Authored by Tracie Howe
After graduating from college with what seemed like a useless Fine Art degree, I felt stuck. I wanted to do something more with my life, and for me that meant going somewhere. I hated routine, thrived on variety, and thus decided that working on a cruise ship could be the answer. All I really knew about cruise ships were that they docked in destinations like the Caribbean, and at the time I couldn’t think of anything more exotic!
I only remember filling out one online application, which was for the kid’s program on Holland America Line ships. While long and intimidating, I tried not to be discouraged. My work experience up until that point had been with kids, so I felt like I held a chance. Then one day, a few months later, I got the call that changed my life forever!
I wasn’t sent to the Caribbean as I had hoped, but instead to Alaska. Though that was fine by me. It was all a new adventure! After that initial contract I signed on for more, jumping between Alaska and the Caribbean.
These were all pretty short contracts, lasting anywhere from one week to three months, however, exploring new places, making great friends, having novel experiences, and working seven days a week all made ship life seem to last much longer.
The work wasn’t too bad, at least for my position. On sea days I typically worked a few 2-3 hours chunks, and I got to explore on port days until we set sail. For me, the kid’s program was fun and easy work. Even when management required more work from us (towards the end of my time at sea) it still seemed like a cake walk compared to what other departments required from their workers, not to mention year long contracts in some cases. I made very little money, though it was an easy job and I was traveling the world!
This job made me realize that the world was much smaller and more accessible than I ever knew. Holland America took me all over the Caribbean, around both the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, to Egypt, Greenland, Russia, and everywhere in between! I even managed to travel on my own in between contracts, requesting extensions on flights that were already paid for by Holland America.
Eventually, despite the lure of new places and having made so many great friends, I knew I couldn’t keep doing this forever. Youth staff on a cruise ship was a young person’s job and I was ready to focus on starting a photography career. With this goal in mind, I decided to end my career in cruising, a task that is easier said than done. Ask any former crew member and they will agree!
It was once I stopped, of course, that an irresistible opportunity practically fell in my lap. It was another contract, though this one was different. It would last 6 months, taking me from South America to the Mediterranean, by way of Antarctica!
Making it to all seven continents was high on my bucket list and this was my chance to visit the most elusive of them all! So, as any passionate traveler would do, I dropped everything to make it happen, and before I knew it found myself on a plane to Chile.
Fortunately the wonders of South America were enough to sustain me until reaching Antarctica. But when the day came, I couldn’t control my excitement any longer. I was the first one out on deck with my camera, braving the biting cold wind on that sunny day, grinning from ear to ear.
I awaited the first signs of land in the distance while watching the clock, dreading my next scheduled work activity. Soon I saw the first snow covered land masses and then mountains of rock covered in ice. It would have been an unforgettable sight anywhere, but this, THIS was Antarctica!
The next few days were an exhausting juggle of work and time spent admiring the untouched beauty of Antarctica. The freezing cold and lack of sleep were well worth every minute that I spent on deck spotting seals, penguins, porpoises, and whales. Those Antarctic summer days meant extended hours of daylight and long, beautiful sunsets.
On our final day as we sailed past the last iceberg on our way back North, I remember being so grateful for the opportunity to see not only Antarctica, but so many other parts of the world that not everyone is so fortunate to see…while being paid to do so.
If you are interested in pursuing a career on a cruise ship, think about what you might have to offer on board a moving city. The entertainment department provides work for youth staff, cruise staff (games and schmoozing with passengers), and stage performers. The retail department offers positions for sales staff. There are then jobs in casino, maintenance, tech and shore excursions (one of the coolest jobs in my opinion!). There are bar staff, food service, and housekeeping positions as well, among many others. You would be surprised at the opportunity for work on a ship.
The opportunities on offer will vary depending on cruise line, and each will have their own unique process for applications, however a quick Google search for jobs should lead you in the right direction.
Don’t be intimidated by long and potentially arduous questions and forms, speaking from personal experience, applying for me was as simple as finding the jobs page on Holland America Line’s website and filling out an application online. Best of luck!
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