Top 15 Cruise Ship Careers to Consider (and What They Pay)

Sail your way to career success.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Top Cruise Ship Careers

If you’re the kind of person who loves the sea and enjoys traveling and meeting people of all backgrounds, then working on a cruise ship could be just right for you! After all, an office setting can’t beat working on a giant, buoyant structure floating on crystal blue waters, right?

Depending on your interests, there is a variety of different roles you could be pursuing on a cruise ship. Let’s look at 15 of these career paths, see how much they could earn you, and how you could go about landing the role!

1. Captain


Average salary: $104,190/year

What they do: Ship captains are responsible for the safe overall handling of the ship, being in control of navigation, maneuvering, operations and communications. They also ensure that the ship they’re in command of complies with local and international regulations.

How to become: Being a ship’s captain comes with a lot of responsibility; that’s why the road to becoming one is long. Finishing your high school education is the first step, so you can move on to enrolling in a course at a maritime academy.

Most maritime students work as interns to gain hands-on experience before graduating, while some go on to study at postgraduate level. In the US, certification and licensing are also necessary before you can work as a captain, and they can take many years to obtain.

2. Security officer

Security Officer

Average salary: $34,770/year

What they do: You can’t exactly call the police for help when you’re in the middle of the ocean. To ensure that crew members and travelers are safe at all times, cruise ships have security officers on board who keep a close eye on passengers and maintain order.

How to become: To become a security guard, you need to be at least 18 years of age and in good physical shape. A lot of the time, a high school diploma is enough to get you started in this profession, although an associate or bachelor’s degree in public safety or a related subject can help you stand out.

After passing a background check, many security officers receive training on the job.

3. Mechanic

Ship Mechanic

Average salary: $66,100/year

What they do: Sometimes referred to as ship engineers, ship mechanics are responsible for maintaining and repairing the vessel’s engines and machines. These include boilers, generators, electrical equipment and pumps.

How to become: This career path requires you to hold a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering, which can be obtained at a maritime college or academy. Much like becoming a ship’s captain, becoming a ship mechanic requires you to hold additional licenses, such as the Merchant Mariner Credential.

4. Cruise director


Average salary: $67,220/year

What they do: Cruise directors oversee all recreational activities and entertainment on board, ensuring that everyone has a great time on their trip. Besides managing large teams of entertainers and coordinating different types of events, they’re also typically the ones making announcements and conducting safety briefings and drills.

How to become: Cruise directors often hold a bachelor’s degree in hospitality studies, business, communications, or a related field. They must also be able to demonstrate a range of soft skills, like verbal and written communication, problem solving, decision making, customer service, and conflict resolution.

5. Deckhand


Average salary: $36,000/year

What they do: Though these crew members don’t normally interact with passengers, their role is vital in ensuring that everyone on board is satisfied with their trip. They’re the ones responsible for keeping deck areas clean, tidy and free of hazards, reporting problems and incidents, and loading and unloading luggage and cargo.

How to become: Deckhand positions are typically entry-level roles with minimal requirements. In most cases, you’ll need to be at least 18 years of age to apply for this position, be in good physical shape, and pass a background check.

6. Entertainer


Average salary: $38,400/year

What they do: Depending on the size of the cruise ship and the activities planned, there may be several entertainer roles to fill: dancers, singers, aerialists, comedians, musicians, magicians… And the list goes on.

Each one of these talented individuals plays an essential part in keeping passengers entertained and in good spirits.

How to become: Cruise lines typically hold auditions when looking to hire performers, so it’s important to keep an eye out for these if you’re interested. You’ll need to put together an eye-catching résumé that outlines your past experiences and achievements, while a professional website or social media accounts can help you demonstrate your best work.

7. Chef


Average salary: $56,520/year

What they do: Cruise ships have hundreds and sometimes thousands of passengers — and they’re all bound to get hungry several times a day. As a chef, you’ll be responsible for creating the menu prior to sailing off, and then overseeing your team and delegating tasks to them once out at sea, ensuring each dish comes out perfectly.

How to become: Before you can start working as a chef on a cruise ship, you’ll most likely have to graduate from culinary school. Depending on the program you choose, this can take between one and four years.

8. Server


Average salary: $29,120/year

What they do: Whether it’s in the main dining hall or one of the bars, cafés or lounge areas, waiting staff plays an important role in keeping passengers happy. They’re responsible for greeting the guests and showing them to their seats, as well as taking orders for food and drinks and serving them.

How to become: Like deckhand positions, waiting roles can often be entry-level with little requirements — although previous work experience can set you apart.

Whether you’ve worked in a similar role before or not, being able to demonstrate excellent customer service skills, including verbal communication, empathy and cultural awareness, is going to be essential in landing this job.

9. Bartender


Average salary: $29,380/year

What they do: Bartenders are responsible for maintaining a clean, tidy bar area, taking orders and pouring or mixing drinks for customers.

Though not listed under their official duties, they often become unofficial therapists of sorts, listening to woozy patrons go on about their lives, from stories about their pets and children to their failed business attempts and long-lost lovers.

How to become: In most cases, if you want to earn a living making cocktails while you travel the world, you will need to have some previous work experience. This can (thankfully) be gained on land, in a bar, hotel or resort.

While not a requirement, enrolling in a bartending course can set you apart from other candidates, as it shows dedication to your craft.

10. Casino host

Casino Host

Average salary: $31,290/year

What they do: Most cruise ships have onboard casinos — even small ones do! That’s why cruise lines are always on the lookout for casino hosts and dealers.

Casino hosts in particular are there to greet the guests as they enter, answer questions, and build relationships to encourage visitors to come back.

How to become: Different employers will have different requirements for this role. Generally, a high school diploma will suffice, as training is often given on the job. You will, however, benefit from having a few years’ work experience in a customer service role, especially if it’s in the hospitality or gaming industries.

11. Doctor


Average salary: $229,300/year

What they do: Imagine feeling under the weather on a ship that’s miles away from the nearest shore — and having no one to help you out!

Doctors are an essential part of a cruise ship’s crew, providing medical care to fellow team members and passengers.

How to become: Whether you want to treat patients in a hospital or a luxury cruise ship, the path to becoming a doctor is the same: you must first finish high school and college, and then apply to medical school — which is another four years of studies on top of your bachelor’s degree. Finally, you’ll have to complete your residency, which can take between three and seven years.

12. Salesperson


Average salary: $30,750/year

What they do: From casinos to fitness centers, cruise ships can really have it all. Some even have Go-Kart tracks, planetariums and rock-climbing walls on them — so, of course they’ll also have shopping areas.

Shop attendants are there to greet customers, answer questions about the products, and handle transactions.

How to become: Requirements for this role can vary depending on the employer; some will only expect you to have a high school diploma (and an extraverted personality!) and provide training on the job, while others will want to see relevant work experience on your résumé.

You will also need to demonstrate strong numeracy and computer skills, as well as interpersonal skills.

13. Photographer


Average salary: $40,170/year

What they do: Every cruise ship needs its photographer! Taking photos of passengers both on deck and sometimes during shore excursions, these creative professionals help travelers capture some of the memories that will accompany them for life.

How to become: This is one of those roles where previous work experience and a strong portfolio will typically outweigh qualifications. Having said that, an associate or bachelor’s degree in photography or a related subject in addition to your portfolio can strengthen your job application.

14. Childcare worker

Childcare Worker

Average salary: $28,520/year

What they do: Even though you might not expect it, some cruise ships offer babysitting and childcare services! If you love being around children and coming up with creative ways to keep them entertained, you could pursue this role (and make a lot of tired parents happy!).

How to become: The requirements for this role can vary between employers. Though not always needed, a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field might be helpful.

Childcare workers in the US must also typically pass a background check and in some cases hold the Child Development Associate credential.

15. Lifeguard


Average salary: $28,370/year

What they do: Most cruise ships will have, at the very least, one swimming pool on their decks — because who doesn’t like to swim in a pool… on a boat… in the sea!

To ensure passenger safety (especially when you have little kids around, as well as adults who have had one too many margaritas), cruise lines hire lifeguards to keep an eye on swimmers at all times.

How to become: If you want to work as a lifeguard, you will need to get certified. You can do this by enrolling in a course with a certifying agency such as the American Red Cross or the American Lifeguard Association.

Final thoughts

As we’ve seen, there are numerous careers a person can pursue on ships, including healthcare jobs, guest service roles, creative gigs, and even ones requiring you to work with engines and machines!

No matter what you choose, one thing is certain: you’ll have to bring your sense of adventure along, because life on a cruise ship can be as challenging as it is fun.

So, do tell: which of these ship jobs has caught your eye? And have you ever held a job on a cruise ship before? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!