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Just about to finish 7 1/2 months on a cruise ship


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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 8:44 am    Post subject: Just about to finish 7 1/2 months on a cruise ship Reply with quote

In a few days I will complete a 7 1/2 month contract as a cruise ship musician.

In those 7 1/2 months I experienced just about everything Iíve read about from others who have worked ship gigs, and Iím hoping to provide the most up-to-date info on what goes on.

There have been a number of threads about ship gigs with lots of terrific advice and a lot of justifiable griping. I thought Iíd try something different by answering, as best I can, specific questions posted by TH members...although I might throw in a few subjects on my own to seed the process.

Iíll try to answer as completely as possible and not hold anything back, taking into consideration TH posting guidelines and general civility.

So please ask away, and Iíll start responding when I get home on March 22.
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J_Mase
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 9:15 am    Post subject: Re: Just about to finish 7 1/2 months on a cruise ship Reply with quote

trpthrld wrote:
...Iíll start responding when I get home on March 22.


Because internet's 12 buck a minute on the ship?
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Among other reasons...yes!
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jazzykendall
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 11:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll be finishing up my first contract on the 21st... More than welcome to assist in the answering process. What line are you working for?
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bilboinsa
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 5:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My only question would be, how would the experience be for a retired 55 y.o. with both kids out in college and a wife along for the cruise?
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James B. Quick
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How much money did you come home with?

Or, is it like a band I knew in the seventies? They'd go out for 6 weeks on the road and come home with less money than they left with. They could almost remember the good times they'd had....

jbq
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

edit: removed novel of a response, didn't mean to hi-jack your thread, sorry
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 5:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My only question would be, how would the experience be for a retired 55 y.o. with both kids out in college and a wife along for the cruise?

First off you're probably going to get a contract for 4-8 months, so unless your wife is committed to living on a ship (assuming that's what the "wife coming along" comment meant) for an extended period of time, I would say no. Aside from that work typically entails 2-3 sets a night usually around 2-2.5 hours of playing. I'm in the show band so we do two production shows a week, as well as a farewell show (only lasts five minutes in my case though.)


PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 8:22 pm Post subject:
How much money did you come home with?

Or, is it like a band I knew in the seventies? They'd go out for 6 weeks on the road and come home with less money than they left with. They could almost remember the good times they'd had....

I'll be coming home with around $4k. Granted the majority of my income has gone toward paying off student loans. If one can avoid the temptation of throwing all of your money away at the crew bar (Sam Adams go for $1) its conceivable to save a substantial amount of money. Living expenses are non-existent...[/quote]
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brassjunkie
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did you have to share a small cabin with someone else and how did you find it?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2011 6:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How did you get this specific job and what playing requirements did you have to me?
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 9:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

bilboinsa wrote:
My only question would be, how would the experience be for a retired 55 y.o. with both kids out in college and a wife along for the cruise?

I'm in Nassau today in a place with some pretty happenin' WiFi & thot I'd get started on replying to questions.

Quite honestly...ain't gonna happen, unless you want to pay full-rate for a passenger cabin for your wife.

RCCL, who I'm just about finished with, allows crew to bring on a family member (spouse/fiance) as long as certain criteria are met. This would include:
- You're on your 2nd contract with the company and have completed at least 6 months total time.
- You can have your guest stay in your 2-man cabin as long as your roomie agrees to it.
- If you can find someone with single-cabin privileges, such as the Music Director (MD) or any of several people on the stage tech crew to sign them on as their guest, you can then get a passenger cabin (on a space-available basis) for $10 a day & tips for passenger food. You have to apply for this 30 days prior to the first date on board, and you have apply and be approved for each subsequent cruise.

That is an amazing deal and the only real benefit the company offers its employees.

My first roomie had that all set up and had his fiance on the ship for almost 2 months, and only one night did they need to spend in our cabin - all the other nights they had a pax cabin.

I got my girlfriend on, using the MD's privileges, and we had a terrific 3 weeks on board. She had full passenger status and privileges and when I was with her, I did too (with a few restrictions). Must say it was quite nice to be able to ride in the pax elevators, eat pax food at all meals, and be able to get off the ship with the pax & not have to wait until crew shore leave was granted.

Hope that helps, sorry it's not the answer you were hoping for.
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 10:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

James B. Quick wrote:
How much money did you come home with?

Or, is it like a band I knew in the seventies? They'd go out for 6 weeks on the road and come home with less money than they left with. They could almost remember the good times they'd had....

jbq

Yeah, I remember hearing of an audition in the mid 80s for a name band (I think Ray Charles) who was going to do a European tour. All the guys were sitting around, figuring how much, because of the extreme low pay, it would end up costing them out of their pocket if they got the gig.

On this ship....not near as much as I wanted. The ship provides, for the crew, what you could call 4 hots & a cot (the 4th meal is the late-nite crew chow hall meal). Everything else on the ship you have to pay for.

I had some dental work that needed to be done, and the only dental coverage RCCL offers is one time per contract they will pay for a dental consultation and x-rays. All other work, unless it is work-injury related, is paid by you. And I can guarantee they will do an extensive investigation if you claim any dental work as a ship/work-related cause.

I intentionally did everything I could to NOT spend money on the ship. I used the crew Internet cafe only once a day (when there was no shore WiFi available), and then I was online only long enough to see if there were any absolute urgent messages. I never spent more than $.42 a day on ship Internet, many days it was only $.06, as the Internet cafe was $.06 a minute.

Ship WiFi, for crew, from the hours of 7am - 11pm was $.36 a minute, and 11pm - 7am, $.12 a minute. Must say that those of you who Skype really suck up a whole lotta band width just so you can see a face. if there were 2 or more crew trying to Skype...fuggeddabouddit - the signal was critical weak.

Here's the kicker - WiFi / Internet does not cost the ship / company even ONE CENT. The way I know this is for about a 2-week period starting before Xmas and going thru to Jan. 2, the crew Internet cafe was at no cost to the crew...and there's no way the company would absorb those costs unless there were no costs to begin with.

On this ship, the crew could go to the Slop Chest to purchase snacks, drinks, toiletries & such. The prices for those items were at least equal to and often higher than prices at a 7-11. The reason? The ship knows it's the only store on board and that the crew will buy. Years ago you could purchase those items at I think 20% over ship cost...now a bag of tortilla chips was over $5, when you could get that same bag at Wal Mart for $2.50.

So if there was something I wanted, I tried to stock up when we were in port. I'd much rather spend my extremely low pay in a store that doesn't take such gross advantage of crew.

The crew bar was a pretty good deal - dollar Coronas & such. But I'm not much of a drinker, so my crew bar bill was never high. I did, however, purchase a very nice Bulova watch that the crew got an extra 20% discount on.

I knew of crew who's bar bill was often 2 & 3 pages long & many hundreds of dollars in purchases. You pay your bar tab (which includes Internet use, Slop Chest & other items / services purchased on the ship) immediately after you get paid.

If you make friends with the right people on board, you can sometimes get complimentary excursion tickets. Or get them for a reduced rate.

Many places on shore offered the crew admission at no cost. This would include (in Key West) Ripley's Museum, Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum, and the Butterfly Conservancy. The Aquarium at the Atlantis Hotel in Nassau was $16 for crew vs. $39 for non-crew. It's very nice aquarium...but not worth much more than $16.

I always asked for crew discount wherever I went on shore. Some places were happy to help out, many weren't.

Hope this helps to answer your question!
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 10:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

brassjunkie wrote:
Did you have to share a small cabin with someone else and how did you find it?

Well, it's kinda funny - for reasons no one could explain, the cabin I was in and that I shared with one other crew, sure seemed like it was a lot bigger than any other 2-man cabin. We measured it & it was the same dimensions as the others cabins, but you could walk into mine & it felt spacious, then walk into the one right next door and feel cramped.

Yes, the cabins are SMALL, and some are smaller than others. The ship I was on last year, my cabin was so small that my roomie & I could not stand up at the same time without touching each other. At least in the cabin on this ship we could walk around a little before bumping.

I was very fortunate in that the 2 roomies I had on this contract were both very good guys & we got along wonderfully. It's not always so.

As a general rule, the new guy in the cabin gets the upper bunk unless you work something out with your roomie. And it's not easy climbing into an upper bunk (oh yeah - it's BUNK BEDS) when the seas are 20' & higher & the ship is being tossed about the ocean.

There are two small closets each with 3 drawers, and usually a desk with 4 drawers. The closets and usually one of the drawers have a hook so that you can put a padlock on it for security. As we are paid in cash, and even tho you're pals with your roomie, it's always good to keep certain things locked up.

We had a small desk with a TV & DVD player. The ship's TV was actually very good. ESPN, several news channels (Fox & CNN HLN), several movie channels in different languages, and for the crew only there were 4 channels that showed different movies 24-7. Most of the TV movies were fairly recent releases, too.

However...some of the programs were on cruise loops...meaning they were the same for each & every cruise. Great for the pax...but how many times can you see the same episode of "How I Met Your Mother" before ya wanna walk the plank?

The bathroom...so small...how can I say this....oh yeah - I very quickly developed a very intimate relationship with the shower curtain. man, that things found places on me I could never imagine I had.

Ships try to room crew who are in the same department, like musicians with musicians. Oddly, both my roomies were the bass player in the party band.

Hope this helps!
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Old Rookie wrote:
How did you get this specific job and what playing requirements did you have to me?

The first 2 times I worked on a ship, it was from a strong referral from friends - no audition required. For the contract I'm on now, it was by telephone audition. They e-mailed me 2 charts, then called me 10 minutes later & I played them over the phone, then was placed on a list for future contracts.

For this specific ship, they sent out an email looking for Lead trumpet players for a couple of ships & took one of those.

On this ship I played in the Orchestra, the ensemble that plays for all the production shows with the cast (screamers & stompers), all the guest acts (fly-ins) who come aboard for one night of performing (1 reh / 2 shows), and usually only one but sometimes 2 big band / dance sets (per cruise) at a different location on the ship other than the theater.

The orchestra is the only ensemble on the ship that rotates personnel. All the other bands come aboard as self-contained units. Most ship musician contracts run from maybe 2 months to 6 or 7. If you are a good player & do everything you're supposed to do, you can usually extend your contract for almost as long as you want. One of our drummers had spent 2 years straight on the same ship by extending.

Sight reading is an absolute must, as we seldom got more than 90 minutes to rehearse a 50-minute show with the fly-ins. There were a few acts who got up to 3 hours for rehearsal...all I can say is they were almost all a total pain in the tokus to work with.

Range - Most every act has charts with Cs & Ds, a few would go higher, and some had a couple of double Gs that couldn't be avoided. Yet there are acts where you hardly go above the staff. Everything was written for Bb trumpet, we never had to transpose.

There wasn't much improv in the fly-in shows. If there was a solo, it was often written out. A few acts had open solos, but most of those went to the tenor player.

Sometimes the acts would require us to play along with click tracks, and a few we had to play with pre-recorded tracks. One piano player in particular had his show in 3 sections on click, and each tune in each section had 1.5 seconds between the end of one and the beginning of the next. This made page turns almost impossible & you had to memorize the beginning of the next tune to have a smooth transition.

Some acts required flugel, and we had the usual mutes - straight, cup, Harmon & Plunger. I brought my Picc with me so that I could keep my Picc chops in some kind of shape, and a few times that was a good horn to have.

The condition of the music ranged from fresh off the presses to OMG are you freakin' kidding me?. Several acts had the music laminated so that we could not make any marks on them. One act required us to use Post-It notes for any markings.

Some acts required only 10 minutes of rehearsal, as there were only a few charts. If an act had been on the ship recently, like sometime in the previous 3 weeks & if there had been no personnel changes in the band, we could often do just tops & tails & get outta there very fast.

Then there was one singer who had a Broadway Medley that, because of tempos & stops & cues...took NINETY MINUTES to rehearse, but took only 12 in performance.

I think that Princess Cruises strictly limits all fly-ins to 45 minutes of show, and they got only one hour for rehearsal - no more. Period.

Several of the fly-ins were never happy with the sound in the theater & requested extra time to get that adjusted. The fact is that it's a theater on a ship and it can only go so loud.

I will say that with only a very few exceptions on this contract, all of the fly-in acts were excellent entertainment and not only easy to work with but also fun.

At the top of the list for me would be Karen Grainger, a female-singer impressionist, Jason Neistadt, a male singer impressionist / comedian / juggler, Craig Richard, an easy jazz alto & soprano player, Jeffrey Allen, an Elton John Tribute show, and Joey Van, who to me was the perfect ship act and absolutely hilarious.

To list all the other really good acts would take up too much space.

Most of the acts treated the band with respect...and deservedly so. There was a 2-month period (because of shifting personnel) when the band was exceptionally good.

But there were a couple of fly-ins who I really hope I never hafta work with again. Not that they didn't have a reasonable degree of talent, but to openly berate & insult the band, the stage techs, the sound crew...simply because they are frustrated that the only gigs they get are on a ship...is completely uncalled for.

Some of the acts would buy the band a round of drinks after the show, which is always a nice touch. One act handed me $50, said he loved the band & would I split it evenly among the guys. I did.

I did have a very nice surprise in that one of the fly-ins was a guy who I hadn't worked with 17 years, and we had a wonderful reunion. He also did a terrific show. The same happened to me on a ship I worked on 2 years ago.

I've been backing acts for almost my entire career so I know the "game." I also can tell when an act is trying to be way too much more than what is needed for a given event. Most of the fly-ins followed the smart way of thinking & were perfect for the venue & audience. Only a few tried to make it way more than what was needed, and the audience more often than not reacted in kind.
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lioninthecity
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 1:00 pm    Post subject: You are living my dream! Reply with quote

Hi Tim,

I have considered working on a cruise ship just as a waiter or such, but since I read your post I decided to actually get down and polish my act!

You didn't by any chance work on a Carnival cruise boat?
What size band did you play in? What type and how many of each instrument were there?

What kind of background do you think would be best suited for these kinds of gigs?


Regards
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 1:18 pm    Post subject: Re: You are living my dream! Reply with quote

lioninthecity wrote:
Hi Tim,

I have considered working on a cruise ship just as a waiter or such, but since I read your post I decided to actually get down and polish my act!

You didn't by any chance work on a Carnival cruise boat?
What size band did you play in? What type and how many of each instrument were there?

What kind of background do you think would be best suited for these kinds of gigs?


Regards

Waiters work their butts off for the pay of mostly tips. They work a lot of hours and because of the tips, the pay is inconsistent.

No, I haven't worked on Carnival. I have heard a lot of cruise lines are downsizing, and I think Holland America is now mostly rhythm section & Alto. I've also heard that Celebrity has eliminated all guitar players in the orchestra + 2nd trumpet players. No confirmations, just rumors.

The Orchestra was 9 - 2 trumpets, alto, tenor, trombone, piano, guitar, bass & drums. Both reeds doubled on flute & clarinet, and both trumpets had flugels. The trombonist...man, they never knew if they'd have a bass trombone-like part or a true Lead trombone part...and many times they had both in the same chart with only a measure of separation. No, they did not have the 2 different horns to play.

You have to wear a whole lotta "hats" to be successful when backing acts, because you can never tell what their music might require. I have extensive Broadway musical experience plus a lot of time in orchestras, too many big bands to list, and more wedding gigs than I wanna remember. All that adds up to a lot of experience not only in playing but dealing with the situation.

The biggest thing I can recommend (besides solid chops & sight reading) is you have to have very big ears to hear EVERYTHING that's going on around you. This will, among other things, let you know better how your particular part fits into the whole picture, and it'll help save the day should something go awry.
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JonKratzer
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:48 pm    Post subject: Re: You are living my dream! Reply with quote

Quote:

No, I haven't worked on Carnival. I have heard a lot of cruise lines are downsizing, and I think Holland America is now mostly rhythm section & Alto.

Holland America has Reed Doubler + Rhythm Section and a synth player on most ships. As far as I know Carnival is slowly eliminating trumpet chairs.

Quote:

I've also heard that Celebrity has eliminated all guitar players in the orchestra + 2nd trumpet players. No confirmations, just rumors.

Celebrity Has 2 saxes, 1 trumpet, bone, + rhythm, The guitar is per ship depending on the show.

Jon
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trumpeting
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2011 6:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How was your experience of the ship's medical staff? Did they treat you well or did they treat you like you were something they found stuck to their shoe?
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2011 2:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ship medical support is touch and go, and there are crew hours that you must adhere to unless it's a serious emergency. I've had doctors act like you're the scum beneath their shoes, and some that were the nicest you'll ever meet.

When I was having Premature Atrial Contractions, I went into the ship's doctor, I honestly thought I was about to have heart attack, they asked me to come back when it was crew hours, I politely asked the nurse to go to hell and put me on an EKG... It's scary, you never know what you'll get.
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 5:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

trumpeting wrote:
How was your experience of the ship's medical staff? Did they treat you well or did they treat you like you were something they found stuck to their shoe?

On a Celebrity ship I worked on two years ago they were the most horrible people on the ship.

Best example I can give is this - I felt a cold coming on during a performance, and my throat was getting tough. Knowing they had strict crew-only hours for seeing a doc (7am-8am & 4pm-5pm), I went to sick bay around 8:30pm, between shows. All I wanted was some cough drops to help me get through the night. That's all - some cough drops.

Walked in, started to say to the eastern European nurse on duty "I'm feeling a cold coming on, could I get a few cough drops, please"? but before I could finish the world "cold" she YELLED at me "CREW HOURS ONLY!"

Now, there are ship guidelines & rules for all crew that require you to treat fellow crew members with respect. Yelling is supposedly a big no-no, but that rule only applies when certain supervisors want to hassle other crew.

I then said "I know, but all I want is a few.." and before I could finish, she yelled at me even louder "I DON'T CARE - CREW HOURS ONLY - GO AWAY!"

Also...she wasn't doing anything at the time but sitting.

So I went away, had a rough night of it & went during morning crew hours. What they diagnosed as a simple cold eventually developed into some serious bronchitis, and I would up missing several days of work simple because I was coughing so much I couldn't play.

That next morning, when I was there during crew hours, a passenger came in (pax hours started at 8am when crew hours were over) & wanted to see the doc. That same nurse then yelled at the pax (a BIG no-no) "I DON'T CARE - COME BACK AFTER 8 WHEN YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO!"

When I talked with the Staff Captain (the 2nd highest rank on the ship & next in line to become a ship's Captain / basically he's the Chief of Staff & Dean of Boys for the ship) about both incidents, the only thing he cared about was that I knew when crew hours were, and to go only during those times. That I needed help & was disrespected had no bearing. That a pax was grossly disrespected didn't matter, either. He was Greek, and had a thing going with the ranking doctor.

On the cruise I just finished, the medical was completely different. No specific crew-only hours, the staff were all very qualified & even better - friendly & easy to get along with. I did need some medical attention during my time on board, was treated as good or better than any doc I've had in the states.

They would check up on you if they saw you on the ship (without embarrassing you in front of other crew), they were cool, and it was easy to become friends with them.

I guess you could say I've seen the extremes of both sides.
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