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Have You Ever Wondered How To Become A Cruise Ship Bartender?

How to become a cruise ship bartender

If someone offered you a job where you could see far-flung destinations, kaleidoscopic sunsets and sprawling ocean vistas each day; where you could forge meaningful connections with colleagues, and meet a new cast of customers every couple of weeks; and where you could participate in a host of recreational and entertainment activities – would you do it?

That’s the life of a cruise ship bartender. Cruise ship bartending takes everything you love about the job – the socializing, free time, and lucrative tip-outs – and sails it out to the high seas.

But before you hop on the closest cruise ship with a resume in hand, there are a few things you need to know. This article explores how to become a cruise ship bartender by walking through a few common steps. You'll learn what kind of experience is expected, what certifications you should have, how you can prepare for life on the water, and how you can apply for cruise ship bartending jobs.

Dust off your favorite Hawaiian shirt, iron your finest black vest, and let’s get started.

Gain On-Land Experience

The talent pipeline leading toward cruise ship bartending is forged with experience. Unfortunately, cruise lines rarely hire inexperienced bartenders for their ships. They want to ensure that their guests enjoy a five-star experience, and they do not have the time to train a green bartender from the ground up. Things move quickly in the cruise world!

Therefore, if you want to become a cruise ship bartender, your best place to start is on land. Gain experience in local bars, restaurants, brewpubs and lounges, working your way up from a barback position to a full-time bartender. This process isn’t just a formality; it will help you work on your bar knowledge, learning popular drink recipes, essential terminology and typical service protocols.

There Are Multiple Levels Of Being a Bartender On A Cruise Ship

Not all bars are equal - some will focus on a handful of common cocktails where the guests aren't as discerning but other bars such as ones found in the Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line ships or in the Yacht Club on MSC Cruises require a significantly higher level of both talent, personality, and responsibility since as a bartender in those locations you will be interacting with a much more elite group of guests. This is true to an extend for other areas of ships open to all guests too. For isntance, a bar that focuses on mixology and craft cocktails will require more skill than one on the pool deck.

Additionally, many bartenders start out as assistant bartender, a generally entry-level position, where they are responsible for ensuring that the bar is properly stocked with glassware as well as wine, beer, and spirits, as well as other tasks such as keeping things clean.

Occasionally these assistant bartenders will be allowed to make drinks and have opportunities to engage with the guests. If you make a personal connection with one of these men or women and think they show promise - make sure to get their name and include a mention of them in the post-cruise survey. Bartenders on a ship can rise quickly if they have the right mixture of skills and talent!

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cruise bartender making cocktails on holland america line cruise ship

Training and Certification

Bartending often requires formal training and certification. In the state of California, for instance, a bartender needs to successfully complete Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training and certification before they serve alcohol. To find out if there is a similar requirement to RBS certification on cruise ships, research the company you're interested in working for.

If there isn’t, should you skip RBS training? No. Just because RBS certification may not be a requirement on some cruise ships, it doesn’t mean that a) job scouts don’t like to see it, and b) it won’t help you be a better cruise ship bartender. Responsible Beverage Service certification is an industry-recognized confirmation of your commitment to safe service. It indicates that you understand the laws, regulations and best practices around overservice, service to minors, and the impacts of alcohol.

You can complete the training in an evening from your computer or mobile phone, it’s inexpensive (under $20 at the Userve link above), and it’s something you will likely need anyways as you gain on-land experience. This article’s recommendation: get certified before you sail.

Get Your Proverbial “Sea Legs”

While the job of a cruise ship bartender may look the same as an on-land bartender’s, the setting is anything but ordinary. Remember, you will be spending large stretches at sea.

As such, it’s wise to “get your sea legs” before setting sail. Learn some basic ship terminology. Research how life aboard a cruise ship differs from life on land. And brush up on some safety protocols for cruise ships. These points will be covered in your onboarding, but it’s never a bad idea to get a head start on learning.

holland america line bartender on cruise ship making a martini

Practice Your People Skills

Unlike in a large city, where a seemingly endless parade of unique individuals can walk through a bartender's doors, a cruise ship is a closed ecosystem. On average, a cruise ship contains around 3,000 passengers (the exact number varies widely between ships). Of those 3,000, perhaps only half will drink alcohol. And of that half, only a small fraction will avail your services regularly.

All that is to say: Get ready to see familiar faces. Think of bartending on the high seas like bartending in a small town (albeit one whose population refreshes every couple of weeks). It's in your best interest and theirs to strike an amiable tone from the beginning.

If you don't yet consider yourself an outgoing and friendly bartender, now might be the time to put in the effort. It doesn’t take much. Just practice how to actively listen, ask engaging questions and manage customer frustrations with a kind smile. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with an easier job – and a heftier tip.

Know Where to Apply

Thankfully, bartenders hoping to land a cruise job have options. Several cruise lines hire through general job search sites, like Indeed and Zip Recruiter, where you can upload a resume and cover letter. Big cruise lines like Holland America Line, Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Carnival, P&O, Royal Caribbean, etc., also search through specialized cruise job sites like Cruise Ship Job, Cruise Job Finder and All Cruise Jobs.

Lastly, you can apply directly through a cruise line’s website. Choose a cruise line and scroll down to the bottom of their homepage; there, you will typically find a “Careers” section you can click, which will lead you to a job application portal.

The process may take some time and patience, depending on the season and market demand. Or it may be an alarmingly fast process! Be prepared for either scenario.

Learn What to Expect

At this point, you have gained the necessary experience, taken the recommended RBS certification courses, honed your conversational skills, researched cruise ship information and applied for a job. The last thing to do is prepare for the experience.

Life aboard a cruise ship takes some adjustment. The best way to prepare for the monumental life change is to chat with people who’ve been through it. If your job application was accepted, consider reaching out to future colleagues to introduce yourself and ask a few questions; most people will happily oblige. If you prefer a more anonymous research avenue, consider reading relevant Reddit or cruise-specific forums, where you can gain a first-hand account of what to expect.

There are few jobs on the planet that allow you to earn a good income while travelling to exotic destinations. If you’re interested in becoming a cruise ship bartender, follow these straightforward tips before (pardon the pun) diving in.