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Setting sail for a new world of opportunity

Working on a cruise ship gives you a chance to see the world - and save cash

he world's largest cruise ship, The Freedom of the Seas, sets sail this month complete with an ice rink, surf machine, and room for over 4,000 passengers.

A floating entertainment centre this size needs a large workforce to make it run smoothly and the Freedom will employ 1,360 people. Working at sea provides a great opportunity to travel, meet people from across the world and save some serious money along the way.

Cruising was the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry last year and 2006 sees six new vessels being launched. With ships growing in size and the industry rapidly expanding, there are a wide range of jobs available at sea. Not only are there the obvious roles of cleaners, waiters and entertainers but also less apparent opportunities. Operating like mini-cities, the ships need a huge variety of staff and many roles on land can be transferable. Events planners, retail assistants and beauty therapists are all needed, as well as more specialized jobs, such as doctors, art auctioneers and ice skaters.

Carl Amoscato, 36, is a television editor. He saw an advert for a broadcasting role onboard a ship sailing out of California. "In TV production on land, people only do one job. You have one person running the camera, someone else edits and someone else maintains the equipment. On ships you have to be able to do everything. It is a good learning curve and very different to any role on land."

It is impossible to look at positions on cruise ships purely as a job; you have to view it as a lifestyle. The environment onboard is intense. Ships have their own sense of time. A day feels like a week and a week feels like a month. You work, eat, sleep and socialize around the same people. On the plus side, this confined atmosphere breeds strong friendships.

"I didn't find adjusting to sea life too difficult," admits Amoscato. "I'm the sort of person who moves to a new place and gets a new job every few years anyway. The hardest part was being at sea away from my family on Christmas, but I was lucky to have good friends on board to spend it with."

Contracts generally last for six months with six weeks leave, but this can vary depending on your job and the cruise line you are working for. Either way it can be a long time to be away from your loved ones.

Luckily, there are plenty of fun ways to take your mind off it. If you are having a bad day on land you might comfort yourself with a bowl of ice cream; on ships you can go jet skiing or parasailing to cheer yourself up.

Melanie Vicars, 27, worked as a purser, a sea-faring term for an administrative role. "It is a work hard, play hard philosophy," she says. "I had so much fun and some once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as swimming with dolphins in Mexico and dog sledding in Alaska. They made up for the challenging aspects of working on ships, like the defined hierarchy and restrictive rules, which can be difficult to get used to."

Your privileges onboard depend on your status. Officers have their own bar, eating area and can also use the passenger facilities, while crew (waiters, bar staff, cleaners) are restricted to certain areas. Most roles fall somewhere in the middle and will have another set of rules.

The living conditions can also be a shock to the system. Most entry level positions share small cabins with one other person which are often interior with no windows. But there are communal areas such as a bar, recreational room and outside deck. While you're onboard, your food and accommodation are provided and there are no bills. Salaries vary but have the bonus of being tax free as you are sailing in international waters.

The best way to find a job onboard a cruise ship is to apply to the company directly. There are also agencies that recruit for the cruise lines and will help you sort out the necessary visas and paperwork.

A good place to start is www.cruiselinejobs.com which has contacts for all the recruitment agents in the UK. You don't need to pay for these services so be wary as there are some that will try to charge you unnecessarily.