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Working on Cruise Ships

A Guide to Getting Employed and What to Expect on Cruise Liners

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Written by: Sandra Bow

Each year hundreds of thousands of people take cruises. Cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism, which is already the world’s largest industry. At the time of writing there are over 30 new cruise ships being built, including the Queen Mary II for Cunard. This means that there are an ever increasing number and range of jobs for people with vastly different skills and experience to work at sea.
Many modern cruise ships are simply mobile leisure resorts with casinos, cinemas, swimming pools, fitness centres, lecture halls and even golf courses, so the range of jobs is enormous – anything from the usual hotel staff to fortune tellers, florists, gentlemen hosts and priests. Wages are generally similar to those on land but the gratuities can be good and because most jobs come with full board and lodging, so the opportunities for working on cruise ships and saving money are excellent.
In addition, there are the well-documented opportunities for travel to all corners of the globe, from Alaska to Spitzbergen or Bermuda to Hawaii, and for romance under the glorious sunsets of the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
As Jim, 26, puts it: “Until I started working on cruise ships, I had to save like crazy for every holiday abroad, which was usually nothing more than a ten-day bash with some mates in Benidorm. But in the four years I’ve been at sea, I’ve scuba-dived in the Caribbean; waterskied in the Greek Islands; jet-skied in Mexico; parasailed in the Seychelles, and I’ve actually been paid to do it! Why earn money to see the world, when you can see the world and earn money at the same time?”

Getting a job on a cruise ship

As with any form of job hunting, the more possible employers you contact, the better the odds of being accepted. So apply to as many cruise lines, agencies, etc., as possible. Then, should you receive more than one offer of employment, you are in a stronger position to negotiate and / or choose the best terms and conditions. This does not mean, however, that you should not be selective. Do your homework and target companies that you feel are most likely to require your particular skills.
One factor to consider when working on cruise ships is the minimum age. Most cruise ships are reluctant to hire anyone under 21, though some 18, 19 and 20 year olds have found suitable employment. For work in areas such as bars or casinos you will certainly have to be over 21.
Working on cruise ships means you get to see the world

Confirming the contact details

The first step in launching your assault on cruise ship companies is to ascertain the correct address of the department which is relevant to the work you are seeking. It is essential to address your application to the appropriate department (preferably using the name of the relevant person) because it is most unlikely that a speculative application will be forwarded to the correct person or even the correct department. Remember too that major cruise lines may have offices around the globe and it is no use applying to their UK division for jobs in a particular department if all the recruitment for that line of work is handled in Miami.
When clarifying details, ask for the name and job title of the person to whom you should directly apply and use that name in all correspondence. Your letter will have much more impact than one addressed to an anonymous ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ or ‘Dear Personnel Officer’. Note that unsolicited faxes and emails are generally considered ‘junk mail’ and almost invariably hinder rather than help.
Cruise line offices are notoriously busy so it is not surprising that unsolicited telephone calls are not encouraged. Unfortunately, phoning may be the only viable means of obtaining the name and department you need. If you ring at an off-peak time (late afternoon, perhaps) the person answering your call may be more approachable, but be prepared for them simply not to give you the information you require. If this is the case (or you end up talking to an answering machine) then a ‘To whom it may concern’ via their head office may have to suffice. But whatever reaction you receive from the voice on the line, remember that they are unlikely to have any bearing on your employment prospects and your priority is to get your details to the person who does.
When phoning, don’t forget global time differences, e.g. Miami and New York are five hours behind London. To give your prospective employer an alarm call is not a good idea.
With the increasing popularity of the internet, many cruise lines now have worldwide websites and these can be a valuable source of information for job-seekers. Some cruise lines even advertise job vacancies on the internet. You can find a list of these and which cruise ships to work on at the end of the article.

The application procedure

Having ascertained the name and business address of your target, present your details as professionally as possible. Type or print all communications and always include a covering letter. Set out your CV (résumé) clearly and enclose photocopies of references or other relevant information. Enclose a photograph, preferably one that shows some personality. For jobs in the social / entertainment department a large publicity shot is a good bet. Some companies will send you an official form to fill in. If so, don’t be afraid to enclose additional information, as long as it is relevant to your application. The more skills and / or qualifications you can offer, the more likely it is that you will be offered a job.
Sometimes you may be offered employment solely on the strength of your application; at other times you may be required to attend an interview. Yet again, you may not even receive a reply. A follow-up telephone call may be beneficial in the latter instance, on the lines of ‘I just wanted to make sure you’ve received my details’. Remind them that you’re still alive and waiting. Occasionally it works.
Don’t become too disillusioned if you hear nothing. Your details could lie for months in a filing cabinet, only to be dug out and a job offered, requiring you to join a ship in Acapulco in two days time.
Company files are, however, regularly renewed. So if you haven’t been contacted within six months and you still wish to be considered for employment, it is advisable to send a fresh application. It is also worth noting that cruise line employers almost always telephone applicants to offer them an interview (or a job) rather than using other forms of communication. If your phone is frequently unattended, an answering machine (voice-mail) might be a good investment.

If you fancy the Caribbean

Traditionally the preferred destination of beach lovers, rum-drinkers and scuba divers, the West Indies provides the world’s most popular year-round cruising region. Romantics should also enjoy those balmy star-filled Caribbean nights. But all that sun and sand can become boring for crew members on long contracts and crime rates in ports such as Montego Bay (Jamaica) and San Juan (Puerto Rico) are high. Hurricanes and long-term tourist exploitation have also left their scars. There are so many vessels now calling at St. Thomas, for example, that the port of Charlotte Amalie sometimes resembles a cruise ship parking lot.
Many Caribbean cruises sail out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, including a host of three- and four-day ‘cheapies’, which means good news for party animals, casino and bar staff. Specific opportunities may also exist for steel / calypso bands and port lecturers / shopping advisors. British crew members should also note that British passport / C1-D Visa formalities may be dealt with in the Bahamas.
Wherever you go, working on cruise ships really does present an amazing opportunity to see the world while earning good money. All you need to do is apply…

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