Whether you're about to embark on your first contract as a cruise ship dancer or you're thinking of switching teams (or you're like me and just want to know as much stuff as possible), this is what life is like for dancers on different cruise ships.
With a little help from my talented friends around the world, I put this together to give some insight to things you may not consider when you first take a contract, but that will definitely affect your life on board. And hopefully it shows that there are always pros and cons. It depends on your values where you'll be the happiest.
Maybe it’s really bad for your mental health to do constant weigh-ins or fitness photos.
Maybe you have dietary concerns and always eating in the mess makes life really difficult.
Maybe traveling is most important and seeing exotic ports where only small ships go is a must.
Maybe you want to focus only on dancing without worrying about extra onboard duties.
Something to Note: Schedules vary from ship to ship. A week on Adventure of the Seas is very different from that on Majesty of the Seas for example, even though they are both Royal Caribbean ships. Also, your dance captain, cruise director, and production manager will have a lot to do with your experience on board. So, don't get caught up.
I decided to keep all the dancers who gave their input anonymous and each answer is a blend of more than one person's experiences.
Ok, have I explained myself enough? Great.
Here it is. My incomplete, inconclusive yet interesting and eye-opening comparison of what it's like to be a dancer on various cruise lines.
How many production shows do you perform per week? On show days, how many production shows do you perform in one night?
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines: We perform three different production shows per week, but this depends on the ship and cruise length. Normally, you’d only perform two per week (swapping out one of the three shows) but for this cruise director we do a production show as our farewell show. Normally for show days you’ll do two performances per night.
Princess Cruise Lines: Our show schedule varies each week, due to the different cruise lengths. In general, we have shows every third day, giving us some time in between. For instance, on a 4-day cruise, we’ll perform two shows throughout the cruise (two performances each night). On a 12-day cruise, we have four different shows throughout the cruise (two performances each night).
Holland America Line: On two week cruises, we have four main stage shows and do two per week. They are performed twice per night. This adds so much more variety to your personal performance life. I enjoy having four shows because you don't get sick of them as much because you do that show every two weeks. *On large Holland America ships, shows are performed three times per night.
Norwegian Cruise Lines: Depends on the length of cruise. You’ll perform two or three per week depending on the ship with two shows a night. *Some NCL ships perform three times per night.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: We have five production shows onboard and on show days we perform one show at 9:30 p.m.
Viking: We have 7 total productions shows, only 4 are featured with dancers. We perform all 7 in our 15-day cruises. On show days, we only perform 1 per night.
How many smaller shows do you perform per week (eg. Bumpers, Welcome Aboard, Parades, Flash Mobs, Theme Nights, etc)?
RCCL: We perform five smaller dance shows throughout the week. One Welcome Aboard show (a three-minute number to open the show), a flash mob performed on the Promenade, a parade on the Promenade, a hip hop number that opens the Quest game show, and a Farewell number that's also a short dance break. Dancers also perform in a Murder Mystery dinner show where they learn lines and act as different characters. It’s actually really fun and great experience with acting and improv. The amount of extra shows you do will depend on which ship your on and the length of the cruises.
Princess: We do have a few smaller shows that we perform in the Piazza area (the central part of the ship). We perform a Welcome Aboard show each cruise where we open the show with a dance number. We also perform two small bumpers throughout the cruise (usually on the longer cruises), and a flash mob on the last day where we perform a short number followed by a dance party with the guests.
Holland: On embarkation day, we do a Welcome Aboard show once at 9:30 p.m.
NCL: On embark day we do a poolside Sail Away party that we performed a bumper for. That night we had Welcome Aboard show that consisted of an opener and a closer number. Sometimes during the week, was the White Hot Party where we performed our last bumper. Theme nights vary between ships. It depends on the cruise director and if they want to use the dancers or not.
Regent: We only have one bumper that we perform and it is used as an as-needed filler usually to open up a guest entertainer.
Viking: There is a Capt. Welcome reception and a Capt. Farewell reception. On Beatles night, the cast joins the guest to dance on the pool deck with the band playing party music. When longer than 15-day cruises, sometimes the cruise director coordinates a Broadway themed event and asks dancers to participate, but it is optional.
Are the production shows challenging and rewarding as a dancer?
RCCL: Although some of our shows are a bit older and could use a refresh, I have never been more challenged in my professional career than from performing with Royal. There is a ton of partnering and lots of technique required in every show and I learned multiple ballroom styles for “Invitation to Dance” with a professional ballroom couple that pushed me in every way. With so many ships in the fleet, there’s a lot you can do in the company: Broadway musicals, showgirl shows, ballroom shows, aerial work, high-energy technique-based shows. I’ve definitely had a rewarding experience as a dancer with Royal Caribbean.
Princess: I find the production shows challenging in the best way! Some are slower, but require more acting and interaction with the cast on stage, whereas others are more physically challenging and require a lot of endurance through technique and quick changes.
Holland: Three of the four shows I learned were pretty hard. They focused quite a lot on ballet and were pretty heavy on the technical side of things. I really enjoy ballet and lyrical so these shows are some of my favorite shows I've done. They also had a show that was extremely lift heavy with a lot of ballroom. Ballroom is not my strength so this show in particular was challenging.
NCL: All of our shows were very different from one another. I did a show that involved a lot of aerial which made it challenging. Other shows are enjoyable to perform but sometimes are not very challenging dance-wise. One of our shows had different styles of dancing from across the world, from Irish tap dancing, Philippino tinikling, Bollywood, and Spanish partnering. That was a challenge learning styles I’ve never studied before. It’s rewarding that on some ships we get to do shows that are currently in Vegas. Also, from all of the office runs that I’ve seen, they do not do amateur work. Everyone is fierce.
Regent: The shows are very challenging onboard and they use many elements that most production companies I’ve worked for in the past have not incorporated. They touch on numerous dance styles from all around the world.
Viking: They are fun, but not too challenging. Only 1 show is more demanding for the dancers compared to the other "book" shows. Also, only 1 show a night so its not incredibly exhausting.
Do you participate in tech runs for production shows?
RCCL: Most of the time, yes we will have a tech run on the morning of a show day.
Princess: We only do tech runs on the morning of the show if we haven’t performed them in a while.
Holland: Yes, we have tech runs but it’s really laid back and they don’t push you to do a full out run.
NCL: Yes, and depending on your dance captain, sometimes they make you perform them 100% full performance level.
Regent: We sure do! The day of the show we have an early tech run, usually at 10 a.m.
Viking: Yes, rehearsal in the morning for the show that will be given that evening. As the contract goes on and everyone is comfortable, less rehearsal is needed so up to Company Manager, Stage Manager, and Cruise Director if rehearsal is needed.
Are you required to spend time in the gym?
RCCL: Dancers are required to log five hours of gym time per week. We also usually do a weekly cast dance class taught by whoever wants to volunteer.
Princess: We’re not required to attend the gym, but we have enough time throughout the day to workout and stay in shape for sure.
Holland: No specific amount of hours are required, but they do make a note in our contract that we need to maintain our physique.
NCL: Yes. Five hours per week although it’s not strictly enforced.
Regent: We are encouraged to use the gym for at least one hour a day or participate in some form of daily exercise whether it be yoga, pilates, etc.
Viking: Yes, and you can use the guest gym throughout the day as long as it is not crowded. After 8pm, all crew can use the gym.
Do you have weigh-ins or take fitness photos?
RCCL: Dancers are required to take fitness photos with females in black bras and briefs and males shirtless with black shorts once a month. They did away with weigh-ins after they put aerialists in the shows since training for aerial caused dancers to gain muscle weight. Now it’s based on what you look like, not how much you weigh.
Princess: We don’t have weigh-ins or fitness photos on the ship, but are responsible for keeping our shape throughout the contract on our own time.
Holland: We have weigh-ins every two weeks.
NCL: Weigh-ins every two weeks.
Regent: Before a contract is offered we do have to submit fitness photos for approval. We get weight approximately every two weeks and we have a fluctuation period of around 5 pounds that we can gain or lose.
Viking: There are no weigh-ins or fitness photos required.
How long is the rehearsal process and what are your accommodations while in rehearsals?
RCCL: Rehearsals are typically between six and eight weeks long. Longer if you’re in a musical. We rehearse in the large facility in North Miami, FL on FIU Biscayne Bay Campus. We stay in refurbished dorms, two rooms per apartment sharing a room with one other person. So, four people share a kitchen and bathroom. No amenities like a pool or hot tub is available, but there is a small gym area in the studios. You'll be walking distance from the studios.
Princess: We were rehearsing in LA for six weeks and the company provided us with a two-bedroom apartment where two dancers shared a room and bath. There was a gym and a hot tub and just a short bus ride to the studios.
Holland: Rehearsals were six weeks long in Queens, NYC. They are currently trying to expand their housing facility due to acquiring so many more ships recently. Accommodations are tight. Small studio apartments with bunk beds everywhere. Usually 4-6 people per studio with one bathroom.
NCL: About five weeks in apartments in Tampa, FL. You share a room with one other cast member. Usually four to an apartment. Kitchen, wifi, cable, washer/dryer all included.
Regent: The rehearsal process usually lasts between 4-6 weeks depending on the number of shows and bumpers required to perform. They house us in the Lakes at Brandon West Apartments with full access of a gym/studio and pool. It is a shared accommodation when in rehearsals. They also provide transportation to and from the studio (we rehearse at Norwegian Creative Studios) and they provide you with transportation for a grocery run every week as a cast.
Viking: The rehearsal process is 4 weeks long in Orlando, Florida. The hotels are very nice with full-kitchen, gym, breakfast in the lobby, and transportation by Uber to and from rehearsals paid by production company.
Do you participate in passenger drill and crew drills? If so, what is your role and how often do you perform drill?
RCCL: Yes. Dancers are muster station leaders who are in charge of three fellow crewmembers and are responsible for organizing guests during passenger drill on Day 1. We have passenger drill once per cruise and crew drill once per week usually. Crew drill lasts somewhere between an hour and two hours.
Princess: We do! Under our job title, we are either passenger muster personnel or stairway guides, requiring us to participate in both passenger drills and crew drills. Our responsibilities during these drills include informing guests on the passenger duties during an emergency, how to properly where a life jacket, facilitating guest needs during an emergency, etc. We attend a passenger drill at the start of each cruise and the ship’s crew will participate in a crew drill once every two weeks.
Holland: Crew drill is usually every two weeks. Most of us scan the rest of the crew in. Same goes for passenger drill. We scan passengers in at the start of every new cruise.
NCL: Passenger drill and crew drill every week. Dancers participate in passenger drill and are required to check in passengers. Dancers are also required to attend crew drill on a weekly basis. Crew drill usually lasts an hour and a half. Singers don’t attend pax drill and only do crew drill every other week.
Regent: I do participate in both passenger drill and crew drill. Passenger drill is once a cruise and I am in charge of checking in approximately 110 guests to my muster station. Crew drill is the same scenario but we normally practice crew drill every week and I also have to check in and account for the 20 crew that is onboard my lifeboat.
Viking: Yes, roles are mostly in guests muster stations, but some cast has also been scattered around the ship.
Are you required to work the gangway for embark, debark, or port days? If so, how many hours per week?
RCCL: No, but we can pick up a side job for extra money by working with Port Shopping and handing out pamphlets at the gangway on port days or with the Art Gallery during art auctions, etc.
Princess: We’re not required to work on the gangway, but are offered secondary work if we choose! For the entertainment department, this includes teaming up with the photography department and taking pictures for guests as soon as they exit the gangway.
NCL: Yes. Every embarkation day the dancers stand on the gangway for four hours with a 20-minute break. On some ships, the manager would work it out to where you worked embark days two weeks on, two weeks off.
Regent: I am required to work the gangway only for embarkation and it is on a rotation between the 12 of us in our cast. Usually four people will be assigned every embarkation to a one-hour shift.
Viking: Yes, we participate in Embarkation days to welcome guests for durations of 4 hours, spreaded into 4 shifts (1 hr shift). On LONG port days, all crew participate in a Welcome Back event where crew is dancing outside the ship to welcome guests back from their LONG excursions (1-2 hrs).
Do you have any other non-dance related duties around the ship (eg. Spotlighting other shows, backstage tours, library duties, bingo host)?
RCCL: Yes, dancers spotlight and help dress the ice shows onboard (Voyager, Freedom, and Oasis class ships). If there are no ice shows on board, you might spotlight and dress the 270 shows. Dancers are also involved in backstage tours and “meet the cast” sessions.
Princess: Every once in a while (usually on the longer cruises), we participate in “The Ultimate Ship’s Tour.” Our part of the tour is the dressing room, where the guests arrive and take a picture with two dancers dressed in a costume from one of the production shows. They are then guided around the dressing room and informed on what goes into making each show run smoothly and effectively.
Holland: Cast chats! Super fun and easy, once per cruise with both singers and dancers.
NCL: Yes. Library duty for the dancers on a weekly basis. Usually one to two hours on a rotation system. Dancers also teach a half hour class once a week to the passengers in any approved style they choose. “Cast Chat” involves everyone once a cruise. We also danced with a passenger for a competition in the lounge bar. A lot of the time, dancers were called on for any other extra duties or chores that needed to be done around the ship.
Regent: Library duties, backstage tours, bingo host, trivia host, onboard activities hosting. We are hired not only to perform but we also take on the role of cruise staff as well.
Viking: Throughout the cruise, cast (2 people at a time) have "door duties" to welcome guests into the theater for Enrichment Lectures, Port Talks, and other shows that they are not involved in. There are also "sports duties" (also 2 people at a time) to host a friendly game of Bocce Ball or Shuffleboard at the sports deck. On Sea days, dancers teach a 30 min dance class (of whatever genre they'd like). And also, everyday, 1 member of the cast has to put up sports equipment in the morning and put it away in the evening.
Do you eat in the mess or do you have the privilege to eat in guest areas?
RCCL: We don’t have guest dining privileges as dancers. We can have dinner in the Windjammer (guest buffet) but only at certain times and at a $3 fee. We can make reservations at any of the specialty restaurants and pay at a discount. Dancers mostly spend meals in the staff mess but are allowed in the crew mess as well.
Princess: We have the privilege of choosing whether to eat in the mess or eat upstairs in guest areas. I usually prefer to eat upstairs at the buffet but you have to be in dress code and sometimes I’d like to stay in my sweatpants and eat in the mess.
Holland: Unlimited access to the buffet whenever you'd like! They are extremely welcoming and never give you a problem about eating there. And if you'd like to eat in a specialty restaurant you just have to make a reservation. Super simple. They actually rather us eat with guests than in the mess.
NCL: We have the privilege to eat in the guest buffet but are allotted only one half hour for both lunch and dinner. Breakfast is only permitted once per week. During charter cruises, we are required to make reservations in the dining halls. The mess was the only option we had a lot of times.
Regent: We are allowed to eat in the Officer’s Mess which is a wonderful privilege to have. We also host dinners so we can only eat in the main dining areas if we are invited by guests or are hosting tables. We do have the privilege during a port day to eat in the open pool grill for lunch.
Viking: On Port Days, cast can eat in the guest buffet-style restaurant for breakfast and lunch. On Sea days, cast eat in the Officer's mess for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, cast eat in the Officer's Mess. BUT guests may also invite you to join them for dinner in any of the other restaurants including specialty restaurants (with permission from General Hotel Manager and Cruise Director).
What are your dress code standards in guest areas?
RCCL: During the day, we must be in our uniform of swishy blue pants and logo T-shirt or smart casual wear. In the evening, we are to adhere to that night’s dress code, either smart casual or formal. Name tags are always to be worn in guest areas.
Princess: Our dress code in guest areas varies based on the day of the cruise and the time of the day. We are required to wear our uniform and name badge in guest areas throughout the day until 5 o’clock. After that, we are required to be in professional attire (dresses, nice slacks, etc.). On formal nights, we are expected to wear fancier style dresses.
Holland: Smart casual
NCL: Smart casual with a nametag. The general rule is to look better than the guests.
Regent: From the moment you wake up until approximately 5 p.m. we have to be in a company-issued uniform. Any duties after 5 p.m. we are required to dress in a suit AKA elegant casual.
Viking: Morning to 6pm, cast wear "reds" (red polo shirt, navy blue pants or shorts, black non-slip tennis shoes, blue buckle belt, and nametag.) Men clean shaven. After 6pm, cast wear "elegant casual" (ladies, rompers, skirts, dresses, heels or flats,) (men, button shirts, suit jacket OR tie, or suit AND tie, dress shoes)
How much do you pay for wifi on the ship?
RCCL: We pay $3.99 for 60 minutes, $29.99 for 300 minutes, $49.99 for 600 minutes, or $59.99 for 900 minutes. Occasionally we get discounted packages, usually for holidays throughout the year.
Princess: We pay for an access code with 666 megabytes on it for $40 and after 10 o’clock each night and on port days, we get half off.
Holland: $5 for 50 megabytes
NCL: $5 for 55 minutes
Regent: $5 for 55 minutes, $10 for 110 minutes, $20 for 220 minutes
Viking: Wifi is FREE for all crew, still pretty bad though. Banned from YouTube. Don't even thinking to stream movies or tv shows. Can barely even watch a facebook video. But all other capabilities are decent though. (Email, Facetime, viewing social media is fine, uploading to social media can sometimes be a hassle)
Do you share a cabin? Do you have a cabin steward?
RCCL: We share cabins with one other person, usually another dancer from the cast but sometimes it can be someone from the cruise division like an ice skater or cruise staff. We do not have cabin stewards. On some ships, you’ll have your own cabin but share a bathroom. Dance captains get their own cabin.
Princess: We share cabins with one other dancer. We don’t get a cabin steward.
Holland: Dancers share unless you are dance captain where you get your own. Both have cabin stewards.
NCL: Dancers share cabins. We do get cabins stewards that come every other day.
Regent: I do share a cabin and we do have a cabin steward. They are required to clean our cabin once a week.
Viking: Yes, and yes. Shared cabins, Boy-Boy Girl-Girl, but for heterosexual couples, you can share with your significant other when negotiated and another couple can share a room too. Boy-Girl Boy-Girl. Cabin stewards attend your cabin every Mon-Wed-Fri. Honestly, some of the best times you will have with your cast will be in our hallway that we don't share with any other crew. Just 4 rooms for the 8 cast and complete fun.
Do you have time to enjoy the ports with your schedule as a dancer?
RCCL: We usually have day time off to enjoy the ports of call. Tech runs or crew drill are the only things that impose on our time in the ports.
Princess: We do! Depending on our show schedule throughout the cruise, we are able to go out into the ports and enjoy. We also are able to sign up for passenger tours as an escort, where we get to tag along with the group and enjoy the tour.
Holland: Yes! We have a lot of free time. They leave you alone on your off days.
NCL: We do for the most part except for when we have IPM (in-port manning) where you have to stay on the ship for a whole week once per month. That’s the hardest part, not being able to get off during a really good port even though your schedule is wide open.
Regent: Our schedules allow us maximum time for the exploration of ports. We only have to do duties once every 12 days because we are on a rotation.
Viking: Yes, plenty of time to enjoy the ports. In Port Manning, (IPM) rotation 1 every 4 days, but possible to swap days with crew of other departments who may not have a chance to leave ship.
Overall, you're sure to have a life-changing experience no matter what cruise line or ship you dance on. But, in the tough times it's important to remember that the grass isn't always greener with another company. Figure out what's important to you and that will help you decide where you'll have the most valuable experiences.
Had a different experience dancing on one of these cruise lines? Did you dance for a company that wasn't mentioned? Let me know and I'll make some edits!