Working on a Cruise Ship: What You Need to Know
Working on a cruise ship can be one of the most rewarding jobs around. You can get to see some of the greatest destinations in the world and get paid while doing it. Whether you are in a band or on your own it’s a great way to travel, explore and make new friendships. Although it is an amazing experience there are a quite a few things to consider if you are thinking of working on a cruise ship.
Working on a Cruise Ship as a Band, Duo or Solo?
When working on a cruise ship you will need to decide what job you want to go for. Typically you will find jobs for solo players e.g. ‘guitarist with vocals’, theatre musicians, duos or 3, 4. or 5+ piece bands.
Theatre musicians will need to have a good level of sight reading as most of the work will be playing shows and supporting guest entertainers. Solo players, duos and bands will normally play in the lounges and around the ship for different themed events and typically play 4-5 sets a night. For instance one night you will be playing out on deck for a themed ‘Hawaiian Party’ and another playing a pre-dinner lounge jazz set. So you will need a significantly large and varied repertoire of songs so you can cover all of these gigs.
Getting the Cruise Ship Gig
One of the best ways to get yourself working on a cruise ship is to go through a specialist cruise ship agent. You can also search online music job sites like www.starnow.co.uk to find cruise ship jobs. You may find adverts for bands, duos or just solo musicians or you can see if there are existing cruise ship bands that need a replacement guitarist.
There is a lot of competition for these jobs as they provide a steady monthly income and free travel, so it’s a good idea to be fully prepared before applying to ads. Having a slick promotional package is a must these days so ensuring you have a great website, video, pictures along with a great write-up is paramount for getting hired.
To really get an advantage you can try and get some cruise experience under your belt as it goes a long way in getting the top cruise ship gigs. A good way to do this is to try and find a short cruise ferry gig (usually around a 4 week contract) so you can get a feel for what it’s like. It also gives you a chance at working at sea so you can decide whether it’s something you will be comfortable with when moving onto longer contracts.
Sort Your Paperwork
Before you go packing your suitcase you will need to sort out your paperwork and any medical requirements before working on a cruise ship. Here are some of the typical things you will need:
– A Seafarer Medical Certificate (ENG 1) which shows you are fit to work at sea.
– Check your vaccinations are up to date (depending on your destinations)
– Visas. e.g. if you are working on a cruise ship that departs from the U.S.A you will need a C1/D multiple entry visa for embarking/disembarking the ship.
– Valid Passport.
– Any Immigration Documents
– CRB Check.
It is best that you check with the cruise line/ agent exactly which documents and visas you will need. Try and get this done as early as you can as some visas can take a while to apply for. It’s one of the most important bits of preparation as you could avoid delaying the start of your contract or even missing out completely.
What Do You Take?
Working on a cruise ship takes a little bit of adjustment as you won’t have all the comforts you are used to at home and your small cabin will be your shared domain for the next few months!
With this in mind it’s important that you pack light but make sure you have all the essentials. You will also need to check the amount of luggage you can take depending on the airline and also consider the amount of storage you will have when sharing a cabin (which is not a lot!).
To get you started here are a few essentials you need to take with you when working on a cruise ship:
– Photo ID (Driving Licence)
– Applicable Visa’s/Immigration Documents
– Seafarer’s Certificate
– CRB Check
– Cruise Line Documents and Contract
– Credit Card and Cash
– Guitar (Amps are usually supplied but do check with the cruise line)
– Small Accessories (Power Supplies, Stand, Leads, Effects, Spare Strings, Picks etc.)
– Stage Clothes & Shoes (Formal wear is usually a Tuxedo/Dress)
Usually electrical outlets on board will be 110v (US) or 220v (Europe) so you will need to check your devices will work with the stated voltages. There will be a limited amount of sockets available in your cabin which will also be shared with your room mate so be mindful in not bringing an entire boat load of tech with you. You can always pack an extension cord with you if you need extra sockets. You will also need to get yourself a travel adaptor or two.
If you want to use your phone abroad you you will need to check how much an upgrade is with your provider for the country you are going to. Another option is you can pick up a cheap pay as you go phone to use when you get there (if you are staying in the same country). It’s worth taking your laptop or tablet with you so you can get online and stay in touch with friends and family.
– Extension Cord – 5m 13amp 4-gang (Amazon)
– Travel Adaptor – UK/EU/US with 4-port USB (Amazon)
– Foldable Headphones (Amazon)
– Travel Laptop – Samsung 13″ laptop Intel Core i5, 8GB Memory, 1TB HDD (Amazon)
– Tablet – Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7-inch Tablet (Amazon)
Clothes & Toiletries
You may find that you are visiting very different climates on your contract so make sure you pack the right clothes for your destinations. Also think about what toiletries you will need to take like ear plugs (if your room mate snores!) and seasickness tablets. Here are a few ideas get your packing underway:
– General Clothes (Jeans, Shorts, T-shirts, Jumpers, Shirts, Underwear, Swimwear, Jacket etc)
– General Toiletries (Shampoo, Conditioner, Deodorant, Toothbrush, Hairbrush etc)
– Footwear (Shoes, Trainers, Flipflops)
– Mosquito Spray (Amazon)
– Earplugs (Amazon)
– Sunscreen (Amazon)
– Plasters (Amazon)
– Ginger Tablets for Seasickness (Amazon)
It’s not the end of the world if you do forget anything as there is a crew shop on board and also various shops in ports you visit so you won’t go without your essentials.
Preparing Yourself for Working on a Cruise Ship
Depending how long you plan on working on a cruise ship, you will need to be aware of what ship life will be like. Typical contracts last between 4 – 6 months and you will more than likely be working every day for the duration. With some cruise lines you may get a night off each week or catch a free day depending what the itinerary is. During the day you are able to go and visit the port destinations but some days you may find you are needed for safety drill duty which means you will need to stay on board.
When you are working on a cruise ship you will more than likely be playing every night of the week for the duration of your contract. If you haven’t played this frequently before it might come as a surprise. It’s a lot of hard work so you need to make sure you are ‘gig fit’ – this means that you can comfortably play through your sets with the same energy as the night before. Most of the time you will have the day free so you can use this time to relax, practice or learn new songs for your set.
Sharing a Cabin
When living on a cruise ship you will be sharing a small cabin with another person. So you will need to make sure you are easy going and agree on a few house rules to make it as comfortable as possible. This is often a bit easier if you are sharing with someone you know (one of the advantages of going on as a band), but if you are on your own you will be sharing with a stranger! Most of the time you will be out and about on the ship or visiting a port so sharing a cabin is not as bad as it sounds – just remember to take some good ear plugs for sleeping!
On Board Privileges
Once you have settled in to your cabin you can enjoy a few perks which come with working on a cruise ship. Probably the most popular perk is the use of the buffet which is practically open 24 hours a day! So if you need a midnight snack after your set then there is plenty of food to choose from. You are normally allowed to enjoy passenger areas and watch other shows if it’s not too busy. Crew also get the benefit of the ‘crew bar’ which offers very cheap drinks and snacks so you can unwind and socialise after finishing work.
Unless you are one of the lucky people who already have their sea-legs you will need something to help with seasickness. Within the first day on board I felt the full effect of being at sea and spent the afternoon visiting my cabin toilet. After a few days my body adjusted to the movement and I managed not to turf up my last meal. Unfortunately there will be a few rough days at sea during your stay, so one of the best ways to help with seasickness is to take ginger tablets.
Usually you will get paid each month in cash which in most cases is in dollars. The easiest way to manage wages is to have your money transferred each month to your account for a small fee. This way you can choose how much cash to keep for spending and have the rest saved for when you return home.
WiFi is available on the ship but normally comes at a price. You can buy a calling card or internet card which will give you a set amount of minutes online or to call home. Most of the time you can take advantage of the free WiFi in port at cafes and bars so it’s a good idea to take a laptop or tablet with you if you want to get online.
One thing that is worth noting is how you conduct yourself on board. With all the perks of cruise ship life it’s easy to forget you are there to work. So making sure you remain professional, even when you are off duty will ensure you always receive a good performance review (which is good for renewing your contract) and enjoy a lengthy career at sea.
When your contract is coming to an end you will usually have the choice of joining another ship on the cruise line or picking up another contract with another company. You will normally have a few weeks break before going back out on the ship again. If you have decided to come back to dry land and not continue working on a cruise ship then it’s a good idea to start planning your return. A good place to start is to contact your network of contacts to let them know you will be returning and will be available for gigs. Try and do this a couple of months before you return so that you can get some work booked in by the time you get home.
Some musicians I met have made an extensive career out of working on a cruise ship having worked on liners for over 20 years! Hopefully this article has given you a better idea of what working on a cruise ship is like and helps you land your first cruise ship job!
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