Jobs That Let You See the World: Seasonal Cruise Ship Staff

by Brianne Miers
Joy Sheehan in the Caribbean

Since my current job keeps me pretty rooted in one place, I recently interviewed a series of professionals in diverse careers whose jobs let them earn a living and see the world at the same time — the goal is to provide some information and inspiration to all the cubicle dwellers out there who are feeling restless. 

My second interview is with Joy, a wildlife biologist by training who has spent the past three years leading games, activities, crafts, and events for kids on cruise ships. She recently launched a travel and lifestyle blog, A Jaunt with Joy, and her #ShipLife series documents her favorite ports.

Name: Joy Sheehan

Job: Seasonal Youth Staff onboard cruise ships

What motivated you to pursue this career? How did you find the job you’re in now?

I had always wondered what working on a cruise ship would be like, and I used to research appealing jobs onboard, though I never went for it after realizing how long most employees sign on for. Then, in 2013, a roommate of mine found this seasonal job online and did a three week contract to Hawaii. She passed along an email contact, and I didn’t hesitate to send in my resume and ask more about the job! I had worked with kids in the past and loved to travel, and I was unhappy with the job I had at the time.

What are the perks of this career?

Other than the obvious getting to see the world while earning money to do it, you also meet and make a lot of friends from all over the globe! If you have the time, you can sign up to go on free tours or use the crew gym or pools! Your food and accommodation is also free, and you get discounts in the spa, the onboard shops, and even in select places ashore! There are numerous events in the crew bar to attend and you can opt to see some of the comedians, musicals and other shows. Views of the ocean, the sunsets, and sometimes even dolphins and whales are major perks as well! Plus it’s seasonal, so you just send in your dates of availability, and agree to the offer they send you — anywhere from a one week to three-month contract, while permanent youth staff stay onboard for six months.

What are some of the challenges?

For Americans, the money is decent but not great. You work every day (goodbye weekends), and the hours can be long depending on whether it’s a sea day or you’re in port. One day you might only work four hours, but another day you could work 11, and working with kids all day can be incredibly exhausting — especially if you’re dealing with a large group of unruly children who don’t listen. Also, you typically share a tiny cabin with a coworker, so space and roommate drama can be issues. Contact with friends and family back home is limited. But the biggest challenge is hiding any emotion other than happy. You’re expected to be “on” at all times, and dealing with grumpy or upset passengers (or parents) is not an easy task.

Do you have any advice for others considering this career?

Working on cruise ships is one thing, but working with the kids and their parents is an entirely different ballgame. One moment you’ll be having a blast as you play Just Dance with the kids or run around in a pirate costume hiding treasure for them to find. Another moment you could be dealing with a puking seasick child or an angry yelling parent. To be successful at this job, you need a take-charge attitude and a lot of patience, flexibility and creativity. Ultimately, this job is a fun way to earn some money while traveling, and being a seasonal employee makes it easier to maintain relationships back home since you can come and go for a few weeks now and then.

What’s one lesson that you’ve learned in all of your work-related travels?

A major lesson I’ve learned through this job is independence. In many cases, you may be the only one in your department with some time off that day, so if you want to see the port you have to do so alone. It’s really opened my eyes to solo female travel and how to rely on just myself to get by. I’ve also become incredibly great at charades through all the language barriers I’ve encountered while trying to find my way back to the ship before it sails away!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

If you have any further questions, feel free to email me at [email protected].

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Banner image: Joy taking advantage of her time off in the Caribbean

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