how to start working on a cruise ship
When I came back home to Latvia after living in the Netherlands (read the first part of my story here) my mom started pressuring me that I need to go to university. I didn’t want to study, as I got an amazing job at 19 years old and thought that life will always gonna be like that. I thought I would never go to uni unless I decide I want to study something specific…or unless it is in a warm country.
I found out that Maltese education is not bad at all and I also saw that they have a swimming pool in university…BAM SOLD! I applied to study Economics, just to please my parents, to pretend that I am ready to be responsible but in reality I just wanted to spend days on the beach and in university pool. My grades at school were never great so it was not a surprise to anyone that I did not get accepted…I was upset but forgot about it soon, but my mom did not and she pushed me to apply to study Marketing in the same school my bf went in the Netherlands just to be on the safe side. I got accepted… but 3 more years there again, studying something I never heard about? NO WAY!
I found a better plan for me, working on a cruise ship! Traveling and getting paid for that? Sounds like me! I got inspired after finding an article online called something like: "Best jobs of the world", one of them was job: "Penguin Flipper", people have to flip penguins when they fall down as it is hard for them to get up! That was a little too much for me, so I decided to get a job on a cruise ship as a kids entertainer instead.
The process was easy, I collected all my recommendation letters plus asked my teachers to write me more, fixed my CV, applied online, passed skype interview, they sorted out visas and medical insurances for me and just before I knew anything I was saying bye to everything to sail to ALASKA!!!!
I had no idea what I signed myself up for! Absolutely alone, no friends and no wifi to even connect with family. I realized I spoke very bad English to become good friends with anyone, as everyone was either American, Canadian or British and I was just too slow to be on the same level with them. I started going crazy from loneliness, I wasn't doing my job right, I was scared to talk to kids, as they were laughing at my Russain accent and also I had some problems with my eyes, because of the dry air on the ship, plus my brother decided to get married and I was devastated that I cannot be there for them.
I wanted to go home, I cried every night, it was a torture for me. I couldn't go home because ship policy states that if you want to go before your contract ends you have to pay for your own tickets and we were just too far for me to afford it.…Every day when I was off the ship I spent in cafes talking to my mom how I hate everything, that she was right and that I want to go home, I felt like that for the first 2-3 weeks...
Until one day when I went on a deck and realised how stupid I was to live in regrets…the endless ocean was just in front of me, whales and dolphins were swimming around freely any minute you look outside, seals were sitting on icebergs around the ship, gorgeous nature. People dream about going here and I cry? So the rules say if you cannot change it…enjoy it… or something like that. So I did!
I found a group of people who like hiking and we started hike together and there we didn't have to talk a lot, as we were too busy enjoying the nature. Part of my job perks was that I could take any excursion free of charge and I started doing them! I went whale watching one day and fell in love with animals and people who were studying their habitat, so I started coming there every week, first watching and after even helping out and helping on tours. I finally realized what exactly I wanted to do, I wanted to study animals, wanted to be around them, wanted to help nature…
After I started enjoying and loving cruise life, I did over 11 cruises all over US and Caribbean and still dearly miss that lifestyle that opened a new side of me- adventurer, person who is not anymore scared to be alone, a girl who can conquer loneliness, any fear, learn any skills to get better, travel and inspire others!
A lot of people want to work on a cruise ship and I tell you: "Go for it!" It is an amazing way to travel, explore the world, save money, figure out what you want to do in life, get experience. Thanks to working on a cruise ship, I learned English and even got rid of my Russian accent. I now have friends all over the world, because the crew on the ship is super international. So I recommend everyone to try it , but you just have to be prepared and know what you are getting into, as I had no idea!
First, start with answering those questions. If you answer No to any of them, then maybe reconsider your decision.
Are you ready to work 7 days a week?
Can you spend months away from your family and friends with little communication with the outside world?
Are you not scared of being seasick?
Can you listen to really out of date music without being sick?
Can you imagine yourself sharing a tiny cabin between 4 or 6 people?
cruise line positions
There are a lot of both and of course, you have to do your research. I was working for a Norwegian Cruise Line as a Seasonal Youth Counselor and was pretty happy with it. If you are not planning to spend your life on a cruise, not planning to get promoted, but just want to experience this life, I recommend to work in the entertainment sector, those are people who earn the most, but work the least.
Servers and cleaners are not even allowed in public areas, cannot eat or party with passengers, have to work up to 14 hours a day and have pretty miserable conditions.
Guest services, for which you have to know at least 3 languages, well paid but quite stressful job as you have to deal with complaints.
Working is beauty and spa- you can get a lot of money by selling beauty products, but working hours are very long and contracts are the longest.
Casino and duty-free- probably the best jobs, both of them only work when the ship is in "international waters", so you can always get off the ship when it is docked.
Working with kids- it is fun, but you will never get a lot of money, plus you need patience and a good voice to be heard!
Photographers- you don't even need the previous experience to be a photographer, but you do need a camera the job is very basic, you just have to take pictures of passengers and sell it to them in the photo gallery. All the photos are very basic, no editing, just sticking different backgrounds- so no room for creativity.
To be a dancer and performer you need experience and talent and for that, you are not hired by the ship recruiters but by talent agencies that are doing casting in big cities.
You can work in the art gallery- it is definitely the most profitable position, but you have to attend a special course for it.
More info about life on the ship
Before you start enjoying "perks" of the ship life, the main of which is getting off the ship and exploring new countries, you have to pass zillions of exams, tests and undergo unreal training. Safety is a priority, every member of the team gets a special role to do in case of emergency, so you will have to learn everything about crowd management, how to use a fire extinguisher and how to deflate a raft boat. The best part is- you don't have to work if you have a training- the worst is when the training fall to your only free hours :( Once a week the whole team has to perform a boat drill- waiting in lifejackets outside on the deck for an hour, while passengers are having fun outside.) Boat drills are unpredictable and can happen anytime just when you were about to put your bikini to go to the beach in the Caribbean.
Food in staff mess is terrible and only some people get to eat in restaurants with passengers and only in designated areas. I was always removing my name tag and blending in with passengers to eat delicious food, but you can get fired for that.
You have to wear your nametag 24/7 and you will get in trouble if you are not doing that.
Sharing rooms is hard, queuing for the shower in the morning, dealing with your roomie's sex life or snoring can also be a problem. Only managers and other "important" people get a separate room and it is insane privilege to get a room with the window.
How to apply
You will obviously need a CV. I also needed at least 3 recommendation letters from similar jobs, but really no one cares, so I made two of them up, signed by friend's company. Don't forget about the motivation letter, 400 words or less about why they should hire you. Applying online is really straightforward when googling a company you will be explained how to do everything and watch out for third parties that claim that it is not possible to get a job without them. They just get money from you, knowing a lot of people are scared to fail. Save your money and do everything yourself!
It usually takes around 3-4 month to get from applying to boarding a plane to your destination. Several Skype interviews follow with collecting all the necessary docs for medical, insurance, and visa, receiving flight details, buying necessary stuff and final farewell party with your friends that you will see after 6 months.
What I have gained from working on a cruise ship?
I have learned English fluently
Improved my accent
Got international working experience
Figured out what I really want to do with my life and found my passion
Visited more than 20 countries
Saved money to move to UK and study in university
Got international friends from all over the world
Lost fear of public speaking, tried myself in different roles like presenter, sports coach, dancer, comedian.
Got to understand Western mentality, which is very different from Latvian/Russian mentality
Experienced working and living in a team, dealing with problems, conflicts
Learned how to conquer homesickness, learned value of money and how to work hard.
Had the best parties in my life, with best people in the best locations.