How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship

Quick note: I know you’re excited to learn how to get a job on a cruise ship so you can travel the world AND earn money while doing it, which is why I brought in the perfect person to teach you how.

Amanda Hathorn-Geary spent a decade at sea, seeing the world and climbing the ranks from crew member to HR Manager, where she was responsible for hiring new crew members like you (talk about having the inside scoop!). Now, she helps travelers and landlubbers like us land the best cruise ship jobs out there.

In this outstanding free resource, she shares her expert advice to help you find work on board a cruise ship, even if you have no experience.

This article is part of an ongoing series created to help you land awesome travel jobs and seasonal work so you can travel the world and get paid to do it.

Each article in this series was written by an expert who has actually lived the experience so you can learn about the reality of the job and the unique lifestyle that goes with it.

In short, you’ll get the raw and REAL truth behind this type of work rather than the fantasy.

Ok, take it away, Amanda!

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 1)

Becoming A Cruise Ship Crew Member

Cruise Ship Jobs

Image by addesia from Pixabay

Getting paid to travel the world on a cruise ship! Sounds too good to be true, right?

Get ready to have your mind totally blown – into the water, that is – because for cruise ship crew members, getting paid to visit ports around the globe is just one of the MANY perks of cruise ship jobs.

It’s not all walking on white sand beaches and sipping on $1 cervezas, though that does happen quite a bit. Cruise ship crew play hard, it’s true, but they work hard, too.

Whether it’s the Cruise Activities Staff helping passengers have an awesome time by hosting fun activities like karaoke, pool games, or bingo, or creating the perfect signature cocktail as an onboard bartender, ANY crew member’s main duty is to create a great vacation experience for each and every guest onboard.

If providing excellent customer service while exploring new ports around the world sounds like a dream come true, maybe a life at sea is the perfect fit for you.

My Background

I can truly say that I was born with ‘sea legs’ since I spent the first 3 years of my life (from babyhood through my toddler years) on the ocean.

My father was a Captain on cargo ships, and for many of his contracts, my mother and I joined him onboard.

For the most part, we traveled along the southern coast of the US through to South America via the Panama Canal, delivering goods like Del Monte bananas.

In the early eighties, my family got off cargo ships, and my father went on to become a Marine Lawyer in the UK. My mother started her own Marine Recruitment firm in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Initially, she placed Deck and Engine Officers with a variety of shipping companies and later expanded to cruise ships, recruiting for major lines such as Princess Cruises, Cunard, V-Ships, P&O Australia, and Holland America.

When I entered university, an opportunity came up through Princess Cruises to work onboard as Seasonal Youth Activities Staff during my summer break. I jumped at the chance!

I interviewed and landed the job after an intensive screening session with the head of recruitment for Princess. I worked onboard for about 4-6 months of each school year during all class breaks, the first 5 of my 10 years at sea.

Working On A Cruise Ship: Building My Life At Sea

Once I finished university (with 3 BA’s and also a Teaching Degree), I applied for a promotion with Princess to become an onboard Professional Development Crew Trainer. It was then that I started working on cruise ships full-time.

During my first year as a Crew Trainer, I was able to make, and save, enough money to pay off ALL of my student loan debt – over $35,000!

I spent the next 3 years (years 5 through 8 onboard) as a Crew Training Officer. I was further promoted to onboard Human Resources Manager with P&O Australia (one of Princess Cruises affiliate lines) during my final 2 years at sea.

After 10 years working onboard (13 if you count my baby years at sea), I took a break from ships in 2010 to do a full season of snowboarding in one of the snow capitals of Canada: Revelstoke, BC. I met my husband within 12 weeks of being onshore, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Through 2015, I remained tied to the cruise ship industry by aiding major cruise lines with the recruitment of candidates across Canada as well as internationally via online hiring methods.

During my years onboard, as well as within shore-side recruitment, I noticed a massive gap in valid information online for prospective crew members regarding finding out exactly how to break into the cruise ship industry.

In response, I started my own company in February of 2015 to provide prospective candidates with a one-stop-shop for up-to-date and accurate cruise ship employment information as well as cruise ship cover letter creation, resume writing, and interview assistance. My clients now span the globe, working onboard with various cruise lines in their dream cruise ship jobs!

The Job

While working on a cruise ship is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and pretty luxurious (imagine port time off in Tahiti one day and an overnight in Maui a few days later), in the end, it is still a ‘job.’

If you show up onboard expecting to get weekends off and to see each and every port then you will be disappointed. Prepare yourself for 7-day work weeks, lots of split shifts, and being required to be ‘on’ all the time, even when off duty, in passenger areas. But most of all, prepare yourself for one of the BEST experiences of your LIFE!

The truth is, if you love travel, saving a ton of money, and meeting and working with amazing people, then working on a cruise ship will be one of the best career moves you will ever make. 

The Choice

It wasn’t until I gave land life a go (for 5 months after I finished the last of my 4 university degrees) that I realized that a life at sea – as a career – was truly for me. As noted above, from 2000-2005, I worked seasonally onboard ships for about 4-6 months each year.

However, in 2005, I took the plunge (pun intended) and a promotion – to Crew Training Officer – and worked full-time on ships until 2010. Working onboard cruise ships may be an unconventional career, but it is one of the most fulfilling ones I know of out there.

Cruise Ship Jobs: The Types Of People You’ll Work With

One of the best parts about working cruise ship jobs is the fascinating people you meet and the lifelong friendships you build while out at sea.

I made the choice to get a life at sea after living abroad in Korea for a few years,” she says. “I was feeling displaced back home and realized that staying in one place was not conducive with my needs. One night the idea of working aboard a cruise ship came to me and I immediately applied. I’ve never looked back!

-Alana Delia, Royal Caribbean International Crew member for over 3 years

I would not trade the experiences I have had at sea for anything in the world!

– Richard Mourant, of Richard Mourant Adventure Photos, worked onboard for just over 12 years with Princess Cruises. 

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 2)

Do You Have What It Takes?

Heather Hathorn is the owner and operator of Page Marine Crews. After working onboard for a number of years and recruiting within the marine industry for over 30 years, she says there are three things you need to ask yourself before you make the choice to pursue a life at sea.

  • Do you enjoy meeting and working with diverse groups of people?
  • Are you flexible and adaptable?
  • Do you thrive in an ever-changing environment?

Throughout Heather’s decades of experience in marine recruitment, she has realized that there are common traits regarding those candidates who truly excel when it comes to working onboard cruise ships.

“They have a great level of energy and a passion for providing excellent customer service at all times,” she says. “They love travel, new cultures, and making the most out of every new experience.”

To ‘make it’ on board one should come with a very open mind and be ready to work! Know that there are good people who will come into your life and help guide you to make the transition to sea life a smooth one. Come with a “can do” attitude!

– Alana Delia

Cruise Ship Jobs: Getting Started

  • Decide if going to sea is the right decision for you. It’s important to be honest with yourself about the possible hardships you may experience and whether or not you see yourself excelling in such an environment.
  • Gather information. There is a wealth of information online regarding cruise ship employment. Go to each cruise line’s main webpage and search for their employment links.
  • Determine which position(s) you are best suited for. Look at all of your past employment, volunteer and/or educational experience. If you’re unsure what onboard position would best suit you, speak with a Cruise Ship Employment Specialist.

Choosing A Company

  • Each cruise line is different, caters to a specific market, provides a certain level of customer service, and has varying crew amenities and associated benefits.
  • Select lines that you feel match the type of service you want to provide to guests and what type of experience you are hoping for. For example, larger lines will offer broader itinerary/travel options, and smaller lines will offer a more ‘tight-knit’ crew atmosphere.
  • Hint: Revamp your resume and cater it specifically to each line you are applying for. Through your prior research, you will be able to select keywords and ideas that represent each cruise line. Use these terms throughout your resume and cover letter. This will show the recruiter that their cruise line is the one that you want to work for.
  • The same goes for the name of the position you are applying for. Many cruise lines utilize various titles to refer to the same role. For example, Cruise Staff can also be known as Animation Staff, Activities Staff, etc. Ensure you use the correct terminology for your role when applying to each line. This information is usually found in the career section of each cruise line’s website.


Certain roles, such as Bridge/Deck and/or Technical positions, will require post-secondary training at a certified Marine School. However, for almost every other role onboard, most cruise lines do not require any post-secondary training. Instead, cruise lines prefer to see at least 1-2 years of relevant experience in a related role ashore. For example, if you are applying for an onboard retail sales position, the cruise line will want to see that you have 1-2 years of high-end retail sales experience. You may also want to consider some additional cruise-specific training via a Tourism/Hospitality School and/or an online Cruise Ship Program.

Onboard Hierarchy

There are three main crew categories that exist onboard a cruise ship. Each category’s associated positions may differ from company to company. However, these three categories will usually always be in place.

  1. Officer Category

This category often includes the following personnel: Deck Officers, Technical Officers, and Hotel Managers. Hotel Managers and related Officers include: Hotel Director, Cruise Director, Human Resources Manager, Crew Trainer, Ships Doctors, Security Officers, Retail Manager, Photo Manager, Casino Manager, Youth Activities Manager, etc. In addition, some entry-level positions onboard are given Officer-level status from day one. These roles can include Pursers (Hotel Front Desk), Cruise Activities Staff, and Entertainers.

  1. Staff Category

This category often includes non-supervisory/non-managerial crew in the following divisions: Retail/Gift Shop, Photo/Video, Spa/Salon, Casino, Youth Activities Staff, Production Staff, Entertainment Staff, and sometimes Cruise Activities Staff.

  1. Crew Category

This category often includes crew in the largest departments onboard. For example, all Housekeeping Staff, Food and Beverage Personnel, and Security Patrolmen.

How To Get Promoted On A Cruise Ship

One of the best things about working onboard a cruise ship is that promotion is NOT based on seniority. Advancements are made based on mid-term and end-of-contract evaluations. Participation in ‘Career Path Transfer Programs,’ professional development training, and registered job shadowing can also aid with a crew member’s promotional options.

As outlined above, most new-hire crew will start either at a crew or staff level and then progress to a supervisory/managerial or officer level thereafter.

Good news: Promotions can happen very quickly based on your job performance! It can also happen due to the ever-growing number of new ships being added to cruise ship fleets every single year.

The Reality Of Working At Sea

Many new crew, or ‘fresh fish,’ are unaware of the challenges they will face on board after getting a job on a cruise ship. I always inform candidates that they should expect to potentially ‘hate’ their first couple of weeks on board. New crew members are doing SO much during their initial time on board, including (but not limited to) dealing with jet lag, learning a new job, and getting used to a new living situation. Also, doing all of their additional emergency training. It is A LOT to take in. If you can make it the first 30 days, you WILL start to see and experience the benefits of working on a cruise ship.

New crew should come with the mentality that the job is very unique with a lot of cool benefits that include exploring in ports around the globe. However, it is important to remember that the job isn’t for everyone. – Alana Delia

Know that it will take you some time to adjust to the new work, environment and people,” she says. Cruise ship life is all-encompassing, so give yourself at least 2-3 weeks to find your groove, your preferences and your routine. Even though there are set times when you may have to show up for work, during your off hours, how you spend your energy is up to you. Since you’ll be surrounded by people almost 24/7, I found it very helpful to make sure that I had “me” time and took care of myself by getting outside on deck each day or escorting a FREE passenger tour ashore like ATV’ing in Alaska!

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 3)

Crew Culture

If you ask any crew member why they continue to work onboard, contract after contract, they will usually give you one or more of the following three responses:

  • The travel.
  • The money.
  • The community – this being one of the most important, as you are both working and living with your fellow crew for the full duration of your contract.

It comes down to the lifestyle – most just don’t want to give it up!

The Community

There are few jobs on this planet where you get to work AND live with over 50 nationalities at the same time! As a crew member, you exist in a microcosm of the entire world. Most new crew reflect on their experiences of being welcomed onboard with great fondness.

“The best part about living in a cruise ship community is having an amazing support team in the people you work with! We all work towards a common goal, so it’s always fun at work, but it’s also a blast when you get to go out in port with your friends as well,” says Michelle Hughes, Media Manager at Carnival.

In the end, ALL veteran crewmembers remember what it was like to be the ‘new guy.’  As such, all ‘newbies’ are welcomed on board with open arms no matter what race, creed, or sexual orientation. After all – you’re all in the same boat!

The Camaraderie

Working onboard a cruise ship will ensure that you quickly make some of the best and longest-lasting friendships of your life. You are all there for many of the same reasons – to travel the world, make and save money, and work with a global community. There is something so amazing about living and working in a little floating city. It truly brings everyone together.

After a few contracts, you will realize that you have friends with home bases that span the globe! During your leaves (vacation time) from the ship, you will be hard-pressed not to find a corner of the world where you have a ship friend to stay with. Working at sea isn’t just a job – it’s a way of life.

Caylon Wade, Cruise Activities Staff with Royal Caribbean International, says “I have friends ALL over the world now! If I want to go anywhere I can just pick up the phone! – Follow his adventures at sea on Instagram @caylonwade.

Work Hours At Sea

In the first contract that I completed as a seasonal Youth Activities Staff, I worked about 7-10 hours a day with 1-2 half days off, or one full day off per week, in port. If I had a full day off on the ship, I would be scheduled to work that night when the ship set sail – hence, it still was a 7-day work week.

Some cruises I worked with the 3-7 year olds, other weeks the 8-12’s and finally sometimes the 13-17 year olds. There were also times when I was assigned to supervise the pool areas or help out the Cruise Staff with hosting activities for the adult passengers onboard.

When I moved up to a Crew Training Officer role and later HR Manager, I could totally design my own schedule.

Thus, I worked around port days and ensured that I got to see each and every place the ship stopped. One of the most important things I learned during my decade at sea was that working on a cruise ship requires one to always expect the unexpected and to be flexible to all tasks requested of you. All your hard work onboard is made worthwhile each and every cruise when you take the time to experience and enjoy where your ship has brought you that day.

“Your time off is truly like a mini holiday!” – Gemma Mckeown, Youth Staff, Carnival

Whether it’s doing FREE passenger tours as a crew escort or sightseeing on your own each day, be sure to take the time to breathe in the freedom and excitement of being paid to see places and do things that many people do not get to experience in a lifetime.

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 4)

Cruise Ship Jobs Pay And Cost Of Living

One of the best things about working onboard is that the cruise line provides you with your room and board. As a result, your living expenses are pretty much zero, save for the minimal cost of crew internet and satellite phone cards ($10-$20 each for 2-5 hours of time) and your crew bar tab. (FYI – drinks in the crew bar, on average, are about $1-2 each.)

Working on a cruise ship is one of the quickest ways that I know of to save nearly ALL of your earnings! You just don’t have the type of bills that most people on land have. You’re not paying for rent, food, cable, gas, a car – the list goes on! Many crew who make working at sea their ‘career’ pay off MASSIVE amounts of student debt in short amounts of time and buy homes and businesses outright upon their return to land life.

It doesn’t cost you anything to work onboard. I loved it! I spent 7 years out there. I travelled the world and met my fiancé! Working on ships bought me a house!” – James Taylor, Casino Dealer/Manager for both Carnival and Royal Caribbean International

The Pay

Most new-hire crew will start in the $1000-$1,500 USD a month range. To those working on land this may sound like a low monthly starting salary, however, if you take into account that you will actually be SAVING MOST, if not ALL, of this amount per month then working at sea starts to make a whole lot of sense.

If candidates question about the starting salary during the interview process I usually ask them this simple question:

“Can you tell me that after your pay for ALL of your monthly expenses working on land that you SAVE – free & clear – more than $1,000 USD?”

Most of the time, the answer is ‘NO.’

I then remind them that they will be doing this for six months (which is the length of a typical cruise ship contract). Now, isn’t that a nice little nest egg to come home with? Moreover, when you reach a supervisory or managerial level, onboard salaries can triple, quadruple, and skyrocket even further.

To give you an idea, I started my 10 years at sea as a youth activities staff member in the $1,200 USD a month range. Five years later, my salary tripled when I was promoted to Crew Training Officer. By the time I finished up on ships after 10 years at sea, I was making almost six times what I started at.

The Costs – Docs & Uniform

As a new crew member, you will be required to organize and pay for a variety of documents prior to joining your assigned ship.

  • I recommend that you have your passport processed, up to date, and ready prior to even starting the cruise line application process.
  • C1D1 Visa – If you are from a country other than the US or Canada, you will be required to obtain a C1D1 Visa if you are working for a cruise line with a head office based in the USA. Once you are provided with an ‘Offer Of Hire Letter’ from your cruise line, you will be able to book an appointment at your local US Consulate to obtain a C1D1 Visa. Pricing varies based on your country of origin.
  • Pre-Employment Medical Check. Again, this is not something you will do until you have been offered employment with a cruise line. Each line has different medical requirements, and as such, pricing and processing will vary. Typically, cruise line medicals are valid for a 2-year period. The medical check allows for your FREE medical coverage while you work onboard. It is a good idea to keep your own medical coverage going, though, for your own use when you are home on leave. The company will not provide for your medical needs when you are on vacation in between contracts.
  • Pre-Employment Criminal Records Check. Again, this is not something you will do until you have been officially offered employment with a cruise line. Each line has different criminal check requirements, and as such, pricing and processes will vary. Typically, criminal checks are valid for a 1-year period with most companies.
  • Uniform. Once you are offered employment, your cruise line administrator will inform you of any uniform requirements. In most cases, the line will provide you with your uniform, with the exception of uniform shoes. You will be responsible for purchasing appropriate uniform shoes and the associated correct colors of socks, nylons, etc.
  • Additionally, for some roles, such as Cruise Activities Staff, you may be required to provide your own theme night costumes. Your administrator will inform you of specifics should you require additional outfits outside the standard-issued uniform.

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 5)

Preparing For The Unknown

A crew member’s life is lived primarily on the water. Those who have chosen a career at sea may or may not have a primary residence. They often spend their 8-10 weeks off in between contracts traveling or visiting/staying with family.

It is a good idea prior to departing, to assess for yourself what it is that you truly want to focus on for the duration of your contract. Will it be the travel? Saving money? Or, just having a good old time? Honing in on your goals before departure will help you stay motivated during your time away at sea.

Necessary Certifications

As noted above, most cruise lines do not require any post-secondary training for their non-deck or technical-related positions. Prospective crew will want to focus on gaining the right kind of experience prior to applying. i.e., 1-2 years of relevant and related shore-side experience and perhaps some additional cruise-specific training.

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 6)

Getting A Job With A Cruise Line

Some cruise lines prefer that you apply directly to their main offices. Others will prefer that you apply via their official hiring partners in your home country. Still, others want you to go through a specific concession agency. Application information can be found on their website via each cruise line’s career or employment section.

Have all your documents ‘ready to go’ upon applying. For example, a passport, resume, references etc. I submitted all of my required documents all at once. This moved my application process along very quickly and in my favour.

– Alana Delia

I think that the key to success in a cruise ship application and interview process is to do the research on life at sea before you start and see if it actually is for you. I knew exactly what I was getting into and some of that advice came from I had a positive attitude going in.

– Michelle Hughes, Media Manager, Carnival.

Taking the Leap

The first step to gaining a position on board a cruise ship is to start talking to people who are already doing it or have done it. Reach out to friends, family members, and crew forums, and do some YouTube searches on cruise ship jobs and employment.

Contact your country’s official hiring partners and speak with a Cruise Ship Employment Specialist. These specialists have not only worked onboard but have also been involved with recruitment as well.

The whole service that Amanda at Get a Life at Sea offers from sharing her knowledge of the industry to identifying target employers to customizing your resume and cover letter is great! The positive encouragement she provides is also invaluable. I would definitely recommend her services to others. Amanda is like a guide to those trying to find their way in the wilderness!” – Dean Davis, Human Resources Manager, Carnival.

The Cruise Life

Working on a cruise ship will open up travel opportunities to you on every continent in the world. Some of the most popular cruising destinations include the Caribbean, the Mexican Rivera, Alaska, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the South Pacific (including New Zealand & Australia), South America, South Africa, and Antarctica.

Working on board a cruise ship not only fully funds your travels but also allows you to save almost everything you make while working in a unique and multicultural environment. On top of that, you’ll have the opportunity to visit ports around the globe that passengers honestly save up for YEARS to experience. Your life truly becomes better than almost everyone’s vacation.

How To Get A Job On A Cruise Ship (Part 7)

What Is It That Keeps Crew Coming Back?

For me personally, it was the fact that working on board wasn’t just a ‘job’ or ‘career’ – it was a way of life! Your home truly became wherever the anchor dropped.

But don’t take my word for it…

Michelle Hughes has continued working on ships as Media Manager with Carnival “because it’s different and exciting each time the ship stops!”

My favourite tour experiences happened in Alaska! I saw wild grizzly bears and also got to take a massively discounted helicopter tour to go dogsledding on a glacier!”

– James Taylor, Casino Manager, Royal Caribbean International.

My favorite thing about working on board is that almost everyday I woke up in a new city. I also loved meeting people and making friends from all around the world.”

-Anita Wing Lee, Seasonal Youth Staff, Princess Cruises.

On land whenever you are off work everything in life feels like a task that you have to do. When you are on a ship your time off is truly your time off to do anything you want to do, whether it’s going to the beach or taking a shore excursion!

-Gemma, Mackeown, Youth Staff, Carnival.

You get to travel the world! I’m in my bliss right now – it’s awesome!

-Caylon Wade, Cruise Activities Staff, Royal Caribbean International.

It is one of the most fantastic experiences available on the planet at the moment. I would advise that everyone out there have a go at this!

-Richard Mourant, Photo Manager, Princess Cruises.

About The Author

Amanda sailed the world for over a decade, working in various onboard roles with multiple cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, Cunard, Royal Caribbean International, and P&O Australia. After she got off ships in 2010, Amanda moved into shore-side cruise ship recruitment, hiring for one of Canada’s most established cruise line partners for another 6 years.

From 2015 to 2020, she owned her own cruise ship employment information, consultation, and resume design business. She helped adventurers successfully navigate the cruise line application and interview process to get paid to travel the world.

Amanda resides in the ski capital of North America, Revelstoke, BC, Canada, with her Mountain Guide husband Alex and 3-year-old son Dax. 

Want more travel jobs? Check out the resources below.

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