What does a Cruise Ship Musician do?

Enlisting for tours ranging from four to six months, cruise ship musicians are hard-working players who entertain passengers on luxury liners (i.e. cruise ships). It's demanding work for musicians with the fluency, chops, and stamina to play four excellent sets of covers every night, week in and week out. 

Many cruise ship musicians follow a six-months-on, six-weeks-off schedule, budgeting time to see loved ones and take care of business on land before heading out on another ship. 

Cruise ships sometimes employ dozens of musicians at a time, placing them in a variety of configurations: solo guitarists and pianists who perform poolside and in bars; classical and contemporary duos; jazz, rock, Latin, and dance ensembles; cover bands that play an array of genres and styles; and pit orchestras for the Broadway-style productions mounted on large, theater-equipped vessels. All or most of the musicians aboard a ship might play simultaneously in different on-board venues, starting after dinner and continuing until the early morning. 

At a Glance

Career Path

While a gig on a cruise ship is unlikely to advance one's career, getting a regular paycheck while incurring few or no expenses is a major draw for freelance musicians, who might join the cruise individually or with a cover band or other ensemble. The job can have a number of perks, including free meals and lodging, round-trip airline travel from home, health insurance for the duration of the cruise, and days spent sunning on the deck or exploring ports.

Finding Work

There are two ways for musicians to get a job on a cruise ship—apply directly through a cruise line, all of which have links for musicians seeking work on their websites, or through a recruitment agency such as Warshaw EntertainmentLime EntertainmentProship, or Landau Music. The audition process is nothing to scoff at; one blogger describes having music emailed to him thirty minutes before a two-hour Skype audition, during which he was asked to play and improvise in a variety of styles.

Professional Skills
  • Deep instrumental skills
  • Knowledge of a wide variety of genres and styles
  • Wide repertoire
  • Sight reading
  • Improvisation
  • Stamina (performing multiple shows per day)
  • Charisma
  • Flexibility
Interpersonal Skills

Living in close quarters with strangers and bandmates requires flexibility and great communication skills. In terms of warming up and drawing in cruise ship audiences, charisma and infectious enthusiasm go a long way. Finally, a spirit of adventure and a strong sense of independence are invaluable qualities when spending many months at sea.

Work Life

The lifestyle is perhaps the most distinctive thing about working as a cruise ship musician. Cruise ship musicians enjoy many perks, such as a regular paycheck, low expenses, and the opportunity to travel while playing music. But just like touring musicians, they also make sacrifices: spending long stretches away from loved ones, living in close quarters with strangers, and only getting one night off per week. Most cruise ship musicians follow a six-months-on, six-weeks-off schedule. For those not suited to it, life at sea can be isolating, depressing, or overwhelming. But those well suited to it may come to love the camaraderie that develops between the musicians and other crew members during a long voyage.

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