How You Can Get a Job on a Cruise Ship

Curious about how to get a job on a cruise ship? Explore the education, training, and skills you may need to start a hospitality job on the sea!

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July 28, 2023 11 min read

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If you have a natural talent for delivering excellent customer service, paired with a “nomadic” spirit, have you ever considered a tourism job? More specifically…on a cruise ship? Not only can you embark on thrilling travel adventures, but you could join a thriving industry.

According to a cruise industry study conducted by Cyrus Shipping News, the cruise ship industry currently supports over one million jobs and is expected to hit $25.1 billion in revenue by the end of 2023. Needless to say, if you’re at all curious about joining a “floating hotel on the sea,” now could be the opportune time to start. Keep reading to discover how to get a job on a cruise ship.

Determine Whether a Cruise Ship Environment Is Right for You

Before we dive into which types of cruise ship occupations may speak to you, it might be beneficial to see if it’s the type of lifestyle you want to lead.

Consider asking yourself the following self-reflection questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a people person?
  • Are you naturally independent?
  • Do you genuinely enjoy helping others?
  • Do you relish a teamwork environment?
  • Are you okay with not working the typical 9-5 job?
  • Are you okay with being away from family and friends for long periods of time?
  • Are you comfortable being out at sea for extended time, without immediate access to land?

If you answered yes to all, then that’s a step in the right direction!

Eligibility Requirements for Cruise Ship Jobs

According to Indeed, cruise ship candidates must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Hold a valid passport and/or appropriate visa
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Undergo a medical exam or submit medical records

A Cruise Career Success Story: Victor Mancilla

For Escoffier graduate, Victor Mancilla, living near the bustling Panama Canal 15 years ago and watching majestic cruise ships float by sparked his dream to eventually work on one. “At the time, I went to architectural school, but my passion was always about food.”* Victor says.

He seized the first entry-level opportunity he could get with Celebrity Cruises but really had his sights set on an executive chef position—even though he was told it was a “highly competitive” position. But with his unwavering focus and willingness to take on new responsibilities, he managed to secure this high-ranking position in just four years. He became the official Executive Chef for a few ships in the Galapagos.

“Imagine 16 kitchens, more than 12 restaurants, a 24-hour operation, 22 bars, and 375 crew members,” Victor says. “I remember saying, I don’t know how I’m going to make it for the next two years, but it ended up being the best culinary team in the fleet. And that team was the best ship of the year for two consecutive years.”*

Meanwhile, Victor pursued an online Culinary Arts diploma at Escoffier, while working full-time as an executive chef, simply to refine his skill set and “get better” at the culinary fundamentals.

“[Attending Escoffier] was such a rich experience—so helpful for my ego. It brought me back to reality since I was living a dream…I was living in a paradise,” Victor says. “I don’t regret a single cent that I paid…Because it gave me a vision.”*

“I’ve visited more than 250 cities and that’s the beauty of the cruise ship industry. I lived in Turkey for more than five years. I spent years in New Zealand. I had the privilege to be in the Galapagos, which is one of the most luxurious destinations in the world, for months.”*
Victor Mancilla, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate

From there, Victor continued to expand his career and jumped to managing 900 crew members in Asia, with his promotion to Food & Beverage Director, requiring him to know the ins and outs of every restaurant on the cruise ship. Even though it was a challenging position to take on, especially during the pandemic, he wouldn’t change it for the world.

Although he’s not out at sea anymore, Victor is still overseeing cruise ship operations as the Corporate Executive Chef at COLUMBIA signature, located in Germany. He lives there with his wife (who he serendipitously met on a cruise ship) and two children. He also runs a Chef Academy for Spanish-speaking children and has authored a collection of ten cookbooks for children.

Explore Various Cruise Ship Job Positions

Now that you know which “archetype” is best suited for cruise ship life, let’s take a peek at some of the most common hospitality and food & beverage positions on cruise ships.

Hotel manager standing in a banquet hall holding onto a tablet

Food and Beverage Managers

Wearing multiple hats, food and beverage managers usually oversee all aspects of the operations side. This may include monitoring food budgets, inventory, quality control, and even guest satisfaction.

Food and beverage managers are typically highly-analytical—spending most of their time evaluating numbers in spreadsheets.

Dining Room Managers

If you think of an orchestra, dining room managers can be viewed as the “conductors” of a cruise ship restaurant. They usually address the flow of traffic, wait times, and any guest concerns, while taking immediate care of any staff needs.

Executive Chef

Along with conceptualizing cruise ship menus, an executive chef usually manages all aspects of food service on a cruise ship. This may include hiring and overseeing all kitchen staff, as well as maintaining food quality control.

Bar Managers

What’s a cruise experience without the endless flow of cocktails? Bar managers can expect to stay relatively busy on cruise ships, with the responsibility of crafting compelling cocktail menus. On top of educating staff on how to create specialty spirits, bar managers usually oversee alcohol costs and revenue.

Maître D’s

Working closely with the dining room managers, the maître d’ interacts with guests and also closely monitors overall dining satisfaction—ensuring that it’s up to par with specified standards. On top of being the “face of the restaurant,” they typically work behind the scenes as well—accommodating any restaurant staff requests.

Hotel Managers

Dedicated to creating a seamless guest experience, hotel managers on cruise ships work to ensure that the entire staff is leading with class and professionalism. Along with directly interacting with passengers on a daily basis, a hotel manager may oversee all fiscal operations, communicating closely with the captain of the cruise ship. They’re also typically responsible for training and hiring skilled staff members who are committed to “wowing” guests.

Chief Cabin Stewards

Housekeeping is one of the largest departments on cruise ships and the chief cabin steward is responsible for managing this sector. With demands to maintain a level of cleanliness 24/7, the chief cabin steward usually must be meticulous and set high standards for the housekeeping staff.

Event Managers

In addition to lounging and enjoying indulging in various cuisines, cruise ship guests will often engage in daily events, such as movie nights, salsa dancing, speakeasy parties, corporate events, and even weddings! Event managers strive to plan these types of events that keep guests entertained, which may require great attention to detail and organization.

Consider a Hospitality or Culinary Education

Restaurant chef sits at a table with a laptop and is writing in a notebook

As you can see, there’s a vast range of hospitality and foodservice jobs you can explore on cruise ships! Although there’s no set educational path for these occupations, obtaining a culinary arts or hospitality degree may help you: a) stand out on your resume b) garner the applicable skill set to prosper c) rise in the ranks and get promoted more quickly.

Escoffier’s Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management online degree program can help you prepare for several hospitality-focused positions on a cruise ship—with a curriculum focused on hospitality from a business perspective. Students also explore how to cultivate world-class guest experiences, train and manage hospitality employees, utilize technology to enhance business operations, craft menus, prepare for events, and more.

Chef Jason Goldman, Hospitality and Restaurant Operations Management Instructor“Our program is meant to get a student prepared for an entry-level position in the hospitality industry, that could lead to a management position.”*
Jason Goldman, Escoffier Lead Chef Instructor

Now, if a culinary-centric job on a cruise ship sounds more appealing, such as an executive chef position, you may want to consider a Culinary Arts program, such as the degree and diploma options that Escoffier offers. With more of an emphasis on contemporary culinary techniques, students can explore a variety of topics, such as cooking methods, bake shop staples, commercial food service operations, world cuisines, farm-to-table philosophy, and more.

At the end of the day, which program you choose will likely depend on the cruise ship occupation that interests you the most and if it’s more geared toward hospitality or culinary arts.

Refine Your Skill Set To Work On A Cruise Ship

As we mentioned before, if you exude great communication and customer service skills, stepping into a hospitality job on a cruise ship could be in your wheelhouse.

But if you don’t have any experience in hospitality, how can you begin to foster the necessary skills it might take to start? This is where education and work experience comes in! At Escoffier, students can begin to develop soft and hard skills from day one, just by immersing themselves in the curriculum. On top of this, students must complete one to two externships in order to graduate. These placements can help provide real-world experience and training you can list on your resume.

Download Escoffier’s Culinary & Hospitality Resume Template

For example, you might secure an externship on a cruise ship or in a hotel to “get a taste” of what to expect. An externship is also an invaluable opportunity to forge industry connections, which can plant seeds for your future career.

Chef Maria Davenport“The externship class allows students–even those with no prior experience–to get their foot in the door. Once they gain that valuable experience, it is easier for them to determine which path they want to take with their careers.”*
Maria Davenport, Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management Instructor

How to Apply for Cruise Ship Jobs

Unlike other jobs where you can apply directly, cruise ships usually partner with agencies that do the hiring for them. So finding a recruiting agency that works with cruise ships can be a great first step. In tandem with this, Escoffier students can also work with Career Services to prepare for the job search, by utilizing one-on-one career coaching and a slew of readiness tools to bolster confidence!

While you begin this stage in the process, you’ll also want to consider exactly how long you’ll want to work on a cruise ship, as placements will vary—meaning you could work on a cruise ship for a week (short-term contract) or several months (long-term contract). Depending on your preferences, look into cruise ships that offer your desired duration, then look into agencies that specifically represent those cruise lines.

Male and female managers discussing upcoming banquet while looking at tablet

Before accepting a job position, you’ll probably also want to consider the type of employment and pay structure that suits you the most. For example, permanent employees might be able to access “contract perks” like longer stints at home, time off preferences, and ongoing healthcare, versus non-permanent employees.

It’s also important to note that some cruise ship positions are salaried, while others are not paid, but you may receive complimentary room and board, plus the occasional gratuity. These are just a few aspects of the job to consider before signing a cruise ship contract.

“The power of working on a cruise ship is that it gives you that confidence. If you put me in a competition right now, I’m not afraid of that. I have to create 18,000 meals a day and design 6,000 recipes in six months.”*
Victor Mancilla, Online Culinary Arts Graduate, Corporate Executive Chef

Start Your Cruise Ship Career

If you’re craving more of a non-conventional tourism career on the sea, then securing a cruise ship job could be the best move for you! But before you say bon voyage, you may want to consider starting with an education first, which could help you gain the necessary skills to flourish in this industry.

To take the next step, contact our admissions department to get more information on Escoffier’s Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management or Culinary Arts programs that could help you achieve your dream career.

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*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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