A Guide to Working Onboard a Cruise Ship

Spa Operators

Steiner Leisure is now the largest company operating spas and salons at sea, since they took over Harding Brothers on-board Spa Company, bringing the total to 25 different cruise lines on their portfolio.

Product brands Elemis and La Therapie, which come under the Steiner umbrella, form the luxurious treatments available on the spa at sea menu. Ionithermie and jou herbal supplements also compliment the brands services and products allowing therapists to have the opportunity to train and work with these product lines. Steiner recruits continually throughout the year with interviews taking place in London, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newport. Once successful, all staff are trained at the academy prior to boarding a vessel for employment.

The Canyon Ranch is an American spa company which operates Spa’s on-board Cunard’s QM2, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas. Treatment menu comprises of oxygen boosting facials, blue algae detox treatments with the Canyon Ranch secret ingredient for optimum results. They seek therapists over 23 years old, with a minimum of 2 years experience within a five star establishment and candidates must be prepared to cover travel expenses and accommodation during the interview process.

Decleor / Carita employ therapists for 6 month contracts on-board luxury five star spa, cruise ships. They look for motivated and passionate individuals with a proven track record in client satisfaction and retail sales. All therapists will gain training in Decleor and Carita brands prior to boarding ships.

The World is a new force in cruising being the only residential cruise ship. They seek professional beauty therapists, massage therapists and nail technicians for ‘4 months on and 2 months off’ contracts. The ship, which has a helicopter landing pad for residents to join or leave the ship, is really an experience of a lifetime for therapists to provide outstanding services, in the most luxurious surroundings, to successful and well-travelled clientele. As a residential ship you will build rapport with clients and see them return again and again to the spa. This is an opportunity most people can only dream about!
The Process

Once an application has been approved you will be required to attend an interview at either the training academy or in Southampton onboard ship. (Locations may vary). There will be several other interviewees and the interviewer will discuss at length all that’s involved in careers at sea; there will be opportunities to ask questions. A one on one interview will then take place as well as trades tests. Interviews can last 2 – 3 hours.

What companies look for in potential employees is previous experience in working in health spa or day spa, a progressive career, experience with their brand (although training will be given,) and hard-working, dedicated individuals who deliver quality treatments and have a sense of adventure.

Once accepted most companies will require you to attend the training academy to learn the treatments, product knowledge and demonstration skills needed to be a successful therapist onboard. These courses may require payment, or they may be free, although the cost of living during this time will out of your own purse. Depending on whether you are a nail technician, beauty therapist or massage therapist duration varies, but 6 – 8 weeks is usual for beauty therapists.

Other contractors may have a training manager onboard for your first few weeks, ensuring you’re equipped with treatment and product knowledge prior to providing treatment on passengers.

You will also need to undertake at your own cost Sea Survival training, Maritime medical, CD1 Visa and purchase your beauty kit (tweezers, sponges, mitts, make up brushes, manicure & pedicure tools etc.) You will also need formal attire, as you may mingle with passengers in the evening.

You will then find out which ship you are to board and all information regarding this will be given to you. The company will purchase your flight out to the ship, or if the port is in the UK you will need to make your own arrangements there.

Once you arrive on board you will meet the crew purser whom will check all your documentation which will be kept in the crew purser’s office for the duration of your contract. You will be shown to your cabin, then finally meet your Spa Manager.
Life on Board

Your cabin will be quite small, with a bunk bed for you and your room mate. You may possibly have a fridge but not certainly. You will also have a TV, wardrobe and small bathroom. You should make it feel homely, pictures of family and pets can be blue tacked onto the wall.

You will have a daily attendant who will do a light clean of your cabin (i.e. emptying bins, wiping sink and mirrors and leaving fresh towels). Laundry can also be left with the attendant to take to the laundrette, or you can take it there yourself. You will need to let them know your name and cabin number.

Staff mess is where you will eat your meals. You are usually separate from the crew (housekeeping, deck, engine and waiting staff) and will be amongst the other concessions, (shops, entertainment, child carers, guest speakers, bands and musicians). On some ships officers may share the mess, but on others they will have their own luxurious mess to eat in.

Evenings you can go to a show, look around the onboard shop or stay downstairs socialising in the crew bar. You could just spend the evening in your cabin. In the passenger area you must be either in uniform or in smart clothing with name badge at all times. (You are not allowed in the passenger bars or casino.)

Days off are one and half day a week, and you are free to visit the destination or alternatively you can join a shore excursion (which must be pre-booked and with spa managers approval) but name badges must be worn so as to assist passengers if needed.

You may want to shop, visit the beach, or tour the sites; the choice is completely yours. I do recommend finding out the port that you are docked in as some places have several ports and if you take a taxi back to the ship you may find yourself at another port and lost!!


  • See the world with your own eyes, a fantastic life experience
  • Build a global network of friends
  • Free travel
  • Cruise ship therapist on your CV will set you apart from your competitors
  • Develop professionally, new skills acquired
  • Brings you out of your shell, with demonstrations and passenger drills you will never be shy again.
  • Create a business-minded therapist. You are in control of your own column its up to you to make the most of sales opportunities and bookings
  • Days off in new countries and exotic locations


  • Hard work, long hours
  • Pressure to gain bookings and retail
  • Costs of medicals, visa’s, kit and attire
  • Small living and working environment
  • Port cleans, cabin inspections, drills.

Safety at Sea

Within the first day of arrival you will have your first meeting with the safety officer along with other new joiners. You will be shown your emergency muster station and will be instructed in the emergency procedure.

Every week you will attend crew drills where officers will throw questions at random to the crew regarding health and safety and evacuation procedures so it’s a good idea to learn this before you join ship. Every embarkation day you will take part in the passenger drill, and demonstrate the correct wearing of life jackets and other procedures if required.

Continually throughout the duration of your contract you will be attending training session in regards to using fire extinguishers, crowd control,  basic fire fighting which will better equip you in case of any emergency.

The Spa

The spa on ship is similar to that of a salon or spa on land, products are what you may have worked with previously, being well established brands. You will have your own treatment room and as a beauty therapist will be known as either the facial therapist or the body therapist. If you are on a smaller ship, whichever column you have, you will also provide manicure, pedicure and make up services as well.

The first day at the spa is embarkation day, which usually runs from 2pm till 8pm. This is the day the previous passengers leave and the new passengers arrive. You and your colleagues are spread around the ship and at the dock.

Those on the docks are giving out tickets for champagne spa tours and other therapists and hairdressers are taking the passengers around the spa giving a brief description of a few of the treatments that are done. Every passenger at the spa tour is then given a free raffle ticket which is to be drawn after the passenger drill.

Prior to the raffle, the Spa Manager will give a warm welcome to the passengers and each therapist/stylist will introduce herself / himself and say a little about what they specialise in.

The last couple of hours of the embarkation day are spent providing passengers with the promotion of the day, which is usually ‘Travellers Tension’ a 20 minute back massage or foot and ankle massage.

The following day is usually the sea day which is the busiest of the whole week. You will work 8am – 8pm with 1 hour lunch break and 1 hour demonstration. The purpose of the demonstration is to gain treatment bookings and you can do this by giving them a special offer when they book with you during the demo.

The Port days are a lot quieter as passengers are out sight seeing. This is the time to plan your promotions, go out by the pool and offer mini back, foot or scalp massages or role play ideas with colleagues on improving and trying out different approaches for demonstrations to gain more bookings in the future. Usually, from lunchtime onwards passengers are coming back to the ship intermittently.

You may find yourself busy with pedicures due to tired, achy feet from too much sight seeing. There is a daily salon promotion which passengers can take advantage of and the spa manager will equal this out by alternating between hair and beauty services. There are also your own promotions which you are able to give out as passengers arrive back on board or for those sat around the pool. Alternatively, what is quicker and easier to do is to have a sandwich-style blackboard outside the salon with specials on offer during the day.

On the Final day after a busy week, you will be very pleased when you have reached your set target and after the evening meal everyone will be back in the salon for a port clean ready for the next embarkation day which usually takes a couple of hours. You are responsible for your own room and then everyone mucks in with the communal areas.


Targets are set by the head office and you are responsible for keeping track of your daily takings in both services and retail. They also look for an average of 35% retail in comparison to service in take and meetings are conducted weekly to ascertain how you can improve on retail, volume of services and demonstration bookings.

Time may be allocated during quiet mornings to brain storm ideas and role play a demonstration or training in retail sales by the salon manager. From time to time you will have the area manager join ships for extra training on retail, promotional and demonstration techniques and you will learn a lot during this time, although some meetings are conducted after the spa is closed, until late into the evening.
The travel

Cruise ships can travel anywhere around the world, depending on which ship you are assigned to. Check with your doctor for inoculations relating to your destination. You are paid weekly. Half the wages, plus commission, goes straight into your account and the rest is given to you onboard. Wages vary depending on cruise operator. Although minimal, there is no rent or food to buy so your basic needs are covered.  There is a chance to increase your weekly wage, through commissions earned from reaching targets, as well as tips left by passengers. The main reception or crew purser will be able to exchange money into local currency; however your bank card should be able to withdraw cash at any ATM machine worldwide.

Usually cruises run on a fortnight itinerary and so time off can alternate between staff, ensuring that everyone has a chance to see each port. During the last few months you may have the chance to visit your favourite place again; also lunch breaks on port days are 2 hours. Thus allowing you to eat ashore or pop into local shops. On completion of your first contract you are usually given the opportunity to ask for a certain ship to work on next or maybe a destination you desire to see. After a successful contract you will soon be eager to start your next adventure!

For more information regarding opportunities onboard websites for cruise operators are:


Also Berlitz publishers have a book which you will find very useful regarding cruise ships and their facilities by Douglas Ward called a complete guide to cruising and cruise ships 2013.


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