Make the Most of your Experiences at Sea


People come from all over the world to work on cruise ships and we all have one main reason why we do it whether it’s the travel, money or the social aspect. I’ll start off with the main reason I got into this job: I love to travel. Cruising is amazing because you get to see so many different places in a short space of time and for free. It’s very expensive to cruise, and can sometimes cost up to $20,000. Cruising is fast paced- you’re always on the move, and there’s always something new to see.

I was lucky enough to cruise round the Caribbean, some of South America, the USA and Alaska. I’ve worked one nine month contract and tried my best to hit my targets as good performance means you can request a ship for your second contract. Luckily I’ve been granted my request and will be travelling around Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Hawaii and Alaska very soon!

A lot of cruise lines do free or discounted shore excursions. Holland America Line allows the crew to do the shore excursions for free; this meant I got to see a lot more than just the ports, which usually are centered around shopping and don’t reflect the culture and history of the country you are visiting. I did some pretty cool things, such as ziplining in Costa Rica, holding a baby sloth in Colombia, hiking up snowcapped mountains in Alaska, feeding ostriches in Curacao, swimming with Stingrays in Grand Cayman and cooking fresh cactus in Mexico. We went through the Panama Canal every 10 days for 7 months too, which is a sight in itself! My advice would be to get out there and take every opportunity, as your 9 month contract will fly by. You don’t want to have any regrets.

The spas are usually situated at the front and very top deck of the ship, which means the views are amazing. Most treatment rooms have a window, so you can watch the beautiful scenery go past as you are doing your job! The scenery is unreal in Alaska, and whale sightings are pretty much guaranteed.

Wage and Working Hours

Cruise ship spas operate on a commission basis. You generally work a 14 hour day with 2 hour-long breaks. In this period of work, you are responsible for making your column as full and busy as possible. This is a good opportunity to make money as you earn commission on services, which are usually over $100, and include an automatic service charge which goes to you as a therapist. The guest then has the opportunity to add an additional gratuity on the receipt and you will be recommending homecare products which you earn commission on too. If you are on a ship with American passengers then lucky you! You are likely to be tipped extra in addition to the automatic gratuity; they love good service so go above and beyond to pamper your guests.

It is all about maximizing your revenue. If you can work smart i.e. you provide an excellent service and are good at retailing, you may not need to work so hard i.e. doing lots of treatments. You get a good idea of how to run a business when you’re at sea. You may be lucky enough to arrive on the ship with your own treatment room and a facials column. However, lots of first contractors start off with a massage column. It is then your job to ‘prove yourself’ that you are good at retailing and you are bringing the money in for the company. It is easier to retail with a facials column as guests who book a facial usually come with a concern such as wrinkles, and there are a wide range of products to treat these concerns. The most difficult products to sell are body products especially when you client is totally focused on relaxation. But as with all business, spas need to be profitable to exist and you are there to retail and make the most of your booked column.

The most difficult products to sell are body products especially when your client is totally focused on relaxation. But as with all businesses. spas need to be profitable to exist and you are there to retail and make the most of your booked column.

Most spas-at-sea have a monthly guarantee in terms of wage. It’s usually about $1000. If you don’t make the monthly guarantee then this amount will be topped up in order to pay your wage. However, therapists usually make over their guarantee, which means they won’t be supplemented by the company. There’s not really a lot to spend your money on onboard the ship and everything is provided for you in terms of food and accommodation. On land you would probably be paying for bills and transport too-so it’s easy to save money- unless you are tempted by all the shops in the ports!

Sea days are the busiest days and you will usually find yourself booked back to back. I would try to get plenty of rest on nights before the sea days as you need to be on top form as the sea day targets are exceptionally high. Hit your targets and you will earn incentives and hours off which is great when you want a lie in or a little extra time in port. Guests tend to visit the spa when the ship is at sea and get off the ship when it’s in port. Port days are a great opportunity to go out into the public areas of the ship and promote yourself. It’s good to make yourself busy when working on a ship as the long days just drag when you haven’t got anything booked in.

Larger ships usually cruise round the more popular destinations such as the Caribbean and Alaska. You will make money on a large ship with an itinerary like this- because they are SHORT CRUISES. 7 day cruising is ideal because guests will visit the spa once or twice then there’s a new set of passengers. Small ships usually have the better itineraries such as the ‘grand voyages’ which are worldwide cruises. Guests stay for around 90 days and tend to visit the spa a few times- but these spas aren’t busy as there is no urgency to book appointments! So the money tends not to be as good but there’s a huge range of ports to visit. These ships tend to be lower revenue due to the fact that the guests’ priorities are the ports rather than the spa; so this means less staff and therefore less competition for columns. Small vessels are usually more relaxed in terms of head office visits.

The retail and service performance of all on board spas is monitored by head office who will visit the ship and hold spa training sessions and individual contribution discussed individually, especially if the team is struggling to make target. One piece of advice - don't take this attention personally, they're there to help improve your performance and you shouldn't feel like you're bad at your job. If it helps sell then look upon it as helping the guest make the right choice for them.

Leisure and General Ship Life

Be prepared- a life at sea is not for the faint hearted. 9 months worth of long days is probably not something you will have experienced before. It’s a bit of a shock at first how tired you become, but you get used to it. This is probably the last thing you want to do but I found that doing a little bit of exercise every day towards the end of my contract gave me a huge energy boost. Try to keep motivated and find a hobby whilst you’re onboard or else it will feel like you are just there to work and not much else. Walking round the open deck can do you the world of good; the ocean air is so clean and you can feel your lungs opening up. The stars are nice and visible too as there is no pollution to cloud the air at sea, it’s beautiful.

There will be times you hate it and want to go home. It’s not easy being away for 9 months, and sometimes you will feel really cut off from the outside world as ship life is a bubble. Make sure you have things to look forward to, in order to keep you going. This could be a new port to visit, shore excursions, treating yourself in the shops, calling your loved ones back at home or downloading new songs/TV shows/films off the wifi in port. Mine is counting down the days til I see my boyfriend, who I met on my first contract! Internet and phone cards are expensive, and it’s hard to maintain a relationship when you’re at sea, but it’s doable if you are really in love and willing to take the rough with the smooth.

And the next bit you probably won’t want to hear! But I’m going to tell you anyway. Most people pick up weight during their first contract, whether it’s a few pounds or a couple of stone. The food is so abundant (and lovely!) on cruise ships; this paired with the fact that you are tired and lacking in energy leads people to make bad choices when it comes to food. I regained my discipline with diet and exercise 3 months before finishing my contract and lost all the weight, thank god! The gym is free to use which sounds amazing but you need serious willpower to fit it into your breaks in a 14 hour day- or your precious day off!

Ships are a complete melting pot when it comes to nationalities of the crew. You will meet people from all over the world during your 9 month contract. That’s a lot of cultures and ideas- it is really interesting and opens your mind a lot. You will have one other room-mate and live in a bunk bed room; hopefully this will be someone you get on with. If you do then great, if not then give each other space and get out there to enjoy all the other things going on onboard. Everyone gets to know everyone; this can be a bit too close for comfort sometimes!  I met some amazing friends who I will never forget- and some I know I will see on my next contract!

People tend to come and go all the way through your contract and its sad when your friends leave, but that’s just ship life. Some people you will see 2 or 3 times during a contract! And if you carry on with the job on another ship, you never know who you might bump into as people tend to stay with the same cruise line but change ships. Dating an officer has its perks too- window cabin, room service etc. However, beware of jealous exes, people tend to get around on cruise ships- but I won’t go too much into that!

There are bars onboard for just the crew and usually crew parties every now and then but this varies by cruise line- if you are with Carnival there will be a party every night! It’s free for crew to watch the singers and dancers in their shows and there is usually loads of entertainment dotted about the various lounges on the ship, whether its big band to Broadway to comedy, there is usually something for everyone. It’s easy to burn the candle at both ends and become exhausted- some people can do it but it eventually catches up with most crew especially if you are working the long and demanding hours of the spa. It’s not the best feeling when you have to leave the party because you have work at 7.30 am! Christmas and New Year are amazing on ships, as are birthdays and Halloween. Ship crew know how to choose the best entertainment and throw the craziest parties.

You make your own experience as a crew member. It will definitely change you as a person; I became more confident and I believe in myself a lot more. I always had doubts that I would earn money as a beauty therapist, but working on a cruise ship has proven me wrong. As a result of this, I have chosen to continue my life at sea. I’ve never been so tired in all my life, but I’ve also never had so much fun and met so many great people. Go into it with an open mind; don’t be fooled by anyone who tries to glamorize ship life but at the same time don’t let anyone with a negative view put you off it. Everyone’s experience is unique- but one thing stays the same- once you have worked on a ship it becomes a part of you!

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