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How to Work Your Way Around the World on a Cruise Liner

Travel Jobs
by Nicole Kowalewsk May 6, 2009

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.

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.

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.

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