Skip to Content

What is a cruise ship chef called?

A cruise ship chef is more formally called an executive chef or head chef. They oversee all aspects of food preparation and dining operations on a cruise ship. This is an important and demanding role, as food and dining are central to the cruise experience. Cruise ships employ hundreds of chefs, cooks, and other food service staff across multiple galleys and dining venues. The executive chef leads this culinary team and ensures high standards are met. Their responsibilities include planning menus, managing budgets and inventory, ensuring health codes are followed, training staff, and more. The role requires strong leadership, organization, culinary skills, and the ability to cater to diverse passenger tastes. While the title may vary, a cruise ship’s top chef plays a vital part in delivering exceptional vacations at sea.

What are the typical duties of a cruise ship chef?

A cruise ship executive chef has a wide range of responsibilities that keep them very busy while at sea. Their duties typically include:

  • Overseeing all food operations across multiple galleys and dining rooms
  • Leading a culinary team of sous chefs, cooks, prep chefs, and stewards
  • Planning and developing diverse menus to appeal to varied passenger tastes
  • Creating new dishes and overseeing food preparation techniques
  • Ordering and managing food and beverage inventory and supplies
  • Controlling budgets, costs, and payroll for the culinary department
  • Ensuring compliance with health, safety, and sanitation regulations
  • Hiring, training, scheduling, and managing all kitchen staff
  • Overseeing food quality, presentation, and service standards
  • Collaborating with dining room managers on passenger satisfaction
  • Adapting to changing needs, passenger counts, and emergencies

The executive chef has expertise in a wide range of cuisines and cooking methods to cater to diverse passengers. Their leadership and kitchen management skills are just as important as their culinary talents. It’s a highly demanding job that requires energy, organization, business savvy, and the ability to handle high-pressure situations.

What is the background and training of a typical cruise ship chef?

Executive chefs on cruise ships tend to have the following background and qualifications:

  • Culinary arts degree from a hospitality school, college, or accredited culinary program
  • 5+ years experience working as a chef in restaurants, hotels, or resorts
  • Proven culinary skills and mastery of diverse cooking techniques and cuisines
  • Management experience overseeing kitchen staff and operations
  • Business and budget management skills
  • Health and safety certification
  • Inventory and cost control expertise
  • Creativity and ability to develop menus and recipes
  • Excellent communication and team leadership abilities
  • Detail-oriented with strong organizational skills
  • Ability to meet deadlines and work well under pressure

In addition to formal education, cruise chefs gain valuable experience working in land-based kitchens before moving to cruise ships. Many start in sous chef roles on ships before being promoted. Strong business and management qualifications complement their cooking talents. Chefs must pass background checks and fulfill all cruise line employment requirements as well.

What is the Work Environment Like?

Working as an executive chef on a cruise ship provides unique experiences but also challenging conditions:

  • Long hours – Expect 12+ hour shifts, especially on port days
  • Tight spaces – Ship galleys are cramped compared to land restaurants
  • High volumes – Mass prep and cooking for thousands of guests and staff
  • No days off – Schedules are busy 7 days a week while at sea
  • Diverse menus – Cooking a wide range of cuisines from comfort food to fine dining
  • Moving work space – Adapting to rough ocean conditions in the galley
  • International staff – Managing a culinary team with diverse backgrounds
  • Cost control – Inventory and budgets are tightly controlled
  • Regulations – Ensuring compliance with strict health codes

The kitchen brigade is highly structured with the executive chef leading sous chefs and more specialized cooks. Kitchen operations must be well coordinated across multiple galleys servicing different dining rooms and buffets. The executive chef oversees all of these moving parts while delivering exceptional quality and service. It’s a challenging but rewarding role for chefs who love cooking at sea.

What is the Pay and Contract Length Like for Cruise Ship Chefs?

Executive chefs on cruise ships are offered attractive salaries and benefits, but there are tradeoffs:

  • Annual salary ranges from $60,000 to $110,000+ depending on experience and cruise line
  • Benefits include medical insurance, room and board, stipends, bonuses
  • Contracts typically range from 6 to 10 months at a time
  • 80+ hour work weeks are common while at sea
  • Little time off apart from port days
  • Cruise lines may limit which countries chefs can disembark in

Salaries for cruise chefs tend to be higher than most land-based chef positions. In addition to base pay, top bonuses can add $10,000+ for completing a full contract. The extended contracts and lack of days off mean earning more overtime as well. However, the long hours in tight galleys make these jobs very demanding physically and mentally. The tradeoffs make it appealing mostly for younger chefs without spouses or children at home. But it offers the chance to save money, travel, and gain experience before settling on land.

What is a Typical Day Like for a Cruise Ship Chef?

A typical day for a cruise ship executive chef may look like this:

Early Morning

– Arrive in the galley by 5-6 am
– Review ship’s position, weather, and port itinerary
– Adjust day’s menus and prep list as needed
– Check in with sous chefs on station assignments
– Inspect deliveries of fresh provisions

Breakfast Service

– Ensure buffet stations are fully prepped and stocked
– Make sure cooks are on schedule with hot menu items
– Oversee smooth service for early breakfast patrons
– Check dishes and presentation quality

Lunch Prep

– Update lunch prep list based on breakfast inventory
– Review planned lunch menus with sous chefs
– Inspect sanitation practices and kitchen organization
– Taste test planned menu items and provide feedback

Executive Duties

– Meet with dining room managers about passenger feedback
– Review budgets, inventory, supply orders with steward
– Address staffing or equipment issues
– Discuss evening menu plans with sous chefs

Dinner Service

– Make rounds through kitchen to rally staff before dinner rush
– Oversee plating and quality control before dishes go out
– Coordinate with dining room manager on pacing and flow
– Step in to assist stations under pressure
– Adjust menus or preparation if issues arise

Late Evening

– Check inventory and make a list for next day’s provisions
– Review passenger feedback and talk to wait staff
– Meet with sous chefs to discuss improvements needed
– Approve supply orders and prep list for next day
– Adjust menus based on passenger preferences

The executive chef has a mix of cooking, management, and quality control duties across all day parts. Their oversight is critical to delivering a great dining experience for thousands of passengers. It makes for long, busy days with little down time.

What are 3 Pros and Cons of Working as a Cruise Ship Chef?


  • Travel and see the world while working – Visit iconic ports of call
  • Higher pay than most chef positions on land
  • Gain experience collaborating across international culinary teams
  • Exposure to diverse cuisines and cooking methods
  • Opportunities for bonuses and promotions
  • Housing and meals provided while under contract


  • Long hours with little time off – Up to 14+ hours a day
  • Cramped, hot working conditions in ship galleys
  • No interactions with family at home for months
  • Physically and mentally demanding work pace
  • Strict health regulations and procedures
  • Limited ability to leave ship in certain ports

For chefs seeking adventure and new challenges, a cruise ship role can expand horizons. But the difficult work-life balance and confinement while at sea are dealbreakers for some. Weighing these pros and cons helps determine if this career path is rewarding or too restrictive.

What Steps Are Involved in Getting Hired as a Cruise Ship Chef?

Becoming an executive chef for a major cruise line involves an extensive hiring process:

  1. Gain experience – Work 5+ years in restaurant, hotel, or resort kitchens before applying, ideally including management experience.
  2. Apply online – Submit a resume and complete an application on the cruise line’s website for culinary positions.
  3. Phone interview – Discuss your experience and interest in the role with a recruiter.
  4. Culinary assessment – If selected, complete a cooking skills test at an on-shore kitchen.
  5. Video interview – Interview with the corporate executive chef via video call.
  6. Medical exam – Get cleared by completing a health evaluation.
  7. Background check – Consent to a criminal background check.
  8. Ship assignment – If hired, get assigned to a vessel and departure date.
  9. Boarding – Arrive at the assigned port and board your cruise ship.

The hiring process can take 2-3 months from start to boarding the ship. Cruise lines invest significant resources in vetting and preparing new chefs for life at sea. Arriving fully ready to lead a talented culinary team is critical. With the right qualifications and persistence, a rewarding executive chef role can await.


A cruise ship chef has an exciting but demanding role leading the culinary experience at sea. As an executive chef, they manage a complex operation serving thousands of guests daily. Creativity, leadership, logistics, and business skills combine with culinary talent. Long hours in tight galleys and no days off while under contract are challenging but come with higher pay and life experience. For the right chefs, becoming a culinary officer on a cruise ship can launch an adventurous seafaring career. With patience and preparation, landing this coveted role is an incredible opportunity.