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Cruise Ship Hairdressing: Interview with Riana Stemmet of Stellenbosch Academy

Riana Stemmet of Stellenbosch Academy worked on board cruise ships early in her career. Here’s an interview where she describes exactly what this experience is like, and how it set her up for a successful future career! “Don’t just think about it... do it!” she advises.

Q: Where did you complete your cruise ship contract/s?

A: I completed my contract with Steiner 17 years ago. We cruised the Western Caribbean, that included Jamaica, Cozumel, Bahamas, Key West and little islands belonging to Royal Caribbean. The ship sailed from Miami for each cruise.

Q: Was working on board ship like you expected it to be?

A: It was a very impulsive decision, so I had no expectations. It took less than six weeks from when I saw the advertisement in the Hairdresser’s Journal, until I was in London for the training. It was my very first experience with a cruise ship and I was blown away! At that time the Voyager of the Seas was the biggest cruise ship in the world! Luxury on the water! I never thought I would be able to go to the theatre every week, go dancing and skating in an ice rink whilst on a ship. Don’t get me started on the food!

I worked very hard in my salon, so the work (hours) on the ship was not difficult for me. I also loved the fact that someone else cooked and cleaned and I only had to do something I love so much – hair!

Cleaning, health and safety was however next level. Every day your work area had to look as if you had never been there. Port cleaning with stock-take sometimes went into the early hours of the morning. BUT…this built appreciation for assistants, apprentices and cleaners. South Africa is quite relaxed about the Health and Safety laws in salons compared to Europe and the USA.

Q: What did your working day involve?

A: We started most mornings with a 30 min team meeting (the whole spa – hairdressing, beauty, wellness and fitness). Problems and targets were discussed as well as recognition for good. Appointments for the day and potential opportunities were also discussed (lots of cross-promotion with the rest of the spa).

We started at 8 am and finished the last client at 8 pm, with a lunch break during the day. There were no other daily chores to do – no cooking, no cleaning, and no traffic except waiting for the elevator to take you to work.

The salon was on the 12th floor (deck), so our view was spectacular! Clients were on holiday, so it was lovely to have that atmosphere daily in the salon.

Q: What hairdressing services did you do most of on board?

A: In the beginning I was not so comfortable with retail, so I had to make my target with services. You do work harder and not smarter that way. So I did a lot of colour and cutting, although styling was still the service most requested. As passengers are in a confined environment, you have new clients constantly available. This allowed me to do many make-overs while on the ship. I also had the privilege to do little presentations to the passengers that made me comfortable with public speaking.

Q: What personal qualities did you feel helped you succeed the most?

A: Being adaptable (things can change on very short notice). Being a team player (both at work and in private time). Not taking criticism personally. Good time management. I wanted to enjoy every moment or experience, and it helped that I was humble and wanted to learn everything from new skills to new experiences. I also respected people, myself and my craft so that I could never give less than my best.

Q: Was it easy to work and live closely with other people on board ship?

A: I was already 25, so sharing a 2m x 2m x 2m cabin was my biggest challenge. I did however have some great cabin mates and enjoyed good friendships.

Q: What about your days off... what were some of the adventures you had?

A: One of my biggest highlights was diving in Cozumel (Mexico). Jet-skiing in the Bahamas at crazy speeds was fabulous. Then some days I just wanted to lay in a hammock and have people serve me drinks and food and spend time with friends. The shopping in Miami was great. I would advise everyone to never miss an opportunity to do excursions and enjoy your contract.

Q: Did you feel this was worthwhile in terms of experience, money, and your CV?

A: Absolutely! I made about the same money on board ship that I made in South Africa, but SAVED far more. Even though I spent most of my tips, I still managed to save a substantial amount which put me in a position to put down a deposit on a house.

In terms of experience, it was my “soft skills” that were shaped to the highest quality. I learned so much about people, cultures, time management, targets and consistency. The clientele expected the best, so you have to have the discipline of performance in you. This experience allowed me to be better in more areas than just the “hair side”, thus made me more confident in an interview. Employers understand that if someone successfully completed their contract with Steiner that there are certain disciplines that will just be part of you for the rest of your life.

If you love people, and don’t mind working hard, don’t just think about it…DO IT! No-one can take this experience away. A contract is only 9 months (time flies so fast) and with today’s technology it is very easy to stay in touch with loved ones back home.

To find out more about a career on board ship and book your confidential interview, go to

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