Many people from around the world are interested in working on board a cruise ship, and having a general understanding of the responsibilities of any job is important when you are job hunting. If you are a frequent cruiser, then you probably already know something about the jobs on a ship.
Unfortunately, many job hunters have never been on a ship, and don't really know much about the kinds of jobs available on a cruise ship. Fortunately, these job hunters are often willing to work hard to support their families back home. Experienced cruise travelers know that passengers are highly dependent on all the cruise ship staff for a memorable cruise experience.
Jobs on a cruise ship are as varied as those you will find in any small city. The skills and knowledge required are also varied. Turnover for many cruise positions is very high, but most cruise lines get thousands of applications weekly, so matching your skills to a ship's needs is one key to getting a job. When cruise lines have openings, they want to fill them quickly. Therefore, your resume must be in their hands at the "right time", and they must be immediately convinced that you (1) understand the job and (2) have the skills and ability to do the job. Most jobs on a cruise ship require that you start at the bottom of the organization chart and work your way up, especially if your prior experience is limited.
The organization chart of a cruise ship looks much like what it is -- a hotel on a ship. There are probably between 150-200 different jobs on most cruise ships! All of the same departments you would find in a resort hotel are present on a cruise ship, along with all the same engine and deck departments you would find on any cargo or transport ship. The captain of the ship is ultimately responsible for all of the ship's personnel.
One important fact to note is that many of the personnel on board are not working for the cruise line directly. They work for concessionaires, or subcontractors, whose company contracts with the cruise line to provide certain services for a percentage of the profits. Whether or not a particular job is or is not a concessionaire varies from cruise line to cruise line. Understanding the types of positions in each department will help you match your skills to job openings as they come along.
If you've ever vacationed or stayed in a hotel for business, then you are familiar with many of the jobs that fall under the hotel department. This department is the largest and most diverse on the ship and is run by the hotel manager. The divisions and hierarchy of the department mirror those in a hotel, and the skills are similar.
Let's start with the most obvious--the cabins or staterooms on a ship. Responsibility for the cabins falls under the steward division, which is similar to the housekeeping department in a hotel. This division is responsible for making passengers comfortable while they are in their rooms and includes the care of the cabins, room and messenger service, and laundry pick-up and delivery. Positions in the steward division include the cabin stewards/stewardesses who clean and do daily maintenance of the cabins and general housekeeping.
A clean ship is important to all cruisers. There is also a separate division that does the general cleaning and maintenance of the common areas around the ship. Think of all of those windows that need washing, brass that needs polishing, and areas that need painting! The laundry on a ship must run almost continually. Bed linens, towels, tablecloths, and some crew uniforms must be laundered daily.
Cruise ships pride themselves on their ability to provide a memorable dining experience to hundreds (or even thousands) of passengers and staff each day. It's not always easy to "run to the store" if the ship has forgotten something, either! The food and beverage division is responsible for all of the dining rooms, bars, the galleys (kitchens), clean up and provisions. A food and beverage manager runs this department.
The dining room manager or maître d'hôtel (usually called the maître d') is responsible for seating arrangements, service, and overseeing the wait staff for the dining room. Under the maître d' are the head waiters, and each of them is responsible for several waiters and busboys. Even though waiters and busboys are considered entry-level positions, many cruise ships prefer those with previous experience from a restaurant or hotel dining room. Depending on the size of the ship, there may be several bars, and the service of drinks is a popular job on board. Bartenders and wine stewards must usually have prior experience.
The executive chef is responsible for the ship's cuisine. There are dozens of jobs in the galley (kitchen), many of which require extensive prior restaurant or cruise ship experience. The galley is usually divided into the hot galley and cold galley. The hot galley positions include all types of cooking--vegetables, fish, soup, and grill. The cold galley positions include baking, pastry, and buffets.
With all of this food preparation and dining, there has to be a team responsible for cleaning up after the passengers and cooks. A cleaning crew (utility division) washes all of the dishes and tableware (including the pots and pans), changes the tablecloths, vacuums the floors, and cleans the windows and bar areas.
The provision division is responsible for procuring, storing, and issuing all of the ship's food and beverage requirements. The provision master and his staff orders the supplies and takes the weekly inventory of the ship's stores. As someone who keeps a running "grocery list" on her refrigerator for a family of only two, I can only marvel at the thousands of pounds of provisions that a ship would need each week for the thousands on board!
The cruise staff also fall into the hotel department. They are responsible for all of the activities and entertainment on board and ashore. The cruise director is in charge of the cruise staff. The size of this staff, like all of the other departments, is dependent on the size of the ship. Entertainers such as singers, dancers, and musicians are needed on ships along with shore excursion leaders/coordinators, dive masters, and lecturers. Most of the cruise staff have a lot of interaction with the passengers and must be able to focus on providing a "good time" for the cruisers. This "good time" attitude means that cruise staff must be almost like cheerleaders--upbeat, happy, and courteous to everyone. Some might think that the entertainers would have fewer hours to work than many of the other hotel staff. This normally is not true, because the entertainers often serve as hosts and hostesses during the day, or help with other areas of the hotel operations.
The last division of the hotel department is the administrative section. This group is responsible for all of the ship's "paperwork"--the mail, accounting, and daily newsletters. The medical staff also falls into the administrative group. The chief purser heads up the accounting, printing, and payroll sections, and the ship's doctor or principal medical officer is over the medical staff onboard. For those of you who were fans of the TV show "The Love Boat", it is important to note that the purser staff are not all like the character of Gopher on that show. He rarely seemed to do anything on the ship! The purser staff members maintain all of the ship's documents and the passenger manifests and clearance papers. They also keep the safe, safety deposit boxes, and the passengers' bills and accounts. The information desk on many ships is often manned by someone from the purser's office.
Many of the other cruise ship jobs that might fall into the Hotel Department are often concessionaires. These independent subcontractors lease space on a ship and then pay the cruise line a percentage of their profits. Concessionaires often operate the photography studio, gift and clothing shops, spas, and casinos. Some cruise lines use concessionaires to provide staff for most of the hotel operations on the ship, with a cruise line employee as the overall manager. Other cruise lines use concessionaires for the entire food and beverage operation.