Getting work aboard a cruise ship is slightly different than on land. You still need to write a resume and a cover letter, go to an interview and sign a contract. The difference is that you cannot simply walk up to a ship and apply for a job.
Start by looking at your experience and skills and match them to a ship board position. If you have a degree in photography then getting work as a ship photographer is easier than trying to get a job as a bartender. If you work with children or in entertainment then you can apply to be a youth coordinator or one of the cruise staff.
If you don't have any relevant skills, then go get some experience first. Volunteer, take lessons, or do an internship. A few months of experience will greatly increase your chance of being hired, especially if your resume is otherwise empty.
Agents are the middle men and buffers for cruise lines. They work in specific countries or regions and interview potential employees to make sure candidates qualify for visas and to weed out the crazies. It is all fun and games until your roommate jumps out of his bunk bed in the middle of the night wielding a Crocodile Dundee knife.
When applying, be sure to have a good resume and cover letter tailored to the position you want. Explain why you are the best candidate. If there are available positions and you get called in for an interview, dress appropriately. Show interest by asking questions about the cruise line.
Here are two directories for placement agents around the world.
In my opinion concession positions are the best because employees receive staff perks. These vendors usually operate under their own set of rules. The staff generally has more time off in port but seldom fewer working hours when the ship is at sea.
Generally, a concession will only hire specialized staff with experience in their field. For example: retail in the gift shop, massage therapists in the spa, hair stylists in the salon, staff in the casino, photographers, internet café managers and certain entertainment staff.
Again, you need a resume and cover letter filled with information specific to the position you are applying for. The rest of the process will differ depending on the concession. For example, if you are applying for a job in the casino you will be called in for a table test to affirm your competency as a dealer. If you are looking to be a photographer you may be required to submit a portfolio.
Concessions are sometimes owned by the cruise line, in which case you would apply through a placement agency. Here are a few links of independent concessions that I know of. Obviously this list is nowhere near complete. For a full up to date list of concessions on all cruise lines, how and where to apply, check out this ebook by cruise veteran Wandering Earl.
On your first and sometimes your second contract you will not be able to select your destination, itinerary or ship. This will only be possible once you have built up a reputation with your department heads.
Cruises in domestic waters are easy to work on if you are a resident of the country. You won't need any special visas or clearance, with the exception of the crew on the Pride of America.
Very few cruise lines accept direct applications, with one exception. If you are an American you can apply though the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) website to work onboard the US-flagged ship the Pride of America based out of Hawaii.
All crew members aboard the Pride of America are merchant mariners. In order to become one you have to undergo specialized training conducted by the USCG to receive a merchant marine card (MMC). Also you will need a transportation worker identification card (STCW) that is issued through TSA.
If you are an American citizen and interested in working for Norwegian Cruise Line America (NCLA) you can apply on their website.
Crew working in international waters often need to have special visas, but are not usually required to pay taxes on money earned. Tax laws vary greatly based on your country of citizenship.
Rules and regulations do change; companies, vendors and agents come and go. The work stays the same. If you have any advice or new information we welcome the addition in the comments below.
If you are really serious about getting a job on a cruise ship, especially one that travels through international waters, then you should consider purchasing this ebook. Our information is based on our experiences nearly 5 years ago and specific to only Norwegian Cruise Lines. This book fills in the gaps. It has detailed instructions on how and where to apply and what happens after you get the job. The author has worked more contracts than we have on several cruise lines. We just reviewed the entire book and can verify the information is not only excellent, but is also up to date.