THINGS YOU MUST KNOW AND DO BEFORE WORKING ON A CRUISE SHIP
(Print this out and check this list off as you go through it each time).
Take this with you on your first few cruises. Read, and re-read it. It will save you a lot of time, money, and trouble.
KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING -Make sure you know the name of the ship you are going to. Know the name and address of the hotel you’re staying at the night before joining the ship. You will usually have to fly in a day before you join the ship (meaning get on-board the ship). Most of the time you'll be required to stay in a hotel for one night the night before you join the ship in the city where you are joining. Keep at least 24 hrs (one additional day) before the day you join a ship free for travel time. For example if your booking is from Jan 21-25 keep Jan 20 open as well and consider that day also booked. If you’re flying to another continent then keep 2 full days available for travel time before joining the ship. The hotel stay for one night will be paid for and booked the by the cruise line whenever a hotel is required.
Make sure you know the port address of where the ship will be the day you're boarding. You can usually Google the name of the ship, city, date, and “port address” to find the port address. Blackburn International also has a list we will send you with the address of each of the various ports in their native language/writing so that you can show a taxi driver where to go. If you need this information email - Rick.Hubbard@BlackburnInternational.com
Flights are always fully paid for, but each cruise line has separate policies regarding taxi/ground transportation from the airport of the city you’re flying into to the hotel or ship where you’re staying. Even within these cruise lines the policy on whether the cruise line provides travel or not varies from port to port. When in doubt it’s best to just pay for your own travel if no one shows up to transport you. Then if transportation was supposed to have been provided by the cruise line under THEIR regulations they will reimburse you the cost of your transportation as long as you save a hard copy of your original receipt and mail it in (in some cases they can be emailed in, but most cruise lines require you mail in a copy by post)
MONEY - Make sure you bring enough cash with you on the trip to cover any unexpected costs that might come up in a place where credit cards are not accepted, or for emergencies. I suggest bringing the equivalent of at least $200 USD. Bring at least one debit card and one credit card as well.
PREPARE YOUR MATERIALS - Print out your music charts (if you use them) and make sure they are properly taped. Print out 9 copies of your musical director cue sheet if you use the band. Print out your lighting, sound, and backstage cue sheets instructing these positions in any special lighting or sound needs you have, and anything you need backstage. Also, have a few lines printed for the cruise director that he/she can read as your introduction on stage. Your introduction shouldn’t be more than 4 lines. Many times cruise directors won’t say what you tell them, but it’s good for them to have a guideline.
HAVE BACKUPS - Carry important files such as your music if you use “tracks” or your arrangements if you use “charts”, cue sheets …etc. on a USB with you at all times so that if your luggage is lost by the airline in-transit you will still have what you need to perform your show. Also, make sure you have all important files uploaded to some place like Dropbox so you can access them remotely when needed.
-Make sure you have all the visas you need for the countries you will be visiting. This is NOT the cruise line or your agent’s job to find out. Google “Do ______ (fill in the blank) citizens need a visa to enter ________ (name of the country you will be flying into, out of, and visiting during your trip). Visit Project Visa for more information.
You can find the itinerary for each ship at CruiseCal.com ...login using the username: blackburn & password: blackburn1 ...then search under Calendars > Ships > name of the ship you’re going to > date you’re joining.
When you arrive at the country you are embarking the ship in or leaving your own country DO NOT tell them you are going to that country for work. They will think that you intend to work in that country and immigration will ask you for a work visa which you don’t have. You are NOT intending to work in any of the countries you are visiting. You are only traveling as a guest (performer) on a cruise ship and in-transit through that country you’re going to. Just tell immigration you are going on a cruise ship as a passenger. That is the truth. You are not joining as a crew member (except in Australia/New Zealand where all entertainers must be on the crew list). You are joining as a passenger. If you say you’re “joining a ship to work” immigration will ask for crew identification and sometimes a Seaman’s book (which you don’t have). So if asked, always say you are just going on a cruise as a passenger and joining as a guest.
MAKE FRIENDS - Greatly appreciated and will help you make friends… buy some small snacks for all the band members and production crew and give it to them before rehearsal. They will all appreciate it. There are 9 band members, and usually 5 people in the production crew. Something like a chocolate bar for everyone, or packs of dried fruit or one of your favorite snacks, instant coffee packs, etc., will go a long way and only cost you $20 - $40 total. Go the extra mile here and it will pay you back tenfold!
- Great cue sheets are ESSENTIAL in making your show a success. If you don’t have well written cue sheets for Sound, Lights, Backstage, (and Musical Director if you’re a musical act) your show and rehearsal will fail!
If I have not already agreed to write your cue sheets for you then please send me your cue sheets to look over before your first (or even every) contract (if you’re changing things). I will look over it to make sure it seems clear. If it would help I could also discuss everything over the phone with you just to double check that it’s right.
You need to have THREE (or four if you’re a musical act) separate cue sheets; Sound, Lights, Backstage (& Musical Director/Band Leader). Each one should have clear instructions:
For the Sound person (with sound cues and your technical needs such as monitors and microphones or wireless belt packs).
For the Lighting person with exactly what you want the lights to look like for each routine and what the vocal cues are.
For the Backstage person anything they might need to assist you with including when to bring props on and off-stage. When to close/open curtains, and anything you might need on-stage for your performance.
For the Musical Director any specific notes about a specific songs/chart, and most importantly your vocal cue (what you will say) to cue him counting the band in for the beginning of each song.
TRANSPORTATION - Sometimes there will be transportation arranged for you from the airport to the hotel and hotel to the ship. If you show up and there is no one to drive you then take a taxi and save the receipt. Usually you can get reimbursed if you snail-mail a hard copy of your receipt along with a reimbursement form which your agent can give you. Royal Caribbean gives a $100 extra travel per-person payment on every contract that you will get automatically whether you use it or not, so it basically ends up being an extra $100 pay every contract. It's per-person. So for a duo (2 person) contract you will get $200 extra payment. For this reason sometimes Royal Caribbean does not provide taxi-transportation (or they do at their own discretion). All other cruise lines will either provide transportation or reimburse for your transportation. Save hard copies of your receipts!
- Once you arrive at the port go straight to one of the check in people (usually you can skip the line if there is one), and tell them you are a “guest entertainer” on the GUEST manifest (except for Australia/New Zealand waters where you will be on the CREW Manifest for every ship). Give them your passport if they ask for it, and check in. If no one seems to know what they are doing ask to speak to at Guest Admin Officer in order for them to help you check in.
PRODUCTION MANAGER - Once you are on-board tell someone at the front desk (a guest services officer) that you are an entertainer who has just embarked, and ask them to help you contact the Production Manager on-board. Usually you can request they call the Production Manager’s deck phone. Write the number down for the Production Manager since you will definitely need it again.
Ask the Production Manager “When is my show?” Unless you have a letter telling you when it is when you arrive. Then ask the Production Manager when your rehearsal is and how much time you will have for your rehearsal? (say your show rehearsal usually takes 1-2hrs depending on the band and technical staff). If you’ve never performed on a ship before I recommend you request they block out 2hrs for rehearsal.
THEATER & TECHNICAL SPECS - Almost all theaters on cruise ships have projectors, side screens, and live camera feeds that can be used. You will need to let the Production Manager (PM) know immediately upon your arrival to a ship what technical needs you have so that he/she can have time to arrange them before your show.
Ask the Production Manager if he needs any billing info or pictures from you? (carry your promo picture on a USB drive). On Oceana and Regent cruise lines no USBs are permitted, though other cruise lines they’re no problem. So Oceana & Regent cruise lines make sure everything is either already printed or on a DVD and/or CD.
IF YOU ARE A MUSIC ACT - Tell the Production Manager you would like to speak with the Musical Director.
Call the Musical Director and tell him when your show is and tell him you would like to have a one on one rehearsal with him and piano player BEFORE your actual scheduled rehearsal so that you can quickly run through all of your charts since some of them are new and so that he can make any notes as needed. If he says it’s not necessary, insist that if at all possible you would like to.
IF YOU ARE A MUSIC ACT - Give the Musical Director all of your charts in advance of the show and rehearsal. Give the Musical Director any mp3s of songs you think the band should hear in advance such as a certain guitar solo that might take the guitarist a couple hours to learn prior to rehearsal.
IF YOU ARE A MUSIC ACT – Have all of your charts for the orchestra printed off and taped for the orchestra before you leave your house. You will need to tape the back of the music scores so that they fold out easily.
Here’s a link explaining how to do this: https://youtube.com/watch?v=bIUuapMu1QA
If there is a chart you don’t have printed before you leave your house then give the file to the production manager in advance of your rehearsal and ask him to print it for you. (Regent/Oceania cruise lines do not allow the use of USBs onboard, but all other cruise lines do.)
- Make sure you arrive backstage for your show and ready to perform at least 30 minutes before your first performance and at least 15 minutes before every performance. Otherwise the Production Manager and cruise director will be worried whether or not you’re going to show up, which isn’t the mood you want them in and might lead to a negative report on your behavior.
AUDIENCE AGE – This will vary depending on the ship, but most ships will have a LOT of older people 40-70yr olds on them so best to cater for that type of audience. There will also be some young people onboard, but most likely only a few.
You will need to mail a copy of your CD/DVD to the cruise line at least a month before your contract (on each cruise line you plan to sell on) for approval of your item. Item must be in a plastic wrapped case. You will need to get “hard checks” from the shop manager on-board. Collect them yourself by telling the shop manager “I’m a guest entertainer and I sell CDs after my show and I need some hard checks”. They will give you some hard checks.
You will need to inform the backstage people and production manager that you sell CDs and would like a table out front for sales after your show. On the hard checks you will need to write THE AMOUNT OF COST, THE ITEM DESCRIPTION, THE FOLIO NUMBER OF THE GUEST (written on the guest’s card), THE GUESTS CABIN NUMBER, and their NAME. If any one of these is left off you probably won’t get your money from that sale. Never sell to someone under the age of 16 unless their parent is there are says it’s ok for their child to buy a CD/DVD. Have the parent sign the receipt as well.
- If you are staying in a Crew area cabin you should tip the cabin attendant $2 per-person per-day that he/she cleans your cabin. This is mandatory. If you haven’t given him/her money yet when you leave just leave it on the nightstand. If you are staying in a Guest area cabin the tipping will be automatically charged to your account at a rate of either $13.50 or $15 per-day per-person depending on which type of cabin you are staying in. Artists staying in a suite will pay $16.50 per-day. An 18% gratuity will continue to be charged to all beverages, mini bar, and spa & salon purchases made onboard. You will need to make sure you bill is settled before every “Home port” day, and before you leave the ship.
When working for Royal Caribbean & Celebrity cruise lines there is a $13.50 per-day per-person gratuity that will be charged to your account when you are staying in a passenger cabin. It pays for your tips while you are on the ship. When you are in a guest entertainer/crew cabin (located in crew area) there will be no $13.50 per-day charge, but you will be expected to pay $2 cash per-day to your room service attendant. When working for Princess cruise lines and most other cruise lines you should just tip around $20-$30 per-week or $3 per-person per-day to your stateroom attendant.
BUYING THINGS ONBOARD - Cash is only used onboard in rare cases to buy internt card or things in the “crew shop” on certain cruise lines. Bring $20 USD bills for this in case the cruise (such a Princess Cruise Lines) allows such. Otherwise you will pay for miscellaneous things you might want to buy onboard using a “Seapass Card” that all passengers use to purchase things on-board with like shopping, etc.
ROOMS - It’s up to the cruise line allocate what kind of room you stay in. As mentioned you will never be put in a room with someone else (unless they are part of your act). You will sometimes be in a Crew room, and sometimes in Guest room. It just depends on what is available on the cruise you’re performing on. Usually there is not much different between a regular guest cabin or a crew/guest entertainer cabin. Both are fairly nice and up to normal living standards.
SHARING CABINS - You will NEVER be expected to share a cabin with anyone else while working on a cruise ship unless that person is part of your show and you are a duo or trio act, but if you are a solo performer then you will never be asked to share a cabin with someone you don’t know.
INTERNET - Internet speed and cost varies between each cruise line and even different ships within each cruise line. All cruises have wifi though. You will have to pay for it onboard each ship. The cost is getting cheaper and speed is getting faster every year, but that said usually the best (free) and fastest wifi/internet is available in ports. Most cruises will be in a port/city at least 4 days out of 7, so on average every other day.
INSURANCE - Most cruise lines require that you carry some type of travel and/or liability insurance. Usually up to one or two million dollars worth. If you notice something about insurance in your contract or are told by your agent that you need insurance for your upcoming trip you can usually purchase it at https://www.piu.org/health-insurance ...it costs on a per-day basis and is around $15 per-day. Princess Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruise Line are the only two cruise lines that do not require you to carry your own insurance (check your contract), though you may still want to for personal reasons.
DOCTORS ON-BOARD - Every ship has at least one doctor (usually two or three), and many nurses on-board. They also carry most “usual” medication though it’s very expensive to purchase on-board. Since you are technically a guest you must pay like a regular guest to see the doctor if you are sick. You will definitely have to pay full price for medication. Sometimes if you say you’re a “guest entertainer” the doctor will see you for free or offer a discount, but they are under no obligation to do so.
-The day before you are supposed to leave the ship check in with either the Production Manager or guest admin and ask them what time you need to leave the ship and where you need to meet the person who will be transfering you to the airport (if any). They will also tell you if it’s necessary for you to present yourself to immigration onboard before disembarking. Thank the Production Manager for having you on-board.
FLIGHTS - Most cruise lines don’t book performers flights until last minute (meaning around one week in advance of your contract). Also, you can ask for a specific flight, but the cruise line has no obligation to you to book that flight. They will always book the cheapest flight even if that means more layover time for you. If you must have a certain flight that request should be made before you ever accept a contract/date. If your request is not made before the acceptance of a contract and you must have a flight then I suggest you buy your own flight to ensure you get the flight you want.
LUGGAGE AND OVERSIZED BAGGAGE – Save your original receipts and turn them into Blackburn International via snail mail immediately after your contract. Cruise lines will always reimburse for oversized luggage if it is for your props. Let your agent know when you book a contract how much approx baggage you will be bringing with you so that this amount has been pre-approved by the cruise line if you will have excess luggage fees.
CANCELING A CONTRACT - Cruise lines book thousands of performers per-month. When you cancel a contract it creates a lot more work for everyone and sometimes can even lead to no show the night of the cruise you’re supposed to perform on, which leads to bad entertainment ratings for the cruise line. For this reason cruise lines hate when acts cancel work they have already accepted. Though certain cases cannot be avoided it you cancel a contract don’t be surprised if the cruise line you cancel on never hires you again. I’ve seen it happen to many good acts. So before canceling consider whether you canceling a date is worth potentially losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of future work.
1. If you are staying in a Crew cabin NEVER bring a passenger to your cabin. You will be fired instantly. Also, NEVER bring a passenger into a crew area. This is strictly forbidden.
2. Never throw anything over the side of the ship.
3. Dress well in guest areas. The general rule is that you should always look at least as nice as the other passengers, but preferably a little better.
4. Be nice to and friendly to everyone, and never curse in guest areas.
5. NEVER blame the techs or band for a problem, especially while you’re on-stage. If there is a problem and it needs adjusted while you’re on stage politely ask the tech between songs for an adjustment of something, but NEVER in anger or frustration (though you may be angry or frustrated). The audience should only ever see you happy and in a good mood like everything is going well.
6. If you’re sick and performing such as a singer who has a cold don’t ever tell the audience you have a cold. It will just make them feel BAD (for you), and as a performer your job is to transport the audience to a magical place. If you’re really so sick that you can’t perform tell the cruise director you’re too sick to perform and take a couple days to get better. Either don’t perform at all, or perform your best and ACT like you are at your best even if you might not being really feeling that way. Pick one or the other.