April 30, 2007
Cruise-ship stint can be lucrative
Special to The Seattle Times
THE SEATTLE TIMES
With the cruise craze in Seattle about to launch its busy summer season, there's a groundswell of employment on the open waters aimed at keeping the leisure-travel industry moving full speed ahead.
Forecasts from the Washington State Employment Security Department project 1,536 local workers – a 14.2 percent increase from 2006 – will board this summer's vessels sailing from Seattle. Among them: hospitality employees ready to cook, clean, pour drinks and keep things shipshape between ports of call stretching from Alaska to Mexico.
Typically, these positions require long days – and long workweeks at a stretch – but shipboard hospitality jobs can be lucrative compared with similar tasks performed by land-lubbers.
Hiring managers at cruise companies recruit year-round – but often must throttle up in the spring to fill remaining vacancies, says Cruise West hiring executive Lisa Cunha.
"We're right in the middle of our startup process," says Cunha. Her employer is the largest U.S.-owned cruise line and a second-generation family-owned business, offering "soft" or less-extreme adventure-seekers small-ship cruises in areas of Alaska, the West Coast, Central America, Mexico, the South Pacific and Asia.
"Some of our people are in training, and others are in startup mode because they will be deployed in early May, but we're always recruiting," she says.
High-seas staff pay
U.S. wages per month, with variations based on cruise line and potential gratuities:
• Hairstylist: $2,200-$2,900
• Youth-activities coordinator: $1,700-$2,100
• Cruise director: $3,800-$7,500
• Cruise staff (organizes passengers' activities, from golf to bingo): $1,800-$2,100
• Production manager (runs show production and manages technical staff): $2,200-$3,100
• Dining-room waiter: $2,200-$3,800
The hospitality hiring surge in the local cruise industry is no surprise to travel experts.
Most consider Alaska the third-most-popular sailing destination in the world – and with "increased border restrictions crossing into Canada, Seattle has become the exit port of choice for many," said state labor analyst Dave Wallace.
Port of Seattle figures reflect this trend. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of passengers expanded by almost five times – and by almost 40 times between 1994 and 2004. In 2005, more than 700,000 passengers embarked for a cruise through the Port of Seattle, a 27 percent increase from the year before.
What kinds of jobs are in greatest demand?
At Cruise West, says Cunha, its guest-service representatives, jacks– and jills-of-all-trades who can handle both food service and housekeeping tasks on ships designed for 70 to 114 passengers.
Larger cruise lines need larger staffs for ships with hundreds of staterooms. More than 1,000 passengers at a time vacation aboard virtual floating hotels featuring two-tiered dining rooms, private verandas, casinos and gift shops. Large cruise lines typically hire workers with a specialty – from hairdressers and youth counselors to sommeliers to entry-level dishwashers.
At Cruise West, says Cunha, one-third – "our strongest percentage of hires" – comes from Washington and Oregon.
Most employees are drawn to shipboard hospitality for two reasons, she says.
Many "just really love to travel" and love that during their time off they can absorb local culture.
"We have people of all ages, but our average age tends to be between 18 and 35, so they might like to spend time kayaking in Alaska or hiking in Denali National Park," Cunha says.
Money keeps other shipboard workers afloat.
"Many of our people work a 12-hour day and an 84-hour workweek," she says. "That's a tremendous amount of overtime. On top of the fact that all your meals are provided, and you're not needing to pay rent on an apartment or pay a mortgage, there's the potential to save a lot of money."
Some cruise lines – including the local Holland America – feature attractive benefits packages as well. Medical, dental and retirement plans, life insurance, disability, tuition assistance and commuting subsidies are available.
Most cruise lines expect candidates to be at least 18 years old and able to pass initial and follow-up drug tests. Second languages are not required but can give applicants an edge. A clean criminal record is mandatory. Land-based positions involving driving have additional requirements.
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