Where do you want to work? Some students envision themselves working in small, luxury spas, while others see the myriad opportunities at a large health club chain. Still other students want to coach youth sports or own their own business where they can take all the risks and rewards. But have you ever thought about adding to your experience by becoming a personal trainer on a cruise ship? This week, I interviewed Tiffany, a personal trainer from Austin, Texas who left dry land to work on the high seas.
How did you learn about working as a personal trainer on a cruise ship?
I learned about the job from a friend who was looking to get hired as an acupuncturist on a cruise ship. She informed me that the company who runs the spas on the cruise ships (Steiner, Ltd.) also hires personal trainers. I wanted a change of pace and travel was always on my list of things to do, so I traveled to LA for a mass job interview. The recruiter then invited me to London to their training academy where I studied for 3 weeks before being placed on a ship.
What personal training skills have come in particularly handy when working with clients on a cruise ship?
Working on a ship is very different than working on land. My personal training skills have definitely come in handy. Steiner hires personal trainers and trains us to be salesmen. Therefore, it is very important to be confident in your role as a trainer—the emphasis at the Academy is learning the products and how to sell the detoxification kits (your main source of income as a PT). You also learn how to teach classes during this 3 week “Boot Camp.”
Do you do one-on-one training or group fitness? What is most common?
The most common type of training is in the group setting. The main classes that Steiner does onboard all of their ships are yoga, Pilates, spin, Tai Chi and fit ball. (All of these classes are taught at the London Academy.) Of course, all ships are different and the ship I work on offers more classes than any other ship at this time. I had a lot to learn as soon as I stepped onboard. I still do one-on-one training, as this ups my service revenue. Every cruise is different, so some weeks my schedule will be packed with personal training, while other weeks I will have only one or two sessions.
How does this job compare with your former position as a personal trainer in Austin, TX? This job is completely different from my job in Austin. I was working in a very small, locally-owned studio with very old machines and equipment. I loved the pace and the relationships that I had built with my clients. I was also able to work very closely with my mentor, which I really enjoyed. When I boarded my ship it was a very different experience. I had a lot to learn! I walked into a massive facility with brand new, state-of-the-art equipment. However, my experience is much different than most because I was sent to the newest and largest cruise ship in the world—The Oasis of the Seas.
Is the compensation similar?
My compensation is much higher than what I was making on land. Your pay depends on your retail and service revenue. You don’t get a base pay—commission only. So it’s very important to know your stuff and work hard. With commission and tips, I have been making about one and a half times to double what I was making on land. On my best week, I made three times my land income. But this doesn’t come easy—the hours are long and the work is very physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.
What is a typical day on the ship like?
A typical sea day for me is insanely busy. Again, my circumstances are special because there are many expectations working on such a new and gigantic vessel! There are only three fitness instructors and we have a lot of classes to teach between us. Plus we have seminars to present, metabolism consultations, any PT that we book for ourselves AND keep an eye on the overall operation of the gym and answering questions. It’s been incredibly challenging for us, especially because we are also trying to work out the kinks of running a brand new gym on a brand new ship. A typical sea day looks like this:
• 6:30 breakfast
• 7:00 Morning Stretch
• 7:30 Yoga
• 8:45 Spin (while another instructor teaches Gravity [new class])
• 10:00 Boot Camp (new class—our biggest service revenue generator)
• 11:00 Seminar
• 12:00 Lunch
• 1:00 Metabolism consultation (BCA—where we sell our detox programs)
• 2:00 BCA while the other instructor presents another seminar
• 3:00 BCA while another instructor teaches Spin
• 4:00 Kinesis (new class)
• 5:00 Meditation
• 5:30 Abs class
• 6:00 Dinner
• 7:00 BCA
• 8:00 BCA
• Off at 10:00
This is not typical of other ships, but it’s typical of my ship. From what I have heard, other ships get more down time. I am so busy and it has definitely taken a toll on my body. I’m exercising a lot, but I don’t have enough energy to do a workout for myself—and this is what I am really craving. The food on ships is not nutritious so it’s important to supplement with some kind of green drink to try to balance. I’m a vegetarian and the options for me are limited. The fact that the food is so awful has been very difficult for me.
What has been your favorite port?
I don’t really have a favorite stop. Because this ship is so large, it can’t fit into many interesting ports. I’m currently in the Caribbean and I make the most of my port time – of course there are things to do and places to see, but I’m ready for another change. Some ships offer amazing ports and not that much money, or so-so ports and a lot of money. It just depends on what you want out of your experience.
What advice would you give a student/personal trainer interested in following in your footsteps?
My advice to anyone looking to pursue this lifestyle is to have a very strong knowledge of nutrition. Also, be ready to work! This job is demanding, stressful and, at times, utterly heart-breaking. It has sent me on an emotional rollercoaster on so many levels. If you are in a relationship or married, get ready for heartache! It is very difficult being away from the one you love. I can’t even find words to describe it. I was here on the ship for Thanksgiving, Christmas, my 30th birthday (a big one!) and finally New Year’s Eve. That is a lot in a short amount of time. Thankfully I have made some amazing friends on the ship. We all stuck together through the holidays and still managed to celebrate! The bonds that you form with people on a ship are very strong and it’s so hard to say goodbye. That’s another thing about ship life. You get really close to someone and then they leave.
Anything else you’d like to share?
This has been the most incredible experience of my life thus far. I have learned SO much about myself, about fitness, nutrition, running a business, how to talk to different personality types, and how to take control of a situation. I love this life but it is difficult at the same time. There is something incredibly satisfying about overcoming obstacles, doing something you didn’t really want to do, and then being a better person for having done it. This job takes you out of your comfort zone, so be ready to embrace it. Be ready for extreme emotions that can change from one moment to the next. There are so many days when I ask myself, “What am I doing here?!” And then I have a realization, a breakthrough of some sort, and I realize why I am here. It’s about personal growth, pushing myself, challenging myself, failing, succeeding, laughing, crying, falling apart, picking myself back up, growing. I wouldn’t change any of it.
Good luck to anyone seriously looking to embark on this journey. Nine months is the length of a first contract. I’m in month three! I’ve learned a lot in 3 months. I can’t wait to see what I’ve learned and how far ahead I am when I step off of this ship in 6 months.
If you have questions you’d like to ask Tiffany, please contact Amy Scott for her contact details. firstname.lastname@example.org