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Photo: flickrized

I can’t believe they pay me for this!

I WORK ON BOARD A luxury cruise liner, playing games and doing crafts with children while their parents go to the casino, shop or disappear into their cabins.

Photo: author

I work on a contract basis and am usually at sea for four months at a time. I’m employed by one cruise line but the company can place me on any of their ships, which sail all over the world.

So far I’ve sailed on three different ships and have run into friends each time. The cruise ship employee world is a small, tight-knit network of young, adventurous people, many of whom feel like they’ve stumbled upon an amazing secret.

Job Qualifications
Unwavering patience is definitely an asset.

The only prerequisites for this job are a bachelor’s degree and experience working with children.

It’s also helpful to have your sea legs, physical fitness, a high energy level and a social, outgoing personality. Unwavering patience is definitely an asset.

Sea Day Or Port Day

There is no such thing as a typical day in my line of work. Forget about weekdays and weekends: the thing to pay attention to on a ship is whether the itinerary says “sea day” or “port day”.

The only predictable thing about working on a cruise ship is that the day will end at the officer’s bar.

Each port day my coworkers and I rotate who works and who has the day off. If it is not my turn to work I can enjoy some quality time off wherever the ship has docked.

Fee shore excursions are a MAJOR perk for staff. We can sign up as an “escort” for the tours offered by the ship if there’s space.

I’ve gone horseback riding in the rainforest in Puerto Rico, swum with stingrays in the Bahamas, ridden on an aerial tram through the rainforest in St. Lucia and sailed a catamaran to a remote beach for dinner and show in Mexico.

The only predictable thing about working on a cruise ship is that the day will end at the officer’s bar.

A Hard Day’s Work

Sea days are the busiest days, though I can’t complain because I still only work eight and a half hours with an hour and a half hour lunch break and a three hour dinner break. I begin work at nine a.m. and finish at ten p.m.

On sea days I follow the program of activities. I improvise when I see the attention start to wander because a focused child is less likely to cause trouble than a bored one.

On every cruise there’s always at least one child who stands out as a “challenge”, which has taught me to multitask and divide my energy between the problem child and the “good” children.

I now understand what my teachers meant when they said they have eyes on the back of their head. By the end of each cruise I have usually lost my voice from calling out instructions to the group and shouting at the misbehaving children.

“I Love My Job”

But I love my job, especially when a child runs up to me beaming and says “I saw you at lunch time!” as though it’s the most clever thing they have ever done.

Photo: ccgd

When I’m not working, the ship is my home. There are several luxuries I’m allowed to enjoy on board. I can (in fact, I have to) eat my meals in the casual buffet restaurant. I’m also allowed to make reservations at the fine dining restaurant on special occasions if there’s space.

I can go to the guest gym and use my crew discount in the shops. I can dress in my own clothes, with my name-tag on, and go to any of the guest bars or lounges or the shows. I can check out books or DVD’s from the on-board library.

On port days, I can swim in the pool or suntan on the back deck.

Another perk is the fact that I live with my coworkers and friends. If I’ve had a particularly exhausting day I’ll always find a shoulder to lean on in the officer’s bar. Frustrations usually melt away quickly with a look out the window the next day.

On any given port day I will throw a sundress over my bathing suit, slather on some SPF 30 and grab a towel from the gangway. I’ll meet up with an eclectic group of friends, we’ll scan our ID cards to get off the ship and then we’ll head out towards whatever adventures we might find.

And we can’t seem to stop saying, I can’t believe they pay me for this.

Community Connection

If you’re interested in working on a ship but would prefer a smaller scale experience, check out Matador’s guide abouthow to travel the world by crewing on yachts.

If you have an insatiable romance for ships but aren’t sure about full-time employment aboard one, find out how to travel by cargo ship. And if you’re just plain intrigued by the thought of an odd travel job, investigate ten travel jobs within your reach.

Matador member Becky Timbers worked on a National Geographic cruise ship in Baja and Alaska – check out her amazing photos of killer whales and grizzly bears.

Were do in jazz band in high-school? You can get work as a musician on cruise ships – check out jazz saxaphonist Linda Little’s comment on the travel jobs piece:

Cruiselines are great for entertainers (myself), but also for anyone who can work in the hospitality industry. Casino dealers, bartenders, activities staff, and youth staff (daycare and youth activities) are easily trained jobs that pay well on ships.

Cruise ships go to most destinations, just be prepared to do a less popular run on your first contract. I did 5 months in South America and 1 month in Alaska during my brief Cruise ship career and think it’s great for those with a serious travel bug on a budget.

For more info, check out or browse individual cruise line employment pages.

About The Author

Nicole Kowalewsk

Nicole has worked on cruise ships for the last year and has just been contracted for another four months. Her next ship will be sailing in Alaska. She enjoys the lifestyle of being somewhere new every day and hopes her stories will inspire others to follow their dreams of finding an exciting career.

  • Hal

    fascinating stuff…never would have thought of this

  • Turner

    Sounds great, Nicole – one of the first setbacks I encountered was the massive number of cruise line job websites; I assumed some of them had to be scammers, but couldn’t differentiate too well. How did you find the job in the first place?

  • Nicole Kowalewski

    I found my job by going directly to the employment page on several different cruise line official websites. Once I knew which job description suited me I followed the directions to apply right on the website. I wasn’t sure whether I would hear anything at all, but 2 months later I received an invitation to have a phone interview by 2 different companies. In the end I was lucky enough to choose the one I wanted to work for.
    My advice to you: Do your research on several different cruise lines. Make sure you are looking at the official website. Get to know the type of clientele they cater to and the itineraries they follow. Know the kind of atmosphere you want to work in. Read the job descriptions carefully and choose one you think you can do 7 days a week for 4 to 8 months at a time. There is a fairly high turnover of crew in this industry so you can afford to be a little bit choosy….if you really just want to get on a ship, take what you can get. Once you are in there is plenty of potential to move positions within the company.,

  • Tim Patterson

    Sounds like good advice, thanks for following up Nicole.

  • Carlo Alcos

    That sounds great. When I was 19, I had the opportunity to go to Mexico to work in an all-inclusive resort as an animator. I took it and went there for 6 months. The job sounds similar…we were basically paid to play with the guests (some guests we paid a little more attention to ;), perform funny skits, referee pool volleyball, pour tequila down guests’ throats, etc etc.

    The hours were long…8-4ish with a dinner break, and then another 3 hours or so in the evening, 6 days a week. But it really wasn’t work. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

    I can’t believe we got paid for that :)

  • Tim Patterson

    Where in Mexico were you, Carlo? I read a great blog about a Mexican resort the other day, from Candice the salty Newfie –

  • Carlo Alcos

    Thanks for that link Tim, just read it, was a very funny post!

    I worked at El Presidente Intercontinental in San Jose del Cabo…which is about 30 mins south of Cabo San Lucas…a sleepy town (back then anyway), which I liked to think of as authentic…moreso than Americanized Cabo anyway. But we used to drive up to Cabo on the weekends and go to the crazy bars there, one which was Cabo Wabo, owned by Sammy Hagar (no idea if that’s still the case or not).

  • catlynn

    My huband and I really want to work for a cruise line,but we have two small children.Would they be able to come with us?

    • Tim Patterson

      Hi Catlynn,

      Unfortunately, I doubt a cruise line would hire you and your husband if they knew your kids were part of the package deal. If you worked for a few years for a cruise line, and proved your value to the company, then they might entertain the idea of having your kids on-board.

      You might be interested in this post:

  • catlynn

    Thankyou Tim ,
    I appreciate your response,we’ll work out something.

  • Sarah

    Hi there,

    Many I ask which company you work for? Stories I’ve heard talk of 10-12hr days all day, every day! Would be keen to apply to one that gives a little more time off :)


  • Mike

    Yup, I worked onboard for 3 years and it was blast. Actually I found another predictable thing was not only ending up in the officers bar at the end of the night, but the high number of those who ended up in officers cabins! Ha, what a lifestyle.
    Also in my position, I only worked an average of 2-4 hours a day and I had an office where I didnt deal with passengers. It was a great gig but all the time off lead to drinking away half of my salary.

    • Wesgroenewald

      i would love to travel. but do not know what to do. most places ask huge fees.

  • Jonathan Tom

    Pretty accurate article… I’ve been working entertainment technical on ships for over… well, let’s just say it’s a long time. Actually, if I were to hazard a guess at the cruise line you’re referring to I would say Holland America. :) Am I right?

    • Hi

      How do I get into being a cruise entertainment technician?

  • Roxy

    How did you get the job?  Where did you find the opportunity, I mean?

  • james E Davis

    wow  you guys live the life that I dream about

  • Wesgroenewald

    my life is all about traveling. please help me to make my most dream sucsessfull. any body?

  • Mel

    You’ve painted a beautiful picture of life on board a cruise ship, but you’ve given very little information on how to go about attaining such a job as the title of your article suggests. I would love to hear more about your path.

  • Redouane

    my name is redouane i need work on cruise my tlfn 0034633326717

  • Megan Steele

    I would love to hear any updated advice on this topic. I have been looking into cruise ship jobs but am feeling overwhelmed by the number of cruise lines out there. Any advice on how to narrow my search? Best companies to work for? Or how to land an interview? Thanks!

  • Brittany Nichole

    how do I apply for this.

  • Leon Pryce

    i love your article and i am so jealous of you. cruise ships come to Jamaica quite often and i always fantasize about working on one but it is very expensive the money agencies charge and it is not likely you will get the job. but i love travel and adventure.

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