Being a cruise ship performer is possibly one of the most exciting contracts a performer can land. Getting to sing and dance in some stunning performance spaces, waking up in a new part of the world every day and meeting so many different people from so many different places. But don't let the 'Instagram glamour' side fool you, it also takes a lot of hard work, self-motivation and dedication to get through a contract at sea.
Hi! My name is Connor and I recently just got back from working as a singer/dancer on the Marella Explorer Cruise ship. I was very fortunate to land the contract straight out of college, so literally the day after I graduated, I moved to Milton Keynes to start rehearsals for my very first cruise contract. Having had no previous experience of cruises (not even as a passenger) I didn't really know what to expect other than a big fancy ship and some big fancy shows. So as you can imagine, I was very excited to get started and learn what it was all about.
Now that it's all over and I'm looking back on it, although it was definitely an incredible experience and one that I'll never forget, there are a few things about the job that I wasn't expecting!
The first thing that surprised me was just how intense the rehearsals were. My cast and I were given three months to learn 12 different shows (so pretty much one show a week) all of which last between 45 minutes to an hour. We worked 6 days a week, 7:30am until about five or six pm. I knew it would be hard, but I wasn't ready for just HOW hard! Working long hours, continually learning new content while maintaining what you've already learnt is definitely just as challenging as it sounds. If you unpack that further, with so many shows come so many different styles of dance and vocals. For example, one week we would be learning a 'musicals' show which lends itself to being technical dance wise and more legit vocal wise. Then the next we would be learning a 'rock' show which lends itself to a more commercial style of dance and more 'gravelly', 'edgy' vocals. This meant that if you came across a style that perhaps you weren't as familiar with, you really had to push yourself and practise in your own time to learn that style. The rehearsals were used for learning, but then you had to take it upon yourself to perfect it in your own time. This meant that my world quickly became entirely all about the shows with little time for anything else, and that can be tricky to deal with sometimes. The intensity also means that not only are you always struggling physically, but your mental health can quickly be impacted just as bad. It was a real learning curve for me in finding out not only do I have to take out time to look after my body and voice, but also my mental health.
However hard it got my absolute favourite thing about the contract that always got me through is the relationships you build with the people around you. You're always surrounded by the same people all day every day, and they're all going through the same thing you are. This leads to that group becoming a real support network for you, a family. Of course, there's fallouts and tensions, but just like a typical family, you hug and make up, and everything is ok again. It's the people that really do pull you through those inevitable days where you just miss home or perhaps just need to have a good cry!
I'd say the next challenging thing that people don't really tell you about is this. As a performer in the stage shows, the passengers quickly get to know you. Because of this, you almost become a celebrity on board. Although this is, for the most part, a lovely thing and allows you to meet so many interesting people with so many amazing stories, it also means that even on those days where you're struggling and just want to keep your head down and not talk to anyone, you're forced to put a smile on your face. Depending on what's going on in your personal life away from all the glitz and glamour of the ship, that can be hard.
My all-time favourite thing, however, is that no matter how bad your day may have been, you really can't stay sad for long on a contract like this. Taking a bow every night in front of an audience cheering and clapping for you, looking around on stage at all your mates whose faces are beaming with the biggest smiles, all that passion, all that love, all that hard work finally paying off. THAT is why its the best job in the world. That feeling is what makes it all worthwhile. My memories of the ship are some of the happiest of my life, and I'll never forget it.
My contract was unfortunately cut short due to the COVID 19-pandemic, but from what I hear, my life on board was very similar to life on land. Passengers were all disembarked and flown home, all the restaurants and social hubs were closed, social distancing was put into place, temperature checks became a regular occurrence, and there was an awful lot of uncertainty. But like in every situation, the crew all worked together to make sure everyone was as safe and as comfortable as possible. It was clear that despite the challenges they would face, the company's main concern was getting the crew home ASAP. Definitely not the ending I was hoping for, but not enough to take away all the fantastic experiences Id had up until that point.
Definitely an experience I will never ever forget.
By Connor McGrane
Images courtesy of The Entertainment Department