“ On a cruise ship you party, you sleep when you get back to work. That’s why they invented desks!”
Kieron Buffery, Cruise Director
Keith B. Is another camper/magician from Sorcerer’s Safari Magic Camp. He wrote to me to say “I know you have lots of experience working on cruise boats and I am wondering if you could tell me how you got your start on them? Is there a type of cruise boat that’s preferable? How long were you on each cruise boat for or were your contracts always different? Who should I contact in an organization about working on one?”
First off let me set the record straight. I have never worked on a boat. Boats are what fishermen use, I worked on a ship. Ships have Captains and boats have frustrated husbands! It is probably my biggest pet peeve in regards to this industry. I used to tell passengers that they were on a ship and to tell the difference was easy. If the ship was sinking they would be getting into boats.
Now back to the question at hand. Keith has asked the questions I have been asked countless times over the past twenty years. I have spent over two decades entertaining audience all over the world on the finest vessels in the world. Over those years I met some incredibly talented entertainers and I thought they might be able to help with Keith’s question.
Chip Romero has been at sea for so long I think his first Captain was Noah. He has done everything from a grand illusion show to a cabaret act on board the ships. His reply was: “My first cruise experience was as a passenger on the Magic Cruise in 1985. A seven day magic convention with a fantastic line up of great magicians on a ship. As incredible as the convention was, I was blown away by the cruising life. The ship, the food, mainly the travel, and the entertainment. I had heard of magicians working on cruises, so I decided there and then that was what I wanted to do.
I got my start on cruises through an agent. While working at Magic Island, Todd Oliver told me to get in contact with Ron Wilson. I met Ron at a convention, we talked, he liked the promo tape and that’s how my cruise career began. After twenty years, I still love working on them.
What type of ships are preferable? I’ve worked with RVL, NCL, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Celebrity, and Princess cruises. There all pretty much the same but different. Each ship has it’s own personality. As does each cruise. After working a few ships you get an idea of what you prefer. Personally, I like big ships. (2500 passengers and above) More people, more things to do. Also I love big show rooms. Great stages, great stage crew, a pleasure to work in. I love cruising in the Mediterranean and in Asia. For me these ships are a lot of fun to work.
On the other hand, I have friends who would rather work smaller ships. (900 Passengers) With a ship that size you really get to know everyone. People interact more on these ships. The cruises feel more relaxing. The ships feel more intimate. The smaller ships do most of the world cruises. They are both very different experiences.
I’ve performed contracts ranging from one week, six weeks, three, four, to six months. I’ve performed shows ranging from a twelve minute illusion act in a production show, a twenty minute Welcome Aboard or Farewell Show, and a fifty minute full evening show.”
Greg Gleason is also no stranger to the ship life. He has worked around the globe and choose to cruise over gigs like Las Vegas. Why? “I have been performing on cruise ships for the last 14 years and it has been a great experience. Theaters on cruise ships are nicer than many Vegas and Broadway theaters seating up to 1200 people. Working on cruise ships had been one of my goals for a long time before I was finally booked on one. The first thing I did was try to find out as much as I could on what the other magic acts on the ships were doing. There were two reasons for this. One is to see what is expected of the magicians as far as how much material was needed, the types of stages they worked on, the storage space available to store props, and what the demographics of the audiences were so I would have the appropriate material. The second reason was to make sure my video showed that my act was different and I wasn’t doing the same tricks the other acts were doing. I wanted to stand out from the pack, but still be a commercial act for the passengers. The most important tool to get booked on a ship is a video, it needs to show the buyer what your show is. It needs to look like you have been working on professional stages already. I did not have a video on a professional stage so I rented a theater for a day, hired 2 camera operators with high quality cameras, and a sound and light tech. I also hired 3 dancers and rehearsed the illusions until we had them perfect before renting the theater. We taped each illusion several times. The video was then professional edited. This was the video I submitted to the cruise lines. Was it expensive, yes, but it got me hired.”
My story is not like the others. I had never intended to enter the world of cruising. I was working a shopping centre in Williams Lake, BC in May of 1983 when I got a call from an agent asking if I could do a week on a ship. It seem the magician was doing the broom suspension and it broke and hurt his assistant and they were leaving the ship and a replacement was necessary. I was to be on for just one week until one of the cruise lines regular acts could be flown to join the vessel. During that cruise a very influential executive of Cunard Cruise line saw my act and I was invited to stay for as long as I wished. That ended up being four years. I later performed on Holland America and Royal Caribbean, but soon settled on Norwegian Cruise line where I stayed for nearly a decade. Ron Wilson was also responsible for my contract with NCL and I have been deeply indebted to him for all his faith in me and my show. I have always had long contracts. Most of them were ten and a half months in duration. When I first started signing these kind of deals it was unheard of in the industry but now other acts are signing them too.
Using an agent to get on ships is a great idea. Once you are at sea it is hard to stay in touch and to have someone you trust to negotiate future contracts is a must. There are plenty of agencies that specialize in booking magicians. Some are better than others. A quick Google search will help you find them and a little reading will tell you which ones to avoid.
Before you decide to approach the agency make sure you have the best possible product to offer. These agents and the cruise line executives that make the final decision all talk to each other and it only takes one negative to destroy any chances you may have. You have to have at least 60 minutes of “A” material. You will most likely be expected to do either an opening or closing show as well as a full evening show during a standard seven day cruise. Don’t use fire or live stock. Fire is the most frightening thing at sea and the hassles of having animals on the ship is not worth the trouble. When you do have the necessary material. Have the best DVD you can possible make. That goes for your photo’s too. In fact you should have a bunch of press clippings and testimonials to accompany the package. Working on ships is a high paying gig and there are hundreds of magicians looking for that same single spot on the ship. Like Greg said, be different.
If you choose to go directly you will want to locate the Entertainment Director of the cruise line. I did a quick Google and found that the information is still accurate for lines such as Cunard, Norwegian, Holland America and Royal Caribbean.
Once you’re booked on the ship it’s just getting started. I have always said “it’s easy to get booked on a ship and even easier to get fired!”. Your show is only a part of your job on the vessel. You are an ambassador of the cruise line. A star in the eyes of the passengers and they want to meet you and get to know you better. They will interrupt you private time, take photo’s of you when your laying pool side and even ask you questions while you dine. Why? Because you are basically in a giant fishbowl on display. If you don’t like attention, this is not the gig for you.
The interaction with the passengers is just the start. You also have to navigate your interactions with the Officers and crew of the vessel. They too are ambassadors of the cruise line and if you choose to over shadow them you will find their wrath to be quite extreme.
We haven’t even begun to discuss your living arrangements. On several vessels I had a first class balcony suite with an open bar while on other lines I had a deck one cabin which is below sea level and I had to stuff wet towels around the door sill to keep out the smell of the clove cigarettes the crew smoke! Most cabins are very small. Space is limited on a ship and since your aren’t a revenue making item your space will be very small. Think closet with a bed and perhaps a small chair or couch. The showers are always special. I once had a shower curtain that I was so fond of me it wanted to be a part of me! If you’re the type of person that like lots of personal space .. cruising is probably not for you.
Who then is right for cruising? You have to be a great act, who genuinely likes people, works well with others, knows when to be “on” and when to be “off”. You have to be able to deal with confined spaces and be able to keep yourself occupied during the long days at sea. You have to love to travel and are up to the challenge of presenting several shows in a week to an international audience who will see the best the world has to offer. Nowdays cruise line guests are treated to shows like Blue Man Group, Second City Comedy and production show from people like Andrew Loyd Webber’s “Real Useful Group”. If you have what it takes … it’s a great life.
Keep well and busy.