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What Are Cruise Ship Musicians?

By Alan Rankin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cruise ship musicians are part of the entertainment staff on a cruise ship. These ships are popular floating vacation resorts, offering many luxuries to passengers while they travel to exotic locations by sea. These luxuries include musical acts, some of which perform featured shows on stage, and others that provide melodic ambiance. On the more prestigious cruise lines, cruise ship musicians may be well-known performers or even headline acts. Some cruises cater specifically to fans of a particular kind of music, such as smooth jazz, Celtic music, or even heavy metal.

The luxury liner, an ocean liner fitted with luxury passenger accommodations, originated in the early 20th century. As air travel replaced sea travel as the primary means of global transport, passenger liner companies focused on these luxuries to retain their clientele. Sea travel itself became a luxury rather than a necessity, and companies competed to offer the best accommodations, services, and perks. Beginning in the 1970s, these perks included stages and auditoriums with high-end equipment as well as bands and singers who added a pleasing soundtrack to everyday ship activities. Soon performers were competing for the chance to become cruise ship musicians.

As the cruise ship industry is widely dispersed around the globe, cruise ship musicians can come from any nation. Competition for these positions remains vigorous. Successful musicians must possess talent, presence, and a flexible repertoire of many musical styles. Consequently, cruise ship audiences can enjoy the work of highly skilled musicians from around the world. Other performers include comedians, magicians, and jugglers.

Many cruise ship musicians work through talent agencies that specialize in the cruise and vacation industry. Others work directly with the entertainment departments of the various cruise lines. Many jobs require performers to travel for weeks or months at a time, sometimes leaving with only a few days’ notice. On the plus side, meals and accommodations are often included as part of the salary. Like all of a ship’s staff, entertainers visit many exotic ports of call while maintaining a permanent residence on board the ship until the end of their assignments.

Cruise ship musicians may perform in the orchestra with the main stage acts or in the lounges on various decks. Quartets, duos, and solo musicians often perform in restaurants or central atria. Caribbean and reggae bands are often preferred as poolside acts. Headline acts will have one or two shows a night on the ship’s main stage, often with as much flash and dazzle as a Las Vegas nightclub act. Specialty cruises sometimes feature the most popular acts from a certain musical genre, wooing fans to spend a week at sea with their musical idols.

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Discussion Comments

By Ruggercat68 — On Nov 19, 2014

@Cageybird- I'm glad your friend had a good time working on a cruise ship. I've heard other people have been disappointed with musician jobs on cruise ships, however. One of my cousins is a Broadway-style singer, and she found a listing for cruise ship entertainers on a campus bulletin board. She went to the location mentioned in the ad and auditioned for them. They offered her a great job as a cabaret singer on a Caribbean cruise.

Her actual experience was not so good. The cruise line actually wanted their entertainment staff to perform other duties as well, like serve in restaurants and work in the laundry room. They were supposed to perform two shows a night after working all day as regular crew. It was an exhausting experience for her, and she never tried it again. I think musicians and other entertainers should really do some research before looking at cruise ship jobs.

By Cageybird — On Nov 18, 2014

I knew a drummer who worked as a cruise ship musician and he said it was one of the best things he ever did. He said he ended up playing in three different bands during the cruise. One was a smooth jazz trio that played in one of the more upscale lounges, another was a rock and country band that played for wedding receptions and other private parties, and the third was a calypso band that roamed the decks when the ship was getting close to a port of call.

He said he had his own cabin, about the size of an average hotel room. There was maid service every day, and he was allowed to eat meals after most of the passengers had gone through the buffet lines. The one downside was that he couldn't fraternize with the paying guests when he wasn't performing.

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