Working on a cruise ship can be a dream for many. However, working on board is just like working anywhere else. There are so many different positions and jobs that you first have to find the right one. In this post, I will break down some of the most popular ones, what they do and may include some qualifications required. This is by no means an exhausted list and job descriptions, positions, and requirements can change depending on the company. The ones here are modeled off the requirements for MSC around 2017.
These are positions related to the ship, the mechanics, and everything related to safety.
Working on the bridge is one of the most important positions on board. You are part of the team navigating the vessel and are responsible for any mistakes. For these positions, you need specific qualifications in this field and extensive training.
Working on the engine is another important position on the ship. It takes responsibility and knowledge. To do this job, you must have specific training before coming on board.
Safety is one of the most important departments on the ship. This department includes everyone from the safety officer to the firefighters. You need to have previous training for these positions and be certified.
This is the other big department of the ship. This department entails everything that belongs to the hotel operation. Under this category, there are many different jobs so we will break it down a little more.
These are the lowest positions you can have. You will be working long hours and hard days. The conditions are not the best and they have the longest contracts. On the other hand, the crew is always super motivated and having a lot of fun during their working hours if they get along.
Working in a restaurant on a ship can mean different things. It could be working as a food server in the buffet, but also working as a waiter in one of the a-la-carte restaurants. They are both hard manual work, since the job is carrying around trays of food constantly. However, working as a waiter in the a-la-carte restaurant also means good tips. Both positions allow for promotion in the future and might be what you are looking for.
Working in the bar is probably the job most like the one on land. The beverage card is the same in all the bars regardless where on the ship and the payment is always made with the board card. The days are long and hectic with many sudden changes and movement depending on need and availability. At the bar, you can make good tips and there is a clear promotion path in place to allow for development. If you are looking for something where you can later easily transition back to land, this one could be it.
This is one of the biggest departments on the ship. Each cabin has to be cleaned once a day and most include turndown service in the evening. They are also called for all changed to the rooms such as separating the beds, checking the remote, starting the process of unlocking the safe if it cannot be opened anymore, etc. This is also one of the two positions where almost all guests tip at the end of their cruise, so they earn quite a bit of money aside from their normal wage. If you are a man, be prepared for hard manual labor since all the luggage is moved by you on and off the ship each embarkation port.
Some of the most invisible people on the ship. The kitchen is working almost day and night on cruise ships to be able to provide the amount of food the passengers eat each day. We had our own butchery, bakery, pastry, etc. So regardless of what qualifications you have as a chef, you can find work on the ship. Normally you will be working either morning or evening shift, and have a relatively fixed schedule, which is rare on a ship.
These are the second level of employees on a cruise ship. These are all the people guests have to talk to, such as reception, excursions, photo department, etc. They have shorter contracts, cabins on a higher deck and more free time (depending on the itinerary). They also have more privileges than crew.
Probably the most straightforward position. While it does resemble the reception in a hotel, on a ship the Guest service agents (GSAs) have to deal with a lot more than just check in and check out. Every concern guests have they will come to the reception. This could be anything from when is dinner to someone broke into their cabin. There is rigorous training to be able to confront every situation and find a solution. It is a very interesting position, but can be tough to deal with everybody's problems. To be able to work at the reception you must speak at least 2 to 3 languages fluently or to a working proficiency.
One of the most diverse positions on board. In this department, you do everything from selling the excursion to going on them as well as operating shuttle buses in different ports. it is a dynamic job that always has surprises and nothing ever goes as planned. It requires some selling skills and convincing the guest they want to spend the money. You also have to deal with complaints and be able to resolve them. You also need language skills here although they are a little less strict about it than at the reception.
This is one of the biggest revenue centers of the hotel. People take pictures during the whole cruise and have a chance to buy them at the end to have memories from they travels. As a photographer, you will be taking pictures of the guests every night and selling them later. Sometimes you are also required to go along with excursions to take pictures of the guests in the different exotic locations. You have to have some photography skills before starting this job.
Working in the casino is a great position if you have a little bit of experience in this field. Since they are only working when the ship is at sea, they almost always have time off in port. You have to be able to deal with the crazy night schedule though. Most days you will start work around 8 pm and finish maybe 4 am. You will get one hour break and time for dinner, but other than that it is an all-night shift. I had some friends who worked in this department and they always had a great time, but we didn't see them much since they were always working when we were off and sleeping during the day. You will also miss many of the crew parties and spending time in the crew bar in the evening, so just be aware of that.
This is one of the toughest positions from the staff, but one of the easiest ones to get hired for. The entertainment staff is responsible for all the games and events going on during the cruise. They do everything from the early morning yoga session to the late night bingo games. You will be working long days and get little sleep, but this team is one of the most close-knit on the ship. For this position, you are required to have a lot of energy and be open to talk and be crazy in front of people. Many people start as entertainment staff and then move to departments they prefer.
Working in the shops on the cruise is also a good position to have. Like the casino, the shops are not allowed to be opened in port since they sell taxfree. Therefore most port days the shop staff has off. The exception to this is delivery day. When you get new items for the store you have to put them away right away, so that means working during port. This could be once a week or three to four times, depending on the itinerary and the requirements from the customers. While you get free time in port, you do have to work until late in the evening, maybe 1 am plus closing. However, it still allows you to come to the parties and not miss out on all the social life.
Now on my company, the spa was outsourced. it still looked like a part of the ship, but the hiring and management were done by an outside company. They also provided the equipment and everything. Therefore, the spa people sometimes had very little to do with the rest of the crew. On my ship they were also almost all from Bali, Cuba, or Mauritius, so they kept to themselves because they understood each other very well.
These are positions that are there for the crew. They do not deal with guests at all, but with all the issues of the crew.
He is in charge of all the crew overview. This is the first person you will meet when you embark and the last one before you leave. They give you your cruise card, your money, and anything else logistical you might need. The crew purser is also going to keep your passport, and he is the one to go to for a shore pass if you need one. If you are working in this office you have more or less regular hours, but can be called at any time for an emergency.
Depending on the company this might be a whole team or just one guy. They are the person to talk to if you have any issues with your team or boss that could not be resolved internally, such as discrimination, bullying, etc. The HR is also your contact person if you had a fight with your roommate or any issues with other crew members. They also have access to the system, so you can go to them to check for your flight home, evaluations, or similar issues. Basically, any issue you have you can go talk to HR to see what to do about it. If you are working in the HR department you have more or less normal working hours, but can be called at any time for emergencies.
This is the person in charge of the crew cleaners. He is checking crew cabins for cleanliness, doing cabin inspections, and anything else related to this. On my ship, he was also in charge of cabin assignments so you had to go talk to him if you have a wish to move or be roomed with a specific person. Normally you will not have a lot of contact with him, but he is an important person on the ship.
This is a special department always separate from the rest of the crew. They are externally hired and are not allowed to mingle with the crew, since that could influence them and make them biased towards some people. Some companies have strict rules about if they are allowed in areas such as the crew bar or not. Normally the security makes friends under each other since they cannot make friends with other crew members. If this is a position you are interested in, you have to go through the external company and get hired through them. They are also in charge of promotion, firing, and anything else.
So that is the list. The short guide to almost all the positions available on board. Of course, many of these are entry level positions since most of the cruise ship companies promote from within, therefore it is hard to get hired as anything other than entry level. Hope this short guide helped you figure out what position would suite you the most. If you want more information about working on a cruise ship, check out my different posts on it here.
As always if you have anything to add to my list, feel free to leave it in the comments below or on social media.