Landing cruise ship jobs means committing yourself to working contracts that last months, far away from home. But not everyone spends the same amount of time on board. Contract durations change from one cruise ship company to another, and from position to position.
On board a cruise ship, employees are divided according to departments: activity and shipboard entertainment, deck and engineering, service and hospitality (including food and beverage, purser, housekeeping and hotel administration), personal care and medical, and sometimes corporate.
When you first start working on a cruise ship – typically at the bottom of the hierarchy depending on your experience in hospitality, contracts tend to be on the longer side. Princess Cruises offers contracts that can last up to 10 months long with work schedules demanding as many as 10 to 13 hours a day, seven days a week during this time.
Caribbean Cruises offers contracts that average around six months. An Aida Cruises assistant bartender can expect to work up to 10 months at a stretch per contract, according to job site Indeed. Carnival Corporations, similarly, offers eight to nine-month contracts to staff in positions such as galley supervisors. A stateroom steward can expect contracts of about seven to eight months with the same company.
Roles with more responsibility can come with shorter contracts. Disney requires chefs de partie to spend around six months on board, and commit to at least two to three contracts before they consider a promotion. Sous chefs with big companies, such as Royal Caribbean, typically work around four months per contract.
Disney’s chefs de cuisine, one of the higher level positions on board, enjoy four-month contracts with two months off as well as medical and life insurance, disability insurance and retirement plan benefits as long as a return contract is signed.
No matter what the duration of the contract, most employees in the service and hospitality sector can expect to work very long hours – longer than similar positions on land. Even executive chefs are on their feet most of the time, even if they may not be doing as much actual cooking as say a line cook. They must visit every restaurant under their watch, do food tastings and sometimes put the final touches on dishes before they go out for service.
There are no holidays on board, for anyone. It’s a seven-day week and once your contract ends, so does the payment. This holds especially true for entry-level jobs where cruise ship companies have thousands of applicants to choose from and can replace staff at the drop of a hat.
Most staff can indicate whether they would like to return for another contract and the cruise ship company will send them the details at the requisite time. It is then up to them to choose whether or not they would like to continue, just as in a land job.
In countries like India and the Philippines, many work multiple contracts, rising through the ranks and gaining valuable experience while they are young and able to handle the demanding pressures of the job. They can then use this experience to either join a high position at a land-based resort or company or start something on their own.
In entry-level positions, contracts allow for around six to eight weeks off between contracts. Often, one does not receive any salary for this ‘vacation time’. However, in top positions, depending on the type of contract and company, one may get paid for the time off. Usually, this can last up to about two months.
Many cruise ship companies like to sign rolling contracts with their employees. Rolling contracts are the opposite of fixed term contracts where employees are brought on board for a certain period of time. A rolling contract continues until one party – either the employee or the company – decide to end it for whatever reason they see fit. This works well for both parties.