Two years ago, I quit teaching English in Vietnam and embarked on a journey which would involve me working on a cruise ship.
Whenever I tell anyone that I work on a cruise ship, often their eyes light up and a number of questions arise…
So I decided to post my answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions I have received.
Who knows, maybe this could be the career for you…
1. Why did you decide to work on a cruise ship?
I had been working as a teacher in Vietnam for 3 years and I was getting itchy feet. I wanted to experience working in a different country, and preferably work within the travel industry.
A job vacancy popped up on a recruitment website, and I sent my CV and cover letter, not really expecting too much to happen.
When I was surprisingly offered the job, I was constantly trying to weigh up the pros and cons of switching my current lifestyle with a life onboard.
Traveling the world, meeting new people, having new experiences, were the initial reasons that attracted me to the job and were the eventual reasons that persuaded me to go for it.
2. How did you find the job in the first place?
While I was looking for travel-related jobs, I came across a site, hcareers.com This is a hospitality recruitment agency which features several hospitality positions on cruise ships. I went to the cruise line company’s website and checked their job vacancy page to make sure it matched – and it did! I chose to apply directly to the cruise line’s website.
3. What do you do onboard?
I have a great job that I absolutely love. I schedule, co-ordinate and host various events, mainly culinary and beverage related events, including cooking shows, mixology classes & wine tasting events. If I’m not hosting the event, I often introduce whoever is.
I will also help to coordinate special events including renewal of vows ceremonies, working closely with the Captain.
And I’m also often needed to assist in evening game shows or at least to gather certain materials needed for them. My linkedin account goes into a bit more detail if you’d like to see everything involved in my position
4. Do you share a cabin? What is your cabin like?
I’m very fortunate that I have a single cabin with private bathroom. It’s nothing fancy, but there is enough room to have several friends over for movie nights or drinks. Depending on my ship – usually depending on its class – I sometimes have a single bed and sometimes a double. Sometimes I have a sofa in the room.
Usually I have ample wardrobe space, a TV, and also I have a cabin attendant who provides me with clean towels and makes my bed every day.
5. How many hours do you work each day?
Each department and position have different working hours. Personally, I create my own schedule. Because my job is in events, obviously we won’t be holding many events while we’re in port because passengers are outside. Therefore my working hours differ depending on whether we’re at sea or in port.
Sea days are the busiest, and I could expect to work up to a maximum of 8 hours a day, which includes office work too. On port days I could find I work as little as 2 hours total. (3 x 40 minute events).
Working within the entertainment department, I can’t really complain about my work hours! We work less hours than most (but it can still be tiring!)
6. Do you ever get a day off?
Ha! Ha! Ha!
No, we get no days off. One of the hardest things about working on a cruise ship is that we work seven days a week for the entire duration of our contract!
Most crew members work 10 or 11 hours a day, 7 days a week for up to 10 months. They go home for a 2 to 4 month vacation then come back and do it all over again.
7. Do you get to spend much time in port?
As mentioned, because I make my own schedule and because I don’t schedule events for when guests are ashore, I do get to enjoy my time in port and it has given me the opportunity to sign up for excursions and take time to explore the ports.
Other positions vary in this. For example concessionaires such as shop staff and casino dealers, etc. will often get to enjoy the whole day ashore because of licensing laws which don’t allow shops or casinos to be open when the ship is a certain distance near land.
However, those working within housekeeping, culinary, beverage, technical, to name just a few, will work the same schedule every day no matter what so they’ll only get a short few of hours ashore if their break falls at a time while we’re still in port – most of the time they choose to sleep.
8. How’s the pay and how do you receive your salary?
The pay’s OK. Again, it differs based on department and position. Personally, I get a daily rate which gets paid monthly. The great thing about working onboard is that there are no overhead expenses. You don’t have to pay for rent or for food. My biggest expense is the internet, but I’m an internet addict. If I didn’t go online, I could definitely save most of it. I’m lucky because I work closely with the food & beverage departments so drinks aren’t always a huge expense for me.
9. Do you have any other responsibilities onboard?
Most crew members are given additional emergency safety responsibilities, which we are all trained for. This is again dependent on your position onboard (though I cannot speak for all cruise lines, I only know of the one I work for). For example, those in managerial positions are often boat commanders; Cast members and others in the entertainment department are often communicators; concessionaires including those who work in the spa, casino and photography, are usually stairway guides; those who work in the kitchen are often on the fire team, etc. Safety drills are conducted regularly.
10. What facilities do you have in the crew area?
Down below deck, we have access to several facilities to make our living area more… liveable. We have a couple of different canteens and bars, which cater to different levels of seniority onboard, we have a crew shop selling basic grocery items, a crew gym, crew library, internet cafe, and crew-only access to the bow of the ship. Crew pool table and communal TV are a couple of nice extra facilities.
There are also have a variety of crew events held onboard, which vary depending on the Human Resources Manager onboard, such as crew production shows, bingo, crew-only shore excursions, a monthly party, karaoke/live jam, game shows, movie nights, sports games, etc.
11. What are some of the bigger challenges of working onboard?
Working onboard is very different to working on land and as you would expect, we face a lot of challenges onboard. Some of the bigger challenges we experience as crew members include the following:
- Working on land, I could always go home after a day at work and just forget everything… We don’t have that luxury onboard. We never truly “finish” until we disembark at the end of a contract. I don’t always answer my cabin phone in my “off time”, but I do also have a portable ship phone. So sometimes when I’ve finished, taken off my uniform, put my feet up and turned on the TV, someone can still call me and ask me to go help out with something.
- We’re constantly in contact with guests and have to always appear happy, polite and positive, whether we truly feel it or not. This is often one of the most tiring aspects of the job, especially when dealing with difficult guests.
- Onboard, if you’re feeling under the weather, you can’t just call in sick. You have to work through it. If you really cannot work, you must be signed off by the doctor and then quarantined for a minimum of 24 hours to prevent spread of infection. If you have a cabin mate, you will be quarantined in the infirmary, with very little to keep your mind occupied.
- Homesickness can be a problem for many people. And with the astronomical cost of the internet (which now charges by data used instead of minutes, so internet gets consumed much quicker), it can be very difficult to keep in contact with those back home.
12. What is the best thing about working on a cruise ship?
Aside from the obvious one – getting to see the world – there are many great perks to working onboard. But personally, my favourite thing is that I get to meet and work with a great deal of wondering people from all around the world, from all walks of life. It’s incredible to work in an environment where racism and prejudice is next to none. Most people are open-minded and accepting of all cultures, beliefs, habits, life choices. People integrate and learn so much about each other, about themselves, about the world.
13. Where have you been so far?
I’ve been very fortunate to have experienced some fabulous places around the world:
USA, Bermuda, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Aruba, Curacao, Bahamas, Nicaragua, and sailed through the Panama Canal.
14. Would you ever take a vacation on a cruise?
Actually, I did sail as a guest in February this year. I sailed on one of our ships for 14 days and had a wonderful experience. I know many people who work onboard say “I work on a ship for months at a time, why would I want to spend my vacation on one?” But for me, it was so different sailing as a guest than as a crew member. I loved it and would definitely do it again!!
(I will write about my experience very soon!)
Do you have any more questions about working on a cruise ship?
Or would you like to share your own experiences working on a cruise ship?