LIFE OF SHORE EXCURSIONS STAFF ONBOARD A CRUISE SHIP – JOB DESCRIPTION AND DAILY DUTIES

Shore excursions staff onboard Navigator of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship

As some of you may know, I have been working as a Shore excursions staff onboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships for a few years now, and I wanted to share my experience and cruise job description with you.

I want to tell you about my daily duties as Shore excursion staff and will do my best to give you a description of what we do on daily basis. Please note that this article describes my personal experience and is not the official company/agency job description. Shore excursion staff job duties vary on the cruise lines.

Purpose Of Writing This Article

The main reason I am writing this article is to try to make it easier for all of you who never worked on cruise ships before, and have no clue how a typical day-by-day cruise flow on a ship looks like.

Before I first joined the ship, I remember I was struggling so badly to get to know as many details on my job as possible. I didn’t have anyone to describe it to me and on the internet, I couldn’t find any reliable information. That’s why I decided to make a small contribution to all of you who consider applying for this amazing job.

So, this article might be useful and interesting for you if:

  1. You want to apply for the Shore Excursions Staff position.
  2. You are simply curious to take a peek at how typical days onboard cruise ships look like.

Recommended read: Working On Cruise Ships: How To Apply For A Cruise Ship Job?

Independence of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing in the middle of the seas
Independence of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Shore Excursion Staff – Who Are We?

First, let’s start with the definition of Shore excursions staff.

Shore Excursions Staff (or Shorex staff) is an important job position within the cruise industry. Our job consists of promoting, selling, and dispatching shore excursions/tours in various ports of call worldwide. The staff position is a part of the Shore excursions department whose direct supervisor is Shore Excursions Manager, assisted by Assistant Shore Excursions Manager.

Tendering operation Villefranche, Nice
Tendering operation in Villefranche (Nice), France

In the beginning, I’d like to highlight that for a crew member working onboard a cruise ship days of the week commonly known as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. – Do not exist. Our contracts vary from 2 to 9 months and we work every day.

Yep. You heard it well, no day off.

Very often we forget which date or day it is and start checking it only when our contract is about to finish. Then we start the countdown: two more months, one more month, two more weeks… Then they extend your contract last minute and you realize your home is not that close as you might have hoped. Anyway, that last month is always the longest one.

But let’s get back to the topic. If we don’t have typical days of the week, what do we have then? The answer is – days of the cruise, commonly referred to as Embarkation Day, Sea Day, Port Day, Debark Day.

First Day Of The Cruise – Embarkation Day

Embarkation day is the first day of the cruise and usually the busiest one for all cruise departments. Depending on your position on a ship, it can be either a very stressful day full of duties and guest inquiries, or just a chill day when you can go outside for a coffee or shopping.

Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Navigator of the Seas docked in Bruges, Belgium, sunrise time
Navigator of the Seas docked in Bruges, Belgium

For Shore excursions staff it can vary. Your assistant manager (who is in charge of making your schedule) can assign you to be “on duty”, which means you are in charge of escorting guests from the previous cruise who decided to go on a tour last day.

In homeports (the port where a ship is based and where cruise itinerary starts and ends) the Shore excursions department usually offers few tours with airport drop-off (after the tour ends, guests are transferred directly to the airport).

For Shore excursions staff on duty it means they have to wake up early (around 6 or 7 am) to make sure the debark process goes smooth. This usually doesn’t last long, just a couple of hours as guests are well informed about what debarkation procedures to follow. Once you escort guests to their buses, you have some time off before new guests arrive at the ship and you start your regular daily duties.

If you are not a person on duty, you can have a morning off and start later in the day. “Later” can mean 10 am (if you are scheduled to set up the Shore excursions desk which usually opens at that time for new guests coming onboard) or around 1 pm (meaning SHOPPING TIME!! You go outside of the ship and check out shopping malls, or you can just stay in your bed and chill).

Embarkation day is the day when the Shore excursions desk is open all day, usually until 9 pm. Shore excursions desk is a sort of customer service desk where we sell tours and handle all guests’ inquiries and issues regarding shore excursions.

My lovely team and I at the Shore Excursions desk, Independence of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship
My lovely team and I at the Shore Excursions desk

On embarkation day when new guests come on board, Shore excursions staff are very proactive and do their best to answer guests’ questions regarding tour bookings or resolve any problems they might have. That’s also the day when most of the guests come to the desk to book a tour, so you have to repeat yourself a lot of time to recommend guests a tour that suits them.

The first day can get exhausting as you also have to answer questions non-related to tours. Guests don’t know the ship yet, so they can ask you where the toilets are, what the program of the cruise is, where certain venues on the ship are… Sometimes it can consume a lot of your energy so you have to be extremely patient.

Shore excursions staff is sometimes required to help out other departments and participate in their activities on embarkation day.  These are mostly entertainment activities or helping other departments promote their products. Those activities vary from company to company and ship to ship.

Another part is “pax-drill” – a passenger safety drill, mandatory for all guests and some crew before the ship sets sail. Few Shore excursions staff are always required to participate and help out guests to find their muster stations (muster station is the designated place on the ship where you go in case of emergency). The drill requires great crowd-management skills, usually lasts up to one hour, and starts once all guests have embarked on the ship (middle of the day).

Middle Of The Cruise: Sea Days vs. Port Days

The following days of the cruise can be split into two categories: sea days and port days.

Sea Days

SEA DAYS are the days when the ship is sailing 24  hours and both guests and crew members stay onboard. When the ship is sailing, all venues onboard are open to accommodate guests, which means a lot of hard work for crew members in all departments.

For Shore Excursions, it depends on whether sea day takes place before or after port day.

If it’s before the port day, it means that all Shore excursions team will be engaged in promoting and selling the tours, as well as conducting other job-related activities (This also varies from company to company!).

One of them offered by the Royal Caribbean cruise line is my absolute favorite: a Behind-the-scenes tour of the ship, hosted by Shore excursions staff. It is also called All Access Tour, and it’s a tour of restricted areas of the ship guests can sign up for (crew areas onboard cruise ships are restricted for guests). It is an amazing experience allowing guests to access the Galley, Bridge, Engine Control Room, and other ship venues.

View from the Bridge during All Access Behind the Scenes ship tour, Navigator of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship
View from the Bridge during All Access Behind the Scenes ship tour

If sea day happens to be after port days, usually the Shore excursions desk is open a few hours per day only (as there are no more tours to sell). That’s the day when the Shore excursions team deals with remaining guest issues or complaints and starts preparing for the following cruise.

Port Days

PORT DAYS are very active and most interesting days for the Shore Excursions team. At the beginning of the day when the ship arrives in port, we have a tour dispatch, so we are among the first ones to get off the ship. It means that we need to make sure that all guests are properly escorted to their tour meeting point and joined the right tour. Shore excursions team is also there to ensure that the whole dispatch process goes smooth, and when most of the tours are escorted – we are free to go!

Shore excursions team onboard Navigator of the Seas (Royal Caribbean cruise ship) doing dispatch in the port of Bruges, Belgium
Tour dispatch in the port of Bruges, Belgium

We can enjoy some free time for a few hours or join one of the tours with guests – which is number ONE advantage of this job!

Recommended article: Why is Shore Excursions Staff One Of The Best Cruise Ship Jobs?

Off-road UTV ride in Aruba
Off-road UTV ride in Aruba
Taroudant, Morocco, people from Morocco playing music
Fam trip to the city of Taroudant, Morocco
Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica
Fam trip to Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica
Having lunch at Coral Beach, Grand Cayman
Fam trip with my team to Coral Beach, Grand Cayman

Shore excursion desk usually opens an hour before all-onboard time (the time when all guests and crew members have to be on board because the ship is about to leave port), which gives us more than enough free time to explore and enjoy the destination. In the late afternoon or evening, we open the Shore Excursions desk for several hours and that’s more or less the end of the working part of the day.

Port Day For Shore Excursions Staff On Duty

These port days sound too perfect to be true, right? Well, for the majority of the Shore excursions team they are because they get a lot of free time to enjoy port. On the other hand, there is always one Shore Excursions staff assigned to be “on duty” when the ship arrives in port (Usually your supervisor is the one who assigns you for duty days and Shore excursions staff rotate, so it’s not that often).

Grand Cayman cruise terminal
Duty day in Grand Cayman (I’m on duty, guys are just helping me!)
Villefranche (Nice), France, the picture was taken in the cruise terminal
Duty day in Villefranche (Nice), France

Being on duty means that staff member is responsible for the management of the whole tour dispatch process and overall paperwork that needs to be dealt with. When you are a person on duty, you are not allowed to go outside of the ship as you need to be available for ship management in case they try to reach you. You communicate with tour operators, tour guides, and keep track of how tours went and if anything went wrong. One of your responsibilities is to wait for all tours to be back and write a daily report.

“On duty” day is long and tiring, there are no other words to describe it. Challenging, sometimes, depending on how the day and tours went. Tour operators have rights reserved to cancel a tour anytime, so if it happens (and it happens a LOT in the Caribbean), you are in problem as you need to explain to the guests and find the alternatives for them. However, it is a part of the job and we quickly get used to it (after some time, it’s not that scary).

Finally, after all guests came back from tours and you are done with your paperwork – you are off duty and finished work for that day.

Last Day Of The Cruise – The Day Before Debark

This day can also be both a hard and easy-going one, depending on the department you work in.

For the Shore excursions department, this day is usually a relaxed one, as most of the work is done in the office. The team prepares the paperwork for the following cruise: tour tickets for guests who prepaid their tours are being printed and delivered to their staterooms, tour order forms (brochures) printed and stuffed, as well as all necessary letters and other paperwork.

The desk is still open for several hours in case guests have questions or issues. There are still some additional activities to be done but overall, that should be all.

The last day of the cruise is normally an easy-going one for Shore excursions staff. My favorite part of it is going for dinner with the team after we had finished in the office and just chilling in a crew bar with friends. It is usually a quiet night as all crew members are getting ready for the following embarkation day.

Dinner time at Johnny Rockets onboard Navigator of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship
Dinner time with my bestie at Johnny Rockets – burger time!

Debark Day

The next day is debarkation day for old guests and embarkation for new guests coming on board. We don’t have any free day in between, the ship sails non-stop, so the same the old guests leave the ship we have new ones arriving onboard. On this day, Shore excursions staff can either be “on duty” (I spoke about it in the First Day of Cruise – Embarkation day section) or have a morning off.

Sunset on Navigator of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise ship
Sunset on Navigator of the Seas

To Wrap Up

As you can see, it’s always dynamic onboard if you take into consideration that cruise ship capacities can be up to 6500 passengers, plus crew members. It’s crowded and busy at all times, never boring and never the same. The main difference lies in the people you meet, places you visit, the experiences you get.

And whoever says the life on a ship is hard – they speak the truth. Challenging and hard very often, but one of the most rewarding life experiences you can get. There is one sea life quote that crew members like, and that is: “Once you experience the life at sea, the life on land is never the same”. And, I couldn’t agree more.

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  3. Working On Cruise Ships: How To Apply For A Cruise Ship Job?
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