Jesse Gottlieb ’11 lived and worked on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for over 6 months! In his first post, he talked about landing the gig. In this post he’ll discuss life on the boat and what life was like once the ship had docked!
Working and living on board a cruise ship is a lot like attending college on a closed campus. The rooms are exactly like college dorms, except they are much smaller and don’t have windows (portholes.) Your boss lives down the hall from you and doesn’t hesitate to come a-knockin’ when your playing wasn’t rockin’. That being said, your friends also live down the hall from you and almost every night is a party either in someone’s cabin or at the back deck/crew bar.
I’m assuming if anyone who is reading this ever gets a job on a cruise ship it will be that of a musician, so I’ll go ahead and explain what an average day at “work” was like for me as a trumpet player.
Wake up anywhere between 8AM and 1PM depending on how late I was up the night before. There are no windows in the room so the sunrise doesn’t play much of a role in the waking up process. Take a shower in my bathroom that is literally just big enough to fit a sink, toilet and shower. The curtain is just a prop to give the appearance of protecting the rest of the bathroom from getting wet. In my first room the showerhead clip didn’t work right so every other day the showerhead would fall and go zipping around the bathroom like a firehose. Good times.
Next, walk the length of the ship and up 4 floors to get to the staff mess for breakfast. The mess is what you might expect out of a college cafeteria. It’s a buffet that is free and open during certain times of the day and has food that is just barely edible. Eating became something of a chore after eating the same stuff every day for 7 months. The upside is that it just made the food we got on land that much tastier by comparison!
Work often didn’t start until 7pm so the remainder of the day was free to me. I would either go to the gym, read my kindle or watch some TV on my laptop. Musicians get to use the guest gym, which is as nice as a planet fitness or what have you, just don’t use the jacuzzi! On my first jacuzzi offense I got lectured at by 5 different officers, got several phonecalls and my boss, the musical director, yelled at me. I didn’t go back in the jacuzzi.
As far as actual work is concerned, there are basically four different types of shows the orchestra is responsible for: production shows, headlining acts, big band swing sets, and opening/closing concerts. All the shows are 45 minutes to an hour long so even on the worst possible day, which might be a rehearsal and 3 shows, I never played more than 4 hours total. Some nights there was only one welcome aboard show which had only one song in it. Yeah, that’s 3 minutes of work for the whole day, not too bad for a day’s work.
For those readers who are considering this career option, the standards for playing aren’t anything spectacular. The most important thing is to be able to sight-read really well. When a new headlining act comes (there are generally 2 per week) you do one rehearsal in the morning and two shows in the evening. Other than that you’ll have to improvise a little now and then and you almost never have to learn anything by ear. All you trumpet players out there, make sure your endurance is up to snuff. Four hours isn’t a lot of work in a day, but we all know it’s a lot of playing.
Other than rehearsals and concerts, there are occassional trainings for safety, ethics and company standards. Besides life raft training its all the kind of stuff you might expect from working for a giant corporation. There are also weekly and sometimes twice per week drills. They aren’t all that fun, but that’s what comes with working on a floating city.
Obviously the part of the job that is the best is seeing the world. It’s the reason why everyone does it! I had the extreme fortune of being on a ship that was in the midst of a repositioning. The first four months however, were very boring. We did the same Caribbean loop every week, starting from New Orleans, Louisianna. Over the course of each seven day cruise, we also stopped in Cozumel, Falmouth (Jamaica), and Georgetown (Grand Cayman). Georgetown and Falmouth were probably the worst ports of the whole trip because they were mostly just giant tourist traps. Everything was expensive or not great quality and they offered very little in the way of cheap entertainment or interesting culture. Cozumel was great, though. It had delicious, cheap mexican food and a bar that catered almost exclusively to ship crew.
After this repetitive segment of my contract, the ship sailed east with its final destination being southeast Asia. On the way we stopped in so many places I never imagined I’d get to see. Here’s the list:
The Azores, Spain, Egypt, Jordan, Dubai, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore.
Rather than ramble on and on about all the ridiculous once-in-a-lifetime things I saw, I’ll just put up a few key photos.
I’m going to be honest with you for a second. Despite my journey home from Singapore taking about 30 hours and being seated next to a fidgety 4 year old, I was thrilled to come home in the end. I am somewhat of an introverted person who needs alone time and personal space and ships don’t have a lot of those things to offer. At times the work environment was rather hostile because my boss had a ridiculously short temper and apparently no self-awareness. It is by no means a career that you should expect to have your whole life and retire happily at the end. For me one contract was enough, although I may consider going back to a different ship with a different boss if I don’t find anything better in the next few months.
This gig doesn’t set you up with other performance opportunities. In fact, it makes planning your future harder because internet is somewhat harder to come by at sea. What it does do, is give you an opportunity to build up your chops playing daily and see what its like to perform professionally. It is the perfect job for a young musician fresh out of college, or even on a summer break if you are lucky enough to find a short contract. I highly recommend it purely on the basis of getting to see the world for free. Let’s face it, we’re all musicians and we’re going to be poor/broke. How else do you expect to afford a trip around the world?
Work is easy. Life can get dull at times. Job is a million times worth it for the places you get to see. Oh, and I forgot to mention, decent pay made more decent by the fact that you have no overhead to spend it on. DO IT.