This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with English musician Jack Nolan, 32, about his experiences living and working on cruise ships over the last seven years. Nolan runs a TikTok account detailing his life on the high seas. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I'm currently on the Valiant Lady, which is a Virgin Voyages ship. We're sailing around the Mediterranean for the summer.
Almost every day you wake up in a new place. It's amazing to have the opportunity to travel and get paid for it, as well. I don't think there are many jobs where you can meet so many people from all over the world. And we're all here to do the same thing, which is enjoy the perks of working on a cruise.
I grew up loving music. Ever since I was a kid, I was always into rock music and bands. My dad put a guitar in my hands when I was about 9 years old and taught me songs he knew from his favorite bands.
I went to university to study music and I met a bunch of musicians. From there, I joined bands. I was playing in wedding bands and original bands.
Then I met a drummer who was a bit older than me and had already been on the ships. He was starting his own cruise ship band and he asked me if I wanted to play guitar.
Cruises don't directly hire the bands, they go through an agent. So, we just needed an initial in. Our drummer already knew the process of how to get a cruise ship gig, so he led the way. He knew that, as a brand new band, we needed to film some content to use to apply to the right agents.
We would rehearse and record as much of the rehearsal as possible. We even put on a gig ourselves and funded it just so we could record a crowd clapping between some of the songs.
It took a good four or five months of waiting. But luckily, it worked. It got us a gig on Celebrity Cruises. We were on Celebrity cruises from 2016 all the way until the start of 2022. After that, me and the keyboard player joined Virgin in May 2022.
The bread and butter of our performances is playing as a five-piece band: guitar, drums, bass guitar, keyboards, and lead singer.
We have a large rep of songs and genres that we play, a real mix of mid-tempo songs and upbeat tunes. We play everything from Elvis to Etta James to Bruno Mars to Daft Punk.
We play two or three hours a day. They have us break into acoustic trios and duos and sometimes I do solo guitar sets. It's not strenuous at all. We have one day off each week, as well.
It depends on if I've played late the night before, but sometimes I'll actually wake up around noon because we've played until almost 2 a.m.
If we're in port, I'll go out and explore. If it's a sea day, I'll hit up the gym. There's honestly so much free time, especially on this ship. It's quite incredible.
We're playing usually from 5 or 6 p.m. throughout the evening. It's a very cool lifestyle.
There's no kids on board. It's amazing. The people on here are in good spirits because there's no stress. People are just adults having fun.
They give us the freedom as performers to interact with the guests. They encourage us to go get drinks with them, to sit and chat with them, interact, and help them feel more immersed within the crew.
We were making $3,000 a month on Celebrity. At the time, we thought that was great. But then we heard about Virgin. They were a new company and they were offering more money for musicians, so we were quick to jump ship.
As musicians, we're now making $4,000 a month.
Your rent, your board, your food onboard — it's all covered by the company. You save money so easily.
Being British and working for American cruise lines, we're paid in dollars and we're not taxed on those because we're not from the US and we're also living on a ship.
There's a thing called Seafarers' earning deduction. If you're from the UK and you're not living in the UK for more than half the year, then you don't need to pay income tax, as well.
That's a really sweet part of being a full-time cruise ship musician, to save so much money.
I always get off the ship whenever we're in port, just for sanity. If you spend too much time on board, it kind of messes with your head.
We're one of the positions on board that is lucky enough to have so much downtime, so we can get off the ship usually whenever we want.
Kangaroos in Australia; snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef; bungee jumping in New Zealand; sailing through the Norwegian fjords; taking quad bikes around Greece — it's been amazing to have the opportunity to travel to all these places and get paid for it, as well.
The downside is you only get a few hours to explore. You get to go to these amazing places, but you don't really get to immerse yourself in them.
But usually, these cruises are week-long and they repeat. So you can go back the next week to the same spots and find your local coffee spots, Wi-Fi spots, beaches, hangouts.
And you learn so much when you're meeting people from all over the world, the different cultures they have, the experiences. I think that's my number one favorite thing. I've made friends for life.
Living in a small, windowless cabin can suck. It can be nice at times. It can feel cozy and you can nap at any time of the day because you haven't got daylight.
But if you miss daylight too much, it's not great.
Keeping up a long-distance relationship is extremely tough, too. I have a girlfriend and she's in LA.
Luckily, the Wi-Fi on Virgin is free, so we get to FaceTime every night. But it does cut out at times, which is frustrating. The internet is often slow.
My plan is to head over to California after this contract. I want to move on and keep my relationship healthy.
If you're thinking about joining a ship and working as a performer, go for it, especially if you're young and you're single. It's a great time.2023-05-31T19:07:33Z dg43tfdfdgfd