Working as a Guest Services Representative on a Cruise Ship

Guest Services Department onboard a cruise ship

By Sameer Hyderkhan, Senior Guest Services Officer

Please note that the information below is not an official job description and we are not a recruitment agency. The Author’s intention is to provide you with a personal insight into Guest Services Department job positions and guide you through his personal experience in working on cruise ships. 


Hello everyone and welcome! My name is Sameer and I come from the paradise island of Mauritius. Most of you might wonder where this is…  No, it’s not Madagascar, and no, it’s not India either. It’s a small tropical island floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean, just a small dot on the world’s map.

I have worked in the cruise industry for 3 years and it has taken me to many places. Some of you might think why leave the nurturing shelter of a tropical island and go on a ship. The simple answer is – an adventure! I have always been passionate about visiting other places, meeting new people, and learning about new cultures. That’s why, despite being an introvert, I decided to get a job in the customer service industry. I have over 10 years of experience in the field and have worked in Mauritius, Switzerland, and Dubai before joining the cruise industry in January 2017.

The passion for adventure took me to apply for cruise jobs. Among other applications, the Royal Caribbean cruise line replied to my call and I was hired as Guest Services Officer. There are two ways to apply for a cruise job in the Guest Services department:

  1. There are third-party companies that recruit for the cruise lines, so you can check online these accredited companies within your country if you want to apply. Be careful, though, and do some research to make sure those recruitment agencies are legit.
  2. On the cruise line’s official website. On my side, I applied directly on the website of Royal Caribbean and I was lucky enough to be called for an interview and eventually get the job.

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

How to Apply for a Guest Services Officer Position?

As I mentioned, I work as a Guest Services Officer (GSO) for the Royal Caribbean cruise line. My official title is Senior Guest Services Officer, but we’ll get to that shortly.

The selection process for GSO is quite simple. Firstly, there is an initial interview for screening by a representative of the cruise company’s Head Office. A successful interview will lead to an aptitude test which is quite straightforward. Through this test, if you have what they are looking for, you will go through the final interview with one of the Fleet Managers. If you pass that interview, you will be assigned another representative of the cruise company who will assist you gather the paperwork and guide you through the onboarding process until you join a ship.

You will be provided a Letter of Employment (LOE) which you will use to apply, on your own, for the necessary visas. You will also need to get a Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) certification while you’re onboard or before embarking on your first contract.

Note that the paperwork might vary from company to company, and depends on the country the job applicant comes from. You’ll be informed in advance by the cruise line representative of the documentation required to submit before joining a ship.  

Once you join your first ship as a GSO, you normally have a probational period of 90 days during which you will undergo training on the ship in terms of fire and safety, crowd management, general first aid, and a few others. You will also be given a huge amount of papers containing all sorts of questions about ship customer service and customer interactions that you need to finish within 2 months. Normally you are assigned a person from your department who will train you on the work at the reception and guide you through the first few months until you master your job duties.

I used to walk with a huge binder everywhere…. almost slept with it a few times. But once you complete everything, it’s a huge relief and by then you would have learned so much. Of course, it mostly depends on your personal motivation and willingness to work. The sooner you get it done, the better.

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Motivation is important!

Speaking of motivation, let’s see how you can grow within the department. Royal Caribbean has good caring for its working staff and has an excellent rewarding system. For example, you get an annual increase of salary of $100 USD. However, COVID-19 has severely affected the cruise industry and this salary increase is temporarily suspended.

What are the Job Positions within Guest Services Department?

So, let’s see the different positions within Guest Services, from highest to lowest:

  • Fleet Guest Services Manager – In charge of the Guest Services Department for the whole fleet, meaning for every cruise ship in possession of the cruise company. This person is in charge of taking care of all Guest Services staff, auditing all positions with the department, and making sure that the rules and values of the company are respected at the customer services desk. There are 4 to 5 persons in that role and they travel throughout the fleet to make sure that operations are running smoothly. They have excellent analytical skills and an eye for every detail. If you ever consider applying for this position, be sure to have a high resistance to jet lags!
  • Guest Services Manager (GSM) – Each ship has a Guest Services Manager who oversees Guest Services operations from day to day and handles the embarkation and debarkation process. This person also communicates with other department heads on escalated guest issues. They are very quick in problem-solving and usually have years of experience within the company. The contract length for this job position is about 4 months.
  • Front Desk Manager – Just like a hotel Front Office Manager, every ship has a Front Desk Manager who is responsible for managing the reception staff, conducts briefings and training for GSOs, maintains staff schedule, assists the team in the escalated situation… You know, when a guest says “I want to speak to a manager”, Front Desk Manager steps in to save the day. Front Desk Managers are very competent and professional and they know how to loosen up a tense situation and make it better for everyone. They usually have an Assistant Front Desk Manager for support but it depends on the size of the ship. Small ships have only Front Desk Manager and no Assistant Front Desk Manager. The contract length is about 4 months.

Specialty Positions within Guest Services Department

These are the positions in charge of some specific tasks onboard a cruise ship:

  • Guest Administration Officer – The person in charge of preparing all paperwork to clear the ship for embarkation and debarkation. This is one of the critical positions in the Guest Services Department because the ship cannot dock at a port without the work of this person. The contract length is about 5.5 months.
  • Guest Departure Officer – GDO oversees the coordination of the departure of guests making sure that their departure process is smooth and painless. On the side, the Guest Departure Officer liaises with other teams in charge of loading or offloading luggage. The contract length about is 5.5 months.
  • Loyalty Ambassador – Onboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, the Loyalty Ambassador takes care of Royal Caribbean members’ points and makes sure that membership benefits are delivered as well as their amenities. There are members’ events that take place each voyage and the Loyalty Ambassador assists in preparing these events. The contract length is about 5.5 months.
  • Diamond Concierge and Suite Concierge – Onboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Diamond Concierge takes care of Diamond members and Suite Concierge takes care of guests staying in suites. Their task is to make sure their guests have a wonderful experience and get VIP treatment. Some of their duties include making dinner reservations or booking shore excursions. Each of them has his/her own lounge where they can enjoy happy hour and snacks. The contract length is about 5.5 months.
  • Group Coordinator – We affectionately call them “Groupi”. They are responsible for taking care of groups on board, meaning that they prepare meeting rooms and events in coordination with the F&B department to arrange service and provision of the food and beverages for the event. Yes, we do have groups onboard like company workers, associations, social groups. The contract length is about 5.5 months.

Guest Services Officer Job Description

The contract length for each of the Guest Relation position is about 5.5 months.

  • Guest Services Officer 1 and Guest Services Officer 2 – The main difference between these two positions is that Guest Services Officer 1 is on his/her first contract, while Guest Services Officer 2 is on the second job contract.

The main tasks for both positions are to deliver exceptional service to the guests by successfully handling guest requirements, but also deal with complaints from guests and make sure they are resolved first contact (Yeah, that’s part of the job, part of who we are… excellent problem solvers!).

You will also take payments from guests during the cruise and on debarkation day; therefore, you should have good cash handling skills. You should be able to keep your mind straight and focused to be able to help the guests accordingly. You should be as chatty as you can be to make the guests feel at home.

A kind, caring heart and a mind made of steel are necessary every time you join a ship for a new contract. In the end, it is rewarding and satisfying when you’re able to positively influence the overall guests’ cruising experience.

  • Senior Guest Services Officer – You become a Senior GSO when you have reached your third contract. As for Senior Guest Services Officer, the tasks are the same as Guest Services Officer 1 & 2, but now you have seniority and you will be supervising your colleagues, making sure they are working as per cruise line’s guidelines. They will come to you for advice or assistance with a complaint. You will be, therefore, the leader by example.

Believe me, if you had worked in hotels before, working as a Guest relations officer on a ship will be a piece of cake because there are no check-ins, no check-outs, no ‘running the night’ (those who worked the night shift will understand). Your only responsibility is to assist the guests and make sure they are well taken care of. Guest Services staff work for 8-9 hours. On embarkation and debarkation day, it’s around 10 hours. In a month, you should work about 300 hours and not more than that. If exceeded, you will need to provide justifications.

  •  PrintersThis is one of the most important and busiest parts of Guest Services. The role of a Printer is to ensure that the necessary daily collateral of the ship is printed effectively, accurately, and in a timely manner. For example, they are responsible for the creation and printing of the ship’s newsletter to the guest, menus for restaurants, business cards for the staff, and other pamphlets or flyers needed for daily operations. Therefore, despite working as part of the Guest Services department, other departments of the ship work with them daily. Working as a Printer, you must be proactive, flexible to easily adapt to sudden changes in requests and a high degree of multi-tasking. I have seen these guys at work, and they are always focused but in a good mood and always will go the extra mile to help out however they can.

Guest Services Average Salary and Benefits

Starting salary for Guest Services is around $1900 USD per month, plus you can get some minor commissions on excursions that the team sells. As I mentioned earlier, the duration of the contract is about 5.5 months, and you are paid each month in the contract. Salary increases as you go higher in position.

Check out: 10 Things to Know before Applying for a Cruise Ship Job

You start sharing a cabin with another fellow Guest Services and usually at the Front Desk Manager position you will get your own cabin. At Guest Services Manager, you will get a bigger cabin. Usually, you will have 6 weeks unpaid vacation during which you get your next contract. It could the same ship or a different ship, wherever the waves take you.

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NOTE: Besides the daily duties, each job position is assigned side duties. For example, besides your regular daily duties, you can be asked to make an inventory of the assets in the front office and back office, refill medical supplies at the front desk, take care of complimentary wine inventories, maintain office supplies, collateral and sanitize supplies (the company is very strict on the proper and regular sanitization of the ship), and other.

The Best Part of Guest Services Job

I love my job because it allows me to get off the ship on port days. You will work every day but each day you will get about 4 hours off which you can use on port days to go out and explore the area (this might depend on the time the ship docks and leave).

Lisbon
Photo courtesy of Sameer Hyderkhan.

I especially enjoyed night shift because when you’re done in the morning, you have the whole day ahead to yourself (if there’s no crew drill happening where you might have half of the day).

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In this particular case, I will advise you to take an excursion and off you go. If you see Katarina (founder of this blog) at the Shore Excursion desk, go to her and she will wisely advise you!

I am proud to have walked the ancient streets of Pompei, went on top of the Temple of Poseidon, swam in the secret river in the underground Mayan caves, I even went to Hell (chill…. it’s a place in Grand Cayman).

European cruises are much longer (14 days) than the Caribbean voyages (7-8 days maximum) with many stops at different ports. You will discover the different cuisines and amazing locations: have some foie gras on the French Riviera and if the itinerary has overnight stays, which on my side, I got to experience Venice, St Petersburg (Russia) and Ibiza by night. Be good friends with the Shore Excursion staff and they will give you wonderful tips on how you can spend your off-hours in port!

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

However, always be back on time scheduled before the ship leaves. If you’re not there, the ship will leave and you will be left stranded in a foreign land, plus you will have to get your one-way ticket back home on your own.

Working in the Guest Relations Department will allow you to dine or have lunch in the specialty restaurants of the ship at a company discounted cost. You can experience its fine cuisine (I recommend sushi) and the excellent service that comes with it. For those who enjoy healthy workouts, you can use the guest gym at the recommended hours but the ships also have a crew gym where you will have access anytime.

Despite the working hours, you will have time to enjoy yourself and chillax in the Crew Bar, the most important part of the ship for the crew. This is where you can meet up with your friends, colleagues and chat about the day and other things, a place where you can meet new people almost every day, a place where the crew parties are held (theme parties are the best!) and where friendships are formed.

To Wrap Up

Although it can be hard, demanding, and challenging sometimes, working in the Guest Services Department is an amazing and lifetime experience. If you develop a good sense of maturity and responsibility, and you learn how to well manage your time for recreational activities, working in Guest Services will be a fun and unforgettable experience!

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

Find Sameer on Linked In


You May Also Like:

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  2. How to Grow Your Career at Sea – Crew Member’s Story (Part II)
  3. 10 Things to Know Before You Apply for a Cruise Ship Job
  4. Life Onboard a Cruise Ship: 18 Crew Cabins Must-Haves
  5. New Hire? This is How the First Day on a Cruise Ship Looks Like

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