For an incredible year and a half I cruised the Hawaiian Islands aboard a 965 foot, 92 ton, 4,000 person ship. State of the Art, Beautiful and full of people that love to smile (Most of the time). I get questions all the time from people asking how it was, what it was like and how they can land a cruise ship job.
What I’m going to share with you is a behind the scenes look at cruise ship entertainment jobs. I won’t disclose what company and these insider tips aren’t industry wide, but are pretty accurate across the board, so please don’t assume one line is the same as all.
Most Entertainment Lives Pretty Well
As a member of an entertainment department (Cruise Staff, Sound, Lighting, Dancers, Singers, Talent) you are going to have it slightly to exponentially better than the cooks, bartenders, technical staff. Most Entertainers will either only have one bunkmate, maybe 2 but in a larger berth (Cabin). I was a 3 and a half stripe officer, so I had a queensize bed and cabin to myself. But all entertainment I knew had much larger berths than other crew.
Most entertainment will have “Passenger Privileges”. This means you can essentially move about all areas of the ship a passenger can, eat where passengers eat and do what passengers do. Pretty sweet, huh? This will vary greatly tough.
Let’s say your ship is a little more tightly guarded than the line I worked on. Overall, the food is pretty good, it’s free and there’s a crew bar that you can get a drink at. Think of College. There’s a different society under the decks. There’s crew activities, privileges and specials. So it’s not as bad as people may say.
You Can Get Off the Ship
Entertainment, USUALLY works only a few hours a day. you may have a “Duty Day” where you are the contact person for your department, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. When you are off duty, you are free to go experience the destinations that passengers do. You will over time learn the “local” treasures, you will avoid the crowded tourist areas and even get on and off the ship faster.
You Don’t have Labor Laws
Now there are exceptions to every rule and it usually doesn’t effect the entertainment as much as it does the labor positions: Housekeeping, Cooks, Servers, Bartenders. There is a reason most crews are international, they aren’t lazy Americans that whine over working more than 6 hours a day.
Let me explain. Most ships are “Flagged” in other countries. Although the ship may sail to US areas, their “home port” is in another country. This is for a couple reasons. First, international standards are typically looser. This means that the standards at which the upkeep of the ship is kept isn’t as strict as the US Government.
What this also means is that US Labor Laws are irrelevant, since the ship belongs to another country. You can legally work 24 hours a day, however ship owners aren’t soulless and often go above and beyond to accommodate your needs. As entertainment however, your duties are limited to entertaining, so most will only work 6-8 hours tops.
There are US Flagged Vessels, these vessels follow strict US Coast Guard and Labor Laws. The downside is that most destinations are in the US, so you won’t travel the globe. Don’t get me wrong Hawaii, Alaska and Miami can be pretty cool!
It’s a Different Lifestyle
I often tell people it takes a certain type of person to work on a ship. This isn’t a bad thing. I was hired right out of school. I didn’t have any ties, no girlfriend, no house, no money! This is the ideal situation. If you are in a relationship, it is almost certain to end.
You do not have internet access 24/7, phone service or even any communication. In fact if an emergency at home occurs, the only way for someone to contact you is through the bridge. Which better be pretty serious. The Captain doesn’t want to take messages from your girlfriend.
Most crew turnover is 1 contract (4-6 months). Although I know “Lifers” that have 14+ years on a ship. They are usually perpetually 24 with incredible energy and enthusiasm.
While we are on the subject of Contracts: the typical contract will be 4-6 months on the ship with 2-4 weeks off.
Before you commit to a job on a ship you have to ask yourself: “If I am unreachable and a drift for a week at a time, am I going to be able to handle that.” It can be very overwhelming and difficult.
Safety of Ships and Sickness
We have all seen the headlines of a virus on a ship out to sea, a ship loses power or the unthinkable, sinks. Some people are just concerned with seasickness. Let me clear up a few things first.
First and Foremost, ships are VERY safe and VERY sanitary. This is why when an outbreak occurs it’s such a big deal. Cruise ships are held to higher standards than most shoreside restaurants and hotels. They are inspected thoroughly on a regular basis and even have dedicated officers that monitor the environment of the ship and it’s resources.
The ship I worked on had such a sophisticated water treatment system that the Hawaiian government copied it.
Second, Ships don’t just sink. We all saw Titanic and have seen the images from the Costa Concordia and the Korean Ferry Tragedy. These are very rare circumstances, however, very real. The crew, including yourself, trains tirelessly to practice every scenario. One thing that most have in common are negligence and failure to communicate. That’s why the captains are facing charges. Ships don’t just sink.
Lastly, seasickness. Now this depends on the size of the ship. I worked on a 500 foot ship and a 900 foot ship, there is a big difference in the motion and movement. What I can tell you is this. You will feel it at first, no matter the size. however, it’s not like being in a sailboat or even on a yacht. It’s a slow movement and the crews work very hard to give you a smooth as ride as possible. If you are working on it, odds are after 3-4 days you won’t even notice it unless the weather is incredibly rough, at which point, most activities are kept to a minimum.
There are Perks and Downsides
For any job there of course ups and downs, on a ship it can literally go up and down with the tide.
-You will have weekly drills, you are after all part of the crew, it is your responsibility to insure the safety of passengers first and foremost. You will also have a solid week or two of basic safety training. If you work on an American flagged ship, you will train with the US Coast Guard need to complete Merchant Mariner training.
-You live on a ship. This is awesome because you can wake up in some incredible places, but also rough because you may have a week at sea without land in sight.
-Free Food and Rent. Yes it’s true that you won’t have to pay to eat or pay rent. Another reason why it is great for College grads. You can save up money and not worry about everyday items. There’s always toilet paper, towels and food.
Cruise Ship Jobs for Audio Engineers
Audio Engineers on ships usually hold more responsibility than just running sound for shows. You will be the go to techie. Meaning if they are having troubles with the sound system in a lounge, your number will likely ring first. You must be resourceful, because it can happen where you just leave port for a 4 day trek across the Atlantic and a simple fix is needed, but you don’t have the part on board.
Something else they don’t tell you is that you can often transfer to different ships. So the ship you are assigned to doesn’t have to be the last route, you can literally see the world!
What does it Pay?
You’ve heard the stories of servers making $500 a month, what they don’t tell you is that’s not including gratuities. Those waiters, bartenders and housekeepers can make quite a bit. Entertainment positions are usually salary or very generous hourly wages. You’re experience with the gear will earn you more, so a audio training program like ours will make you highly desirable. We have a few graduates working cruise ship jobs as we speak. There is no median because of this. But you also get free boarding, food and travel!
This is a great opportunity to save up and see the world. Travel and meet a lot of interesting people. Working on a ship is like working at the United Nations. You will meet and make connections with people from around the globe. I have friends that would let me stay with them in several countries on 6 continents!
How do I Get a Job?
Click here! There are all sorts of cruise ship jobs all over the globe, big ships, small ships, Fast Ships and Friend Ships!
What Advice would you give me in general?
Realize it’s a lifestyle choice. You will put your regular life on hold while you cruise the high seas. That’s not a bad thing for some people, but others have trouble. If you are a naturally enthusiastic and positive person, the ship life will treat you well. But if you are an introvert, you may have problems.
Remember once you sign on you have to fulfill your contract or pay your way home. The ship will arrange travel and at the very least reimburse you, but if you don’t fulfill your contract, they will leave you at the port and you are on your own.
A great illustration is Disney’s Sneak Peek:
Want some other insights? Check out this great blog by NomadicMatt.
There are hundreds of cruise ship jobs available outside of a studio. It doesn’t have to be a career, but it’s a great way to gain experience! If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please feel free to ask me below.