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Work on a Cruise Ships: See the World and Get Paid For It

Working on Cruise Ships

A Popular Way to Get Paid to Travel

by Margie Davis

The benefits of working on cruise ships lure people of all ages. You meet interesting folks from all over the world, and, depending on your position, you get to enjoy the sights, taste the foods, and meet the locals wherever your ship stops.

Saving money is easy because your room, board, and uniforms are paid for; personal expenses take only a nibble out of your earnings. While you usually need some related experience to land your first cruise job, training is provided. Opportunities for advancement abound if you decide that sailing under the stars to exotic ports is for you.

On the down side, working 11 hours a day is not unusual. Employees live in close quarters, often sharing a cabin and bathroom, and have little privacy. Restrictions regarding behavior in public places are enforced, and employees who break the rules are fined. Employees are not passengers; they are onboard to serve passengers. If you understand that basic premise, and you still want to work on a cruise ship, you can have the experience of a lifetime.

Contracts range from four to 12 months, depending on the cruise line and the position held. Some people renew their contracts year after year and end up making a career of working shipboard; others finish one tour with clenched teeth.

While long days are the norm, a handful of employees work relatively few hours. Joan from the Netherlands held jobs as bartender (for six months) and casino bookkeeper (for over two years) and put in from six to 11 hours a day. Her pay is $1,500 per month plus 5 percent of the next slot revenue. During her tenure shipboard Joan worked on eight different ships and went ashore in the Caribbean, Florida, Italy, the Greek and Turkish islands, Romania, Israel, Panama, Alaska, France, and Spain. Because ship casinos are closed in port, she was able to have time off onshore. "My intention was to work short-term," Joan says, "but because I loved it so much, I stayed for three years."

There are different ways to land a cruise job. First, pick the ports you want to visit, then identify the ships that sail there. The Internet is the best place to locate this information. You can post questions at rec.travel.cruises, a newsgroup dedicated to cruising. Check out the International Seafarers Exchange, where you can review open job positions and post your resume, or Maritime Jobs.

You don't have to pay an agency to land a job. Once you know which jobs you are capable of doing, you can approach the cruise lines' personnel offices directly. You will need to submit a resume, be interviewed (usually by phone), get a medical exam, have a valid passport and entry visa (if needed) for the country where you will board the ship, and purchase a roundtrip ticket to your point of embarkation.

Here is some advice to consider from people who have done it: If you're a land lover, you may get seasick or homesick. Specific diet needs may not be met. You have to put a smile on your face every day and be helpful to passengers. Be prepared to work long days. Know what will be expected of you before you sign an employment contract.

If you want to get paid to travel, a cruise job may be your ticket. If you want to travel in comfortable leisure, however, you might consider just taking a cruise.