Since cruise ship entertainment is a rapidly growing industry, performers often wonder how they can become involved and what they can expect from the experience. Working at sea can offer steady employment, great pay, and the ability to save money, all while traveling to some of the most beautiful and exotic destinations this planet has to offer, however there is also a level of discipline required in acclimating to a lifestyle that may be foreign to that which you may have become accustomed on land.
Typically, a cruise ship performance contract ranges anywhere from five to ten months onboard with about a month of rehearsal on land beforehand. Depending on the ship and its itinerary, performers are required to learn anywhere from two to four full-length production shows that are performed over the course of 3 to 28-day cruises. Learning and performing up to four shows may sound like a huge feat but each show normally doesn’t exceed an hour in length because the cruise ship audiences want continued stimulation without feeling trapped in one area for such a long time. In order to help maintain the integrity of the shows, a dance captain, vocal captain, and in some cases, an aerial captain, is appointed from the cast to assist the Production/Stage Manager in completing administrative duties for the production shows, in addition to coordinating/supervising cleaning rehearsals, re-blocking when a performer is out, and teaching choreography and music to new cast members.
Since the actual performances take up a small fraction of time onboard, usually performers have supplementary responsibilities that involve mandatory emergency safety trainings and interacting with the passengers. These additional duties may include greeting and de-greeting guests on the gangway, attending guest and crew boat drills, teaching dance classes, giving a backstage tour of the theater, or having a Q&A session where guests have the opportunity to learn more about the performers. In some cases, the available time allows the entertainers to participate in theme night events and develop new routines and acts that could potentially help further their career.
There are different conditions and expectations depending on the type of contract offered that might vary by cruise line. While living accommodations and meals (with the exception of specialty dining areas) are provided free of charge for all crewmembers, the arrangements differ depending on shipboard positions. Some lines provide dancers with their own cabin but in most cases, they are paired with another dancer and will have to share the space. Although the living arrangements are in very close quarters, the dancers cabins will generally have a bunk bed, TV, DVD player, phone, wardrobe space, a small refrigerator, and a bathroom with a shower. On some ships, the bathrooms and showers are communal. The vocalists, guest entertainers, and specialty acts have similar accommodations but mostly enjoy a single cabin to themselves with a full-size bed, and possibly a porthole. In addition, they are usually assigned cabin stewards to spruce up the room and change the linens. There are laundry facilities for the crew where the washers and dryers are often free of charge, however, it’s encouraged to tend to your clothes as there are over 1,000 crew members whose work hours vary throughout the day and are vying to get the first available machine before their next shift.
The performers are considered members of the entertainment staff and have access to most of the guest areas with some restrictions that may apply. Although attending the dining facilities, bars, gym, lounges, clubs, and outside deck areas are special privileges of which performers can take advantage, certain dress codes may be enforced and guests must always take priority. Staff members are not allowed to gamble in the casinos but they can typically use their money toward a nice meal at one of the specialty restaurants, a relaxing massage in the spa, or in the gift shops where crewmembers receive a discount. After-hours the crew bar is rollicking with music and entertainment, serving as one of the prime locations to unwind after a long workday.
Homesickness is quite common, and connecting with family and friends back home can be quite challenging on a cruise ship, but it is possible. Cellular service can vary but generally will not work onboard unless the ship is in a port serviced by your phone carrier. Other options to use your cell phone onboard are available, if you choose to take the chance on connecting to the ship’s satellite signal, but it can easily become breathtakingly pricey due to international roaming rates that could potentially present you with a bill that costs the same amount as the cruise itself. No need to fret, Internet is provided onboard at a discounted rate for crew members that is usually less than $1 per minute, and calling cards are available for purchase to use with the phone provided in your cabin. Most crew members reserve communication for port days where free Wi-Fi hotspots are available in cafes and call centers to use online audio/video services like Skype, Google Voice, FaceTime, etc. So although you may be miles or continents away, you could still keep in touch with the ones you love as if you never even left. Furthermore, depending on your position, some ships offer different discount programs for family and friends to visit and travel with you.
Performing for a cruise ship audience is similar to performing for an audience on land because the overall goal is to captivate their attention enough to keep them in their seats during the performance and on their feet requesting an encore. However, since cruise ship audiences don’t have to pay to see a performance or drive to get there, they tend to have much less patience and can leave the room at any moment to find another activity in the same time slot. Occasionally, you’ll find audience members who will treat the production show like they’re at a movie theater and show disinterest by crossing their arms or falling asleep right in the front row, as if they’re invisible to the performers on stage. Depending on the demographic of cruisers, watching a theatrical performance of song and dance, unless it’s Karaoke Night in one of the lounges, may seem a bit foreign and not as appealing as going to a concert featuring a popular music star or having control of what they watch with a click of the remote. On the contrary, you’ll have audience members who are eager and ready to be entertained as soon as they enter into the multi-million dollar theater to experience sights, talents, and a high caliber of production value they’ve never seen before or couldn’t afford to see, otherwise.
As discouraging as it may seem to work hard and do your absolute best for those who may show a lack of interest, you must be mindful that even when you’re not on stage, you’re always in the spotlight. At the end of each cruise the guests are given comment cards to document their experiences on board and the production shows tend to be rated the most. Even if the production shows didn’t quite fit their fancy, you should always go the extra mile in making their general cruising experience a positive one; even if you happened to recognize the person who fell asleep in the front row during your show.
Working as a cruise ship performer offers a wide array of benefits that most land-based jobs can’t offer. Though the pay varies based on position, there is always the opportunity to save a substantial amount of money, since food, housing and medical care on board are all covered. Not to mention, discounts are offered to crewmembers in the onboard gift shops and crew bar.
Secondly, you are given the opportunity to fulfill your passion of entertaining while traveling to parts of the world you’ve only dreamt about. Since the performances take place in the evening, you typically have free rein to explore each port during the day. In most cases, crewmembers can experience a variety of activities and tours at no charge by signing up as guides for guest shore excursions.
Moreover, even if you don’t get the chance to see every country in the world over the course of the contract, you have the privilege of working alongside crewmembers that represent over 80 nationalities, which means you may not need to purchase Rosetta Stone. In addition, you’ll have the luxury of meeting and performing for guests from all over the world that can in turn, give you the exposure to receive recognition on a global scale.
Employment on ships requires a great deal of discipline and hard work but it also can provide one with a sense of freedom and adventure. It’s more than a job; it offers an invaluable pathway to future opportunities by incorporating the professional skills, work experience and global networking gained while onboard…and doing it all while experiencing a wide variety of destinations makes the journey that much more enticing.
Interested? Create a profile on Calltime today to get hooked up with top-rated producers in the cruise entertainment industry who are looking for talent to heighten the “wow” factor experienced on the high seas.
The Calltime Team.