Working on a Cruise Ship: Everything You Need To Know

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Have you ever wanted to travel and get paid for it? Ever wanted to work in a place that is upbeat, intense, and fun? Well, working on a cruise ship might just be for you! We have been working on ships for over 5 years, on 7 different ships, and for three different companies.

Working on a cruise ship can be a lot of work, and may not be for everyone, but we're here to help you find out if this is in fact the gig for you. Here is a complete guide to figuring out how to apply, how to prepare yourself, and what to expect by working in the cruise industry.

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Working on a Cruise Ship: Getting Started

The first thing to figure out before applying for working on a cruise ship, is what you actually want to do onboard. Cruise ships are like floating cities, and have many more job opportunities than you could even imagine! Check out our list of all of the different positions you can look into. (Some may not be listed, but this is the majority.)

Roatan cruise ship

Being on cruise ships together allowed us to see the world and travel at the same time!

Positions on Cruise Ships

Positions onboard cruise ships are generally separated by division. There are several divisions on ships, and they can all vary slightly. These are the different areas to work in.


This division not only includes people who clean the cabins, but all different positions in charge of maintaining the cleanliness of the ship. This position requires long hours, and is usually divided in two. For example, there can be a shift from 6 am to 6 pm, and then the other shift from 6 pm to 6 am. These shifts are usually alternated every few weeks. Listed are the different positions in this department.


The tailor is in charge of making all of the adjustments to the crew uniform onboard. They also accept personal items, free of charge, but it is important that the crew tip them, for their extra efforts.


The laundry team works with all of the heavy machinery below deck, to make sure that all of the uniforms, sheets, towels, and dry cleaning are taken care of.  These staff work very hard to clean, fold, press, and iron all items.

Laundry Manager

The Laundry manager is in charge of overseeing all of the laundry operations, and reports directly to the Housekeeping manager.


This part of housekeeping is generally the entry level position, with a lower salary than most. The job here is mostly cleaning open deck areas, and general areas around the ship.

Cabin host/ room steward

This position is the highest paid (under the supervisors) in the housekeeping department. On most ships, there is a basic minimum salary. However, with tips from guests, one can make a substantial amount of money. 

Deck Supervisor

The deck supervisor is in charge of all of the rooms on specific decks of the ship. For example, The deck 8 supervisor, is ultimately responsible for the cleanliness for all of the staterooms on deck 8. S/he needs to manage the cabin hosts on his/her deck, in order to report to his/her supervisor.

Housekeeping Manager

The housekeeping manager has a very big job in the company. One can only work towards this job, by being in the company for a long time and having excellent evaluations. The housekeeping manager is ultimately responsible for the cleanliness of the entire ship. In a lot of circumstances, there is also a Housekeeping supervisor, or an assistant housekeeping manager.

Food & Beverage

Food and beverage is one of the biggest divisions onboard. The salaries vary greatly, and there is a lot of room for growth, although it can take very long. Some of the many positions include:

Galley attendant

The galley attendant is in charge of cleaning all of the dishes and kitchen equipment onboard. This is a tough job, and unfortunately does not pay very high, but is one of the entry level positions, in order to work in the kitchen. 

Prep cook

The culinary team is divided into many categories. The entry level position to work in the kitchen, is to prep foods. It certainly isn't very exciting cutting onions or carrots for an entire contract, but it may be the step you need to work towards your culinary goals.


There are many cooks and chefs onboard. Many are in charge of making large batches of different dishes, and some have more specialized positions, such as pastry chef, or sushi chef. In order to cook onboard, you must have a culinary background, and restaurant experience.

Executive Chef

The highest position in the culinary field is the Executive chef, who is in charge of overseeing all culinary operations, and reports directly to the head of F&B. One is not hired as an executive chef, but works his/ her way up to this position over time.

Room service attendants

Room service attendants are in charge of preparing orders and running them to the rooms from which the food was requested, This is one of the entry level positions, which one can move to the restaurants from.


The host or hostess of the restaurants is in charge of reservations and seating in the venue. Hosts are usually placed in a particular restaurant, although they can also be moved around.

Assistant server

The assistant server is in charge of much of the operations in the dining rooms. They usually are the ones to do most of the tasks when it comes to waiting on a table. This position is given to those who have restaurant experience. They can make tips, but will not receive as much as the head server.

Head Server

The head server is one that isn't hired directly from outside, but comes from a promotion from assistant server through time. This position with tips, can make great money.

Restaurant Manager/ Maître 'D

The restaurant manager is in charge of all dining operations within a particular restaurant, or groups of restaurants. They manage the servers, hosts, and assistant servers, to make sure that all operations are running smoothly.


Have any coffee making experience? This position is for those working in coffee shops onboard, whether it is the crew coffee shop, or a Starbucks/other specialty shop on board.

Specialty Kiosk

Some people are hired to work in specialty food areas, such as a hot dog stand, ice cream shop, bakery, etc. Some other times, they are moved around from positions as the baristas. These jobs are way less stressful, but don't allow for much flexibility.

Bar utility

This is the entry level position for the bar, where you will not make drinks, but just assist bar servers and bartenders, by collecting glassware, stocking the bar, and washing bar utensils.

Bar server

Being a bar server is another position in the bar, a step up from a bar utility, where you will not make drinks, but take orders and deliver drinks.


Bartenders are the ones behind the bar, and usually get hired with either a lot of experience, or get promoted from being bar server.


The position of mixologist requires a lot of experience. This is a position in which one needs to be very familiar with the bar, and able to make various specialty cocktails. If you can do tricks while serving, this is also a big plus.

Wine server

This position requires pretty good knowledge of wine. The server will take orders for just wine, make recommendations, and bring wine to tables in the different restaurants.


These are pretty much the wine gurus. Instead of serving tables, sommeliers are stationed in a bar. In order to get this position you must have extensive wine knowledge, and usually get promoted from a wine server position. There is room to make very good money in this position.

Head bartender

Some companies promote bartenders to be in charge of 1, 2 or even 3 bars at the same time. They will be responsible for scheduling the people in those bars, placing inventory orders, and overseeing the operation in their bars.

Bar Supervisor

This position works as a middle man between the bar manager and the rest of the bar team, since cruise ships have between 12 and 30 bars onboard. They are in charge of overseeing the whole bar operation and report to the bar manager.

Bar Manager

Bar managers are ultimately responsible for all beverage operations onboard. They need to make orders, do inventory, and oversee all of the different beverage operations onboard, reporting to the head of F&B.

F&B Manager

The food and beverage manager is in charge of the entire department. S/he  has a very high salary and a lot of benefits, but a lot of responsibility. The position of F&B director takes a long time to achieve, working years within the same company.

Guest & Crew Services

Guest Services

This is one of the toughest jobs on board. Guest services is there for pretty much any kind of way to take care of complaints, concerns, or issues with anything from the room, the restaurants, or expenses. 

This position is pretty much the middle man, and needs to have knowledge of every single department. It is the equivalent of being the front desk of a hotel, but with a lot more responsibility. This is one of the only operations that is running 24 hours a day.


The Guest Services Manager is one of the most important jobs on the ship. They are responsible for making sure that the guests' concerns are taken care of, and manage the team of guest services.

Guest Departure Officer

The GDO is basically responsible for all embarkation and disembarkation processes onboard. On short cruises, they will work a lot, and on longer cruises, they will have a little bit lighter of a schedule.

Clearance Officer

The clearance officer is there for any communication when it comes to different countries. This position mainly takes care of communicating with the port agent, and needs to make sure that the ship complies with any kind of local regulations.


The concierge makes sure that the guests with "higher priority" are taken care of. They are the third party between VIP guests and the other departments on the ship, making short cuts for the people that are paying a little bit extra. Depending on what type of guests you have, this job can be very exhausting, but can get you great connections.


The butlers are basically a more intense version of the concierge. They only take care of the top of the top, such as the guests in the luxury suites. They are on call 24/7, so don't have a lot of flexibility in their schedule. However, if they do a good job, they have potential to make some really great money in return.

Hotel Admin

The hotel admin is basically the secretary of the Hotel Director. S/he is responsible for all of the paperwork, scheduling, and calls that the HD has.

Group Coordinator

The Group Coordinator is in charge of organizing events for groups who are interested in renting out spaces. Whether it be meetings or parties, the group coordinator makes these events happen, and communicates with the guests all the details.

Language Ambassador

This is the perfect job for someone who can speak many languages! Language ambassadors are usually needed only on ships that travel to many different countries, such as cruises in Europe. They are responsible for making the announcements in multiple languages, helping guests in different languages, and translating documents.


This department takes care of all the numbers. There is a great deal of money going into the cruise industry, and they are responsible for how much crew and guests spend onboard, exchanging money, and taking care of any disputes.

HR/ crew office

Located in the main crew area, is the HR center, to take care of any crew concerns. HR will work to help with documents, room changes, crew cards, and many other things. 

There are usually just a few people working in the office, with the highest position being the HR manager.

Crew experience/ HR specialist

This position goes by many different names, but it is essentially the one in charge of crew activities. There is usually only one person in charge of this on board. They are responsible for creating activities for the crew, and working with the necessary departments to make these events happen.

Learning & Development

This position might also go by different names, depending on the cruise line, but it is essentially the training aspect on board. The team is responsible for making sure to organize weekly trainings for new sign-on crew, creating different trainings, and presenting them, in order to teach crew members about all of the procedures onboard. 

Hotel Director

The hotel director is one of the most important positions on the ship. This position is very highly paid, but comes a lot of responsibility. S/he is ultimately responsible for making sure that all guests are taken care of. They are in charge of housekeeping, F&B, entertainment, guest services, and sometimes more. This is also a position in which takes years to work up to.

Entertainment/ Cruise Division

This division is where all the fun happens. Entertainment plays a huge part in the cruise industry, and although it can be hard work, there are definitely a lot of benefits that come along with it.

The positions within this field have to have a lot of flexibility. Although the work in their particular job description could be low, the hours are usually made up elsewhere.

In these positions (with the exception of the cast), you could be asked to help in several other departments if needed, such as the other positions within your division, or maybe even outside. This could include the embarkation/disembarkation process, helping with wheelchairs, life guarding duties, and many more.

Cruise staff

These are the hosts of the activities around the ship. To be considered for this position, you must have MC experience, a big personality, and be willing to dance and host different types of activities.

Activities Manager/ Assistant Cruise Director

This position is reached from being promoted from the cruise staff position. One is not just hired in this position. The Activities Manager is the co-host to the Cruise director, and is usually in charge of scheduling of hours and activities around the ship.

Cruise director

One of the most famous positions on ships is the cruise director. This individual is the main host of all that is happening entertainment-wise around the vessel.

It takes a lot of work to become a cruise director, and can take a long time to reach this position. With great pay and perks, comes great responsibility. However, it is definitely a fun position, and one to strive for.


Being a DJ onboard  is definitely one of the most fun positions. Hours of work are pretty good, and during port time you are almost always off. The only down side, is that there are only one or two onboard, so its very rare that you can have a night off to enjoy the crew bar.

Youth Staff/Coordinator

Many people think this is a babysitting service. Youth staff are actually in charge of running scheduled programming for all ages, even babies! For this position you must have a college/university degree, and have experience working with children. 

In the Caribbean, or during holidays, is when this position will work the most. When busy, Youth Staff can have extremely long days, but when you are in “low counts” (not a lot of children onboard), the schedule can relax for a bit. As far as emergency duties, the Youth Staff hold one of the most important positions.

This position can be one of the most fun, and one of the most challenging, as you not only have to entertain children, but be involved with the parents as well. Just like teachers, this position happens to be one that is slightly underpaid.

Sports/Recreation Staff

This position is one of the most fun, but can be extremely tiring, as you can spend long hours in the sun. You can either be assigned to host sports tournaments, or work activities such as the rock wall, bumper cars, or the Flow Rider.

The working hours of this position rely majorly on the weather outside. If it is sunny, you can be sure that there will be a long day ahead. If it is rainy, this is one of the best positions to be in.


Being a cast member has a lot of benefits. Salaries are all very good, but also can be extremely higher if you are in a prestigious position. There are usually different casts for different shows, or some times casts are assigned to multiple shows.

With all of the shows, there are kind of “hierarchies”. For example, the captain will have the most responsibility and have perks that other cast members don’t have.

There is also what is known as “girl 1” and “girl 2”. Girl 1 would have more show time, a higher pay, and maybe a nicer room onboard. There are some casts with singers and dancers, and some which the cast members are required to do both.

Specialty shows including aerialists, divers, and ice skaters, usually receive a higher pay, but have less ships to be placed on, as the shows are usually available only on larger ships.

Stage Staff

This position is where all of the back stage fun comes into play. In this team there are also specialty positions such as lounge techs, light techs, and sound techs. For all of these, one must have a great deal of experience, and preferably a degree in the field.


The broadcast team are in charge of shows and events around the ship, creating videos, and are responsible for the different TV channels onboard. On cruise ships there are specific channels just for guests and crew, and this team not only records this material, but edits, and sets it up for viewing.


This department consists of 3 positions: security guards, security supervisors, and chief security. These positions have a lot of responsibility and long hours. The busiest times for this team are during port days, as they are in charge of manning the gangway. 

Assisting lock outs, accounting for all passengers & crew, and attending to any kind of threats to the ship or anyone around, are the main duties of the security onboard. In order to work in this position, you need to have a great deal of background in the field.

Deck & Engine


Working in the incinerator is by no means a luxurious job, but some one has to do it. The incinerator is where all of the trash and recyclables need to be compacted, and separated accordingly. When it comes to ships, the recycling program is like no other, as far as separating all different colored glass!


This department is responsible for maintaining all different areas of the entire ship. Whether it is fixing something or repainting, these guys are always busy. The salaries are very basic, but can grow with time.


The furniture and equipment onboard always needs maintaining, and it is the carpenters responsibility to make sure that anything ripped or broken in this manner, is fixed, or replaced.


Plumbers are not just there to fix your clogged toilet. When one toilet clogs, it can shut down an entire area of plumbing, so the job of the plumber is very important. They are responsible for any kind of fixtures with water, such as toilets, showers, and any drains.


The electricians are in charge of taking care of the electricity onboard, and repairing any kind of issues electronically, whether it be lighting, doorbells, or magnetized doors. 


This position is not on all ships, but it is essentially taking care of all of the plants onboard, whether it is trimming plants, or watering.


Some ships have this as a position on its own, and some have people from certain teams assigned to firefighting duties in case of an emergency. Firefighting experience is necessary, as well as the STCW for basic firefighting (which all crew members need to have).

Life Guards

Weirdly enough, this position usually falls into this department, although its very different than others. Many ships might put life guards in different departments however.

The life guards don't have it quite as easy as they do on land unfortunately. With several different pool areas, the guards are in charge of working usually 10 hours watching different pools, for a pretty low salary. The work is pretty easy, but also very monotonous. 

However, if you move up to the lifeguard manager one day, your life will be much better, consisting more of overseeing and scheduling, with a much higher pay. Not all companies have life guards. Some actually just assign the duty to other departments. In time, we are sure that this will change though.


This position is no joke! One of the most intense and hard working areas to work in. Being an engineer is a job that is only for those who are extremely experienced in the field. Due to this, salaries are very high, and contracts are very short (with good reason).

The rankings for this start with third engineer, to second engineer, first engineer, and chief engineer. The chief engineer is one that is earned after a very long time. Salaries are extremely high, but so is the responsibility.


This division covers any kind of position that brings in serious revenue to the company. There are various departments that this covers. Some of the positions are hired directly by the company, and others from companies that work with cruise lines.

If you work for a company that is partnering with cruise lines, you have the opportunity to work for all different companies. On one hand, this is good because you have so many different opportunities, but on the other hand can have a down side, that you may not run into old friends as often.

There are many different areas that revenue covers, and most of them are ones that need to be applied to through its connecting company.


The shops onboard are where a lot of revenue is made. The base salary is very low, so in order to make good money, you must be able to really sell!

Shop attendants can be rotated in several shops, or they can become "specialists". Working with watches and jewelry are where the highest commissions are earned.

The shops can not be opened while in port, meaning that people that work in the shops are almost always off in the ports! Money may not be very stable, but you will definitely be able to enjoy the ports of call.


Just like the shops, the casino also must be closed when ships are docked, meaning port days are the best schedule-wise. The only down side to the casino, is that you pretty much always work til late, not leaving much room for enjoying at night if you are a party person.

A Dealer is the entry level position, and there are also slot attendants, and Casino Manager being the highest position.


The spa can be a difficult place to work. There are long hours, and the pay can vary greatly. They are pushed to sell a lot, and if they don’t make target, they won’t get paid very much. The positions available are:

  • Massage therapist
  • Hair dresser
  • Nail Tech
  • Facialist 

This is one of the best positions in the Spa. You can make serious money doing acupuncture, and you must be certified, of course.


The Medi-spa doctor is in charge of mostly Botox, fillers, and other types of age defying techniques. They must be certified and extremely experienced. These doctors also have great opportunities to make some serious money onboard.

Personal Trainer

The gym is under the same umbrella as the spa. There are usually between 1-3 trainers on a ship, and they have very long hours. They not only help maintain the fitness facilities, but are in charge of giving seminars and hosting a variety of classes.

Shore Excursions

This is one of the most fun positions onboard. You must sell excursions, organize them, and also go on them (which is the best part). Hours can be very long on sea days, and a nightmare when a port is missed.

However, when you need to go on and check out excursions and work with tour operators, you have great experiences, and also make awesome connections.

This position is mostly salary based, but can come with a bit of a bonus commission, which is always nice! The positions are shore excursion staff, Assistant shore excursion manager, and Shore excursion manager.

Cruise Next

This is one of the best paid positions onboard, as it is largely commission based. The main goal of someone working in “cruise next” or “next cruise”, is to sell future cruises. They are also in charge of the loyalty member points, for frequent cruisers.

This position usually is one that is very sought after, and not one that is given to a new hire. Many times, one needs to cross-train from this position, while working in another one. There are associates, a manager, and in some cases, an assistant manager.

Art gallery

One of the places where you can also make a lot of money onboard is in the art gallery. The most popular company to apply for is called Park West, and if hired they will do all training before you get onboard.

In the Art gallery the entry level position is an associate, followed with the Auctioneer, and the Gallery Director. The gallery director sometimes makes even as much as the captain!


The photographers onboard are in charge of doing most of their work by taking photos in front of green screens, or outside the ship in the ports. A lot of their pay comes from selling photos, frames, cameras, and accessories.

On port days the photography team has an early start, with some time off in the ports, and works with the green screens or the gallery in the evenings.

One starts as a photographer, and then there are assistant photography managers, and finally the photography manager.

Port shopping

This position is for just one, maybe two people onboard at a time. Port shopping is in charge of getting guests to shop at certain shops inside of the port areas. The majority of their time working is when docked.

The downside to this, is that they hardly have any time to enjoy the ports. On a positive note, time as sea is pretty relaxed, they have a lot of privileges, and the money can be extremely good.

Marine/ Bridge Officers

The highest paid, with the most responsibility onboard, is without a doubt the ones that work on the bridge. These positions are ones that need special degrees from Marine Universities, and they are taken very seriously.

1st & 2nd officers

Officers are the people that are usually the ones actually "navigating the ship". The second officers are the more "entry level" position, and then they are promoted eventually to first officer.

Chief Safety

This is one of the most important positions onboard. Safety is responsible for making sure that the entire ship is safe, and that all crew members are well prepared in any case of emergency.

Environmental Officer

The environmental officer is responsible for making sure that the ship is meeting all standards for being environmentally friendly. Training crew, enforcing procedures, and managing waste and water supply onboard are some of the most important duties. 

Staff Captain

Did you know there are two captains onboard? However, the Staff captain does not navigate the ship, but is in charge of most of the operations onboard. S/he is also responsible for making sure that crew members are doing their duties and behaving responsibly.

Captain/ Master

The captain is not only in charge of "driving the ship", but has many responsibilities. As "master" they are the final say when it comes to anything onboard. They are the ones who make all major decisions, and in case of any emergency, they are the last one to ever leave the ship.

With such responsibility, it is no wonder that they have a luxury suite, extremely high salary, and such short contracts.

Sailor Services, working on a cruise ship

My last job working on ships was as Sailor Services on Virgin Voyages.

Working on a Cruise Ship: Companies to Work For

There are so many companies that you can apply for when it comes to working a cruise ship, including private charter cruise companies. If you are new to the industry, your best bet is trying for the larger, more family oriented cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Virgin, or Disney.

Some other popular lines include Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, Oceania, and Viking. These lines are a bit pricier, so have an older, and wealthier crowd compared to the family oriented cruise. They also have better itineraries (overall), but aren't as easy to get jobs on for the first contract.

Luxury cruises, by far, have the best itineraries, but have much more demanding customers. Cruise lines such as Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, and Seabourn require a great deal of experience, usually in 5 star hotels and restaurants.

Cruise Chicago
Miami cruise
cruise to Cozumel Mexico

There are plenty of different sizes of cruise ships and itineraries.

Contracts Working on a Cruise Ship

So many people ask, "how long are you on this ship?" and, "where will you go after this cruise ends?". Its quite funny to hear this as crew members, but it's a very frequent question actually.

The way it works on ships, is that you will work by contract. This means that you will be working on a cruise ship for a few months, for 7 days a week. After your contract finishes, you will go on vacation, and be automatically offered your next contract, which very likely will be a new ship, hopefully going to new destinations.

Contract and vacation lengths depend completely on position. For example, an engineer will work for 10 weeks, and then have a 10 week vacation, while someone in housekeeping might work 9 months, but have a 3 month vacation between contracts.

Generally speaking, the most stressful jobs working on a cruise ship have the shortest contracts, and the more entry-level jobs tend to have longer contracts. 

crew working on a cruise ship

Working on a cruise ship for months on end will give you life long friends, and you'll be like family.

Working on a Cruise Ship: The Application Process

Many people ask us- "can you get us a job working on a cruise ship?" Unfortunately, in the cruise industry, it doesn’t really work the same as in the business world on land. There are a few ways that you can start your journey to get interviewed to start working on a cruise ship.

How to Work On a Cruise Ship Option #1: Attend a Job Fair

This is one of the best ways, in our opinion, to jump into the cruise industry. There are many kiosks with all different companies. They are all available to take your resume, and explain what they are hiring for. It is also always best to interact with hiring partners in person!

These fairs can be far and few between, but you can research to see when there are any cruise job fairs online. We attended one in London in May 2019, and that is how we both got hired for the Virgin Voyages start up team.

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How to Work On a Cruise Ship Option #2: Apply Directly Online

Almost every company will have a career section on their website, where you can see which positions they are hiring for.

This is an easy, and fast way to get your resume out there to start working on a cruise ship. LinkedIn is also a good site, that will show all different companies, and what they are hiring for as well.

How to Work On a Cruise Ship Option #3: Use a Recruiter

Using a recruiter is very helpful for people who are new to the industry, and want to get their foot in the door. Big recruiters usually work hand in hand with the most well known companies, like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival. 

Recruiters are available all over the internet, and they are a sure-fire way to get you working on a cruise ship faster than just applying online. Another good thing, is that they will help you the whole way, to get you ready during the hiring process. 

Note: Be aware of recruiters for one reason. They can be quite manipulative. If you want to apply for a certain position working on a cruise ship, and they need to hire for another, they might make you believe that you need to go with their direction. Don’t let them take advantage of you, because it definitely happens (and it did to me!).

working on a cruise ship

Working on a Cruise Ship: The Hiring Process

The hiring process for working on a cruise ship can be very different than other jobs. On land, you can expect to apply for a job, get an interview, and start right away. In the cruise industry, it can take as long as 6 months to a maybe even a year to get put onboard!

If you are applying for working on a cruise ship, keep your job until you actually have a sign on date. Things can change throughout time, and no matter how eager you are to join, they may not have a spot for you yet.

The first step is getting that first interview. This is usually a Skype call from someone from the headquarters. Once you have passed the initial interview, you will be invited to a second interview with someone else. This is usually just a regular phone call (although it is not always the same everywhere).

After passing the first two interviews, you may be put into the pre-hiring process, or you might have another interview. Once you are put into the pre-hiring process, it is time to start with your documents.


The PEME is extremely important. On land, every one is given equal opportunities, but overseas this is not the case unfortunately.

In order to start working on a cruise ship, one must be in a very good state of health, physically and mentally. In case of an emergency, one must be able to act accordingly, and for this reason, there are extensive exams to pass, before getting the green light.

Because cruise ships are international, there is usually a list of pre-approved clinics all over the world. If you are close enough to one of these places, it is a huge benefit, as it will make the process go a whole lot smoother.

A normal physical, drug test, dental exam, chest x-ray, and blood tests, are in all of the pre-employment medical exams, and many even go further for specific drug exams, or stool tests. It is very important to make sure that you are in your best shape before doing these exams by staying away from alcohol, and drinking lots of water.

The medical portion can take a week, or even a few, depending on where you complete the exams, if there are any holidays, etc. It also may take even a few weeks to get an appointment at a certain location, so please keep this in mind as well. No matter what though, you always want to keep your employer up to date on this process.

The medical process is by no means a cheap one. Some companies will pay upfront for all medical charges, some will make you pay out of pocket, and pay you back when you are onboard, and some will expect you to absorb all expenses. It’s very important to be aware of this, as the exams can cost anywhere from $300-$1000!

Background Check

Background checks are essential for every employee that is going to be working on a cruise ship, to ensure that everyone hired is free from any criminal activity.

Most cruise lines will allow you to go to your local police department and request a document saying that you have a clean record, while some may make you do it through a verified website. This should take no longer than a couple of days to obtain.

After you have been cleared criminally and medically, you will need to take care of all of the documents. Depending on your nationality, will depend on what you need. For example, anyone who is not from the US (for the ships sailing from the US) will need a C1D visa.

Many Asian countries are also required to have special documentation, and some cruise lines will require crew members to obtain a seaman's book.


In order to to start working on cruise ships, there are many courses that need to be taken.

  • Safety and security STCW
  • Basic firefighting STCW
  • Crowd control STCW

Every crew member will need these certificates in order to start working onboard, but where it is done, can depend on the company, country, or position. Some crew members are expected to do the courses before boarding, in which the company will send them to a training course for about a week, maybe even two.


If the city in which the training is being done isn't near your home city, the company will probably fly you there to take the course.

STCW course, working on a cruise ship

In order to work on a cruise you need to get a certain certifications like fire fighting.

If you are not required to get your certificates before, then you will have approximately two weeks upon joining onboard. You will then complete all of the trainings, and you will receive the certificates onboard from the safety or training office.

After having all documents, you will finally be given your job offer. They will give you a start date and ship from which you will be assigned to, and then you will need to sign your contract, and send it back to them.

The original medical exam, STCWs, and a copy of the signed contract, will all need to be taken with you in order to join the ship. So make sure you keep everything organized, and carry them with you, not in your checked luggage!

Working on a Cruise Ship: Getting Ready to Join

Packing for a ship is not an easy task! Many people under pack, and many over pack. Here are some things to keep in mind what to pack when working on a cruise ship.

What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Documents

The most important thing to not forget is your documents! Your passportseaman's bookSTCW certificates, and medical are all a must to join, and the most important things to pack when working on a cruise ship.

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What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Toiletries

When you start working on a cruise ship, it is like moving into a new home! You will need to bring any and everything from toothpaste to hand soap. There is a shop onboard in case of emergency, but we suggest bringing what you have, as days off of the ship are better spent enjoying the port, and not spending them buying everyday essentials.

What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Clothes

Here is a list of the clothes that you'll want to have packed for your contract working a cruise ship.


When it comes to uniforms, some companies provide your uniform, and some may require you to bring your own. Inquire with your hiring partner beforehand, so that you are aware of what you need to go out and buy, and what you can skip.

uniforms working on a cruise ship

Danni's uniform was obtained on the ship while Fede had to bring most of his uniform from home.

Party Clothes

Many ships have a formal night, and if you want to go out in guest areas, you must dress accordingly. We highly suggest buying at least one formal gown if you are a girl, or formal suit if you are a man. A pair of heels for girls, and nice shoes for guys is essential.

When it comes to clothes you will wear at the crew bar, keep in mind that many of the crew parties are themed ones. When packing for a contract, we always try to pack some funky leggings, tutus, or colorful clothing for possible future parties.

Some popular themes onboard are neon, jungle, formal, and 80’s. White night is also a popular theme for guests, so it’s always good to have something white. There are plenty of opportunities to buy costume material in the ports, but its always nice to have some articles as back up.


theme party, working on a cruise
Formal night Cruise Ship
party, working on a cruise ship

There are a ton of different themed parties onboard that you'll want to be prepared for.


As far as shoes, most ships do not allow open toed shoes, so make sure you bring some shoes to wear in crew areas. Sneakers are a must to bring as well if you plan on going to the gym. Flip flops are also good to have though when going out in ports, as many ships go to beach locations.

Two more things to keep in mind, are where the ship is traveling, and if there are any holidays that will happen during your contract. For example, if the ship is going to the Baltics, make sure you bring a jacket and layers with you. If you will be onboard during Christmas, maybe throw in some green and red to be festive during that time.

how to pack for working on a cruise ship

Most ships only allow close toed shoes, so make sure to pack some.

What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Electronics

When it comes to electronics, the outlets are American and European. Check the ports you are going to as well, and get adapters accordingly. Also get travel adapters that convert the energy, as the voltage on the ship may be different than what your electronics can handle. We also suggest bringing a power bank for when you go out in ports.

Hair dryers are only for guests, so make sure to bring your own. Power surges are also a good idea to bring (as long as the ship allows them).

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What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Medication

When it comes to medication, everything that you take must be recorded in the medical file. Vitamins are okay, but if you have any prescribed medicine, make sure that you are getting enough from your doctor before leaving, as you won't be able to fill it when you are onboard.

What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Room Décor

You’re going to be working on a cruise ship for months, so treat it like home. Bring photos of family and friends or fun things to decorate. The walls are all magnetized, so we always bring tons of magnets! A white board, bottle opener, and wine key, are also some of our other favorites to bring from ship to ship.

Birthday Cruise Ship
Cruise ship crew room

You'll be there for a while, so make sure to make your room like home.

What to Pack When Working on a Cruise Ship: Other Things to Bring

Instant coffee and hot sauce are something that we always carry around with us. Although they have them available onboard, we prefer our own, so it’s always something we bring. A reusable water bottle is also a must!

Towels are provided, so are not necessary to bring one onboard. However, we highly suggest sunscreen and aloe, as they are a must in most of the hot cruise destinations. An umbrella may not be something you would think to bring, but if you go out in the port and it rains, you will definitely be thankful.

Finally, you'll definitely want to capture your memories! I highly recommend getting an action camera and an underwater phone case. Being that it's a cruise, a lot of your destinations will have activities in the water, so these will come in handy more times than you think! I personally use the Insta 360 camera, as well as the Cafago Phone Pouch which I highly recommend.

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Forbidden Items

There are several things that are forbidden on ships, so make sure you don’t run the risk of getting them taken away, or getting in trouble. Alcohol, drones, and anything that could be flammable, are not allowed onboard. Same thing goes for guns, knives, and any other weapons.

Candles are strictly prohibited, as no open flames are allowed inside the cruise ship, as well as food. If you would like to bring any kind of food onboard, make sure it isn’t something cooked.

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Working on a Cruise Ship: What to Expect

When you first step onboard working on a cruise ship, there are a lot of things that will definitely leave you shocked. Here are some things to be prepared for.

Be ready to start working on day 1.

It’s all a bit of a whirlwind. You step on board and all you want to do is unpack and relax. You are actually there taking someone else’s spot who just left, and the operation must run!

Be ready to dive right in, and you’ll be hands on training and working from day 1. Sure it will be a little overwhelming, but who doesn't like a good challenge?

spa working on a cruise ship
balcon, working on a cruise
spa on virgin voyages, working on a cruise ship

The first couple weeks won't be quite as relaxing as this.

Don’t be surprised by the size of your room

When you first walk in your room, it will definitely be a shock to the system. Rooms are much smaller than you are probably used to, and there are no windows. Good chance is you will also have a roommate, and be sharing a bunk bed.

The good news is, its' something you actually get used to after time, and it makes you really appreciate your space when you go back home.

As well, this pushes you to spend time outside of your room! Which in our opinion, is time better spent. Decorate your room to make it feel like home, and try to become close with your roommate, and it will be all the better. As for visitors, you just need to create a system with your roomie ;).

single room cruise ship

Rooms are small on cruise ships, but you won't spend too much time there.

The first two weeks are a lot of work

When you first start working on a cruise ship, you are bombarded with safety trainings, learning a new job, and trying to find your way around the ship.

The first two weeks are completely overwhelming, and may make you feel like “what the hell did I get myself into?”. This feeling is completely normal, but don’t worry, it gets much better!

There are cultural differences

Cruise ships are wonderful because they are the only place where you will find 60-70 different nationalities working all together. This can be challenging on one hand, as there is such a mix of personalities, values, and customs. Keep an open mind, and embrace these differences!

road to Zabljak Montenegro

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Expect to sleep less

Everyone loves sleep, but sleep no longer becomes a priority with the craziness that goes on onboard working on a cruise ship.

Here is where the “work hard, play hard” motto really comes into play. Work all day, party all night, and survive off of a nap on the beach. Besides, you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on those Z's when you’re on your well deserved vacation.

working on a cruise ship
working on a cruise ship
working on a cruise ship

Ship life is intense, but it is a ton of fun.

Working 7 days a week

Working 7 days a week? For 5-9 months?! That sounds crazy right? Well look at this way- You work every day, but instead of having a weekend off at home, you are snorkeling in Mexico, partying on the beach in Mykonos, or going hiking in Norway. Those 8 hours in one day will be a hell of a lot better than an average weekend at home right?

On top of that, you will have a vacation in which you have the opportunity not to just vacation, but to travel. Whether its 6 weeks or 3 months, you will really have the time to make the most of your time off of work, and you can 100% disconnect from work the entire time!

Bahamas, working on a cruise ship

You'll work every day, but you'll have time off in epic places.

Relationships are intense

Relationships on ships are special, and like no other. Unless you are working on a cruise ship, you will never understand. Whether its romantic or a friendship, every relationship onboard is escalated, and very quickly. Know each other for two weeks? Best friends. Started hooking up a month ago? The wedding bells are ringing. Sounds crazy right?! 

Cherish these beautiful relationships, because you will make lifelong friends, and around the whole world! This gives you the opportunity to also travel to new places on vacation, and to learn about different cultures.

Richards rooftop, working on a cruise ship
St Maarten, working on a cruise ship
working on a cruise ship

You'll create beautiful friendships with people from around the world.

As far as romantic relationships go, there is a sad reality. Many crew members live double lives, and may even have a family back home. Be careful with getting your heart broken! Also, know how to play your cards.

This isn’t a place where you can fool around with multiple people, as everyone finds out everything! That being said, do have fun, and yes, in rare circumstances like ours, true love can happen working on a cruise ship.

true love working on a cruise ship

Although it's not common, you can find true love on a cruise ship!

The downside, is that friends come and go, and you never know when you’ll see them again. Goodbyes are never easy, and its something you have to get used to.

However, if you stay in the company, each contract you will end up running into old friends, find mutual friends with other people, and maybe even get the chance to meet in ports if your new ships are docked together.

Another thing to note, is that every week there are people signing on and off the ship. This is awesome because you will meet so many people and each week you can have new opportunities at friendships.

docking together, working on a cruise ship

In following contracts you may be able to dock with friends from previous ones.

Wifi is limited

Wifi is extremely expensive onboard ships, and is something you should try not to pay for unless extremely necessary. Passengers and crew have very different offers, as guests pay per day, while crew members pay per minute or by MB.

The average is $4-5/hour. However, there are various packages you can purchase. One thing that helped us save on WiFi immensely, was switching to T-Mobile. For just $40/ month, having a SIM card that has unlimited data worldwide is a huge game changer.

Many crew members will spend all of their time off in ports to find a place with WiFi. Yes, it is important to talk to your family and friends, but we urge you to enjoy your time in port, because one the reasons you want this job is to travel right?

wifi working on a cruise ship

You won't have service when at sea.

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Food is not the same as it is for guests

Food is in fact included! This is one less expense than if you were home. Food onboard varies greatly. We’ve been on ships with great food, and some others where we just dreamed of what good food tasted like. 

On every ship there is a crew mess, with cafeteria style food. The food options vary, but tend to have a very heavy influence from Asia, as the majority of crew members are from these countries. To spice things up (literally) we always carry different spices and sauces with us. This makes the same food over and over a little more bearable.

There are also the guest restaurants. Some are included, and some are for an extra charge, where crew members usually get a discount. On nights off, go explore and enjoy the different restaurants! Sure you may be spending money, but it’s nice to treat yourself every now and then.

chops, working on cruise ships

When we first started dating we would go to the specialty restaurants on dates.

There are also a lot of events where there are specialty items made just for crew, such as crepes, ice cream sundaes, home made pizzas. or nights that there are special events such as wine & cheese, or beer & wings.

Wine & Cheese Cruise Ships

There are some great events onboard like wine & cheese nights or beer & wings for crew,

You'll still be able to take care of your fitness and beauty

When I first saw people working on a cruise ship I was wondering- "how do they go to the gym?" or how do they get toiletries?". Well there is an entire world for crew from a gym and barber shop, to a market and bars. If you are able to use guest areas you'll also be able to access the guest gym and track to stay in shape.

When it comes to hair and nails, you can certainly get them done onboard, but it is much more expensive. I usually went in the home port, as I became more familiar with the area and we would dock every week in the same place.


gym working on a cruise
track on cruise ships

Cruise ships have gyms, tracks, and salons to keep you feeling your best.

You may have some fun surprises with your contract

There are times where ships transition from one season to the next. This means that for example, a ship may be in the Caribbean in the winter, but may move to Europe or Alaska for the summer.

Apart from regular cruises, there are also charter cruises that you may be lucky enough to experience. This is when an organization rents out the entire ship, which could mean that there might be fun events around the ship!

Atlantis cruise, working on a cruise ship

I was lucky to be able to experience an Atlantis Cruise.

Our absolute favorite is when the ship goes into dry dock. Every few years ships need to have routine maintenance, so they dock somewhere for a couple weeks or could even be a month or two!

Having no guests onboard, working on a cruise ship during dry dock is very unique. You have a very different work environment, being able to experience things that you wouldn't normally get to on a regular cruise, such as going out at night, or ditching the name tag!

Dry dock, working on a cruise ship
Dry dock, working on a cruise ship
Dry dock, working on a cruise ship

Dry dock is super fun because the ship docks without guests for a period of time.

Holidays won't be the same

When signing a contract to start working on a cruise ship, you need to come to terms with the fact that there will be things you miss out on. You may spend your birthday onboard, miss Christmas with your family, or have a different type of New Years celebration.

NYE, working on a cruise ship

You may be celebrating your holidays onboard.

While this may sound upsetting, the holidays are really a special time on ships, and something that you will always remember! You might be working, but you will have the opportunity to celebrate with all of your new ship family!

Christmas onboard a cruise ship
Christmas onboard a cruise ship
Christmas onboard a cruise ship

Christmas is super special onboard cruise ships.

Working on a Cruise Ship: Managing Your Money

While working on a cruise ship, you have a big opportunity to save money. Sending money to your home bank account is something that is very important, but we don't want you to lose money in the process. Here is the smartest way to make the most of your money.

Many of the cruise accounts will have a prepaid card, which can be used internationally. There are usually smaller charges to withdraw money from international ATMs, so for traveling to different ports, it's good to keep some money in there.

A big perk, which you should take full advantage of, is being to allocate your funds from your ship card to your personal bank account.  We suggest setting a certain amount that you want sent home, as this will not only help you save, but have the money directly deposited, avoiding those horrible conversion fees.

sunset, working on a cruise ship

Tips for Working on a Cruise Ship

  • Interact with as many people as you can from different departments.
  • Try not to have hard feelings, when something goes wrong. There are people from all different cultures, and it's only normal to have misunderstandings.
  • Go out in ports as much as you can. You may feel tired or lazy, but these are the times to make the most of any free time you have, no matter how many times you visit the same port.
  • Work hard, play hard! You may be tired at the end of the day, but try to socialize and attend as many events as you can, to make the most of your experience working on a cruise ship.
  • Save your money! It’s easy to save, but also easy to blow money. Keep a certain percentage to send back home, so that when you go on vacation, you can actually enjoy it!

Remember, no matter what anyone tells you, you are NOT just there to work. You are there to build a life, travel, make friends, and have beautiful experiences to look back on. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for enjoying your time, because you deserve it!

working on a cruise ship

Working on a cruise ship is definitely not for everybody. Hours are long, and you are far from home. But in return, you will build strong relationships, save money, and be able to travel all over the world. We hope that this has helped you decide whether or not this is for you, or have helped in providing as much information as possible. Happy cruising!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Todd at Visit50

    Fascinating! That was comprehensive, and makes me regret not doing it!

    It looks like a college dorm with every week, a new freshman class enters

    Also innovative that the walls are magnatized!

    1. Fede & Danni

      Hi there! Thank you, we’re glad that you liked it. If there’s something we can add is that it’s never too late! There’s people of all ages, so you can still consider trying the experience for yourself. Good luck.

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