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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!

Antarctica cruise.

Not a terrible office view.

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!

Photo CC by Forget Someday.

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!

Antarctica iceberg.

Antarctica: an irresistible opportunity.

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!

How to get a cruise ship job to Antarctica

I saw the first snow covered land masses.

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.

How to get a cruise ship job to Antarctica.

How to get a cruise ship job to Antarctica.

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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Tracie is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Seattle. Recently she has been focusing on travel blogging and destination wedding photography, as a way to combine her love of photography and travel.

Follow Tracie’s blog at Tracie Travels and find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too.

    28 Comments

  1. Wow Tracie this is a my dream venture. I’ve reached 6 of the 7 continents and like you want to complete the set. Also maybe more importantly I want to see all those cute penguins.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Thanks for reading it! It’s funny, I didn’t even think seeing all seven continents was ever possible until I was on #5. I just kept racking them up and realized that the ships went to Antarctica, so I figured it was actually possible.

  2. Wow tracie i never thought I would imagine myself to be working on a cruise ship as i get naseous on board but after reading this, i might think about it. Nice post! Inspiring!

    Cheers from Manila!

    • Shayne, I get seasick too! Still, to this day! Cruise ships are usually so big that you won’t really feel sick unless the seas are really rough, like during a storm. I didn’t get sick very often, so your chances are good! 😉

  3. Wow I love this! I did the ESL teaching thing and have been considering moving abroad again.. maybe cruising is an option for me?

    • Thanks Meg! One of my good friends went from teaching abroad to working on cruise ships. She loved both!

  4. Antartica is the only continent I still have to reach and would be a dream trip. Cool article.

    • Thanks Jonny! Definitely a dream trip. I hope to go back some day to thoroughly explore!

  5. Wow, I never knew you went to Antarctica. What an adventure! The extended sunsets must have been gold considering you’re a photographer, it definitely piqued my interest. Great photos 🙂

    • Yep! Sure did! 🙂 And yes, the extended sunsets were nice when I had time off to shoot them.

  6. Hello Tracie! Well done for dropping everything and going for it! I’ve considered working on cruise ships a lot but I really do have terrible sea legs. Maybe the bigger the boat, the better it is? Nonetheless, well done for travelling for free and I love the photos <3

    • Thanks Alice! I do believe that bigger boats are better for those of us (including me!) who don’t have great sea legs, or stomachs for that matter. I remember that after my first few days at sea, I stepped on land and felt like the ground was moving. It never happened again after that though! 🙂

  7. I loved working on a cruise ship! I sailed for nearly 7 years and 6 continents. I am hoping to make it to Antarctica soon! Thanks for the memories/reminders of life onboard.
    Lisa Niver
    We Said Go Travel

    • Lisa, it’s definitely a unique opportunity isn’t it? It’s so hard to say goodbye to free travel like that! I hope you make it to Antarctica some day!

  8. Wow! Antarctica is truly a “final frontier” destination, and you were able to go there! We hope we could follow your footsteps one day.

    • Indeed it is a final frontier of sorts! Honestly, I hope it stays distant and hard to reach for most people, if only for preservation of the environment. Of course, if you can be one of the few, then I wish you all the best!

  9. Sounds like wonderful experiences! My husband and I thought about it for a while, but we decided against it for some reason. But we ended up moving abroad anyway, so I guess it all worked out. Antarctica looks amazingly beautiful and I’m so glad you were able to experience it!!

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica! I’m glad you found what you wanted abroad.

  10. Shiplife is pretty similar no matter where you are it seems. I worked with Norwegian Cruise Line out in Hawaii for a handful of contracts which provided some pretty awesome travel perks as well.

    My contracts were a bit long – anywhere between 6 and 9 months (9 being the max). But it was nice because whenever I finished my contract as a bartender, I could either fly back home to Florida (of which they paid the flight) or I could simply take the cost of whatever it is to fly home and put that towards a flight elsewhere in the world.

    They were pretty awesome travel perks and, being that you’re pretty much living off the ships crew commodities, I saved a lot of money for the off season for more travel. 🙂

    • So true, Ron! Excellent travel perks in the cruise ship crew world.

  11. It’s amazing that you got paid to travel to Antartica. The pictures look stunning. I hope to visit someday 🙂

    • I hope you have the chance to visit someday too Salie 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post. Happy travels!

  12. Fantastic article Meg! I’ve dreamed of going to Antarctiva for a long time and I have considered going back to cruise ship life. Guess it’s time to take a second look! ? lol

    • Glad you enjoyed it Ron! Definitely something to consider if you’re serious about getting there – let me know if you have any further Q’s and I can put you in touch with Tracie 🙂

  13. I’m looking into taking an Antarctica cruise and I’m interested in trying to find work on a boat (I also have a ton of experience working with children). Can I ask if you were able to take any Zodiac trips or set foot on land as part of your contract? Also, do you think it is too late now to apply for jobs for this summer cruise season (starts in November).

    • Hi Crystal,

      That’s awesome that you’re interested in working on an Antarctica cruise! I think working with kids is probably one of the best jobs on a ship. I would suggest trying to get a job as soon as possible, despite the season. I observed that 95% of the employees had to work for a while with my company (Holland America Line) before they were given much of a choice on where to go. You’ll likely need some seniority in the company to get on an Antarctica ship. It could be that another cruise line or another position may offer you more of an opportunity.

      Unfortunately, I did not get to set foot on land or take a zodiac ride. I don’t believe any of the passengers did either for that particular cruise. I know that some cruise lines (maybe the smaller ones?) offer such an excursion.

      Best of luck! I hope you get there some day! 🙂

  14. Hi There!

    What fun. I’ve recently sold my business and retired. Can you tell me what the age range is for working on cruise lines? I sold my web site with the business, and don’t have one now. I do have a Pinterest page to show you my range of interests. Just got started on it.

    Thanks so much. Sounds like you’ve got it going on 🙂

    Beth

    • Hi Beth,

      You can work on a cruise ship at any age really. There are so many different kinds of jobs, from college students to retirees. It’s just a matter of whether you will want to share a tiny room with a stranger, who may be quite a bit younger than you. Some jobs will require a bit of experience and seniority (like manager positions), but they could get you a nice cabin to yourself.

      If you’re older, you might consider something like a cruise planner (I’m not sure if that’s the official name) who works on board arranging future cruises for long time customers. You may need experience with some of the cruise ports though, so that you’re knowledgable about them. There are also shore excursions jobs, which would allow you to do tons of fun activities in port. Another one that I think would be fun is an onboard naturalist who does presentations on the regions that the cruise is sailing. This may be limited to certain itineraries though. Other than those, there are all kinds of jobs from casino staff to onboard shop workers, and you could do any of those at any age. I suggest thinking about your interests and qualifications, and then searching for a job that fits you. Best of luck!

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