Confessions of a cruise ship singer

Cruise ship singers were once considered “theatre rejects” who weren’t good enough for “real” performing jobs. But industry attitudes have changed and life on board is now a popular choice for many adept entertainers. Alexa Terry explains why being a singing sailor is an opportunity not to be missed. 

“Dear Diary,

I took the job..!”

The entertainment industry is extremely competitive with limited jobs on land for an abundance of performers. Thus rises Poseidon who, striking the ground with his trident, entices singers to a life on the seas. In 2013 I was enticed and began working for Aida Cruises as a lead soloist on a triple contract, meaning I had secured 18 months of constant performing work I otherwise wouldn’t have had on land.

What followed was a lot of graft; those who think show ensembles don’t work hard have never experienced the gruelling Aida rehearsal process. Rehearsals took place for two months and consisted of 42-hour weeks with vocal and choreography sessions, phonetic lessons (where we learned how to correctly articulate the songs written in foreign languages), costume fittings and make-up tutorials. When not working we prepared material for the next contracts and for future auditions. Casting directors these days understand the hard work involved in ship contracts. Having a cruise credit on your CV highlights a singer’s ability to learn demanding entertainment programmes and work as part of a team. It also demonstrates continuous performance experience.

“Dear Diary,

Yesterday, I was doused in sparkles singing Dancing Queen; today, I’m zipping up my leather jacket and applying black lipstick, ready to rock Another One Bites the Dust…”

The required versatility and stamina of the cruise singer, along with the ability to adjust to different musical genres, has contributed to changing perceptions in the industry. Sometimes, the artist is required to learn a variety of material and perform multiple times daily. Aida’s shows were all stylistically different and included blues, pop, rock and musical theatre. Across my three contracts I learned over 19 shows; one night I would be garbed in a classy red dress performing a jazz number, and the next singing in German with a prosthetic nose glued to my face. Some liners, such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), produce popular musicals on board with their catalogue including Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages. If a performer has performed in such a show on board a ship, it’s quite likely that they would be invited to audition for the production on land. Some West End casting directors like Debbie O’ Brien (Thriller Live, Grease and American Idiot) are also involved in cruise ship casting including Aida, P&O and NCL to name a few.

“Dear Diary,

This is the life..!”

Like any job, you can become too comfortable and find yourself jumping from ship to ship without exploring other opportunities. But there is no denying that ship life is a luxury and can give a singer unique life experience: you get to travel the world for free while being paid good money to perform live. The cruise ship singer is not someone to be pitied. Melvin J Cox, a fellow cruise ship friend and New York based performer, says: “I recommend (cruise ships) to all artists who sing because it puts you out there, you get to do what you love, network and make lifetime friends – all whilst on water. Some people can’t even do that on land.”

It’s a myth that ship performers are less able than those on West End and Broadway stages. Whilst cruise ship work may not yet be as respected as theatre work on land, most industry professionals now understand that many ships produce high quality shows which are executed by versatile performers with excellent stamina. A performer needs a stage and cruise ships offer that – it just so happens to be on water.


Alexa Terry is a vocal coach, singer and writer based in Hampshire. She initially trained in Musical Theatre obtaining a BA Honours Degree from Bath Spa University and has since performed as lead vocalist onboard Aida Cruises, and for new musical theatre projects in London’s West End. Alexa regularly reviews for and studied with Book, Music and Lyrics (BML) as a Musical Theatre librettist.