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Dining room staff on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)
Dining room staff on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship

Dining room staff on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)
Dining room staff on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)
Sally Hammond
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Aug 1, 2023

Read time
6 min read

Getting a job on a cruise ship may not be as out of your reach as you might think. Captain Kate McCue of Celebrity Cruises became the first U.S. female captain of a mega ship after cruising as a youngster. She decided maritime life was for her and planned her education and training accordingly. Christopher Prelog started as a waiter on a Seabourn cruise ship. Today he’s the president of Windstar Cruises.

The good news is there are a lot of jobs available in the cruise industry, at all levels, including career positions like those of McCue and Prelog, as well as temporary jobs that might present a perfect opportunity for you to see a bit of the world while adding a unique twist to your resume. Cruise Critic went in search of the details to help you explore your options.

What Cruise Ship Jobs Are Available?

Royal Caribbean International Crew on Harmony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International Crew on Harmony of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Consider the cruise ship jobs you know about based on what you have seen on a cruise ship. The obvious ones are ship’s officers, housekeeping staff, waitstaff, deckhands and entertainers. There may be dozens of jobs you haven’t noticed. Think cosmetologists, photographers, expedition leaders, medical staff, booking agents and personal trainers.

The first step for getting a job on a cruise ship is to make a checklist of your skills and experience. Cruise ships are virtually floating hotels and therefore draw heavily from the hospitality sector. If you have a talent or have worked in restaurants, bars or hotels, this is one main way to be considered for hiring.

And don’t forget the possibility of a cruise ship job close to home. Cruise lines that operate within U.S. waters must hire American citizens or permanent residents, so ships like NCL Pride of America that cruises year-round in Hawaii or the river and coastal ships of American Cruise Lines all operate with U.S. crews in order to avoid the need to visit foreign ports as required by the Passenger Vessel Services Act.

Consider Checking Directly With Cruise Lines for Jobs

We found direct links for jobs on most of the mainstream cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL, Princess Cruises and Holland America. Jobs within the U.S. on Viking Mississippi are also posted directly with the cruise line. Cruise ship jobs are also posted on online job sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn. That’s where we found postings for Virgin Voyages and luxury line Silversea, among others.

Jobs posting on these cruise lines ranged from audio technicians and slot machine technicians on Virgin Voyages to a kayak guide on Silversea Expeditions. By starting directly with the cruise line’s website, you may get a feel for pay scales and benefits that can help you narrow your focus before you turn to agencies.

Find Cruise Ship Jobs Through Agencies and Contractors

Cruise lines also recruit through agencies, so you may need to apply to the agency for first screening and interviews. This is particularly true for entertainers. If you are a dancer or singer, be sure to have your CV up to date and perhaps a video of your work.

Once accepted by the agent, you will begin to receive alerts about cruise ship vacancies. These jobs may be as short as a week, or several months long. They will be the intermediaries between the cruise line and yourself, and all queries, changes and negotiations will need to go through them.

Entertainers are in great demand, so if you professionally dance, play an instrument, perform magic or stand-up comedy, you should speak to your agent or manager about working on a cruise. A ship's onboard entertainers are usually on long contracts and employed by the cruise line.

If the idea of spending such long periods at sea is not what you want, there are still other opportunities to go aboard and "work your passage." Short-term positions include rabbis and priests, especially during religious holiday seasons such as Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah and Passover.

Spa, salon and fitness center jobs are usually filled directly with the contractor that manages those facilities onboard. One Spa World is the contractor for more than three dozen cruise lines, including Seabourn, Oceania and Azamara.

How About a Cruise Ship Job As a Lecturer or Expert?

Lecturers on cruise ships
Lecturers on cruise ships (Photo: Matej Kastelic/ Shutterstock)

Another type of cruise ship job is for those who have specialized knowledge to impart. Most cruise lines need guest lecturers to speak on "sea days" about the upcoming ports or another topic associated with the cruise. Speakers need to be experts and may be university lecturers, teachers or travel writers.

A subset of lecturing includes teaching leisure activities such as bridge, ballroom dancing, painting with watercolors, patchwork or scrapbooking. Some cruise lines even recruit staff members to partner up with the single cruisers on the dance floor.

Short-term appointees are not usually regarded as crew, although you may be assigned to a crew cabin. This varies between lines. Check the cruise lines themselves and the agencies for expert jobs.

How Much Do Cruise Ship Jobs Pay?

The pay for cruise ship jobs varies widely from housekeeping jobs that are low by western standards to top-level management positions with pay comparable to other industries. Food and board are included in the contracted price for each position.

We once met a cruise ship piano player who worked onboard Holland America ships entertaining in various ships’ piano bars for six years, during which time he saved enough money not to need to work for several years upon his return. He reported that tips made up a huge part of his earnings.

Some short-term jobs, like lecturers, may be contracted for only the free cruise itself, with no added pay.

The Pros and Cons of Having a Cruise Ship Job

Ocean view from a cruise ship deck on a bright day with blue skies and clouds in the Pacific ocean
Ocean view from a cruise ship deck (Photo: Danevski/ Shutterstock)

Most shipboard contracts are for several months, which means you have some job security, but you might need to lock up your house and leave your friends and family for six or seven months, with a two-month at-home break. This varies widely between roles, but the rule of thumb is that the more senior a placement, the fewer months worked before a break.

There is also some degree of control over your life. Depending on your job, you may be free to go ashore to enjoy ports or join a shore excursion without paying the normal fee. In some cases, there may be crew discounts on shopping, drinks or internet charges.

On many cruise lines, crew members take on multiple jobs. Entertainers may have to help with passenger drills. Double duty is even more likely on a small ship. Sommeliers and onboard booking agents may double as excursion hosts, while bartenders may also be asked to serve lunch in alternative dining venues.

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