Travel & Outdoor

Ship Life

Ship Life

Just graduated from varsity? Stuck in a rut with your nine-to-five job? If you’re contemplating giving in to wanderlust, there are many ways to travel the world – and working on cruise ships is becoming increasingly popular. It may seem like a fantastic option, but there are pros and cons to the lifestyle. Danielle Sheedy gives us the rundown of what to expect.

Being a South African passport holder can make obtaining a work visa tricky, one of the reasons why life on board a ship is an attractive proposition to so many.

Cruising is as popular as ever, a vacation pastime loved by travellers everywhere, where a floating hotel takes tourists on an enchanting journey from one country to the next. Idyllic, right? Before you sign up, remember working on a ship is a different matter altogether than being a guest.

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

“Ship life” is a term used by thousands of crew members to describe this unusual lifestyle. Working with people from a multitude of nationalities, there are major culture differences, but you’ll have one thing in common: a love of ships and travel.

You’ll be part of a community, as the ship is home and colleagues become family. You eat, work, party and live together. After your first contract you’ll have a friend to visit almost anywhere. Members are always coming and going, but the downside of meeting many people, is having to say goodbye – often.

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

There are many positives. First of all, you are not limited to one culture or part of the world. Your salary is tax-free and you’ll earn in dollars, making you feel rich instantly. As your spending opportunities are limited, you’ll manage to save quite a bit too. You’ll never have to worry about food or accommodation and you’ll see the world.

So what’s it like? You’ll spend your days working hard, but come evening you’ll be able to hit the crew bar and unwind, plus enjoy fun events put together especially for crew.  This could be cheese and wine, themed parties, shore excursions, movie nights and open-deck barbecues.

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

There’s a downside to this romanticised lifestyle, though: you’ll work seven days week, in 10 to 12 hour shifts. Time off is limited. A break between shifts can be anything from 30 minutes to four hours (depending on your position on board) which doesn’t give you much time to escape to dry land in an exotic place.

The first month on board will probably be the most exhausting of your life. Just getting to your port of call for the first time could involve 24 hours of travelling, meaning severe jet lag and a blur of a first day.

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

Initially finding your way around is a daunting task. You’ll be expected to become familiar with up to15 decks, 3 000 to 4 000 passengers and 100 000 tons of ship. Even the smaller vessels are more than three times the length of a rugby field!

An entire “underworld” exists for the crew, as they navigate the”‘I-95”, a way to get around without having to cross paths with any guests.

Training starts from the day you sign on and lasts for about two weeks. You’ll work shifts and adjust to your new life, but will also have intense, mandatory educational sessions about safety and rules. You’ll soon become a pro and know exactly what to do in case of an emergency. Safety is always the number-one priority on board.

Be prepared for cramped living conditions with bunk beds. Unless you’re a high ranking officer, cabins are shared. The best you can hope for is a roommate who’s a neat freak – and on a different schedule to you. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to negotiate with (bribe!) your roommate for the bottom bunk.

Staff and officers are usually allowed in guest areas, dine in the specialty restaurants and watch the shows as a privilege during time off, although you still have to wear a name tag and uniform.

It means you’ll be stopped by guests even if you aren’t on duty, and are required to still be helpful and friendly. The same protocol applies in port if you’re recognised by a guest. Working on board is a 24/7 deal, but it’s a small price to pay for the life you’ll get to lead.

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

Ship life might be the best decision you ever make. There is no better feeling than falling asleep in Oslo and waking up in Copenhagen. You’ll get to swim with dolphins in the Caribbean, do whale watching in Alaska and go horseback riding through lava fields in Iceland.

You’ll see the Suez Canal, visit Pearl Harbour and sail past the Sydney Opera House while the last rays of sunlight hit the glistening ocean…

Working on board will give you all of this and enable you to tick items off your bucket list. It can make your dreams come true. Yes, it’s hard work and you’ll feel the pressure, but it could also be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. You’ll fall in love with the lifestyle and it can become addictive.

It’ll teach you how to cope in any situation and with any type of person. It’ll mould you into a strong, well-rounded individual by pushing you to your absolute limits. Most of all, it will give you perspective on the world.

One of the many perks is when vacation finally comes around. You’ll have up to two months of uninterrupted rest, with a load of cash to enjoy on your time off. Sounds attractive? Then do it! If not now, then when? Take the leap, make the decision and watch how everything else falls into place.

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

Want to apply? Here’s how…

There are many different cruise lines and positions to choose from and you can apply directly through their websites. South Africa also boasts excellent hiring partners to help you get on your way.

Decide what position you’re interested in (there’s literally place for every industry and occupation). Most cruise ships require experience, or a qualification in the field you are applying for. You will also need a valid passport, and once the ball is rolling, you’ll need to visit a US embassy to obtain a C1/D2 seaman’s visa.

You may also need additional visas depending on where you are joining, and the itinerary of the ship. Once you have secured a job on board, the cruise line will inform you about what visas you will need to sign on.

To qualify for a job on board, you must pass a background check and be:

• At least 18 years of age (in some cases you must be over 21- it depends on what cruise line it is)
• Must be able to speak, write and read  English fluently
• Able to successfully complete all pre-employment requirements, which include obtaining a valid passport and C1/D2 seaman’s visa
• Willing to commit to, and be available for, a full contract as determined by the contract length
• Able to work a seven-day, 70- or 84-hour work week with limited time off
• Able to prove that you have at least two years of recent and related job experience
• Flexible toward ship life, job duties, job schedule and location
• Able to adhere to a structured lifestyle, personally and professionally
• Appreciative of working and living in a multicultural environment
• Willing to share a cabin
• Passionate about quality guest service, especially within a family environment
• Eager to work in a high-volume, fast-paced environment with enthusiasm for teamwork and a positive attitude
• Willing to follow and perform a safety role, emergency duties and/or associated responsibilities as specified in the ship assembly plan.
(Source: Disney Cruise Line)

Photo Credit: Lorraine Fung. Follow her on Instagram for more of her life on board: @oichee6

Try these websites for more information:

Disney Cruise Line

Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruise Lines

Royal Caribbean International

MSC Cruise Line

Celebrity Cruise Line

Hiring partners:

Gourmet Recruitment International
074-976-3889 073-295-4751
Disney, Oceania, SeaDream Yacht Club, Viking, Seabourn and Norwegian
Gourmet will assist you with the entire employment process including interview preparations, visas and medicals.

Atlantic Medical Recruitment
Hiring for Medical Positions

Seven Seas Photo
Specialise in hiring photographers and hires exclusively for Image Photo Services, the biggest and most successful concession in the industry. Applicants need to be a photographer or have at least a basic photography course completed to apply.

The On Board Spa
Steiner is the largest and most renowned company operating spas at sea, and hires massage and beauty therapists, fitness instructors, physicians, acupuncturists, hair dressers and nail technicians to work on board.

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