Working on a cruise ship is one of the strangest—and most rewarding—jobs in entertainment. Cruise lines like Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Princess are always looking for new talent. So whether you’re a singer, dancer, actor, comedian, musician, magician, acrobat, ventriloquist, or mentalist, there’s a job out there for you.
This guide will give you a better understanding of what it’s like to audition for and work on a cruise ship—but keep in mind, your experience may vary greatly depending on your role, the cruise line, and the specific ship. Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a cruise ship performer.
- What performer jobs are available on cruise ships?
- How to become a performer on a cruise ship
- What can I expect from a cruise ship audition?
- Who are some famous cruise ship entertainers?
- How much do cruise ship performers make?
- Do cruise ship performers rehearse before shipping out?
- What is it like to be a performer on a cruise ship?
- What are the pros and cons of being a cruise ship performer?
- What are the top cruise lines for performers?
Any given cruise will feature performances by:
- Dedicated production cast: This includes singers, dancers, and actors hired directly by the cruise line who perform set shows.
- Guest entertainers/headliners: This includes cabaret acts, aerialists, magicians, standup comics, and other performers who bring their own shows onboard.
Production cast members may perform as many as 10 shows over a seven-day cruise. Headliners will do at least two, often one “all-ages” and one “adult” show. According to multi–cruise ship casting director Duncan Stewart, the best cruise ship theaters rival those of the West End and Broadway when it comes to sound, lighting, and set design.
© 2023 Norwegian Cruise Line
Jobs for cruise ship entertainers can be quite competitive—but most of the production cast roles allow applicants to self-submit, meaning you don’t need an agent to get the gig.
2. Build your résumé. Scouts occasionally go to onshore shows, but you should have a reel and/or demo ready to send out. TV credits are a big plus. Many headliners, like juggler Charles Peachock, have appeared on shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol.”
3. Use social media. Cruise line directors like seeing that performers can engage an audience, both on and off the stage, so use your social media pages to showcase your talent, charisma, and confidence.
- Share: Post videos of your performances on video-sharing platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
- Engage: Share behind-the-scenes looks into your life as a performer on engagement-friendly sites like Facebook. Be sure to interact with your followers to demonstrate your ability to engage with an audience.
- Connect: Try reaching out to people who work for cruise lines on LinkedIn and X, formerly known as Twitter. Follow cruise line casting directors and talent agents, and send them a brief, friendly message highlighting your unique talents.
4. Network. Seek out guest entertainer expos and other casting opportunities. Attend industry events, conferences, and conventions that allow you to meet other people in the cruising sector. Cruise Industry News and the Cruise Lines International Association both provide updated listings for industry events.
5. Peruse cruise line job boards. Scan relevant job boards such as All Cruise Jobs to find openings that match your skill set and interests.
6. Sign up with Backstage. Use our cruise line casting calls and auditions database to access casting notices posted by major cruise lines.
7. Consider joining a union. Because cruise ships operate in international waters, roles are usually open to both union and nonunion performers, so union rules probably don’t apply. Still, joining a union can provide you with the support and connections needed to make it as a cruise ship performer.
8. Seek representation. An agent can provide valuable insider knowledge and connect you with auditions.
9. Book and grow. Finally, it’s time to audition and hopefully book that gig. Use each audition and job as a learning experience to continue growing as a performer.
Cruise lines generally seek entertainers who can perform in a variety of styles, with extensive training in at least one, and who are accessible to most audience members.
Variety: Joining a production cast means you’re at least a double threat—most casting calls want performers who can sing and dance. Because production casts usually perform several different shows, auditions for cruise ship performers will likely entail singing in a variety of styles, like pop/rock, traditional musical theater, jazz, and even opera. As for dancing, CDs are looking for hip-hop, ballet, ballroom, Latin, and so on. Gymnastics, aerial training, and tumbling skills are also a plus.
Specific skills: While your best bet is to be at least a double threat, there are some exceptions. “Burn the Floor” on Norwegian Cruise Line is strictly dancing (ballroom, swing, Latin), while headliner cabaret acts like Broadway star Carla Stickler (“Wicked,” “Mamma Mia!”) focus almost exclusively on singing (pop, jazz, musical theater). If you’re auditioning for something like Royal Caribbean’s “Broadway at Sea” lineup, you’ll need acting chops, too—these are full-length productions, not musical reviews.
Accessibility: If you’re looking to bring humor to the high seas, your best bet is standup comedy. Cruise lines love hiring standups—but not all styles. Comics who cater to Middle America (think Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld) are much more likely to get booked than edgy or absurd acts (like Eric Andre, Sarah Silverman, or Neil Hamburger). The idea is to entertain, not offend. While being a “boat act” is frowned upon in some standup circles, ship comedians can make great money playing to packed houses without the drudgery of “working the road.” Ship vet Jeff Harms is a perfect example. His act is funny, engaging and accessible to a vacation crowd.
Fred Duval/Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock
Some stars started on cruise ships, while others took to the seas after making it big. EGOT winner Jennifer Hudson performed on a Disney ship before auditioning for “American Idol.” Kerry Ellis, who played Elphaba in “Wicked” on both West End and Broadway, performed as a principal vocalist with Royal Caribbean back in 1999.
Plus, there are plenty of former ship performers who have gone on to get steady work in shows like “Kinky Boots,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Jersey Boys,” “Hamilton,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Aladdin.”
Some cruise lines even cater to Broadway fanatics. Playbill Travel offers an opportunity to “get up close and personal” with Broadway stars like Chita Rivera, Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lillias White, Laura Osnes, and other huge names. Big-name casting agencies, directors, and choreographers are also involved in cruise productions.
Mega-famous standups even do cruise dates. Jeff Foxworthy, Kathy Griffin, Jay Leno, Chris Tucker, and Gaffigan have headlined on Carnival; the cruise line also hired George Lopez to help early career comedians get their start performing on cruises.
Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock
Cruise ship performer salaries for non-headliners usually range between $2,000 and $4,000 per month, depending on experience, location, and the cruise line itself. Headliner rates can be much higher and are usually negotiated by an agent or manager.
Entertainers can usually get discounted rates for friends and family, or have in-cabin guests. One of the great things about working on a cruise ship is that most of your onboard expenses, like lodging and food, are covered.
If you land a cruise ship gig, expect a paid rehearsal period. Many (but not all) production cast rehearsals take place in Florida, even if the ship ports out from somewhere else, like New York City. Rehearsal lengths vary, and you’ll get to know the rest of your cast well during this time. Keep in mind that things change frequently—performers get sick, injured, or fired. That means near-constant tweaks to the shows. Be adaptable.
Busy: Production cast contracts usually range from four to seven months, and you’ll be sleeping on the ship every single night for the duration of your contract. Exceptions can be made for important events like weddings and funerals, but non-emergency leave must be arranged well in advance. Specific roles and privileges will depend on the cruise line, but your status will most likely be cushier than that of non-entertainment crew. Still, you may be required to take on extracurricular duties, like cleaning parts of the theater, running the library for a few hours each cruise, and teaching exercise classes or dance workshops for passengers.
Safety-focused: Look forward to a fair amount of safety training and drills. Some of it is interesting, like learning what all the P.A. system codes actually mean. Some of it is boring, like memorizing the different types of fire extinguishers. But safety training is mandatory, and you will be tested. In the case of a serious emergency, you will most likely be expected to assist with evacuation.
Cramped: Cruise ships are huge, but most of that real estate is reserved for guests. The crew do have their own spaces that are off-limits to passengers. These areas may include a mess hall, gym, bar, convenience store, laundry room, rec center, computer room, and outdoor deck. Most production cast members share small, windowless crew cabins that usually include twin-size bunk beds, desks, a TV, minimal storage, and a modest bathroom featuring a “shoilet”—a shower and a toilet separated only by a curtain.
If you’re really lucky (read: talented), you might land an officer cabin—a single room with a full-size bed, a couch, a desk, a larger bathroom, and a porthole. These rooms are typically reserved for higher ranking staff and headliners. Principal production cast members may also be placed in officer cabins.
Social: As a performer you’ll interact with passengers on and off the stage. Expect lots of compliments (“I can’t wait to see you on Broadway!”) as well as a few notes (“The last cast was better!”). Polite conversation is encouraged, but don’t get too cozy with guests. Unless you have special permission, crew members are never allowed in passenger cabins, and vice versa. Physical relations with a passenger is grounds for immediate termination on any ship. Dating other crew members, however, is allowed.
Tedious: Depending on your show schedule, you may have a tremendous amount of downtime. Many cruise lines let performers off the ship in port for most of the day, so free time is great when you’re docked. However, most seven-day cruises have at least two “sea days” when you’ll be stuck on the ship. Fight mind-numbing boredom by being as creative and constructive as possible: go to the gym, learn a new skill, play board games, write, make art. While internet access is usually too slow and expensive to stream media, almost every crew member has a hard drive full of TV and movies. Bring yours and pass it around as a sort of crew currency.
Like any job, being a cruise ship performer has its ups and downs. We’ll start with the pros:
- Destinations: Free travel is one of the biggest benefits of working on a cruise ship. Depending on your itinerary, you could be taking weekly trips to some of the most beautiful destinations on the planet.
- Diversity: Most cruise ships hire from dozens of countries around the world. You’ll be surrounded by different cultures, customs, and cuisines. It’s a great opportunity to meet people, learn new things, and make lifelong friends.
- Room stewards: Chances are you’ll have a dedicated room steward. That person will come to your cabin a few times a week to refresh your towels, change your sheets, and tidy up. Tip them well.
- Professional experience: A cruise ship is a great place to sharpen your craft. You may also make invaluable career connections while onboard. It’s not unusual for agents and managers to scout for talent on ships.
There are also some drawbacks to taking a cruise ship gig, including:
- Isolation: It should be obvious, but if you’re living on a cruise ship for six months, that’s six months of limited contact with friends and family. That’s also time you will not be available to audition.
- Rules: Working on a cruise ship is like being in the hospitality Navy. Everyone has roles and responsibilities, as well as a place in the hierarchy, from the captain to the hotel manager, all the way down to you the entertainer and the steward who cleans your room. Because cruise lines are so focused on safety and passenger satisfaction, there are a lot of rules, and they’re strictly enforced. The rules around drinking, in particular, are very strict. Security can and will randomly “breathalyze” crew members, and anyone found to be over the (low) blood alcohol limit may be fired on the spot.
- Rocking: If you’re prone to seasickness, remedies like Dramamine, scopolamine patches, Benadryl, anti-nausea wrist bands, and even ginger can help settle your stomach. Stickler describes performing on cruise ships as dancing on a “raked stage that’s always changing angles.” She recommends strengthening your core, back, and neck to avoid injury, as your balance will constantly be challenged.
Your experience as a performer will depend a lot upon the cruise line and specific ship you’re working on. Here’s a short list of the top cruise lines hiring performers:
- Carnival: Visit the Carnival Entertainment website for more information on what the cruise line is looking for and upcoming auditions.
- Cunard: Read an in-depth article on working for Cunard here.
- Royal Caribbean: Find out about current shows and upcoming auditions on its website.
- Disney: Learn more about the Disney audition process and check for upcoming calls here.
- Princess: Watch videos from Princess’ current shows on its website.
- Norwegian: Get audition tips and submit on Norwegian’s career opportunities page.
- Holland America: Look for job openings on Holland’s employment site.
Hopefully this guide answers some of your burning questions about performing at sea. Remember, roles and rules will vary depending on the specific cruise line and ship. Your best bet is to talk to someone who works on that ship. One final piece of advice: Don’t call it a boat. Happy sailing!