Cruising traditionally has been seen as a luxurious pastime for rich old ladies with nothing better to do than spend weeks at sea being waited on hand and foot. It was certainly not an industry that your average graduate would want to consider for a career.
But things have changed. While there are still people who have negative perceptions about cruising, who think it is just for old people, too claustrophobic and expensive; increasingly people are realising those preconceptions are wrong and that a cruise actually makes a great holiday.
In Continental Europe, Germany is the largest cruise market, with 705,000 cruisers last year, 66,000 more than in 2005. Italians, Spanish and French are also getting hooked on holidays at sea. In the UK however, cruising is really taking off. According to recent figures, 1.2 million Brits took a cruise in 2006, twice as many as in 1996. It forecasts a total 1.3 million British cruisers in 2007 and 1.5 million in 2008.
To cope with demand, cruise lines are building more and bigger ships, which means there in insatiable demand for employees with skills in the hospitality industry.
At the same time, cruise passengers are getting younger, which makes a career in cruising more attractive, not to mention a great way to see the world for free. Bear in mind, though, that although there are opportunities to get off the ships in port that there is no such thing as a day off for staff, and contracts are long so employees are often away from home for six months or more.
Six new ships were launched in 2007, another eight will start sailing in 2008 and that growth is set to continue. In all, more than 30 ships are on order until the beginning of 2011. Cruise ships come in all sizes; the smallest holds just 49 people, the biggest more than 3,600; in between theres an infinite variation.
They also come in different styles. There are luxury, budget and mid-range cruise lines. Some specialise in casual cruising, some go for the smart casual look, others request more formal dress. All have spas and gyms; some have kids clubs, ice-skating rinks, bowling alleys and rock-climbing walls to appeal to young people. Others cater for more elderly passengers. So-called discovery lines take passengers off the beaten track and lay on expert lectures in subjects as diverse as history, wildlife and viniculture, while others lay on wine-tasting sessions, juggling lessons and games around the pool.
There are ships for the US market, which will have a majority Americans on board, British ships, which just sell on the UK market, and Italian ships, which carry mostly Italians but also other European nationalities. There are also ships exclusively for French and German speakers.
There really is something for everyone, which is great for potential passengers but also graduates tempted by a career at sea can seek out the line that best matches their personality.
Cruising is still popular with the older generation, but it has also become the holiday of choice for people of all ages. The big family-friendly American cruise ships attract couples of all ages, from their mid-30s upwards, and during the holidays are packed with families with young and teenage kids.
Go on one of the Italian cruise lines and you will see grandparents, parents and kids holidaying together, a trend starting to catch on on British ships because its a perfect holiday for the generations to take together. Everyone can do what they want in the day children can stay in the kids clubs, parents can go exploring in a port, grandparents can go on a shore excursions and meet up for dinner in the evening.
Careers in cruising
Ships are essentially floating hotels so they are constantly in need of staff with hospitality and people skills to oversee areas such as housekeeping, food and beverage, and front and back of house activities. They need commercial managers to look after the retail side of the business and entertainment managers to run the activities, which could mean everything from pool games and quiz nights to lavish theatre productions.
The top job for non-seamen on a cruise ship is executive purser, which is equivalent to hotel manager but requires additional safety qualifications related to being at sea. Some cruise lines run training schemes for graduates with hospitality or travel and tourism degrees, others simply look to take on people with the relevant experience or understanding of what makes a hotel tick, albeit one at sea.
Management trainee courses
Claire Martin, 23, from Reading, Berks, and Louise Eade, 24, from Callington in Cornwall, are the first two entrants on P&O Cruises new graduate management trainee course. Both graduated from Plymouth University with a degree in hospitality management. They started working on Aurora in August. Each has two five-and-a-half-month contracts to complete, a total of 11 months training, during which time they will work in different departments on the ship. At the end, if they pass muster, they will be offered an assistant managers job.
Claire said: One of my elective modules was about the cruise industry. P&O Cruises used to come to talk to us and we went to Southampton for ship visits so when this programme came up it seemed an ideal opportunity. I never worried about the stigma of getting involved in cruising. We have older passengers, but there are lots of younger people too. Also, theres a young crew, ranging from 18 years upwards.
I havent come across anything to put me off, not even being seasick. It is an extreme working environment but as were new to sea they make sure we get off and see the places we are visiting, which is a wonderful perk. I think once you are bitten by the cruising bug, you are hooked.
Louise had never considered a career in cruising, but decided to apply for P&Os graduate programme and now has the bug. Ive been working in the food and beverage office and they have even had me waitressing so I can see whats involved, she says. That was fun but hard work. I am looking forward to moving to other departments but I have always wanted to work in food and beverage. I definitely want to stay on a ship.
About the author
Jane Archer has been a travel journalist for more than 15 years. She has a fortnightly cruise column on The Daily Telegraphs website and regularly writes features for the Telegraphs travel pages, as well as other specialist cruising titles.
Did You know?
The first cruise liner is believed to be the Prinzessin Victoria Luise ship by the Hamburg-America Line, completed in 1900.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line currently sails the three largest cruise ships in the world. These are the Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas. These ships carry 3,634 passengers each.
A trans-atlantic crossing in a cruise ship usually takes about six days.