So you want to Work on a Cruise Ship

Kayleigh so you want to work on a cruise ship
Kayleigh exploring the world and getting paid for it by working on a cruise ship.

Working on a cruise ship might sound like a glamorous way to get paid to travel but what is life working at sea really like? I caught up with Kayleigh to find out.

So you want to Work on Cruise Ship? – An Interview with Kayleigh from She Hearts Earth

Kayleigh is from Washington State (not DC…) in the US but spends most of her time at sea. Kayleigh works as a program coordinator for the youth department onboard various ships of a major cruise line. It’s a job that takes her all around the world, literally, visiting ports in dozens of countries along numerous itineraries throughout the globe.

Kayleigh describes her life as chaotic, memorable and creative. She says it’s a bit of a whirlwind, but she loves so many aspects of it and she shares her stories on her blog at or keep up to date on Instagram @sheheartsearth Twitter @sheheartsearth and Facebook She Hearts Earth

Kayleigh 5

Sounds like an awesome travel job Kayleigh! What made you decide to work on a cruise ship and how did you make it happen?

In 2008, as I was about to graduate University, my advisor told my classmates and I that there were various cruise ship internships available on one of the world’s leading cruise lines over the holiday season. I was excited about the opportunity so I got ahold of the contact and was at sea just ten days after I graduated.

My intern cruise only lasted 12 days but I was NOT a fan. It’s such a unique world, plus, my bags didn’t arrive until after Christmas! So after disembarking, I decided not to pursue it further, but nine months later when community budget cuts caused my land job to be phased out, I emailed my manager and jumped back onboard the following September.

Haven’t looked back since and now I’ve visited almost 90 countries and all 7 continents! Plus, I’ve picked myself up an English fiancé – we’ve been fortunate to travel together for nearly five years now.

Kayleigh 2 working on a cruise ship

Cool, so what kind of jobs are available on a cruise ship?

I can only really speak about the positions in my department, as that’s all I know. I work in the entertainment department, overseeing and coordinating the youth and teen center. Within entertainment, there is the Cruise Director who hosts all the social events and is basically the face of the ship. He or she is in charge of the department alongside the manager. There are the cast performers and musicians, as well as enrichment staff like the DJ and Librarian. Positions constantly change and fluctuate throughout the years and may have different titles across different cruise lines.

Other departments include Housekeeping, Front Office, Shore Excursions, Shops, Casino, Photo Gallery, Beverage, Spa, Culinary, Engine, Deck, Facilities, etc

So what do you like the best about life at sea?

I love meeting people from around the world and having friends around every corner. It’s a shock to the system to be home on vacation and have to make an effort to see friends and family – I’m so used to them being just a short walk down the corridor.
I also love seeing so many wonderful places for free. It definitely gives me an idea as to where I would like to travel to again someday.

Kayleigh 1

But nothings perfect right? Are there any downsides?

Of course, there are down sides to every situation, but it’s all about putting them into perspective – I constantly have to remind myself that. Our biggest downside is that we work every single day…seven days a week for months on end. No weekends, no holidays. But come the end of our contract, we get months off to do as we please (hoping the money lasts), so once we’re off it’s not so bad. It gives us great opportunity for extended travel between contracts.

Sounds intense, so do you have one standout highlight, achievement or a favourite destination?

Seeing Antarctica was just about the coolest thing I could ever imagine. I remember at one point, as we glided smoothly between icebergs, standing outside, marveling at its untouched beauty, tears streaming down my cheeks. I had never seen anything so breathtaking. Then on New Years I was proven wrong. The sun was down for only about an hour and when it rose over the distant ice-covered mountains, two whales breeched right in front of the ship. Magical doesn’t describe it justly. Perhaps that was the coolest thing.

Kayleigh 4
Wow, that sounds really amazing! So what has been the greatest challenge?

It’s a huge challenge to stay in touch with friends and family from home. I miss all my people dearly when I’m away, but our world is so different, so confined, that’s it’s difficult to stay in touch and to articulate our feelings to those who have never experienced the lifestyle themselves.

It’s also very challenging for us crew members to get ourselves back on the ship in time for ‘all aboard’ when we are out in an amazing place, having a fantastic time, especially when it’s likely we won’t be back.

Lastly, it’s extremely challenging to healthily appease my vegetarian diet. Ships serve gourmet food, no argument there, but more often than not, it is meat, and when there are veggie options, they are commonly coated in other things I try to avoid (butter, salt, etc.). It’s frustrating because I love to cook as well and can’t for months at a time!

Kayleigh 7

What do you wish you had known before you started working on cruise ships?

If I had known how hard it would be to transition back to settling on land, I might not have began this seagoing lifestyle…so I guess it’s a good thing I had no idea! But I do fear that stage of life someday – returning to the grind that our guests spend fortunes trying to escape from. Perhaps one of the scariest questions I will face at that point- how will we afford to travel??

So, what about the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I can honestly say I have no idea. I’ve been hoping for a shipboard promotion for a while now so it will depend on if I get that. Otherwise we’ve thought about living in Asia for a while, perhaps Costa Rica (I lived there for a summer once and LOVED it). Maybe even in my home of Seattle, or my fiancé’s neck of the woods in the north of England. I would love to have a job that would allow me to part time working from home, honing in on my hobbies of photography, videography, writing, and/or DIY.

Kayleigh 3
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what tips would you give for people wanting to follow in your footsteps and work on a cruise ship?

Don’t come into a life of cruise ships expecting sunshine and rainbows from the start. There are rainbows, but often there’s a drizzle and sometimes a storm beforehand – working on a ship is a lot of work! It’s definitely not a vacation!

If you are still interested and want to get more of an idea about life working on cruise ship check out Kayleigh’s videos on vimeo

Thanks Kayleigh for such a great insight into life working on a cruise ship and showing the big benefits, and drawbacks, to carefully consider.

If you are working or volunteering abroad and want to be featured here check out the Guest Post Guidelines and get in touch!

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Kayleigh King September 18, 2017 at 10:31 am

I’m 3 countries away from hitting 100 by my 30th birthday! On a quest in the Balkans to complete this goal at the moment. Ten days to go!

Anna September 19, 2017 at 7:27 am

Wow thats awesome Kayleigh! 🙂 🙂


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