From time to time we get questions from readers who would like to work aboard a cruise ship, and our first question to them is usually, "Are you sure?"
As the cruise industry continues its rapid growth, demand for experienced shipboard personnel is greater than ever. But anyone accustomed to a 35- or 40-hour week on shore may not be ready to take on a job that goes on seven days a week from early in the morning until late at night. Ship crew members take long hours for granted, along with variable salaries--many waiters and stewards must rely primarily on tips--and sometimes cramped living quarters.
The first thing to bear in mind is that your life is not going to be anything like a passenger's. We still recall a crew member aboard the inaugural cruise of the former Aloha Pacific Monterey. She had quit her job as a Washington, D.C., stockbroker in order to go to sea as a cabin stewardess, but she hated her job, she told us, "because all I ever do is make up beds and clean toilets!"
Another drawback is lack of personal privacy in the crowded backstage quarters of a cruise ship if you have anything but a top-drawer position such as cruise director or purser or hotel manager. Mark Rolf, a wine steward aboard Celebrity's Zenith several years ago, told us that he had to spend time getting used to having three roommates. On his time off, he said, "I go by myself somewhere, maybe just a cafe, and sit quietly for a while."
"We're not allowed to say no to a passenger," Johanna Rickkinen, a Finnish cabin stewardess on Cunard's Royal Viking Sun told us. She cleans eight to 12 cabins a day and handles everything from routine requests to quirky questions such as, "Which days can I wash underwear in the passenger laundry?" or "Could you please call a taxi for me?"
As for the pay, it may not be what you'd expect for the hours and working conditions. American-flag ships pay minimum wage or higher to their personnel, but foreign-flag ships are not required to at present, although some legislators have proposed requiring any foreign-flag cruise line that has its primary offices in the U.S. to pay the U.S. minimum wage (currently $5.10 an hour) to employees.
Americans work on various cruise lines as cruise staff, entertainers, shipboard photographers, youth counselors or disc jockeys, but rarely as cabin stewards or waiters except on U.S.-flag lines where an American crew is obligatory. These lines include American Hawaii, Clipper Cruises, Delta Queen Steamboat Co., American Canadian Caribbean Line, Alaska Sightseeing / Cruise West, American West Steamboat Co. and Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises. The last three usually hire seasonally since they don't sail year-round.
A contract is usually four to six months with a working schedule of seven days a week, a minimum of 12 hours a day. An entry-level job in the hotel department is a general utility position, which may involve dishwashing, polishing brass, cleaning glass, helping porters load and unload baggage or night cleaning duties.
Professional entertainers are usually hired for cruise staff jobs, although some theme-park experience may also help qualify.
In most cases, outside concessionaires operate beauty shops and boutiques aboard ships, and do the hiring from their offices rather than the cruise line's.
If you want to seek employment from a particular cruise line, call that line and ask for the employment information hotline. You'll usually get a recording with voice prompts that will fill you in on the details. A person who successfully passes the initial screening process may be asked for a live interview but usually has to pay his or her own air fare to the cruise company's offices.
For that reason, you might want to start with large Los Angeles-based cruise lines such as Crystal Cruises, telephone (310) 785-9300, or Princess Cruises, tel. (310) 553-1770.
You'll want to have a resume and a photograph ready to send if requested. Fluency in a second language may also be helpful, since many ships carry passengers from all over the world.
Applicants who want to work as cabin or dining room stewards should have experience in the hotel industry or have completed a training program in maritime hotel management. Be leery about any company that promises employment on a ship if you sign up for their training program; most cruise lines want to hire crew members with job experience. Also watch out for any employment agency that charges a large fee.
Companies that interview for shipboard jobs include Global Ship Services Inc., 141 NE Ave., Suite 203, Miami, FL 33132; tel. (305) 374-8649. It hires pursers and secretarial staff, as well as housekeepers, cabin stewards, bar staff and restaurant personnel. Greater Atlantic Casinos, 990 Northwest 166th St., Miami, FL 33169; tel. (954) 359-0001, hires casino workers. Cruise Ship Picture Co., 1177 S. America Way, Suite 200, Miami Beach, FL; tel. (305) 539-1903, hires ship photographers.
A book updated annually called "The Cruise and Travel Employment Program" is published by Progressive Media Inc., and can be acquired from Cruise Employment Services, Customer Relations, Box 85180, Seattle, WA 98145.
CLIA (Cruise Lines International Assn.) lists among its information resource materials a publication called "How to Get a Job With a Cruise Line" by Mary Fallon Miller, published by Ticket to Adventure Inc., P.O. Box 41005, St. Petersburg, FL 33743; tel. (800) 929-7447.