Performing On Cruise Ships: 10 Things To Consider [Belmont University Series]

August 8, 2019

[Editor’s Note: The following is an installment in our series of a partnership between TuneCore and students at Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business at Belmont University. In an attempt to offer new insight and educational content for independent artists, we’re excited to give these music industry professionals of the future a journalistic platform.]

There are numerous opportunities to work as a performer and entertainer for a cruise line, which could work well for someone who wants to work on their craft as a singer, songwriter and musician – not to mention earning some money without spending too much.

This article is aimed to help you become aware of the different aspects of working and living on a cruise ship.  For independent artists, entertaining thousands of passengers will give you the necessary confidence, stage presence and a head start in preparing for your career back on land.

1. How long is my commitment on a Cruise Ship?

If your audition is successful, the cruise line will require a minimum commitment of four months – but the most common contract lasts seven or eight months – with three weeks to a month on land before returning back to the ship. Because of the investment the cruise line makes in developing their larger shows or promoting their nightclubs, you may have to commit to several years with a few months off in between. 

The most common commitment for a performer is typically seven months of consecutive performances.  Note that holidays are very busy for cruise ships so you’ll be working while your own family spends time together, and generally, the performer remains on the ship while it’s docked rehearsing for the various shows.

2. Living Quarters

Each performer is provided lodging for the duration of their contractual commitment.  A performer will most likely have at least one roommate. The headlining acts and solo performers will have single cabins, while smaller ensemble members and dancers will be in double cabins.  Cabins are located in the front of the ship on the bottom levels and are usually smaller than passenger’s cabins. 

3. Dining and Recreation

Performers have many dining options on board. Performers have special dining halls specific to them along with all of the options available to the guests. They have their own buffet style restaurant including unique foods from different countries to make the diverse casts feel at home. There are also multiple crew bars reserved solely for them.

The ship will host events to help improve morale and keep everybody on the ship sane, and every several weeks the captain will host different parties for the crew. Performers are able to get off the boat at all of the tourist stops and they are free to walk around the boat as long as they wear their name tags, but generally stay on board and rehearse.  After all, the passengers expect a professional show just like they see in Vegas, Nashville, New York or Los Angeles.

4. Other jobs or responsibilities for the Performers

Many performers are required to do more than simply perform. Every cast has someone in charge of maintaining the integrity of the productions while they perform onboard. They may be responsible for scheduling rehearsals and reviewing videos from the past performances.  Cast members are in charge of cleaning and maintaining their own wardrobe for all of the shows. And when they are not performing, they are running tech for the other performances on the ship, which could include ice skating and underwater productions.

5. Production of the Ship: What works and what doesn’t work

For an aspiring cruise ship performer, one of the most significant pieces of the puzzle is a repertoire catered to cruise ship audiences.

Because the cruise ship audience is generally older, a cruise ship performer should have a music book of at the very least 200 songs, and all should be recognizable to this older audience. The more songs in their repertoire, the easier the performer’s time will be playing multiple-hour shifts on the ship.

Also, the more songs a performer has in their repertoire, the easier it is for them to be hired for the job. Generally, the shorter the cruise, the younger the audience. So, knowing about how long each trip is will help the performer to know what kind of songs they will most likely need to perform.

6. The Artist’s Original Songs

A valuable piece of advice for any type of performance is that a cruise ship is not the place for controversial or overly artistic pieces. This applies to small-venue musicians’ song choices as well as major productions on ships.

Musical theatre performances consist of classic shows or ones that simply entertain with no controversy. For instance, Royal Caribbean has debuted the musicals Hairspray, Grease, Mamma Mia!, as well as their own original jukebox musical titled Columbus! The Musical.  The cruise lines prefer entertaining, easy-to-follow stories, which fit perfectly for a cruise ship audience of older couples and families with younger children.

7. What’s it like to perform on a moving ship

There are a variety of factors that go into the production on a land-based show, however performing on a moving ship can be complicated. A ship has a much smaller stage and the performer has small corridors to get from one side of the stage to the other. Large props and staging equipment must be tied down.  All the stage lighting is not hung but bolted in the frame of the stage. Performers have their own set of problems in fighting Mother Nature. There’s consistent rocking motion on a boat and there can be more turbulence when you live on the front of the ship. 

8. Free Time

The upside to performing on the ship is that your only job is to perform. Other than rehearsals and performances, the performer’s time is their own. You can use the extra time during the day to improve your performance, compose music, practice a new instrument, etc. You have the time and resources to dedicate to performing and improving what you already love to do. Also, living on a boat with other entertainers for months at a time can make people feel like they’re part of a family, and for networking, it can be very helpful.

9. Requirements and Backgrounds of Cruise Ship Performers

Those who choose cruise ship entertainment are entering into an entirely new world with a unique set of skill requirements and strong work ethic. There are many different positives to accepting a job as a performer of any kind on the sea.  Despite the obvious “land vs sea” change when becoming an entertainer aboard a ship, there are many more adjustments that must be made in order to be successful in the cruise ship entertainment industry. 

For instance, one who desires this for a sole occupation must have both strong charisma as well as a valid passport; they must have work visas if from another country, and also must be able to perform gracefully aboard a moving cruise line.  Even the cruise director (who is not specifically working to entertain) must be able to work well with the entertainment staff and oversees all the shows and performances.

10. Developing Your Skills as a Singer, Musician and Dancer

Each job on the ship within the entertainment sector requires background knowledge, skills, and experience.

For example, the boat’s DJ must have musical knowledge and the ability to play songs for each deck of the ship, whether it be by a kid’s pool or a nightclub. Experience is required for dancers and ice skaters and training onboard is crucial to perfection on the ice or stage while the ship moves. If the seas get too rocky, sometimes the shows must be cancelled.

Swimmers and divers onboard the ship must have significant training, as every show may change, depending on the ship’s movement that day or night. They might not even be entertainers when they enter the ship, as many of them were divers in college or in a more professional environment.  

For many, being a cruise ship entertainer may not have even been on their radar.  But the best part of being on a cruise ship is not just the free room and board, but the amount of valuable time that performers receive to practice their craft. On land, many would not be able to dedicate as much of their time to rehearsing as they would like to, but working on a cruise ship is a fantastic way to find time to do run-throughs both in groups and individually.

Writing songs, going over new dances, or even attempting new dives are a part of the daily life of those on board. This opportunity can be beneficial with the resources provided by the ship, especially for younger performers looking to find a way into the entertainment industry. It’s also a great way to gain experience and contacts within the music industry while getting paid a competitive salary.

Tags: cruise entertainer cruise performer cruise ships featuring