Of all the seasonal jobs I’ve done, probably the one I will remember most was the time I did on the Pride of America, NCL’s cruise ship in Hawaii. I have never (and probably will never again) had a work environment that so defines the idea of “work hard, play hard”. From the moment you arrive for work on a cruise ship to the moment you leave, the last thing you are going to be is bored.
If working 60-80 hours a week with no days off doesn’t scare you, and if having a little bit of free time to explore some amazing places appeals to you, and if you could sacrifice a healthy amount of sleep for a modicum of a social life or vice versa, cruise ship life might just be for you! But how to get started? This article will show you the first couple of steps in applying for a job on a cruise ship: finding a job, applying, and interviewing. Since my experience is entirely from the Pride of America, the only American-flagged cruise ship, I will mostly talk about how to get hired for that particular ship. It has a longer process than most, due to the fact that American ships require additional documentation. Part 2 will explain the process of getting those documents, and Part 3 will talk about the STCW Training required before you get to the ship.
1. Choosing a Company
So how do you decide which cruise company to apply for? I’ve heard good and bad about pretty much every company out there, so this really depends on what you’re looking for. Larger companies, like Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, etc have specific jobs that pretty much just do one thing, but depending on the company, you can often feel like you’re just a number. On the other hand, smaller, more specialized, and more expensive companies like Uncruise Adventures and Nat Geo have jobs like a Steward, in which you work both as a server and a room steward, but you also get perks such as days off or shorter contracts.
2. Choosing a Job
On a ship like the Pride of America, there are, at one time, about 2,000 passengers and 900 crew. That means about 900 jobs that need to be filled all the time on every ship (often more), so your odds of getting one of them are pretty good. However, getting the one that you want may prove more difficult.
Above is an example of some of the open jobs at Norwegian Cruise Line, as listed on their website as of 6/19/2018. Many listings are just for job fairs for the Pride of America, which has a very high turnover rate and constantly needs new hires. Since the PoA is an American-flagged ship that never enters international waters, they are required by law to hire at least 80% Americans, and it can be difficult to find Americans that want to work this many hours in this kind of conditions. Many of the ones that do make it there end up quitting, hence the high turnover rate. Does this mean that no one would enjoy a job on a ship? No, definitely not, cruise ship work is often a great fit for certain people, but it is certainly not for everybody.
As for what you can do on a ship, there are a multitude of jobs on a large cruise ship, which for now I’ll just divide into five categories:
Entry Level: Restaurant Steward, Utility Hotel, and Utility Galley.
Restaurant Stewards bus and serve in the buffet, Utility Hotel cleans public areas, and Utility Galley work 12 hours in the dish pit. All are grueling work, but you do get lots of overtime and if you do well, it’s easy to move up.
Requires Experience: Assistant Waiter/Waitress, Bar Server, Room Steward.
All of these positions require at least one year’s prior experience. When I applied, I had only a year of Cold Stone Creamery experience, meaning I did not qualify. Entry Level workers can also be promoted to these positions within 3 months of arriving on the ship (although depending on need, it could be earlier). These positions have an advantage over Entry Level because they are tipped; all three share tips from a pool across the ship, and occasionally guests will leave cash. This is most common for Room Stewards and least common for Assistant Waiters. Keep in mind that the cruise passengers are already paying a daily gratuity to the ship, so they will not often think to tip in cash.
Promotions: Waiter/Waitress, Host/Hostess, Bartender, Admin, Manager.
These are all positions that NCL generally does not direct-hire for, but usually promotes from within. Waiters and Bartenders are definitely some of the highest-paid employees onboard, if not the highest. They make a higher hourly rate and good tips (keep in mind of course this only applies to the Pride of America; all international ships pay a monthly salary, not by the hour). Hosts have a pretty good deal as far as pay from what I’ve heard, and they have the advantage of not having to lift heavy trays all day. Admins are often chosen as a standout employee from the department, and they handle hours, department mail, schedules, office work etc. Finally, Managers are pretty self-explanatory, but they are technically officer status, meaning they get paid salary, get access to officer spaces, and are held responsible for pretty much anything that goes wrong in their restaurant/bars/department.
Entertainment: Entertainment Technicians, Performer, Cruise Director’s Staff, Youth Staff.
These are all jobs that you need experience to apply for. Performers (singers & dancers) need to either audition in person or submit a video online. All other positions apply like any other, but it is also common for these to be recruited from within. I started on the PoA as a Restaurant Steward, and within one month I was lucky enough to be switched to the Cruise Director’s Staff.
Other: Gift Shop, Provisions, Deck, Engine.
I would be lying if I said I fully understand what Deck & Engine do on the ship, but I know it’s very very important and I definitely couldn’t do it myself. Provisions handle the food and supplies that come onto the ship every week, but it is still a mystery to me if they are outside hires or promoted from within. Finally, gift shop employees are often hired from employees already on the ship, and from what I’ve heard, have one of the chillest jobs.
So here we are, you know what company you want to work with, you know what job you want to do (and are qualified for), it’s time to apply!
3. Applying for the Job
Thankfully, this part is pretty straightforward, so I’ll just skim right through. Generally, you will just go to the website of the company you want to work with (links found above or just google “name of cruise company + jobs”), find the job, click Apply, and fill out whatever requirements they have. For NCL, you will submit a resume with relevant experience, a cover letter, personal info, etc, all the normal job application things. After submitting your application, you will most likely receive an email reply from a recruiter that informs you whether you are a good fit for the job you applied for – for example, I initially applied to be a Bar Waiter, but didn’t have the required one year of experience in a bar.
As a side note, the Pride of America also has hiring events, which are held throughout the United States. I also attended one of these, which I think is a better idea as you get to meet someone face to face. Essentially, you watch a presentation about working on the ship, ask any questions, and are interviewed one-by-one in the order that you signed in upon arrival. If they run out of time, you will move onto the next step that I ended up doing: a Skype interview!
4. Interviewing for the Job
If you’ve been communicating with a recruiter over email, he or she will probably set up a Skype interview with you. If you were at a hiring event and they didn’t have time to interview you in person, they will set it up, but either way, Skype is where it’s at! These interviews vary; for example, to interview to be an Entertainment Technician, you could get a variety of questions about how different equipment works. In Connor’s interview to be an Assistant Waiter, he was asked about his previous restaurant experience. For me, applying to be a Restaurant Steward, they only asked three questions: why do you want to work on the PoA, why do you want this particular job, and what is your relevant experience. Probably the chillest interview I’ve ever had!
Later that evening, I received an email with an offer to work on the Pride, with a 2-day period in which I could accept or decline. I accepted the next day, and thus began the long journey to the Pride of America.
To find out what happens next, check out Part 2!