I played piano in the show band on the RCCL Navigator of the Seas from June 9 thru July 14, 2013. Ports of call included Rome, Sicily, Athens Crete and Ephesus (Turkey). This was my first time doing a cruise ship gig and it was a fun experience.
So what’s it like working as a musician on a cruise ship? I had read a lot of horror stories online so I was prepared for the worst. But you know what, it was pretty fun! Much better than I had anticipated.
Some things that surprised me: The food was pretty good, the musicians were very polite and supportive of each other, the schedule was reasonable in my opinion, and after a few days the small cabins were not an issue really at all.
In general, I’ve heard that food is generally better on the larger ships. The ship I was on, RCCL Navigator of the Seas is one of the larger ships, I think 11th largest cruise ship in the world. There was always the staples of chicken and rice, lots of fruit, beans, peas, carrots and occasional featured items that were a little more upscale as far as crew food goes. There were also options to pay and eat in the main buffet, the steak house, burger restaurant, and of course you have plenty of opportunities in port to have lunch in a different country almost every day. For me that was the most fun. I loved sampling different local cuisines.
If you’re packing for a musician cruise gig, you cannot have too many pairs of black socks! You’re always in suits or dress slacks in the passenger areas so bring at least 10 pairs of black socks. For my gig we were asked to bring a tuxedo, dress suit and several black shirts. I’d suggest two long sleeve black shirts for performing and at least one short sleeve black IZOD type shirt for being in the passenger areas when not performing. This was clothing for the show band that does the production shows. The bands and club groups might have different attire.
Internet access was SLOW. Like, it took me sometimes 8 minutes just to sign in to my email and read a couple emails. This was the major downside for me as I like to do a lot of internet and web work in my down time.
There was a lot of safety trainings for new crew and of course the ship is run in a military fashion. There are some strict rules. But I had expected that and didn’t have a problem with any of it. It makes sense to me that I need safety training to assist passengers in case of an emergency. Even though it’s a fun vacation for most, it’s still a ship at sea so some standard ship protocol should be expected.
Now I only did a 5 week fill in gig which was great. Most people do 6 month contracts and everyone says that around month five most people are ready to leave the ship. I’d suggest bringing some projects to work on in your downtime, or utilize the time to practice, or have some good books. It would be VERY easy to have six months go by and all you did was sleep and drink in the crew bar. I saw some people do this (not musicians) and felt a little sorry for them.
All in all, a great experience for me. If you’ve worked as a musician on a cruise ship please leave a comment and let me know your experience. (If you had a bad experience, please don’t mention the cruise line). Thanks!