Inside the ups and downs of life as a performer on board of a cruise ship, we pondered: what really goes on?
Life working onboard a cruise ship may look like an extended holiday but the realities are far more challenging than what you’d imagine. It isn’t all glitz and glam for the performers and there are many things they must do that you would be surprised to hear about.
If you think that life as a performer on board a ship is simply performance then you’d be interested to find out that dancing, or singing, or acrobatics, is hardly the only work a performer will do once on board their cruise. All crew members are under strict rules like smiling at all times in public, always saying hello walking by guests, no congregating in groups of more than four at a time... the list goes on. This all takes place in front of guests' eyes, but what happens behind the closed doors of the crew quarters?
There are the cons: The tiny living spaces, months away from family and friends, and close confinement with colleagues for months. These can have performers feeling a mixed arrange of emotions.
There are the pros: Private staff bar open all hours of the night, private jacuzzi, sun deck and swimming pool, unlimited access to the buffet - does this sound more intriguing? Well, these are all some of the benefits performers on a cruise line have access too at all times.
We’ve discovered some juicy secrets of life amongst the rocking waves working as a performer on a cruise ship. Here are the unknown truths that only an insider could tell you about.
25 They have private staff parties
The gruelling work hours of life on board a cruise ship doesn't mean there is no time for fun! The most fun is said to be had at the staff parties that take place at the private crew-only bar on board.
With performers working 7 days a week and also being stuck on the ship for up to a week at a time, the crew-only bar is the best place for the crew to have some fun and let their hair out.
We’ve been told the staff parties get pretty rowdy each night as they're charged less than half the price of cruise ship guests. The cruise line also organises special events for the crew like bingo, karaoke, band night, and lots of costume parties!
24 Spend hours each day on hair and makeup
Not only are the performers there to perform but they must do their own hair and makeup too. All performers will sign their contract agreeing to provide their own supplies to do their own hair and makeup demands for each show.
Performers' hair must be looking extremely professional often styling curls that can take hours to do. Their make up also has to be of a high-performance standard that can last the duration of the performance. This process can take performers hours to prepare before show time.
23 Go to the gym... a lot
Performers do go to the gym a lot and not because their job forces them to because they really want to! Of course, keeping fit is great for maintaining show stamina but performers use the gym for maintaining sanity whilst working on board the ship. Performers spend a lot of their free time in the gym to give them something to do, to clear their minds, and take them away from the intensity of the ship lifestyle.
Cara Smith, a cruise singer, quotes “working out was really just what helped me stay kind of sane because ship life is challenging.” Some ships also have a running track that performers love to use as well as swimming laps in the pool.
22 They're strictly required to always be on time
Performers adhere to a very tight schedule run by the cruise director. They must start the show on time and finish the show exactly on the dot of its scheduled finish.
Cruise directors have to balance performances between dinners and other cruise ship events. Therefore if one performance runs into another time slot, not only will performers be in big trouble, but people will start walking out of their performance and no one wants that!
This ensures that all performers must always be on time to get ready, to arrive, to perform, and to finish their acts.
21 They Have their own jacuzzi and movie theatre
When performers have spare time and are not busy at the gym or studying a language they also have access to a crew deck area and a crew-only movie theatre. Yes, performers and all crew members have access to a private deck area usually at the front of the ship with a jacuzzi, a pool and sunbathing areas where no passengers are allowed.
Sounds good, doesn't it? Performers also often have movie nights with a large screen to watch movies, TV shows or sporting games of their choice.
20 They are forced to Mend their own costumes
With performers working 7 days a week there are many chances for costume malfunctions. Cruise ship performances often involve aerial tricks, partner lifts and many jumps and kicks that can leave costumes in a vulnerable place for ripping or breaking.
If a performer does experience a costume malfunction it will be their own responsibility to mend the rip or breakage. This could be sewing on sequins or patching up a hole, all performers will need the skills and time to do this before their next show stages.
19 They Work a second job on the ship
As most shows take place in the evening, performers' schedules leave an adequate amount of time for a second job if one is willing to take on the extra work. Performers can help out with art auctions, at the internet cafe, at the youth centre and get paid by the hour to do so. This is a great extra pay top of an already high salary. Having a second job can be a great way for performers to spend spare time, although I am sure spending that time on the staff deck under the sun could seem more tempting to most.
18 They Work 7 days a week (3 or 4 times a night)
Working without a day off for an entire season can drive people crazy! The dancers on a cruise ship can perform up to 4 shows, 2 times each with both a welcoming show and goodbye show.
According to cosmopolitan.com singers are doing ‘four to five sets a night, 45-minute sets of high-energy, up-tempo music with 15-minute breaks.’
These work hours can often be 7 days a week and from a performance perspective, this is up there with the most demanding performance schedules of any showman career.
17 They Participate in training in case of emergency
Not only do performers train their show for months before arriving on the ship, but they must also train for emergency duties once on board. This training is very long and there is a lot that is covered. In case of an emergency on the ship, the performers will prepare to be either ‘passenger muster personnel’ or ‘stairway guides’. They will need to keep passengers calm and help account for guests when they are congregated in an emergency station. They also train in case of fire, abandon ship cases, and medical emergencies.
When guests first arrive on the ship performers are also included in a life jacket demonstration showing guests how to use a life jacket just like you would see on a plane.
16 They Get haircuts on board
Yes, it is true, staff have access to on-ship pampering! Like anyone on land, performers who are used to working long contracts need things like haircuts, massages, or even a pedi and mani from time to time.
With limited time when the ship docks or for those who must stay and man the ship, performers will have access to the in-ship salon! Usually, at a discounted price the performers can access all sorts of beauty treatments on board the ship. Salon days will usually take place in port days when guests are off exploring, giving the staff time to have access to guest privileges in their absence.
15 They Aren't allowed to make friends with guests
No fraternising with the guests- it's every ship's number one rule! And you can imagine why.
Due to cruise ship reputation, guests and staff interaction are strictly professional and anything more is strictly forbidden. Although performers do have access to staff eating and drinking areas and are encouraged to always be friendly with guests, any further relationship with a guest will get you fired.
Although it is said to happen from time to time, if a crew member is caught they are dropped off at the next port and it will be the end of their cruise ship career. The cruise line isn't even guaranteed to give you money to get back home so most crew don't second guess this one!
14 They Really miss home cooked meals
Although cruise ship performers will boast not having to cook a meal or wash a plate for up to 9 months of the year, they will also tell you how much they miss a home-cooked meal. Having access to buffets and all you can eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can start off as an amazing perk of the job but as months go on, performers are aching to cook their own meal.
Although in some cases there is a crew kitchen, it can be hard to coordinate the opening hours with a performers schedule. In most cases, performers are most likely working whilst the rest of the crew is eating dinner.
13 name tags are mandatory and must *always* say hello
As a performer, there are many rules you must follow regardless if you are performing or not. Although their only true work roles are their performances they are technically ‘on duty’ at all times when on board the ship and have certain rules when in front of guests.
One of these rules includes wearing a name tag at all times. Although the attention from guests can be nice, sometimes performers are stopped constantly and asked questions from guests at any time of the day. They must also always say hello and greet guests as they pass by.
These rules sometimes make their off-duty hours with constant smiles and hellos to guests feel a little like work.
12 They often Meet their future partners on board
This one may not come as a surprise to you as many people form workplace relationships whether on land or at sea. The difference on sea, however, is spending 6-9 months, 24/7 with the same people may enhance the chance for special bonds. Many performers can form relationships with other crew members that turn into long-term serious relationships.
The only problem with this can be if the relationship turns sour and they are stuck living side by side for the rest of their contracts, which can be awkward for not only the couple but those living around them too.
11 They Get very lonely
Despite the fact performers are constantly surrounded by people they admit to feeling very lonely at times. Spending up to 9 months away from your family and friends means only 1-2 months per year with family for those who do back to back contracts.
It can be very isolating and many performers go through periods of homesickness. On top of missing family back home, performers miss their new friends on board too.
Often performers come and go, some having shorter contracts than others. That means in a few months your best friends on board could all be leaving at once and it is time again to meet more people that could soon be leaving as well.
10 They quickly Get sick of tiny spaces
The cabins that performers sleep in which are almost always shared are tiny! Sleeping in cot sized bunks with thin walls and very limited wardrobe space can leave performers feeling very claustrophobic. Bathrooms are also shared and trying to get ready for their shows in such tiny spaces is often a nightmare. They are also subjected to cabin inspections which take place very early in the morning. Performers are supposed to have their cabins tidy at all times which can be hard with such tiny space to put all their belongings.
9 They Do not spend much money
Definitely, the perkiest-perk of a cruise ship career is the all-inclusivity. Performers do not pay for food, accommodation, washing, cleaning, gym access... the list goes on. The money they do spend at the staff bar will be very little as they can purchase drinks for as little as $1.
When the performers have day trips off the ship, they can choose to spend some money if they choose. Although they do have to pay for wifi access for the duration of their contract it is again not as expensive as guests will be paying.
Overall, performers earn a lot and spend very little and this is a huge reason why they come back year after year.
8 They Do not have a curfew
Performers surprisingly don’t have a curfew for around the ship. When the boat ports they do however need to be back on board before the passengers. Other than the set arrival time per port, they are free to stay up as late as they please, that includes late hours out watching movies or more commonly hanging out at the staff bar.
Performers do need to take into consideration the demands of their shows and anyone who stays up late night after night will either get sick or get fired for underperforming.
7 They Do not have free wifi
Many of us couldn’t live without free wifi, and many of us take it for granted. Not only do performers live for months without seeing their family, but they also have limited access to wifi and calls. Performers can access to internet in the internet cafe or to get a wifi signal for their laptop.
In time, wifi becomes something crew members will be very happy to spend their money on as speaking to friends and family at home is a priority. Performers have to be conscious of things like uploading photos or videos as this will cost more and cut their wifi usage in half.
6 They actually have the time to Study a language
As a crew member on a ship, performers have a lot available to them in terms of extracurricular activities. There is a library available to them where they can enrol in classes and also take up any private studies of their own which make downtime a lot more interesting for them. Many performers have taken language classes in their spare time on board.
Performers also take yoga, spin and zumba classes that they can access throughout any time in their contract free of charge.
5 They can Go to the buffet at any time
The buffet is a privilege that is not accessible to staff members at all times unless you are a performer who has ‘deck privileges’. Might seem unfair to some, but performers are amongst the only staff members that have access to the passenger buffet at any time they please.
Other crew members only have access to the 'crew mess' which is the staff only buffet. As long as performers are looking professional and remain aware they are being ‘watched’ they will have no problem accessing the buffet whenever they feel like it. Performers are also allowed to use the speciality restaurants and the dining rooms with approval.
4 They Have to understudy and work backstage
Being a performer is never a performer's only job on the ship. Not only do they learn their own roles, but all members must also learn and be able to cover any other performer who is sick or injured. Their understudy roles can be learning up to 6 other routines at a time and being able to switch into another role at any time.
On top of this extra work, performers also work backstage during their onstage performances. This can be anything from running props on and off stage, helping with the lighting and the pulling curtains.
3 They Have to make *very* quick changes
Performers, especially dancers, will have many costumes within the one performance and very little time to change into them. This means that those few seconds off stage see dancers frantically changing from one costume to another sometimes in less than a minute.
As dancers are on strict timing they cannot be half a second late returning on stage or they will miss their position or be late in the routine's timing. Dancers will often have people side stage waiting and ready to help them change into their next costume in order to make sure everything runs smoothly.
2 They still Perform on rough seas
Let's not forget the main difference of being a performer on sea compared to on land and that's performing on a rocking ship! Yes, performers do feel the difference and do feel the tipping of the ship in rough waves. Shows will almost never be cancelled due to rough weather, so dancers learn to adapt to the movement of the ship. This means constantly adjusting their centre of gravity in order not to fall.
Although the show must go on, sometimes routines are adjusted, like partner lifts or shoes changed if there is thought to be a danger to dancers due to rough seas.
1 They Do not know what day it is
Performers do not know what day it is, and why would they? Their Monday morning looks no different to a Saturday morning. They don’t work on a 9-5 schedule and don’t have weekends. This means days of the week are irrelevant and even non-existent on board the ship.
Performers will often only realise the day and time when they are contacting home and are calling their family
References: noisey.vice, acrossthesea.blog, esquire, cosmopolitan, cruiselinesjobs