How to Grow Your Career at Sea – Crew Member’s Story (Part II)

Sales Department onboard Carnival Sensation

In his previous article, the author told us about how he started the onboard career as a cruise ship photographer and gave us an overview of the job positions within the Photo department. After he successfully completed a couple of contracts, the Author decided to switch to the Retail department where he grew into a successful and award-winning Retail Manager.

Retrace the author’s personal and professional growth in these two inspirational, information-packed articles.

Before you read it, I suggest you read the Author’s previous article: Life of Cruise Ship Photographer – Crew Member’s Story 

From Cruise Ship Photographer to Onboard Retail Manager

Retail Tales by Jean-Paul Hewlett


I stood there facing my team, quietly they looked back at me with anticipation. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood up straight as the goosebumps ran down my body like an Olympic sprinter. We were waiting. A little while ago the cruise ship had pushed away from the dock and had vibrated so intensely that it could have registered on the Richter scale. Faintly we could hear the waves crashing against the hull of the ship as we headed out further into international waters. A gathering of guests waited anxiously beyond the glass doors that stood between us and them. With one trembling hand on the door and the other hand tightly clutching a microphone, all we were waiting for was the magical moment to officially open the shops onboard the Carnival Inspiration.

After a full day of unpacking boxes, restocking shelves, folding t-shirts, and sorting storerooms, the team and I were preparing ourselves for another eventful and long evening ahead. Deep down we were trying to find the energy somewhere inside ourselves. My fourth cup of coffee for the day had begun to take effect. I closed my eyes for a moment and memories flooded my mind of how it came to be that I was in this position, how I rose to become Retail Manager onboard and where it all started.

The Beginning of a New Journey

Some months prior I found myself hastily standing again on an unknown pier, looking up at the Carnival Sensation and anxiously waiting to board. This time I was accompanied by my wife and a lot more suitcases, we had changed from the photo department and started a fresh new hires.

(Read Jean-Paul’s article on his previous job as a cruise ship photographer: Life of Cruise Ship Photographer – Crew Member’s Story)

We had conquered a skype interview together, medicals, visas, and all paperwork was revisited and resubmitted. We continued to wait patiently while the Miami heat beat down on us, saying nothing to each other besides the occasional eye contact of uncertainty. A familiar HR gang made their way down to us, we both let out a sigh of relief and happily allowed them to take control of us. The HR team escorted us onboard and down the main highway for the crew.

(Suggested article: New Hire? This is How the First Day on a Cruise Ship Looks Like)

Carnival Sensation
Carnival Sensation. Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Hewlett.

A bustle of activity was about as it was turn around day. After some tedious paperwork and trainings, we were able to settle into our cabin. A small space with bunk beds, not ideal for newlyweds but we were grateful for them, nonetheless. And then we did what we had been doing since we departed London, we waited. The next step would surely announce itself soon, hopefully.

Suggested article: Life onboard a Cruise Ship: 18 Crew Cabin Must-Haves

A confident and loud knock at the door frightened us. On the other side stood Stephen, the Gift Shop Manager. He came to whisk us away for a detailed tour of the ship, shops, and scenery. As he spoke with his London accent, we gazed upon and discovered the beautiful displays of high-end luxury items before us. From Swiss watches to French perfumes that sat decoratively on shelves, exquisite jewelry lay tucked away safely in cushions and necks, colorful souvenirs stretched over the walls and counters, and bright lights lit up the liquor and tobacco isles.

Stephen was friendly and a welcomed change from the stiff airport staff and immigration officers we had dealt with over the last 24 hours. In-between the explanations he would belt out sayings like “Cooking with Gas” and “Sweet as a nut” to round it all off. It was clear as daylight that he had plenty of personality and character. A true mark of a great salesman. We were sternly told to go eat and return at 5 pm for the meeting and his departing words were “You’re gonna love the Miami crowd!”.

And so dutifully we followed suit and at 5 pm we showed up for our first shift as Sales Associates, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” as it was put to us earlier by Stephen. We stood there with the entire team staring at us. They were a diverse collection of esteemed salespeople from all around the world.

In total, they were 12 and comprised of trained specialists for watches, beauty, jewelry, and liquor. There was also a ‘Promo Team’ who were 4-5 in total and were the backbone of the operation. This is where all new hires began. This would be our start. Led by a Shopping Ambassador this group of active individuals promoted every event with force, ensuring we were set up and broken down on time and were also formidable with sales. You could almost see the competitiveness in their eyes.

Retail team onboard Carnival Sensation
Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Hewlett.

With formalities out of the way, the evening’s events began and everyone knew what to do. Our assigned task for our first day was simple, hand out raffle tickets. The shops opened their doors to an immense grandeur of guests awaiting. What followed next shocked us to our very core. The ‘Miami Crowd’ overwhelmed the shops and both of us. The team confidently jumped to action with hard checks at the ready, free small samples of liquor lined up, and music blaring.

At the center of it all, stood on a raised platform like a fearless army general during the battle, we witnessed in awe Stephen the manager. With the Assistant Manager Max close by, he wielded the microphone like a skillful Samurai using an incredible array of vocabulary to send the crowd into a shopping frenzy. I remember thinking to myself that I had to learn this newly discovered art of hyping the crowd and hosting such intensely fun raffles. I continued to watch the team battle the masses to close as many sales as possible all the while the crowd getting louder and wilder. Every first night of every cruise would begin like this, free liquor tasting and raffling of a variety of prizes to draw the crowd. We were to do this twice a week on this itinerary.

A Day Without Learning is a Day Wasted

And with every passing day, we learnt what it is to be a ‘Shoppie’. There were two kinds of days. Either port days or sea days. The beautiful part of port days is that when the ship is docked the shops must remain closed, this is a tax-and-duty-free condition behind shopping in international waters. So, it is with great pleasure that on these days we can either sleep, go out and explore or would be occasionally drafted to sort and tidy the entirety of the shops and storage areas.

Sea days on the other hand were less kind. These would tend to be 14-hour long days of duties and selling. On these days, we really push for as many sales as possible and try to get closer to our overall target. If we hit the target, then we also got paid a higher commission rate and this was our common goal.

Sales Events and Teamwork

Sea day mornings started with destination t-shirt sales on the open deck under the hot sun. It’s on this deck that the majority of the guests are to be found, the very reason they came to cruise. Cocktails and sunshine. Our sales event comprised of 6 tables of every t-shirt size including XXXL. Stacks and stacks of neatly folded t-shirts adorned each table in good quantities and our hard labor to get them looking like this were destroyed within moments of opening.

Downstairs back in the shops the stronghold of salesmen and women were eagerly setting up and promoting the next event, the iconic ‘$10 Make You Holler Sale’. This was a huge sale of perfect holiday necessity items and gift ideas ranging from beach bags and hats, sunglasses, cover-ups and mats, handbags, and shawls, earrings, and much more.

$10 Sale onboard a cruise ship
$10 Sale. Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Hewlett.

Often, we would hold our own fashion shows and wear some of the items much to the hilarity of the guests and each other. The promo team would be bouncing between guests as fast as possible to make every sale count all the while chanting, “Buy five, get one free”. Raffle tickets again were being tossed in the air like confetti as the music played to the beat of happy shoppers. Pandemonium as tables were often cleared, and the stock ran low.

The team high on adrenalin rushing to ensure each guest is assisted before they disappear to into the darkness of the BINGO hall happening shortly next door. Our watch specialists would be eyeing the passing crowd for potential watch buyers and the liquor store was in a state of never-ending receipts. The crowd would often dissipate during lunch and dinner times only to refuel and return to us for further retail therapy and transactional gratification.

Retail watch specialists onboard a cruise ship
Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Hewlett.

The day continued to bounce between sales events with the occasional watch seminars or shopping show. We work solidly up until the closing time, a never-ending list of things to do. Once the doors were shut and the tables and shop areas were cleaned, tidied, and prepared for tomorrow we would end the day off with a de-brief. These meetings became our favorite moments with the team as we bonded over the success stories of the day, celebrating the big sales, laughing at the odd moments, and learning from any mistakes made. It was these meetings with my extroverted managers that made me want to become like them and take charge of my own ship and retail operation. These meetings were often filled with random moments, trainings, and bizarre quotes. There was no room for shyness.

Shopping Show onboard a cruise ship
Shopping Show. Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Hewlett.

The End of the First Contract

That contract finished quicker than a flame to a match.

At the end of it, we were different people. We were extroverts, we had acquired new workplace skills, new knowledge in brands, and an appreciation for the art of sales. I had been molded into a Shopping Ambassador capable of leading the promo team and executing wild events and shopping shows. I had experienced a multitude of rare and bizarre moments onboard and forged my name into the company’s history books. Before I knew it, I would be heading to the West Coast to begin my journey to management again.

The Culmination of my Cruise Career

I opened my eyes again, returning from memory to Los Angeles and finally ready for our first night. I swung the doors open and greeted the crowd with a deep and revitalized voice. And just like my predecessors before me, I started the evening from a raised platform wielding my microphone like a sword and sending the crowd into a shopping frenzy. Stephen and Max had done me justice.

A well-executed first-day event like this would see our success throughout, cruise after cruise. The night marches on, I see in the distance my Liquor Specialist waving at me for assistance on a big order of Hennessy White, my promo team is showering guests in raffle tickets as they earn them with insane dance moves and the Watch Specialists are giving me that nod of confidence from afar that a high price ticket was carefully being closed. We had mastered the way of the ‘Shoppie’, we had broken sales records and we had entered the realm of legends of salesmen and women alike. This was the best kind of fun.

Every cruise was different, the crowds would change and our offers and promotions along with the seasons. I enjoyed every minute with my team, focusing largely on them and their development. A previous manager of mine, Declan, taught me the value and lesson behind ‘Happy People Sell’.

My career at sea culminated in late 2019 with a nomination for an international award. This led to a spontaneous round trip over three days from L.A to Cannes, France where I would attend the Travel Retail Frontier Awards. It is with great honor that I was bestowed the Talent of Tomorrow Award (by Ethos Farm) for great leaders and influencers. It was the most amazing and mind-blowing experience I ever had, and I have everyone I met and worked with on ships as well as every treasured moment onboard to thank for this prestige. To the end of my days, I will always be so happy that I decided to work on ships.

Frontier Awards
Frontier Awards. Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Hewlett.

To Conclude

In conclusion, working in the sales department was truly the most fun I ever had working on ships. This is only a tiny glimpse into the life onboard. I am left with countless stories and precious memories of both customer and team excellence. I am filled with proud moments of seeing team members grow and develop just like I once did on board.

For me, it was a positive path of continuous learning and excitement. Having worked with amazing people and under the leadership of truly magnificent managers, the collective result has provided me with such ground-breaking transferable skills.

My final note is that if you ever meet a person or come across a CV with shipboard experience grant this person an interview and ask them the questions. Shipboard staff are employees of value.

Onboard Sales Department – FAQ

1. What are the Job Positions within Onboard Sales Department?

There are 12-15 staff members within the onboard Retail department, depending on the size of the cruise ship, and 9 retail sales jobs:

  • Retail Manager – Responsible for all aspects of the operation, looking after all departments, and ensuring stock levels are maintained. Communicates effectively with shore side.
  • Assistant Manager – Admin-based role and responsible for helping to look after the team.
  • 1 Liquor Specialist – Sells and promotes all liquor and tobacco sales. Is ultimately responsible to pack and organize all liquor orders to be collected at the end of the cruise by guests.
  • 1 Beauty specialist – An expert on perfumes and make-up products.
  • 1 Logo Sales Associate – Looks after the souvenirs, confectionery, and clothing range.
  • 1 Jewelry specialist – An expert on all jewelry brands we sell onboard. Also, our visual merchandiser.
  • 2-3 Watch Specialists – Watch brand experts. Highly trained to sell high ticket luxury items.
  • 1 Shopping Ambassador – Leads the promotion team.
  • 3-4 Promotions team – Responsible for the setup and execution of all daily sales events, promoting daily discounts and offers, and exciting the crowd for every raffle.

2. What is the Average Salary for Each Job Position?

Salary for retail is good and based on many factors. You will get a base salary per month averaging between $1000 and $1200 depending on the company’s policy. If cruise targets are hit, then you earn a commission rate of total sales. There is also an alternative option to earn more on top of this through incentives in which watch brands will pay out anything between $50 to $200 per luxury watch sold. This depends on the incentive campaign set out by either the brand or the retail company on board at the time. For example, one of our watch specialists sold 3 Rolex and numerous Tag Heuer watches in one week and earned an additional $500.

3. How to Apply for Retail Sales Jobs Onboard a Cruise Ship?

Applying for retail jobs onboard is straightforward as several third-party companies recruit for ships either in-house or through recruitment agencies. This also depends largely on the country you reside in and you will need to research this online.

Again, LinkedIn and Facebook have a multitude of groups and posts that advertise cruise ship jobs in retail. You will need to have some experience in sales to qualify for an interview, if you are already a qualified watch expert you have a great chance to get onboard quickly as this is a desired skill for the industry onboard.

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

4. How Much to Invest Before Joining the Ship?

All costs except for your medicals are covered by the company. You can even claim back food and taxi expenses while you travel to and from contracts, just keep the receipts and give them to the manager. You will need to buy the basics for your uniform i.e., shoes, black trousers, and white shirts. Company ties and waistcoats are given.

I would recommend investing in your knowledge of luxury brands by own self-study as this information is useful when it comes to completing sales. A lot of training is provided onboard by both management and the brands themselves. Often you will be signed up for online courses for Watch brands.

5. What is the Contract Lenght?

The contract length is always eight months, regardless of the retail job position.

About the Author:

Jean-Paul Hewlett is an award-winning leader and manager who now works as Guest Service Manager in Europes largest shopping mall, Westfield London. He worked 6 years onboard cruise ships for two separate companies both working up to management roles. In 2019 he was awarded the Leadership of Tomorrow Award in Cannes, France.




You May Also Like:
  1. Working on a Cruise Ship: How to Apply for a Cruise Ship Job?
  2. Life of Cruise Ship Photographer – Crew Member’s Story
  3. Life of Shore Excursion Staff – Jobs Description and Daily Duties
  4. 10 Things to Know Before you Apply for Cruise Ship Job
  5. 18 Crew Cabin Must-Haves

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ultimate Guide to Mediterranean Cruise Ports
Select a payment method
A Comprehensive Guide to 45 Mediterranean Cruise Ports
Plan your cruise itinerary in less than an hour and maximize your port experience!
A Comprehensive Guide to 45 Mediterranean Cruise Ports
Plan your cruise itinerary in less than an hour and maximize your port experience!
Scroll to Top