Living On a Boat: A Port Day Preview
One of the first lessons I learned while working on a cruise ship, is a lesson that I think applies to many jobs all over the world.
There is no “typical” day at work.
Here on AIDAluna, my unpredictable work days are speckled with a bit more sparkly makeup, Broadway tunes, and choreography rehearsals than your typical 9 to 5. But the focus on happy passengers, and producing great work, is just like any other job rooted on solid ground.
However, there is one big difference between working on land and sea. On the ship, we have two very different kinds of work days. Sea days and port days. One is spent entirely at sea, while in transit to a new destination, and the other is spent docked in port until late evening, when the ship will set sail for the next place. And while I’ve signed a contract that says I can’t reveal all of the dirty secrets (hint: there aren’t any) about ship life, I can indeed share with you a somewhat typical port day, in the life of a cruise ship singer. Spoiler alert: they’re pretty fun.*
Samana, Dominican Repubic
07:00 Wake Up
Deck 6 bliss
Normally, I wake up around 8:15 every morning, but on some port days, word travels quickly that there may be wildlife spotting before docking, in particular, WHALES! Most cruise ships have a small, triangular deck at the bow, which is deemed the “crew deck” and contains a bathtub-sized pool, a few beach chairs, and spectacular views. “Deck 6” as it’s casually referred to on our ship, is a small, yet peaceful, refuge for midday breaks with fresh air and zero passengers. This particular morning, while sailing into Samana (a new port for us), I joined a group of about 10-15 people eagerly pressed against the railings with their eyes peeled. Within a few minutes there were excited shouts and pointed fingers, as an unmistakable puff of mist appeared over the water. Shortly after, the shiny, rubbery curve of a whale’s back emerged on the surface of the water. I’ve now seen whales about five times from Deck 6, and I can assure you that seeing these beautiful creatures never gets old. Oh, and a small perk of this particular morning in Samana was the cluster of dolphins swimming and playing directly in front of the ship, almost as if racing us to the harbor.
While the passenger restaurant policies on this particular ship are very lax and welcoming, I choose to eat most of my meals in the crew cafeteria or “crew mess” onboard. Breakfast ends at 8:30 so I normally slip in around 8:20 to craft my morning muesli and a bowl of fruit. Working for a European company, I have a sneaking suspicion my food options onboard are slightly better than those of an American company. Some days it can feel like a pasta festival in crew mess (not a fan), but most days there are a variety of options, including fresh veggies and, on the really exciting days, homemade hummus as well.
09:00 Coffee Time
After filling my travel mug with coffee, I always head back to my cabin after breakfast, turn on my window (I have no window. But the TV displays the view from the bow of the ship, otherwise known as my digital window) and work on my self-assigned writing or blogging project for the day. If time allows, this part of the morning is my go-to gym time as well.
10:45 Off We Go!
Samana was a new port for our ship, and made for an exciting stop before beginning the lengthy Transatlantic crossing back to Europe. Normally, I try and escape the crowded port areas and discover the authentic side of our stops in the Caribbean. On this particular day, however, the wunderbar Shore Excursions team from AIDAluna organized a relaxing beach day on the secluded “Bacardi Island” for the crew. I heard “Bacardi Island” and I thought we were making a trip to the distillery where the famous rum is made, but to my bitter disappointment, the name stems from a string of advertisements filmed on the island’s idyllic beaches.
No rum tasting.
But after a short boat trip, we landed on the island, properly known as Cayo Levantado and I claimed a spot in the shade of a perfectly-shaped palm tree. In the company of (almost) the entire show ensemble, I spent the day walking through the white sand, gazing at starfish, and thoroughly appreciating one of my final swims in the crystal-clear Caribbean waters. Every now and then some of the German passengers sauntered up to me, shyly asking if I was on stage the night before. Cue five minutes of my brain going into overdrive as I exercise my limited German and attempt to carry on a conversation with the appreciative guests. Pretty sure I said “super” fifteen times…
Oh, and leave it to crew members to befriend the right people. One of my colleagues “found” an open bar wristband, which he graciously passed around to all of the crew on the island, allowing us all to indulge in a (free) tropical drink to cap off the perfect beach day. #CrewPerks…
15:00 Back on Board
After stocking up on sunrays and sand, it’s back to the ship for that pesky thing called work. The “trans cruise” as it’s affectionately called, spans almost three weeks, and our eight cleaned and polished shows are spread out during that time. Our remaining evenings are filled with some small performances around the ship, a few nights off, and a slew of rehearsals for a ninth show we decided to create for ourselves.
Our entire show ensemble jumped on board for the idea of “The Greatest Showman” in concert, concocted by myself and my fellow singer, Fraser. Our dance captain expertly planned our rehearsals and choreographed a fierce rendition of “This is Me” and two of our artists jumped up on the hanging silks and crafted a dazzling duet to “Rewrite the Stars.” We’ve got a beautiful contemporary ballet duet, a picture-perfect guys number, and every ensemble member flexing their strongest creative muscles, with the support of a technical team ready to film, stage and light the way for us… literally. Not many performers in such a highly commercial setting get the opportunity to create a passion project, and for me, it’s one of the highlights of my job.
Oh right, work. So this particular afternoon we had a choreo rehearsal in our training room (affectionately referred to as “down under” as it’s literally down, under the stage, complete with yoga mats, a mirrored dance wall, and a huge piano), to learn the outline of “This is Me” from our dance captain. Afterwards, I met with the Zac Efron of Norway, aka my fellow singer Jonas, to rehearse two duets we’re working on for different venues on the ship. We didn’t succeed in scoring sheet music for these particular songs, so our rehearsals consist of us singing things that sound good, followed by making up harmonies that sound terrible, rewinding, and trying it all again until we’re satisfied with the results. Luckily, we make a good team.
Nothing to note here. Just another dinner in crew mess with an abundance of potato and cabbage choices… #germans.
18:00 Kaffee Zeit (coffee time)
I donate half of my salary to the Starbucks on board. Ok, not really, but of the countless bars and restaurants on our ship that serve coffee, the beans at Starbucks are by far the strongest, and best. I can regularly be found chatting up the friendly staff there, while waiting for an Americano “zum mitnehmen” (to go).
18:15 Hair and Makeup
Good Ol’ Mirror Pic
“Primetime” is the nightly talk show on the ship, hosted by the Entertainment Manager, and routinely featuring a song or dance number from one of the “AIDA Stars”, as we’re referred to on the ship. Thanks to our superstar dresser, Kathrin, within 45 minutes my hair is curled, pinned, and tucked into an elegant low bun with water waves dusting the corner of my face. With my lashes attached, and my stage makeup complete, I grab my half-finished Americano and head down to the training room to warm up, after chatting with our über-friendly Second Stage Operator.
(Did you know, that in order for our stage to travel up and down, the Second Stage Operator has to be down below, in constant communication with the First Stage Operator who is one deck above the stage, making the magic happen? Teamwork makes the dreamwork.)
*at some point during this time frame, the ship sails away from the harbor, and a medley of wistful, generic ocean songs, thirteen minutes long, plays throughout the entire ship. We all have it memorized. Luckily, it doesn’t play in the crew areas. This is also the time when an officer from the bridge will make an announcement throughout the crew areas to close the portholes, if rough sea is expected. Those are never welcome announcements…
Primetime starts at 8pm. We’re always given an incredibly specific standby time for our performance, and then left to stand in the wings of the stage, straining to understand the German host for our cue to go on. It’s a fun kind of torture.
“I think he said singer!”
“No, never mind he’s talking about the new guest artist.”
“I think it’s…”
21:00 Guest Artist
On long cruises, the entertainment program is packed with guest artists to supplement the regular show schedule. On this cruise we had a magician (somebody PLEASE tell me how the floating table trick works), a comedian, and the fabulous drag queen, Sarah Barelly. On nights we don’t have a show or small performance, I like to grab a nice glass of red wine from the Vinothek on board (the Caliterra is my current favorite. And the crew discount makes it taste even better), and enjoy the guest artists. Or at least practice my German understanding skills by trying to interpret the show… wine helps.
23:00 Goodnight Moon
After making a walk outside to see what the moon and stars are up to (the view of the stars in the Caribbean is awe-inspiring) it’s back to my cabin to grab my mug, make a lemon & ginger tea in the crew mess, and snuggle into bed with a book, or the latest episode of “Narcos” I downloaded from Netflix (I’m trying to get into the new Mexico season, after sadly finishing the original). Within a few minutes, this grandma is out for the night. The gentle rocking of the ship, paired with the darkness of my cabin, leads to some solid sleeps at sea.
And that’s it. Another day, and another destination, crossed off the list. No day is like the one before, especially with a seemingly constant rotation of different ports and people, but the rhythm of rehearsals and shows keeps my routine-loving brain very happy.
Living on a boat is weird.
But the opportunity to wake up in a new country every day, is something I’ll never take for granted. Even if there is some rough sea along the way…
It’s worth noting that, as a singer, I have one of the jobs on board with the most free time, and it’s a sticky subject with some other crew members. The typical crew member works almost a twelve-hour day, with a small midday break to either sleep, or go out and explore. For the show ensemble, it’s a different story, as it’s not physically possible to perform for twelve hours a day. Most of us heavily invested time and money into high-level training to prepare us for the professional world, and the floating stage aboard AIDAluna is our current venue. On the surface, it looks like we stand on stage for two hours a night, and that’s it. But I promise you there is a bit more to it, behind-the-scenes. (Like our two months of rehearsals, which you can read about by clicking the button below.) More than anything, I try to be respectful and appreciative to the hundreds of crew members working much more time-consuming positions, often from countries where a degree in Musical Theater isn’t even an option. Sidebar over.