Cruise Ships – Life At Sea - StageLync

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Cruise Ships – Life At Sea

My journey working on cruise ships started when I wanted to move to La Paz, near Los Cabos by the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. It was very uncertain how I could make a living there working in the arts, but I had heard that most musicians that lived in Los Cabos would work on cruise ships.

Since then, I have done a number of contracts on ships. Why a number of contracts? When working on ships, typically you sign a new contract every time you board a ship for a number of months. Contracts range from three or four months (for more senior and management positions) to almost a year (usually for cast members). I have always been offered contracts for six months + three weeks. Most everyone I know is usually onboard for between five and nine months.

Life on board varies depending on your position and your rank; nevertheless, there are common things to most of them. We all have safety and security duties beyond our regular jobs. Sea days are long for most everyone. Teams are constantly changing. Everyone goes through security checks before boarding the ship, every time. Weeks are now called “cruises.”

Cruises can range from three days to several weeks, and even months on around-the-world cruises. (I have no idea how around-the-world cruises work; I would love to do one, yet I expect them to be very hard work.) A regular cruise starts on boarding day, also referred to as embarkation day.

Embarkation day is usually long, busy, and stressful for most people.

On what pertains to entertainment, it is a day when we can receive parts or equipment, or land things that need to be repaired, or that we no longer need on the ship. This has to be organized and planned not only within the department but also with other departments on the ship, and with the people shoreside to have the required permits to clear customs and security. Embarkation day is the day when we often get new team members. It is also the day when we welcome guests on board. The entertainment department usually plays a role in welcoming them. We also provide information about the ship and the ship’s safety. Before the ship sets sail, just like before an airplane takes off, every passenger on board will have to be familiarized with the emergency procedures, and we are likely to help during this process. If scheduled on that day, we will also be doing our shows.

Once a week (and it is a week, because I think by law it has to be every seven days), there will be a day when emergency drills are performed, and everyone involved has to be present. These often happen during port days; the schedule and length vary from ship to ship and from scenario to scenario. It is very possible that it will always be the same port or the same couple of ports. To explore those ports, careful planning and scheduling, and a little hope will be needed.

The rest of the cruise days will be all too similar, having two main distinctions: sea days and port days. During sea days there are activities all over the ship, many of them happening at once. Port days will depend on the port, but we can potentially get a few hours off to either sleep in or get off the ship. Most crew members will only get off to get some fast/free-cheap internet, get food, and do basic shopping. Time in port can range from a few hours to almost a day, and rarely overnight. The entertainment schedule will react to that. Let’s say everyone is back on the ship at 5 pm—shows might be scheduled to start at around 6 pm or 7 pm, so we will be back on the ship on time to do everything one does prior to a show. A call time like any other call time.

As a rule of thumb: No days off; the internet onboard is expensive; eating and sleeping habits get messy; food gets boring and uninspiring. Sea days are long.

There will be a lot of learning, and a lot of teaching, but not a lot of time or patience to go through the learning curve. For me, working in entertainment, the most challenging part is dealing with people that are there “for the money” with no passion or interest for the people, the art, or the job; worse when those in management positions have this approach to the job.

While working on ships can be very demanding (physically and emotionally) and for the most part, we don’t get as much time in port as people would think, things can be done.

On the professional side, I got to work on Broadway shows, “Vegas-style” shows, ice shows, and water shows (the latter of which would help shape my career). I had access to state-of-the-art equipment which triggered a huge amount of curiosity in me, and I got to work with some incredibly talented athletes and performers. I also found a few kind and knowledgeable people willing to share, teach and mentor.

On the social side, the cultural melting pot created by many different cultures that I don’t think often come in contact with each other is very interesting. Beyond seeing how culture and language bring people together, it is interesting to see Spanish speakers when they start to interact with Filipinos and start to think of the historic and cultural links between them; or perhaps the encounters between people from different countries of the Commonwealth that usually don’t interact.

In the end, people are people, and the community with them in such a small environment makes a huge difference in the kind of experience to be had.

Up to this day, I am forever amazed and grateful for the happiness and gratitude of the Jamaicans I got to meet; for the support, and kindness (and all the noodles) from my Chinese friends; for the Europeans that would often follow my craziness to go on excursions; the Brazilians that came and got me out of my comfort zone, and also thought me to be Portuñol; for all the tea and yerba mate shared with everyone!

I did get to discover some fantastic places and go on some adventures. Ever thought to walk from the Vatican to the Colosseum in one day? I don’t suggest it, but it was fun, as was getting lost while using public transportation in New San Juan and making sure we were back on time to the ship. Other fun adventures were hiking Mount Vesuvius–which is an active volcano—and Mount Liamuiga, a bit more on the sleepy side of a volcano; hiking in Cinque-Terre; swimming in the quietest (and very cold) beaches in early spring in Mallorca; getting soaked by big waves in winter in St. Nazaire (followed by the kindness of someone who allowed me to take a hot shower and borrow clothes); finding a tiny tea shop in St. Kitts that served the best bagels I have ever had; earning my open water and advanced open water scuba diving certifications (and getting to dive with a Giant Manta) in Grand Cayman and Cozumel; diving to a WWII wreck; and cycling all the way to the North End in Aruba while stopping at several beaches to take in the wonderful Caribbean Blues.

For me, working in a venue where I get to see the ocean every time I go to work, have the sun set while we do pre-sets or shows, and watch the dolphins playing around, are things that I will always keep with me.

The lessons will also stay… as will the people who have become long-time close friends and those that have, literally, changed my life for the best.

This article was originally published on TheatreArtLife.com.

ana aguilera
Technical Director, Podcast Co-Host -MEXICO

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