On-the-Job: A Gift Shop Worker Profile

Five months after graduating from college, Angela Pereira landed her dream job as a gift shop employee with Greyhound Leisure [now International Cruise Shops/Greyhound Leisure] working for Carnival Cruise Lines. Without a formal interview Angie was hired over the phone and told to be in Florida two days later for her first nine-month cruise. While she was technically employed by Greyhound, her experiences working on board were similar to those hired directly by a cruise line.

I saw your advertisement in a local newspaper and decided to order The Cruise and Travel Employment Program [the print version of this Internet site] because it was the cheapest book I could find.

I had seen other books, but they were really expensive, and I just didn’t think it was worth it. I didn’t know anything about the cruise business or for that matter the jobs available.

After receiving the materials, I applied for anything and everything – even jobs that knowing what I know now, I would have never applied to because I didn’t stand a chance of getting them. After sending out 20 resumes and receiving a handful of “sorry, not qualified” and “no thanks, we’re not interested right now” letters, Greyhound called me and offered me a position in their gift shop.

The first time I saw the ship I couldn’t even believe I was going to work on it. It was huge. I had never seen anything like it in person. I thought if I can just find my way from my cabin, to work, to the crew dining room, and back to my cabin, I’ll be happy and everything will be okay.

I worked two nine-month contracts with a six-week vacation in between rotations. This is the standard shift length on Carnival. They want you for as long as they can have you. If you can’t make the minimum commitment, they aren’t really interested. However, once hired you can apply for transfers to other boats within the company’s fleet. I worked on both Carnival’s Ecstasy and the Fascination.

The great thing about working in the gift shop is that it closes when the ship is in port, allowing employees to go ashore and explore. The long days are what we call, “sea days” when you are out on the ocean all day; shifts are 9AM to 11PM. Usually we close to customers at 9PM, but it takes another two hours for cleaning, counting the tills, and restocking inventory. In addition, every week we do what’s called “stores.” The company delivers merchandise to us while we are at our homeport. We have to restock all supplies, taking everything off pallets and moving it upstairs to the shops on trolleys. It usually takes three to four hours. These days are the worst part of the job, total murder.

One thing I found interesting is that in the cruise industry there is a perception that Americans are just plain lazy.

People say Americans don’t want to work twelve-hour shifts when they can work someplace else for eight hours and make more money. In fact, no one thought I was from America; they thought I was English. I was the only American in my shop and there were probably only thirteen or fourteen other Americans working in other gift shops on my ship. I had a manager from Denmark and one from England. But that’s the best part of working on a ship, all the diversity. At first it was hard for me to get used to because, as you can imagine, coming from Iowa, the land of wonderbread and farmers, there weren’t any foreigners. All the different cultures and people can be overwhelming at first. But that’s also what’s so fun about it.

I got $500 base pay per month, but this varies between ships. Then you get a commission based on how many passengers are sailing and what they spend in the shops each week. It fluctuates from week to week. On a good week I made between $1,300-$1,400 in commission. But income also varies depending on the itinerary and the clientele. The most profitable cruises were the three- and four-day voyages. We would sail to the Bahamas and back the first three days and then head out on a trip to Key West and Cozumel for the other four days. When you have two different sets of passengers coming on the ship within one week, they will spend a lot more money than if they were the same set of passengers for one seven-day cruise.

Besides the pay I also had a great opportunity to go to Helsinki, Finland, where Carnival builds their ships. The company only takes half of the crew to set up their new ships. Our job was to set up the merchandise in Finland and then sail across the Atlantic ocean to New York. It was the most incredible thing I have ever done. Finland was fantastic but New York was even better. We ran test cruises between New York and Nova Scotia for six weeks. These were the craziest cruises I had ever been on. Those New Yorkers are wild! On the way back to our homeport in Miami, we stopped at all the major coastal ports along the way.

I also met my husband through this job. He was working as ship security. We were friends for a year before we started dating and now here we are, married and living in Amana, Iowa. Since my husband is from Bombay, India, it took him a year to get a visa allowing him to stay in the States. So during that year I made two different trips to India to visit him while we got the paperwork in order. Really that’s the reason we left the ships, to get married. We have considered going back to work on the cruise ships. My husband would go back in a minute. He misses it more than I do. He spent three years on board, working on six different Carnival ships and knows everybody. But it’s a classic tale of the grass always being greener on the other side. When you are on the ship, you miss things at home, but when you’re home you miss all the excitement of the ship.

My advice for people looking to work on a cruise ship? I would suggest that people who really want to work on a cruise ship just be persistent and keep calling. Besides having some basic retail job experience I didn’t really have anything else setting me apart from other applicants. It was a fluke in some ways. But sometimes the cruise lines need someone and they need them immediately. People do quit and then they are left without staff. I just happened to be available when they needed workers. It was a case of good timing. Eventually they are going to have an opening. But you need to be willing to pick up and leave on a moment’s notice. Not many people can do that.

Overall, my experience went really well. I wish I could do it all over again. I will never regret my decision to work in the cruise industry, not ever. After all, that’s how I met my husband.

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