Is Working on a Cruise Ship as Luxurious as It Sounds?

Part 1: Anchors Aweigh! 

If it has always been your dream to dance on a cruise ship, it’s high time to find out if a job with a cruise line is actually a good fit for you. The realities of working on a cruise ship may blindside you, especially if you have a romanticized idea of what it will be like. That said, a cruise ship job and life at sea do offer an alluring prospect -- seeing the world while doing what you love. The experience of working as a dancer on a cruise ship can indeed be magical, especially if you embark on this adventure with your eyes wide open. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You can’t embark on the adventure of dancing on a cruise ship unless you can land a cruise ship job to begin with. To do so, you must be exceptional. From the lips of Bryant Henderson, former dancer with Celebrity Cruises: “the old stereotype that cruise ship entertainment is fraught with unskilled dancers performing repetitive movements is a huge misconception.” The top cruise lines all seek technical, strong, athletic and versatile dancers with a chameleon-like ability to embody many different styles and express each style in their performance. 

When you finish the contract you will have grown as a dancer, learned a lot about yourself, and will have seen the world!

Mary Roberts, former dancer with Celebrity Cruises and now a Production Show Supervisor for Norwegian Cruise Lines, emphasizes that you need to stand out to be hired, not only as a skilled dancer who can accurately and energetically reproduce the choreography thrown at you...your personality needs to leave an impression as well. “The company needs to know who you are and needs a clear understanding of you as a performer: in look, energy, and technique. And all these things will have to be known quickly. That means entering the audition space as your best self, in full stage makeup. Show them who you are as the fully curated professional they will be hiring.” 

Dancer, Darren Pitre, who completed two contracts traveling the world with Celebrity Cruises, couldn’t have gotten his first contract without extraordinary persistence. “Never give up. I auditioned nine times before I got my first contract. Keep training, make sure you are well-rounded as a dancer.”

Typically, you need to be at least 18 or 21 years of age to be considered (varies from line to line). For a new dancer, 30ish may be a glass ceiling although upper age limits won’t be stated. That said, Darren shared that he knows dancers in their mid-30’s still performing with Celebrity Cruises.  Do your homework before auditioning for a company so you know their requirements and expectations. You will likely see that they are looking for “toned” or “athletic” body types and there are often height guidelines. Acrobatic abilities could enhance your chances of being hired (but are not required). 

Based on your audition, if the company loves you and has a casting need you can fill, you could be offered a contract literally within days of auditioning. If you are, you may need to quickly shuffle what you were about to do -- for example, going to college. Your life is about to change overnight! 

Audition Royal Caribbean International in Australia, photo courtesy of Maria Tucker
Royal Caribbean Productions, Australia Auditions, courtesy of Maria Tucker

Your journey begins on land. You will be traveling to a coastal location to rehearse. A few examples: For Norwegian Cruise Lines, you will rehearse in Tampa, Florida. Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises share a complex in Miami. Holland America’s shows are produced by RWS Entertainment Group and you will rehearse in their studios in New York City. The rehearsal process is intensive, lasting approximately three to five weeks. You will be learning a huge amount of material and information in this relatively short time. 

This will be the first time you encounter the dancers and other performers you will be spending months with. For Kristen Moranetz, a dancer currently beginning the first cruise of her 3rd contract with Celebrity Cruises, the best thing about working in this industry is the international community of dancers she has connected with. Her current cast includes dancers from “the USA, Australia, Britain, Argentina, and Russia”. The friendships you forge as your journey unfolds will be lifelong.

The entertainment department is very visible onboard so sometimes it can feel like you are constantly being watched.

After rehearsing and perfecting various performance pieces, you will board the vessel that will be your home for the duration of your contract. During the first cruise of your contract, the cast will be installed on the ship. There is a lot to do during this installation process which, according to Mary, is referred to as “hell week, because so much is going on all at once.”

Bear in mind though that every cruise line is different. Also, within each line, depending on whether you end up on a large or smaller vessel, and are on a short or long cruise itinerary, your experience will vary. The length of contracts is generally from 6 to 8 months. You will typically be on the same vessel the entire contract, but the length of the cruises will vary from 3 to 14 days or more on a world cruise. While each line is unique, there are commonalities as well. Whatever the cruise line or the ship, even though being a talented dancer is why you got this job, there is more to working on a cruise ship than performing. Before you launch into this career, the day to day challenges of life on a cruise ship are worth considering. 

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In the first place, there are tight living quarters. A fold down bed (a berth) in a shared cabin are typical. Kristen stresses the issues this can present. “Going into a ship contract, you will need to be very patient with others. It is easy to be frustrated when in constant close quarters, so being able to keep your cool and control your reactions to problems will be a valuable trait.”

Maria Tucker, Rehearsal Choreographer/Director for Royal Caribbean International, offers this practical advice: “If you are a slob, get ready to make some changes; there is no room for clutter. There are also weekly cabin inspections so get used to tidying up. Don't overpack; you may have to lug those bags up a gangway and there is no space to store extra bags.” 

As a crew member on a ship you are subject to maritime rules and regulations and your duties will include responding in emergencies. Maria emphasizes that “since you are essentially living on a floating city, safety is a number one priority and all crew have to have extensive training”.  

Christy McNeil Chand, a former dancer for Royal Caribbean International, cautions, “If you don’t want to follow rules, dancing on a cruise ship is probably not for you.” Besides safety rules, there will be restrictions such as how you travel from deck to deck, where you can and cannot go on the ship, and what you can and can’t wear. 

On another subject, Maria advises, “The entertainment department is very visible onboard so sometimes it can feel like you are constantly being watched. It can feel like you don't have a lot of privacy, so that could be a challenge for some personalities.”

The friendships you forge as your journey unfolds will be lifelong

Above all, dancers say that separation from friends and family presents the most difficult challenge “especially during holidays” as Darren remarks. “But”, he goes on to say, “that is what your fellow cast members are for.”

Despite there being hardships, many dancers go back for multiple contracts and some make cruise ship entertainment an ongoing career. Kristen has gone back for her third contract so for her, for now anyway, this is the life she has chosen, and she clearly loves it. Her advice for dancers just starting off: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, come in with an open heart and open mind and give it a fair chance. The highs will be very high, and the lows are going to feel very low, but when you finish the contract you will have grown as a dancer, learned a lot about yourself, and will have seen the world!” 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article focusing on what the job itself is like -- the types of performances, perks, salaries, potential additional jobs and responsibilities, the downtime (or lack thereof), and more!

Here is a short list of 8 of the top Cruise Lines for dance jobs:

  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Celebrity Cruises 
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Disney Cruises
  • Holland America
  • Virgin Voyages
  • Princess

Ready to take the plunge and audition?

main photo: courtesy of Kristen Moranetz

About the author

Lara Branen (aka Elle) is the Artistic Director of the Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop (BJDW) and its resident company Interweave Dance Theatre (IDT). She received her Masters in Dance from the University of Colorado in Boulder where she also taught jazz dance. Since then she has taught primarily at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California. She has also choreographed and directed extensively through IDT and SRJC. In 2018 Lara received the prestigious Legends of Dance in Colorado award for her work with the BJDW. She has always loved to write and is excited for the opportunity to write for DancePlug.