I have worked on board 9 different cruise ships, with 2 different companies throughout 6 years of my life. It was one of the most – no, let me correct that- it was THE MOST challenging, eye-opening, learning and amazing experiences in my life so far.
*The main requirements to work on a cruise ship are mostly the same throughout companies*
- Be at least 21 years of age (except Spa positions you can be 18)
- Have a valid passport
- Be able to commit to a contract
- Speak English fluently (speaking other languages is a plus!)
Each position on board has more specific requirements. Sometimes different companies will also require different things. I always worked as a Youth Staff in the kids club for Carnival Cruise Lines, and for that position, the requirements are:
- Recent and extensive experience with children in a group setting
- School/Daycare and camp background is beneficial
- Diploma or degree preferred but not required.
I remember finishing college, and searching the internet for jobs when I saw an ad that said:
Do you like working with kids? I thought, Yes.
Do you like to travel? UM, Yes.
Do you want to get paid to travel the world? HECK YES!
So I clicked apply, sent my resume, and within a week I was sent an offer to attend an interview session. It was a group interview, where we had to quickly come up with activities as if everyone were children and we were the leaders. After that, we had a one on one interview, and within another week, I received an email with a job offer. Now, I was living in the city where the interview was being held, which is why I was able to attend physically, but I know that the agency I applied through also does Skype interviews, depending on where you reside.
Once offered a job, you will be given the contract and a booklet of information. You will also need to complete a recent First Aid/CPR course, a criminal background check, and a thorough medical and physical that the company will provide all the paperwork for you. You will usually need to cover the costs for all of these requirements, but once acquired they are valid for 2 years.
Life at Sea
Heading out for my first contract, I had to purchase my departing flight to Miami. Once I completed the 6 months, they paid for my returning flight, and the rest of the travel expenses for the following contracts, including flights, luggage reimbursements, hotel nights, and food vouchers.
Once you begin a contract, there is intensive training.
I mean, obviously, if we haven’t worked on a ship before, they have to train us on EVERYTHING, which can be overwhelming and a lot of information, but by my second contract, I was a pro! There are also drills every week or two weeks that crew have to attend and depending on the week, it could be a fire, a man overboard, an abandon ship or just a safety drill.
Working on a cruise ship, you HAVE to be prepared for the long hours.
Again, depending on which position you are interested in working, the schedules could differ; but with being youth staff, my work days ranged from 6-11 hours per day. We work every single day, no days off (unless you have a really cool manager or you're medically off). My contracts started with 6 and 7 months, and the longer I was with the company, the shorter they could get; but that’s not for everyone. I know friends working in the spa who would work 12 hour days and 9-month contracts. The gift shops work about 10-11 hours on days at sea, and every port day they are closed until the ship sets sail and the same goes for casino workers.
In the kids club, the age groups range from 2-5, 6-8 and 9-11, with the teen clubs being 12-14 and 15-17. Some other companies will not accept children until age 3.
The days consist of running scheduled activities. You rotate each cruise so that you have time with different ages. There’s video game time, pirate night, princess night, jungle night, dodgeball and a ton of other fun activities. There’s also a lot of dance parties that you will either DJ or participate in.
When I worked for Carnival Cruise Line, in the summer months, we had around 1000 kids on board. Now, not every single one showed up, but we could have up to 100 at a time, with about 3 or 4 staff.
When I worked for Holland America Cruise Lines during the summer months, the most we had was 15 children!
You have to research the different cruise lines and check out the atmosphere, the ones that are geared towards family and are more kid-friendly are ones that will have more children. You definitely need lots of energy, fun and outgoing personality, patience and if you’re creative and artistic, that’s a bonus!
And Time to Explore
You’re able to get time off in the different ports that you travel too. My schedules were rotational, so if one week I wasn’t able to get off, the next week I was.
That’s the beautiful part, one day you’re at a beach in Aruba, and the next you’re shopping in Curacao.
Your colleagues are from all over the world, and because you’re in such a confined space, living and working together, things can get a little challenging, but the friendships you build for a lifetime make everything worth it.
You might work 6-9 month contracts, but everything is paid for. No rent, no groceries, no gas, no bills! So, unless you’re a shopaholic, you are able to save a pretty good chunk for an epic vacation. Also, on board there are crew areas to socialize after work, and various crew activities per month such as parties, bingo, karaoke and spa nights.
Like any job, it has its pros and cons, and this kind of job isn’t for everybody, but it is an experience I would recommend to anyone who loves to travel, loves working with kids, loves a challenge and wants to step out of their comfort zone completely. I have learned so much about different cultures, different places, about life and about myself. I was able to travel to more than 54 places around the world, from Australia to Alaska.
If you’re interested in working on a cruise ship, the agency I went through is Cast-A-Way. They hire from most places around the world. The application is easy and straightforward, and if accepted, you could be heading out to sea within a couple of months!