So you want to play guitar on a cruise ship? Some hints and tips.

A lot of colleagues always ask me how to get work on cruise ships as a musician, entertainer or as part of a band so I thought of putting an article together to explain how life on ships works, what to expect and how to get some work.
These are some of the biggest cruise companies, if you want to see what kind of entertainment they offer, and what routes they do, I think the best thing to do is visit their pages:

www.princesscruises.com
www.rccl.com
www.crystalcruises.com
www.carnivalcruises.com
www.pandocruises.com
www.disneycruises.com

These are some of the categories you will be filling as a musician/performer:

Show band Musician (You play in the Theatre Orchestra)
Cocktail Pianist/Piano Bar type act
Jazz Trios
Hi-Tech Duos (…a fancy way of saying: you play with backing tracks)
Party Band/Lounge Band
Island Caribbean Bands
Strolling Musicians
Classical duos/trios
Main Act (you have your own show)

If you are a musician, the two options are looking for work as a group or as a single entity to be included in the orchestra. If you have your own show you can try and pitch it to some of the agents that deal with main headliner entertainers. Of course there are agencies that have bigger contacts than others…

Some of the smaller European companies like Costa, MSC, Festival, do not have a theatre orchestra so the self contained group is the only option. The type of entertainment you’ll be providing ranges from cover ‘top 40’ type stuff to more traditional waltzes and swing numbers.

Companies with different size orchestras are Princess Cruises, P&O, Royal Caribbean, Crystal cruises, Carnival Cruises ranging from 9 piece bands (5 horns + 4 rhythm section) to only rhythm section bands with maybe a synth or two. Your job will be to back up the entertainer of the week and play “production style” shows. Sometimes you’ll play the occasional jazz set and big band set which can be quite fun. Needless to say the main skill is the ability to sight read at a professional level and follow the lead of the musical director. Also you’ll need quite a bit of sense of humor, as some of the shows can be quite boring sometimes, but if you are lucky you’ll experience some great shows.

Some companies use their in-house agents (Royal Caribbean is one of those), but it is not rare to have companies that deal with external agencies to find musicians, agencies like Proship and similar. Do some research, and remember that an external agency will take a generous cut of what you make, usually 12-15%, for as long as they find you a contract. The easiest thing to do is to contact the cruise company and find out if you can be employed directly by them.  Also, if you start using an agent you might be tied to them even if you find another ship gig for yourself for 6 months after the end of the contract.

Best way to get started is by recommendation. If you already know someone who works for a company ask them to put in a good word for you. This way you’ll stand a much better chance of getting the gig.

“Boat drill’,” import manning”: Google these two words and you’ll see what’s waiting around the corner for you…You’ll have to put up with some discipline and hierarchy politics, as passenger safety and order must be maintained. Make sure you find out what kind of clothing/uniforms you need for the gig. Most musicians have to wear a Tuxedo for formal night shows and some type of uniform for other shows…mostly you’ll wear ‘blacks’ meaning black shoes, black pants, black socks, black shirt…basically a nautical version of Dracula! Also it’s worth finding out if you need to wear uniforms while you are around the ship, sometimes this can get a bit tedious…it will feel like it’s a 9-5 job.

In terms of documentation all you need is a valid passport and a C1&D visa. Also a fluent use of the English language is advisable, mostly for safety on board.

The good news is that you’ll be able to visit some incredible places. In about three years I have been from Hawaii to Russia, sailing all over the Mediterranean and all around Mexico and the Caribbean…best of all, I got paid for it!

Good Luck!


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