How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship

Empty sun loungers on deck of ship


Getting a Job on the High Seas

If you enjoy travel, particularly sea travel, you may want to consider working on a cruise ship. A wide range of jobs are available, from waiting tables and custodial work to IT, accounting and health care positions. While working this kind of short-term job can be difficult for parents―many cruise ship employees spend months at a time at sea―it may be an option if you have older children or family members who can step in to provide child care.

Types of Cruise Ship Jobs

Modern cruise ships carry as many as 6,000 passengers in addition to thousands of staff members. The sheer number of passengers and employees on these boats has led some to dub them "floating cities." If you think of a cruise ship as a municipal government, you can begin to get an idea of all the job roles that must be filled, including:

  • Ship officers and crew: These are professional sailors who are dedicated to the ship's operations. Ship's officers may be permitted to bring their families with them to live onboard, something that is usually not true for other employees.
  • Maintenance personnel: Both the public and private areas of a ship have to be kept clean and in good repair. Cleaners, carpenters, electricians and other workers are needed onboard.
  • Hotel staff: Cruise ships are essentially hotels on water, and they have staffing needs similar to their land-based counterparts. Examples include room stewards and guest services representatives.
  • Casino dealers: Many ships have casinos on board, and work is available for experienced dealers, supervisors and managers.
  • Spa and salon professionals: Aestheticians, massage therapists, makeup artists and hairstylists are needed to offer a range of services.
  • Retail workers and excursion staff: Ships operate at least one, usually several, stores on board, as well as an excursions desk. Salespeople and managers are needed to staff shops and sell excursions to passengers. 
  • Photographers: Photography is a big profit center for cruise ships. Ships need experienced photographers for both candid shots as well as posed photos.
  • Restaurant and bar staff: Even the smallest cruise ships have at least one main dining room and a bar. Larger vessels may have upwards of 20 different dining and drinking establishments. All need to be staffed by experienced restaurant workers and managers.
  • Children's workers: Many cruise lines offer children's programs and require the services of responsible adults who are capable of caring for kids and teens during both day and evening hours.
  • Medical staff: Cruise ships usually have at least one physician and registered nurse on board. The larger the boat, the more medical staff it needs. If you are a licensed medical or nursing professional, and your license is from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom or a European Union country, you may find that your services are in demand by cruise line medical departments.
  • Administrative workers: The cruise ship is a business, and as such, it requires administrative personnel onboard to handle administrative office work, including staff for accounting and HR issues.
  • IT professionals: Ships rely on sophisticated computer systems to keep the ship on course and in good working order.
  • Entertainers: Cruise ships hire a wide range of entertainers, including musicians, dancers, comedians and other performers.

Familiarize Yourself With Cruise Lines

The cruising industry is a vast one, and different cruise lines and ships offer very different sailing experiences. Cruises range from budget-friendly to ultra-luxury, and cruise lines brand themselves to appeal to different demographics. Some emphasize a "party" atmosphere; some cater to families with children; and still others focus on cultural enrichment.

Do the same kind of research on a cruise line as you would any other employer. Since you will likely be on a ship for long periods of time, it's important that you feel comfortable with its culture.

Connect With a Cruise Line Recruitment Agency

Cruise lines often recruit through third-party employment agencies. The best way to find these firms is to visit the "careers" page on a cruise line's website. There, you'll find a list of approved agencies in the country where you live. Be aware that some cruise lines contract with multiple industry-specific agencies in some countries. For example, a line might work with separate health care, hotel worker and entertainment agencies. Check the listing and make sure that you are applying to the recruiter for your field.

Unpaid Cruise Ship Jobs

If full-time or even seasonal cruise ship work isn't right for you or your family, you may still be able to receive free or significantly discounted travel by offering your services on a cruise ship. Some cruise lines recruit clergy to officiate at chapel services on board, particularly during holiday seasons. In addition, many cruise lines actively seek out lecturers to give talks on board. If you are an academic or a noted authority in a specific subject area, this may be a good way for you and your spouse or family to travel at minimal expense.