Life as a Cast Member Before Embarking
Before embarking for a cruise ship contract, there are a few things that take place for a hired cast member. Generally, a month or two before the embarkation date, a cast goes through a training process to learn the choreography of the show packages (number of shows in a show package varies on the class of ship).
Many guests and friends have personally asked me in the past, “do you get paid while in rehearsal?” The answer to that question is not clear and is considered a grey area. To give you the best answer to this tricky question, I would say we get reimbursed money that can be used for the food and personal items we purchase ourselves during rehearsal time. In regards to the past two creative teams I have worked for, I have been offered a place to stay and have had to pay for my own food and necessities. I have been paid either by ocean pay card (sort of like a prepaid visa card that can be used while you live on the ship) or by cheque. As an international performer in the United States the process of getting paid can be difficult to grasp with wiring money and living off of American cash, but my best advice is to cash cheques as soon as possible (will need a passport and another government issued ID when you arrive at the bank) and live on cash money. If that sounds too risky, an international individual can also open a tourist account to store their money while staying in the States. To conclude this subject, the ‘rehearsal pay’ will usually be a smaller amount then the pay on board.
Depending on the show packages a cast learns, a dancer could be required to do aerial training or may even have to back up sing in certain shows. Once again, this all depends on the creative team, cruise line, and package of shows. At some point, you will encounter a creative run regardless of the creative team you are with. A creative run is where a cast wears all blacks and is in full make up (eye lashes for the ladies!) The director of the company, casting director, rehearsal director, and sometimes wardrobe team will come and watch this creative run. It is is similar to a dress rehearsal minus the costumes. Creative runs are great for preparing for shows before heading to the cruise ship. Sometimes, the cast may even be allowed to invite friends and family to watch, depending on how well prepared the cast is for sea.
Aerial training can be anywhere from 2-3 weeks (consecutively or spread out between dance rehearsals). Personally, I have had aerial training with both Norwegian Creative Studios and RWS Entertainment Group and both of these experiences were very different. One of the training experiences was a solid 2-3 weeks long and happened before the dance rehearsals, while the other training was spread out throughout two months, intertwined in the dance rehearsals. Having had no previous Aerial training prior to cruise ships, I would say that at first it is very challenging and strenuous but after a while it becomes a new skill that is great to have in your pocket.
Strength as a dancer is a general requirement but aerial training requires a completely different type of strength physically and mentally. I’ve learned that being patient and having a lot of confidence is the key to successful aerial training mentally. Listening to instructions is super important because aerial can be very dangerous if one is not careful and not following precise instructions. I cannot stress enough that the safety of someone training with aerial apparatuses is the most important thing. Injuries can occur quickly if one is unfocused or not mentally present. Being mentally present and focused is important but being physically present is also important. It is an equal balance between the body and mind that allows a successful aerial training process. Similar to dance, the body must be warmed up properly and have the proper nutrition and stamina for the tasks given in training. The upper back region, arms and fingers can fatigue quickly from holding one’s own body wait and hanging off of apparatuses for long periods of time. I advise lots of water, rest and light lunches while aerial training. Personally, I would eat either sweet potatoes, plain chicken breast, crackers, and Grannie Smith Apples before aerial training, as they tend to hold well in my stomach while hanging upside down or spinning. Overall, aerial training can be very fun for some but dreadful for others. Remember that if it’s your first time, have a positive outlook and don’t get down on yourself if you don’t have immediate success.
There are interviews during the rehearsal period which one can apply for a leadership role such as dance captain, assistant dance captain company manager, vocal captain, wardrobe supervisor, wardrobe assistant, wig captain, and aerial captain (these position vary from class of ship and company of cruise line). These leadership positions get extra pay per month on top of their normal salary. Sometimes depending on the company of the creative team and cruise ship line, performers can be paid extra if they are performing or understudying on aerial apparatuses. Moreover, these are general facts I am stating from personal experience working with more than one cruise line in the past.
The last topic to is the preparation to travel to the cruise ship itself. In my blog, What Should One Pack For A Cruise Ship Contact? I discuss some packing tips for cruise ship contracts for newly hired cast members/crew members or hired returners. In regards to flight information, the creative company you have worked with will provide you with flights to your home port (where the ship docks every embarkation date), as well as hotel information (if required in one’s travels). Both of these are covered by the cruise line. On the other hand, some things a cast member will have to pay for and can further be reimbursed by the cruise line once embarked on the ship. These things include baggage fees and paying for meals at the airport and hotel. Depending on the cruise line, cast members may have a certain per diem they can spend at the airport (example no more than $25.00) or a meal voucher at the hotel for breakfast. Additionally, if one brings two suitcases, they may only be reimbursed for one piece of luggage or possibly be reimbursed for multiple pieces of luggage (if one owns a Dutch Seamans book this may allow them to carry more than one piece of luggage for free).
If a cast member is international they also have to deal with visas. Before leaving for the cruise ship, international cast members are flown out of the country they are training in to re-enter with a C1-D visa, which is a combination of two visas: transferring from United States to a cruise ship as well as a general crew man’s visa. Generally this visa is required for Australians and Europeans. As a Canadian this visa is not required and one can travel to a cruise ship being on a B-2, but must already be on this visa prior to training. If an international cast member applies for this visa, they are reimbursed once embarked on the ship. Flights to be sent out of the country and re-enter the country where training takes place is provided for the cast member(s). Once embarked on the cruise ship all cast members will have to go through Immigration, where the non-American citizens are given a CBP Form (I-95 also known as a D-1 visa), which they must carry with them every time they go off the ship in an American port (Alaska counts as an American port). The ship will take all the crew and cast members passports and keep them kept save in the crew office so no crew member decides to leave the ship and not come back (this has happened in the past on cruise ships).
I hope all of this information was helpful to whomever was reading this blog. It is a lot of information that may look foreign to many but once one has gone through the process or is currently in the process of a contact, it begins to make more sense. If you have any personal questions about this blog or would like me to touch on another subject please feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your time and patience to read such detailed information. Take care for now! xo