Hello anyone who has stumbled across this post. (or more likely been sent it by me).
In February of 2015 I was fired from my office job and I made a vow that I would never work in such a soul crushing, dull environment ever again!
This lasted about as long as you would expect, and shortly after, I began working for an agency which had gotten me more temporary office work, including some even more soul crushing work.
However in 2016 and after being unemployed for 3 months and slowly running out of funds, I was able to finally achieve my real calling in life. Being paid for playing music. Granted, it was playing current Billboard Top 100 pop songs to an empty night club for 6 nights a week, but the perks it came with (living in a 5 star hotel with 3 free meals per day) made it worth it.
This was the start of my musical journey, and I still play with the band (albeit with a slightly altered line up) til this day.
So with the background out of the way, here is the actual point of this post. I am currently playing on a cruise ship in the Pacific ocean and I am going to be writing about my experiences aboard a ship for the first time. However, there is a slight problem, as while at sea I have practically no internet access. Thus, I will have to post these while in ports and there will be no set schedule for when I do.
I will write about each cruise from when I start to when I finish and the locations visited, as well as some other tidbits along the way!
Day 1: Saturday 6th, May 2017
London, Heathrow Airport:
So my journey begins: I wake up at 9am and pack my laptop away, making sure all my electronic devices are fully charged for the combined 15½ hours of flying ahead of me. My mum drops me off at Heathrow terminal 2 with just under 60kg of luggage; I manage to get through customs relatively painlessly (but still taking over an hour). Somehow I managed to get away without having to pay for excess baggage, the karma of which will come back to bite me in the ass later on today.
I grab some overpriced food from a pub and a lunch “Value” meal from WHSmith in the terminal and make my way to my flight with Air Canada to Vancouver (which gets delayed for an hour after I rush to the gate). I get an aisle seat and sleep for half the flight, until I get woken up twice by the people I am trapping in wanting to get out of their seats. I spend the rest of the flight taking advantage of the entertainment on board to watch Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (and enjoyed both equally).
Canada, Vancouver Airport:
I land in Canada and dash to the American immigration gates to catch my flight to Hawaii, with only 30 minutes to get through all of the passport control and an obnoxious amount of security checkpoints. Needless to say, I didn’t make it through in time for my flight, however by a stroke of luck the flight I was meant to be boarding was conveniently 2 hours late.
I’m sitting in Vancouver airport absorbing how... Canadian everything is. Maybe I’m not a frequent enough flier but I usually feel like I haven’t visited a country by just transferring flights, but damn, Canada, I feel like I’ve had a small slice of your culture from just 2 hours walking through your airport.
I’m beginning my second flight of the day, struggling to stay awake, and I pass out for 2 of the 6 hours of the flight. I wake up and decide to crack out my laptop and select one of the many anime I have downloaded prior to my internetless existence. I decide to try and pick one I can finish in the 4 hours flying time remaining. So I go through my folder and pick Katanagatari and start watching the first episode... and suddenly realise that the episodes are double length and that I have made a large error. I stop watching on episode 4 because I’m again in a god damn aisle seat, and Togame naked in full screen is probably not suitable for watching on a public flight. I end up playing Spelunky for the remaining hour of the flight and get asked by the older man next to me if it’s Super Mario Bros.
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA:
Landing around 10:30pm and with 11 hours of time zone between me and home, only one of my two suitcases arrives as the other was left in Canada. I made a bet with myself that my suitcase full of clothing would go missing, however it was actually my 2 keyboards that were left behind which is quite the inconvenience when you are starting a job as a keyboard player in a 5 piece band the next day. After waiting for an hour I go to my hotel and find out I’m sharing with someone else joining the cruise overnight, and that I have to be on a bus to the airport at 7:45 the next day. I call my family, set an alarm for 6:45, and pass out in my bed.
Day 2: Sunday 7th, May 2017
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA:
I wake up and shave (as I look absolutely awful) and pick my first of three outfits for the day. Leaving the last Wifi spot I’ll see until the west coast of America, I get on the bus to my new home: Celebrity Solstice. I instantly spot the only other obvious musician on the bus (hint: he was carrying two bass guitars) and find out he is my new boss on the ship; I tell him about my missing keyboards and probably add to the many other things he has to do that day.
We Stand in line for 2 and half hours until I board the ship at around 10:30... only to get sent into a theatre room with the rest of the new crew members and get told not to leave because the coast guard are conducting a drill. After more waiting and a conversation about progressive metal and musical education with my new boss, I finally get to take my bags to my room and find that the previous occupant who was meant to leave is still there. As I can’t unpack my things yet, I’m given a brief tour around the ship, showing me all the crew areas that will be important to me - and I forget literally everything the guide tells me by the end of the trip.
I finally get back to my new room and meet up with my band, who had boarded the ship 2 weeks earlier. and I get told I’m on stage in 4 hours and that the cruise has spare keyboards that I can use. I unpack my things and swiftly realise that:
1) All the T-shirts I had packed I would not be allowed to wear.
2) I had packed a wrong pair of trousers that were 6 sizes too small
3) I had not packed a hairbrush in any of my bags.
New room mate for the next four months is the drummer for the cruise ship orchestra and points out everywhere I can store my stuff. Seems like a nice enough guy, so of course I accidentally switch off the light switch while he’s in the shower to make a good first impression! After this I begin to explore the ship and find the crew bar, crew mess, crew gym, crew library (which is apparently completely unused according to my band mates).
I get to the grand foyer on Deck 3 of the ship 45 minutes before we play to soundcheck microphones and keyboards. We start the first set of the contract at 7:45pm. The set goes well, and then the jet lag kicks in and the 2nd and 3rd sets later that evening are in the Sky Lounge on Deck 14. I start making more mistakes than I would like and I go back to my room after speaking to the band leader, and pass out from exhaustion.
Day 3: Monday 8th, May 2017
Docked in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
I wake up around 10am for the captain to greet new crew, and almost get in trouble for walking straight up to the bridge on Deck 10. I get told to go down to the crew bar (Deck 2) and meet the others, not come up alone. Thankfully I don’t have a name badge yet, so the officer can’t report me! I meet the senior crew members and get told that none of us can get off the ship until we get back to Canada because we missed US immigration the previous day. So even though I am writing each port I’m docked in do not expect me to have anything interesting to say about the places until I’m allowed to leave this vessel. I head downstairs and get my first set of security awareness training (which was cancelled the previous day) and learn the call signs for ‘man overboard’, ‘medical emergency’, ‘abandon ship’ and ‘security threats’, and forget the rest.
We have a PAX Drill at 5:00pm in port, which basically amounts to gathering all passengers and crew and having them watch a safety video (which was themed after a secret agent movie). I go down for dinner and get dragged by my band leader to see if my keyboards have arrived (spoiler alert: they didn’t) and almost miss dinner in the mess. I find out how to clock in my hours in a machine (Kronos) that is inconveniently either 1, 11 or 13 decks below where I will be playing everyday.
The sets today are exactly the same as the previous day 1 set in the Grand Foyer and 2 sets in the sky lounge and I begin making mistakes in the 3rd set this time. The ship leaves port during our second set and begins making its way to the next destination. The other band members start taking bets on if I’ll get hit by seasickness or fall over on stage (neither of these things happen). After the final set today, we had a band meeting and practiced 4-5 new songs until 1:30am. I go back to my room and pass out again from being rocked by the lull of the sea.
Day 4: Tuesday 9th, May 2017
Docked in Lahaina, Hawaii, USA
I wake up earlier than yesterday for more training; this time we’re being told about how to save the waves and the importance of onboard hygiene and recycling. We also learn about the different kinds of waste onboard the ship and how bilgewater is actually not as dirty as it sounds. I go for breakfast and remember that I didn’t punch in my hours for the first training and head to the machine to find my keyboards are on the ship in a shipment from Vancouver. I tell my boss they have arrived and he said that I should check my cabin’s phone for messages because he had already told me last night. I punch in and head to second training of the day, finally arriving 10 minutes late to a full music department meeting, and finally received my name badge - and I almost forget to punch out again after.
I take a damn nap because 5 hours of sleep is not enough to function, damn it. I wake up, set up keyboard in my room, and start practicing and learning new songs so I won’t keep making mistakes on stage. Only two sets today but in a new venue (for me): by the pool on deck 12. I punch into Kronos, head upstairs, set up my keyboards, and accidentally fry one of the power supplies, because American voltage is fucking dumb compared to English.
We play one set outside by the pool and get joined by one of the cruise directors for Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and The Beatles “Twist and Shout”. During the former I get surprised by our singer yelling keyboard solo and improvise something that sounded pretty good. The wind on the open deck is more or less a cyclone and we have to move inside the sky lounge for our second set. We begin the second set playing to an empty room before the pool crowd arrives and starts enjoying themselves. we finish up and I go back to my room get into bed after changing into PJs and then remember that I hadn’t signed out of Kronos (FUCK). I get changed and head back and meet my singer and arrange to have her switch with me for training the next day, and also find out the 8am green drill is cancelled on tomorrow’s schedule (Huzzah!).
Day 5: Wednesday 10th, May 2017
Hilo, Hawaii, USA
I wake up at 8:45, panic and run to training room before I remember that I switched with my singer the night before. I attempt to get back to sleep but fail miserably. Head to training later in the day and learn more of the same stuff I had learnt 2 days ago in security training. Actually remember the codes for, ‘fire’, ‘ship damage’, ‘bad weather’ and ‘get to your station’. I get a tour of the ship and actually remember where things are this time and when I get back to my room I hear the “bad weather -> man overboard -> medical emergency” calls all within half hour.
I have lunch and head up to the pool deck for our first set of the day. We play 2 songs before the captain comes over the intercom and we have to stop playing mid song (“This Love” by Maroon 5) until he’s done telling the passengers we’re going to go past a volcano later. We come in exactly where we left off (Because we’re fucking professionals) and finish the set. I head back to my room and find new towels that my roommate has grabbed for us both. I head down for dinner at 8:30 and start getting ready for this evening’s performances in the Grand Foyer. I arrive to find out that is it formal night and no one has told me, so I have to back and change into a black suit.
We begin our first performance and again the intercom is sounded and we must stop playing until he is done speaking. However, this time he speaks at length and the ship sails towards an active volcano so that the guests can watch the eruption. Of course after 5 minutes of speaking we stop standing by our instruments and go to look at the volcano ourselves. first from Deck 3 where we were performing and then we head up to deck 14 in our break to get a better view. Finally we make it downstairs to begin our final set from 10:45-11:30 and I go back to my cabin to get ready for rehearsals 12:20 in the sky lounge.
In rehearsals this evening, we manage to get through 7 new songs out of the 16 we had been given by our singer to learn the previous day. We finish at 2:30 in the morning and we check the schedule for the next day, and surprisingly I have no training or early sets.
Day 6: Thursday 11th, May 2017
Docked in Kona, Hawaii, USA
I wake up at 1:30 and instantly feel regret. I head down to the crew mess to eat and realise that it shuts at 1:30. I take a picture of the opening hours and head up to the Oceanview café. I have eaten here between sets on a few nights and as a part of entertainment I have the privilege of dining at certain passenger restaurants on the ship; I get told off for leaving my plate on the table and not cleaning up after myself the previous day. However, as I did not eat there the previous day, I can only assume it was my bass player who had done this, and I correct the waitress.
I head down to my room, grab my keyboards, and head up to the pool deck for a 4:30pm sail-away party. Almost dead on 5pm, the intercom rings and we stop in the middle of “Billie Jean” then again resume where we left off and end the set. This evening we have been scheduled to play the captain’s cocktails event in which the captain and guests enjoy drinks and a speech by the captain in the sky lounge. We begin our set as the doors open with some lighter pop music (Adele, Bill Withers) before going into some rock and roll and funk. I somehow manage to hold the high note in lovely day for 90% of the time I am meant to. We finish our set to a lot of praise, and one woman complaining that we play “terrible boom boom” music.
Our drummer and I head downstairs to the Foyer to set up for our next set in an hour, then head back up to Oceanview to eat some dinner with the singer and guitarist. The husband of the “boom boom” lady came and had a conversation with us about music and that he enjoyed our set. We play our final set of the night and my iPad runs out of battery, so I am left lyricless for last song of the set and promptly forget all the lines. However we did get to start the set by playing almost all of “Free Bird”.
As we have rehearsals later, I head straight up to the sky lounge and set up my gear. As I am leaving I bump into an Australian couple that had watched us play on day 3, who asked me if we were playing tonight. I told them we had finished for the night and thanked them for coming back before heading down. I head to the crew bar to meet the rest of the band with our schedules (showing we have 4 sets tomorrow as well as early morning training). I head upstairs to Deck 5 to watch the jazz band play their final set and have a chat before rushing up to rehearsals so as not to be late for 12.
To my annoyance, I am the first to arrive on time, followed by our drummer. As I am already set up, I start playing songs that aren’t in our set to pass the time until our singer and guitarist arrive. After another 10 minutes at 12:22 our bassist arrives from the bar. All four had been drinking before rehearsals and we only got through 5 songs. We finish at 4am due to the clocks moving forward as we head into the UST-9 time zone, and I set an alarm for 8:45 for training. I did not miss any Kronos today.
Day 7: Friday 12th, May 2017
Solstice at Sea Day 1 of 5
I wake up feeling dead from 4 hours sleep. I struggle to crawl out of bed and forget to sign into Kronos for morning training. I sit on a table near my band mates in the crew mess and get shown more safety training videos and we’re informed there will be a test tomorrow in the afternoon. We head out the wrong door from the mess and end up locked behind a watertight door in the backstage theater area for 20 minutes before someone calls the bridge and they release us. I head back to my cabin and try to steal a few hours of sleep back from this cruel 23 hour day.
This is the first day for my time here that we are are not going to be in a port. The ship is busier, and my roommate (who usually leaves the ship and explores) is here today. As I have not been allowed off the ship this feels like a normal day. My other band mates seem to be dreading the days ahead way more than I am. I wake up around 12:45 with a total of 6 hours of sleep to power me through the rest of the day, then head down for lunch in the crew mess, as the oceanview cafe will surely be too busy for crew to eat there while we are at sea. I head back to my room and get ready for my first set by the pool.
I head down to Deck 2 to punch into Kronos and find the machine in the mid ship is not working so I head to the Aft to sign in on the second machine and head up through the guest elevator to the pool. I get up to Deck 12 to find it is again incredibly windy and that our set has been cancelled. I head back downstairs and call my singer on the phone next to the Kronos machine and she confirms we are not playing anywhere else. I meet my bass player coming back from the pool deck and we head back to our rooms after signing out.
I kill the next two hours writing up a practice file of songs we perform so that my singer can get off my back about the songs I haven’t learnt yet. After changing back into my stage wear, I head to the Foyer for three sets - and within 3 songs I have already made an error by skipping ahead two songs, as I begin playing “Free Bird” instead of “All of Me” (John Legend). That mishap aside we begin to play newer material we practiced, and by the start of our 3rd set we have a full dance floor.
We pack down and enjoy our early night off. I go to the crew bar to meet my bass player and we head up to deck 5 to watch the jazz band play a set before he leaves. I finish listing all 139 songs in our repertoire on my iPad. As I finish, a couple ask if they can sit with me and I spend the rest of the night conversing to them about music and other topics (another part of my job is to speak to guests where possible and be friendly).
I finally get into my cabin after they leave at 11:30pm, a full 45 minutes later than I had planned; at 12am tonight it will be officially one week exactly from when I left home. I set an alarm for tomorrow as I have a very busy schedule and more than likely a midnight rehearsal waiting. I finish Katanagatari and cry myself to sleep with a large void left to fill.
And so with that I will close the first of my 19 weeks onboard this cruiseship! Uploads will be whenever I have written enough material and I have a port with decent wi-fi (as I am currently uploading this in Ketchikan, Alaska).
Until next time... I need to get back on the ship.