How To Play Guitar On A Cruise Ship

Do you want to get paid to play creative, original music to appreciative audiences all over the world? Well, playing guitar on a cruise ship probably isn’t for you.  To find out if it is, read on.

The Cruise Ship Guitarist

Can you sight read music well? Good!

Do you enjoy drinking drink beer? Great!

Want to get paid to see the world and make some great friends? Awesome!

Are you able to play all styles of music pretty well (including jazz)? Perfect!

You are the perfect cruise ship musician: musically competent, beer-drinking and down for a good time.

A Life In A Day Of A Cruise Ship Musician

This is a short documentary I filmed while out on a contract, check it out to get a real feeling for the gig.

My Cruise Ship Story

I graduated from a jazz program in New Zealand in December 2011 and scored my first cruise ship gig January 2012. I worked on ships on and off for 2.5 years, a total of 6 contracts each around 2-4 months each in length. I met many great musicians, made heaps of life-long friends, and improved musically.

cruise ship guitarist
I have had the opportunity to visit Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Panama Canal, Central America and plenty of Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

In between ships I backpacked, travelled and stayed with friends throughout America and Europe. I toured, gigged and continued to hone my craft in between contracts and worked towards my current goal of graduate study in NYC.

Let me lay out the positives and negatives for you so you can decide if this is something you want to check out.

Cruise Ship Positives

  • Free food
  • Free accommodation
  • Get paid to play your instrument
  • Regular pay check
  • Travel the world
  • Meet many amazing musicians
  • Make friends with people from all over the world
  • Develop you musical styles and sightreading chops
  • Free access to gym facilities

Cruise Ship Gig Negatives

  • Sleeping in a tiny bunk bed/ room
  • You play the same music constantly
  • Dealing with the heirachy of officers and administrators above you
  • You have at least 3 bosses
  • Some musicians aren’t the best
  • Your roommate might snore
  • Living in such a small microcosm of society gets to your head (if you aren’t careful)
  • Cruise ships aren’t real life
  • Saying goodbye to friends at the end of contracts
  • Working constantly for months at a time isn’t fun
  • Internet is expensive (hey, at least they have it!)

Are Cruise Ships For You?

The cruise ship gig is ever evolving. What it was 4 years ago is very different to what it is today. My experience will be very different to yours. I really do recommend giving it a go, especially if you are right out of your undergraduate degree. For older musicans with family I would say you have better options but then again, what other stable jobs are there out there for musicians?

So how do I get the Gig?

You have two options: direct or with an agent. Both require an audition, so make sure your sight reading chops are up to scratch. Agents are probably easier to get in contact with but they do take a cut.

Further questions

I am sure you might have more questions about the gig, use the comment form below to ask away!

New Years Eve, somewhere between Australia and New Zealand

*Update 1/6/2015 I am now the Band Leader. This means: counting in songs, managing the band, my own room, responsibility and (slightly) more pay.


  1. Darren says

    Hi there.

    How do I know know if my sight reading is good enough for the ships?? It takes me about 10 minutes to get through a jazz standard?? Will that be adequate ???

    • Sam Blakelock says

      Sounds like you need to keep working at it! Sorry for the late reply.

      Check out berklee sightreading books.

  2. Andrew Weir says

    Hi Sam.
    Hope you’re well!

    My name is Andrew Weir. I’m a guitarist from Western Australia and I’m about to set off on my first cruise ship job next month. As I’ve never done one before I’m a little unsure as to what to expect. The main thing I’m not sure of is the reading side of things.

    I’m a pretty strong reader but I’m really unsure as to what level some of the charts will get up to on board.

    I was just wondering if you might be able to share some examples of charts etc that I might take a look at just to see what I might be faced with on the ship?

    Thanks so much for your time mate and I hope it’s all going well!

    Thanks again,
    Andrew Weir

  3. Christian Nikodemus says

    Hi Sam,
    You Rock

    Do I need any academic qualifications to play guitar for these opportunities? I am a motivated self taught musician.

    Would you recommend any places to get started in searching for this sort of gig? Would I contact the cruise ship companies directly​ if going the route of without an agent?

    I am slowly getting better and more fluid at sight reading guitar

    – Christian

    • Sam Blakelock says

      It’s less and less important to have a degree in music to play music. If you want to teach music, you’ll need a music degree.

      You can get lessons privately with the best teachers in the world. I recommend approaching guitarists who have played on ships and asking for a skype lesson / ask them questions.

      You can contact companies direct, yes!

      Hope that helps

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