the Seas, Cruise Ship, Royal Caribbean
Cruise ships docked in Cozumel, Mexico. Photo by Bella

Nevertheless, the length of working hours depends on the job position you have. Onboard a cruise ship there are numerous departments such as the Housekeeping department, Food & Beverage department, Cruise department, Photo department, Casino department, Guest Services department, Marine department, and many others. All departments have their supervisors who schedule their staff before each cruise, so everyone can get enough rest and free time.

The amount of work depends on the department as well. For example, the Housekeeping department and Restaurant department work much longer hours than the Cruise Entertainment department. It all depends on the job position, but generally, it’s much harder work than the regular 8-hour / 5-day jobs we are used to on land.

2. You Have to Be Mentally Strong

As I mentioned earlier, working on cruise ships is hard, not only physically but also mentally. You are away from your friends & family for a long period of time, you have no time for yourself, you haven’t got any close friends around. I mean, of course, you make friends and you’ll have a great time with them, but there will be moments where you’ll feel lonely and sad because none of those people you actually know.

Also, life on cruise ships is full of rules, you don’t have your own freedom to make decisions or organize your day. Business needs always come first, and you need to stick to them.

3. Ship Life is Full of Rules

Cruise ships are huge and can take up to more than 6500 passengers (Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas is the largest ship in the world and can accommodate up to 6680 passengers + more than 2000 crew members).

Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, docked in Cococay, the private Royal Caribbean island.
Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, docked in Cococay, the private Royal Caribbean island. Photo by Fernando Jorge (unsplash.com)

The safety of the ship passengers and crew members always comes first, so there are many rules and regulations to be followed. Marine Department, led by Captain, Staff Captain, Bridge officers, Engineers, Security Department, and few others are in charge of the safety of the ship, but also all crew members working on it.

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Crew members need to participate in mandatory crew drills that take place regularly and need to stick to very strict rules regarding ship conduct policies, safety and security policies, etc.

There are always a lot of trainings that crew members need to attend, as well as other activities they need to perform in order to maintain the ship environment and their working areas clean and safe.

Crew members are well instructed to report any problem, an issue, or any violation of rules, which some crew members can and do abuse sometimes. That leads to penalties and even worse consequences for the other side.

4. You Have to Smile All the Time

As weird as it sounds, but yes, you have to be polite, patient, and extremely tolerant if you work on a cruise ship, which can be very hard sometimes. We can all have some tough moments when we are hurt, angry, or annoyed, but you can’t express those feelings as you constantly need to smile at the guests and your fellow coworkers.

On a cruise ship, there can be more than 60 nationalities, all of them having different habits and ways of perception and interpretation of things, so you have to be careful how you treat people and how you address them.

5. Forget about the Privacy

A lot of people will tell you that ship life is like a reality show, Big brother where everyone knows everything about everyone. This can and can’t be true, but the fact is that most of the crew members don’t have their own cabins and their own privacy.

Most of the crew and staff members share their cabins, which are usually small with bunk beds and not enough space. This varies from ship to ship, though (new ships have more single cabins) but normally only ship management (Bridge officers, engineers, supervisors, managers…) has their own single cabins.

selfie in the ship cabin
One of my first cabin selfies when I first joined the ship

For me personally, this was one of the toughest parts, as I like having my own space to rest and think. On the other hand, some of my colleagues prefer sharing, they find it more fun like that. I guess it all depends on personality.

Suggested article: Life Onboard a Cruise Ship: 18 Crew Cabins Must-Haves

6. You Will Spend Money on the Ship

Once you start working on a cruise ship, food and accommodation will be provided for you.

However, additional drinks and snacks that you can buy at the bar and crew shop are not free: on the contrary, they are more expensive than outside in ports. Crew bar is the place where crew members come to hang out after they finish their work, usually every day, so you spend your money on drinks without even thinking of it. HR department always organizes many parties for crew members and that’s where most of the crew spend their money. The same goes for snacks. If you want a cappuccino or espresso, you also have to buy it at the bar, and the prices aren’t low. By the way, you can buy snacks outside in ports and bring them to ship, but not the drinks.

Also, if you want to go eat in one of the specialty restaurants, you have a discount as a crew member but still, you have to pay.

The Sales department always organizes crew sales where they give discounts, and a lot of crew members are spending money on that as well (even though they can find the same stuff cheaper outside the ship).

Last but not the least, crew members spend a lot of money on the internet. On most of the ships you have to pay for it, and according to my opinion, it’s extremely expensive. You have hourly, daily, weekly and monthly packages, but to be honest I’ve rarely used those as I find them overpriced. Just to have an idea, 1-hour internet costs around 4$, and even when you buy it, it’s slow sometimes and you can’t do much with it.

To conclude, I think many people think they can save a lot of money by working on a cruise ship. I’d say it’s individual because we are all different, we all have different goals, and we all work on the ship for different purposes. Me personally, I did manage to save money but still, I spent a lot, as I like going with friends to restaurants, crew bars, and buying stuff. I cannot imagine spending 7 months onboard a cruise ship without having a social life at least a little bit similar to the one I have at home. But, in the end, we are all different and live different lives.

I would like to hear your opinion on that, so feel free to share and comment below.

7. Limited Time in Ports of Call

Most of the crew members love working on ships because of the opportunity to travel the world and explore destinations, and I 100% agree with that.

That was my greatest motivation to apply for my job. I was lucky to get employed by one of the best and largest cruise companies in the world and get a job as Shore excursions staff within the Shore Excursions department, the department in charge of organizing the excursions.

Suggested article: Life of Shore Excursion Staff Onboard a Cruise Ship: Job Description & Daily Duties

Villefranche (Nice)
The selfie I took on one of the first shore excursions I joined in Villefranche (Nice)

I had the chance to visit the most amazing places and join a lot of the tours that the company is offering to their guests. That’s the best part of my job and the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.

However, crew members from other departments don’t have many opportunities to go outside and enjoy the port for a long time. It depends on their work (business needs first, remember?), schedule, port manning (when you are required to stay on the ship when it’s in the port), other jobs they might be required to do, etc.

The time spent in port also depends on how long the ship stays in port. Sometimes it’s only for a few hours, sometimes for the whole day or even overnight, depending on the cruise itinerary.

Many crew members can’t wait to go outside just because they want to use free internet so they can call their families. Also, port areas where ships dock are often located far from towns, so crew members either have to use shuttle buses or taxis to get to the city center or stay in the port area.

8. The Cruise Job Salary Varies on the Position

Most of the cruise job applicants want to know how much money cruise ship employees earn and if it is worth the hard work. There are also those who think that cruise job salary is enormous and that everyone earns well on the ship.

Well, this isn’t entirely true. The salary varies from company to company and depends on the job position. It can vary from 800$ to more than 10.000$. There is a fixed salary, plus some departments earn tips and commissions. The average salary I’d say is between 1300-2000$ for departments such as Guest Services, Shore Excursions, Spa, Photo, Food and Beverage department, Housekeeping department, Cruise department, Sales department, and few others, and here I mean average salary for crew and staff members, not supervisors: their salaries are somewhat higher.

Tips and commissions depend on the cruise, your service, and cruise guests, but as far as I know – you should never rely on these as they are not high as they used to be.

Whether you are wondering if it’s worth it: I think it’s individual and depends on the factors I mentioned above. My opinion is that the overall experience you get by working on cruise ships is more worth than the money you earn.

9. Covid-19 Will Change Cruise Ship Travel

As we all know, the coronavirus had an enormous impact on the cruise industry and many people say that cruising will never be the same after coronavirus impact.

Royal Caribbean cruise ships
One of Royal Caribbean ships during the lockdown, photo by Bella

Even when the cruising gets back to “normal”, the rules on the ship will probably be more strict, and additional health and safety regulations will be applied both for crew members and guests (already at this moment, some cruise lines are requiring crew members to get a vaccine). There will probably be movement and many other restrictions as well – but, this is just my opinion. It’s hard to predict now when the whole world has stopped, but new applicants should take this into consideration as well. Anyway, we should remain optimistic and hope for the best.

10. Set a Clear Goal before Applying for a Cruise Job

The most common mistake a lot of people make is coming to work on a cruise ship without setting any clear life goal. As I mentioned earlier, life on the ship isn’t easy and it takes a lot of effort and sacrifices to be part of it.

I met so many people who spent years and years working on cruise ships but didn’t manage to save a significant amount of money so they can invest it back home. They keep returning to the ship and that’s the moment when working on a ship becomes more of a lifestyle than just a job. Some people prefer it that way, but for those who don’t intend to spend most of their life on the ship – try to set some goals and start saving money the first day you join the ship.

Final Words

First of all, I hope I didn’t discourage you by writing this article. 🙂 I just think you should be prepared and have at least an idea of how some of the aspects of the ship’s life work. Of course, working and living on a cruise ship has so many positive sides and it’s an experience you would remember for a lifetime.

If you asked me, I think everyone should try and apply for a cruise ship job. Working on the ship would help you discover some skills you didn’t even know you had, it would develop your potentials and abilities both personally and professionally. Not to mention the experience you would get, people you would meet and friends you would make. The overall experience is beyond great, and I definitely encourage you to try.

If you have some questions or comments, please feel free to write below. I hope this article has been helpful to you.


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9 thoughts on “10 Things to Know Before Applying for Cruise Ship Jobs”

  1. Joselito S. Dela Cruz

    Willing to work in cruise ship as a patrol security, I am a retired Police Officer in the Philippine, 47 years old, Do you think i am qualified? Thank you Madame.

    1. Hi Joselito! There are many people from the Philippines working on cruise ships and as far as I remember, a lot of members of Security department are usually from the Philippines. So, go ahead, apply and I’m sure you’ll get a positive reply. Just bear in mind that situation now due to Covid-19 is complicated, so I don’t know if cruise companies will be hiring this year.

  2. Great attempt to describe cruise ship jobs. Seems you have covered most of the important points. All the best, namaste.

  3. I’ve never been able to describe cruise ship life to my friends and family back home, yes it’s an experience, ports and friends are great, but it’s HARD. And it doesn’t pay… Not by canadian standards at least… I was kids club on dcl, this article is exactly my experience, glad I did it, also glad I found a better job now haha

  4. I think I met you on-board, you seems familiar! Great article, it’s a good sum up of what to expect when joining the ship for the first time. We could go into much more details but this isn’t the point in here 😅.

      1. Hello Cris, I am not a recruitment agency. You should check and apply on the company’s website or through a local recruitment agency in your country. You can also check the website allcruisejobs.com for vacancies. Bear in mind that due to the pandemic there might not be vacancies at this moment, but you should keep trying and checking regularly, I am sure something will open up. I wish you the best of luck!

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