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Thursday, June 17, 2021

How to get a cruise ship gig

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From A pianist’s perspective

By Dennis Dizon

I’ve been asked what it is like to be a pianist  on a cruise ship and how to go about it.  Let me start by giving you a brief background.  As a Solo pianist, I’ve been entertaining  5 nights a week at a classy restaurant for 3 years.  Prior to that I’ve been doing weddings, special functions and playing for clubs around Melbourne.  So I began to think about other opportunities  with music.   The film  “The Titanic”  gave me the idea of doing a cruise ship gig. (Mind you, the thought of  musicians continuing to play as the ship sinks still haunts me.)   As I write this blog, the news just came out that  they are about to raise the Costa Concordia.

>Let me digress a little bit  as  I do feel sorry for what happened specially for the missing crew and musicians.  This accident would not have happened but for the Captain’s whim to “show off”.

On my first ship “Navigator Of The Seas” (pictured below),   I was designated (in the event of an accident ) to be one of the last to leave the ship along with the Captain.  ( I wasn’t too thrilled about that   ..just dont let it sink.otherwise I may be singing  ” My Heart will go on”).  Talking about this song, every now and then,  I play it in jest and  often get a laugh from the guests.

“Navigator Of The Seas” : Passenger Capacity 3807  /  Crew capacity  1213  / Length 1020 ft.

Anyway back to the topic.   I contacted an established music agency in Sydney  and they replied  requesting a demo CD as well as Video demo’s of  my playing.

There are various positions a piano player can apply for.  Aside from being a  cocktail Pianist, you may apply as a  piano string duo,   orchestra pianist  or as a Piano Vocalist.

I prefer being a solo pianist as you have the freedom to choose your repertoire and change it every night or every session to suit the audience.  The orchestra pianist have to play the same sets  2 x for that evening .  The show may change 3-4 times  for the duration of the 6 mth.  contract.   The orchestra pianist did say to me  that he would prefer doing what I was doing as he told me that could play the shows in his sleep.  ( No wonder he slept a lot.)

I digress again, back to the story.  So you need a video demo.  It is as easy as getting a video recorder, record your playing and  post it in youtube.. (That is how the  Youtube Channel/dizzysfingers got started) .

I kept posting videos in youtube as I wanted to see which songs in my repertoire was popular and which ones were not.

Then  one day, totally unexpected,  I got an email from  a music agent in USA asking  me if I was interested in a position as a Cocktail Pianist /Intermissionist.   I checked out the music agent’s  web page to make sure they were “legit”  and asked them for more information .    I went through the contract and then went through the procedures step by step.   The music agent takes 10% commission on your earnings per month which is reasonable for the service that they provide.

Major Things to consider and other conditions:

  • Get to know all of the  conditions and what is required to enable the contract to be finalized. If you deal with a music agent, they can answer all of your questions and assist you with the process.
    (In any case, most  cruise liners get the Agent to do the auditioning and  the selection process for them. )


  •  The contract is for 6 mths. (or more)  ~ it may not be suitable for those who are married or have partners who can not stand being separated from a loved one  for that length of time .  It also precludes those who have other commitments like caring for a sick family member or elderly parents.  If a member of your family is sick or passes away , you may seek permission to leave at your expense. (for Australians this might cost a bit).   It also make it difficult if you are offered a contract and your daughter is getting married in 5 months time.  On the other hand  if you need to get away from the gf  or the wife,  this might just be the answer . (please let me go. pretty please..)
  •   You need to be in good health and do not suffer from ailments that can affect you at sea. epilepsy, balance etc.  There is a comprehensive medical questionaire which your doctor will need to complete. You also need to do drug tests for certain drugs.

     Having just achieved my 2nd dan Black belt in Tae Kwondo and do not do drugs, I was confident that I would pass that. However it still surprised me,  how thorough the tests were.

  • You need to have a clean police record. You can request your police record online and it it will be supplied to you for your application. It’s good to know that you are going to be working with a crew that are law abiding citizens.
  • Sea sickness.   For the first  week or so I was sea sick and had to take seasickness pills
    as well as wear a wrist band which seemed to  alleviate the motion sickness.
    As an entertainer I believe that no matter what, the show must go on and you forget about being sea sick when you focus on your work.  (Being sick at the Grand Piano does not make a good impression. )  The good news is , after a while you get sea legs and you get used to it.
  •  You may need a Visa. – check where the Cruise ship is going and whether you will require a Visa or not.. This is where your music agent can assist you.  If you are from overseas and the Ship will be going to the Bahamas from Miami USA, you may need a  VISA for USA.

After completing the procedures, an “Offer Of Employment” will be sent to you as confirmation of the offer. You will need this to obtain a Working Visa .    The agent will arrange your flight and accommodation details prior to boarding  the Cruise Ship.  In my case I was flown to Barcelona Spain and had a day to look around before boarding the ship the next day.  Having a wide variety of musical styles in your repertoire is a must and select songs that cater for the audience.

What Are the Advantages of working On a Cruise Ship?.

  • It goes without saying that you get to travel the world , explore the sights and the tourist attractions.
On the job you get to meet and interact with guest and crew from different countries,  I’ve met some really great entertainers, vocalist, orchestra musicians and other artists.  I was amazed at how many artists there are that do impersonations of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Neil Diamond , a fantastic Elton John impersonator as well as bands that emulate the Beatles, etc.
  • Another advantage is you don’t have to travel  to get to your gig . You get dressed and walk to your gig. There is no setting up as the Grand piano is there ready for your performance. ( There were about 6 Grand Pianos on board the “Navigator of the Seas”.)
  • As a Cocktail Pianist/Intermissionist , you are a 1 1/2 stripe officer.  It gives you  entitlements like you are able to use the Guest Gym , Sauna and pool deck. etc.  (which are off limits to most crew)
  • General medical cost , onboard the ship is covered.
  •  Food is provided at the staff dining area.  (You pay a reduced rate when you go to the restaurants.)

What Are the Disadvantages working On A Cruise Ship?

  • Being away from your family and friends for long periods of time is certainly the main drawback.
    This is certainly felt more intensely during the Christmas season.  You see people enjoying themselves and then you see the crew thinking about the families they left behind.
  •  Sorry to dispel some myth. and forget the picture in your mind of watching the sea by the balcony.  The musicians cabins are small and normally on or below the water line.  There are no windows, and the air is recycled from cabin to cabin.
  • You may be aware that the cruise ship recycles its  water supply.  I noticed that there were a number of  men with receding hair  ( lets not mince words…)  There were officers and crew that were balding or bald,    I thought it was just the “bad boy look ”  or guys trying to save on haircuts. It only hit me when on the 5th month, my hair started to recede.  I asked a  guitarist  friend  about it and he told me, it was the water.  He told me he had a full head of hair but after a few contracts on the cruise he said he started going bald.  He was much younger than me and I thought OMG,  maybe I should start using bottled water for showers.   Glad to say my hair  recovered after being back on land after a few months.    I was joking about this to another Cruise ship pianist friend telling him I was glad I didn’t have to go to a hair restore center.   He was not amused  as  he was sporting the bad boy look.
  • Musicians by nature have a free spirit.  They are  creative people and enjoy their freedom of thought and  expression.   The Cruise Ship , to a certain extent, is run like a military.   If  you can abide by strict rules and conditions, then you will be fine,  if you can not, then it might be best to give it a miss.

I went into this with a sense of adventure and gained some valuable insights from this experience.
Anyway, I hope this pianist’s perspective give you some  idea of what it is like to do a gig on a cruise ship.   All the best .
(First published in http://dizzysfingers2.blogspot.com.au/)

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