A day in the life of a cruise ship musician: Embarkation Day
A typical Carnival Cruise Line cruise is a five-day cruise. The five-day usually consists of following days: Embarkation Day, 1st Sea Day, First Port of Call, 2nd Port of Call, Last Sea Day.
This is the first of five posts where I’m sharing with you what the days on Carnival cruise ships look like. Today we’re taking a closer look at the Embarkation Day.
Different Departments, Different Responsibilities This is the day the “old” guests sign off the ship. Usually the guests are disembarked until 11:00am. At this time there’s no more guests onboard; but not for very long. At 11:30am the new guests start embarking the ship, we usually sail away at around 4:30pm.
On Embark Day we often go out to get food from our home countries.
For most departments this is the busiest (and most hated) day of the cruise. Guest services needs to deal with the guests signing off the ship (which can be 2-3-4 thousand guests!) and the ones signing on the ship. The entertainment team organizes the debarkation process and guides the guests through it. Moving this many people in an organized and efficient manner can be quite a challenge. The housekeeping team has only a couple of hours to clean all the staterooms and to make sure that the ship and its pools, hallways, staircases and elevators are in impeccable condition. The gift shop loads the shops with new inventory and the deck team gets to take care of certain tasks they weren’t allowed to do in other ports. In the meantime, the ship’s water tanks are filled, the garbage is being offloaded, the ship’s being refueled, food, drinks, and mail for all departments are loaded. The officers are busy planning the route for the cruise, teaching guests and crew about safety and checking that the engine and all other technical aspects of the ship work properly.
Sign Ons & Offs
Embarkation day is also the day most crew signs on or off. Depending on the ship’s size and the time of the year, it can be up to fifty crew members signing off, and the same number of people, signing on. That’s 100 crew members! Our human resources department takes care of all the crew’s needs, including the signing on/off process. Embarkation day is busy for the HR department as well because in the morning they’re dealing with crew signing off and having to go through immigration. Not much later they’re dealing with all the new crew signing on the ship. It’s a lot of work.
My set-up on the Carnival Miracle, 2016.
Every crew member needs to hand in their passport, medicals and certificates. All crew signing on need to sign the seafarer’s agreement, which is what our contract with the company’s called. And of course, every crew member gets a bed. Assigning cabins to crew is another challenge the HR department has to deal with. Since space is very limited on ships, each department gets assigned a certain number of rooms. If a department wants to board an additional crewmember, a request needs to be made and HR has to check if there’s even enough cabins for the additional crew. Men get male roommates and women get female roommates, unless a couple has made a request through HR to get a cabin together. You can imagine how tough it can get accommodating all crew since there’s basically never the same number of women or men signing on as there is signing off.
What’s the Drummer doing?
Now what does the drummer of the Rockband do on this busy day? Not much actually. If I need to buy something or have to get a good WIFI connection, I’d get off the ship early in the morning, meaning at around 8-9am. That’s actually super early considering that you were performing until midnight or even until 1am (Plus, there’s usually farewell parties the night before embarkation).
After having spent the day outside I’d rush back to the ship at around 3pm because the back onboard time in the homeport is usually 3:30pm. At around 4pm I have to be present at the safety briefing. That is kind of a pain in the @$$ because you’re just standing there trying to push all guests into a tiny area next to the lifeboats in super-hot weather. Neither the guests nor crew like doing it. After that I usually go to the gym, shower, have dinner and try to take a nap before the show. Embarkation is also a popular day to hold entertainment department meetings, where all musicians, dancers, entertainment staff and youth staff have to be present.
Since there's not much going that night, there's a lot of space for stick tricks.
The Rockband used to play the Welcome Aboard Show in the main theater. The show was a lot of fun to play and it would take some of the performance time of the regular sets in the bar off of us. But a couple of years ago Carnival slowly started to get rid of the band in the Welcome Aboard Show and now it’s a brand new show where only the dancers and the entertainment staff are involved. Now on Embarkation night we play 3-4 sets in whichever lounge we’re playing on the ship.
The night is usually slow and quiet with not too many people in the audience. Since many guests have come from far away and traveled all day, they often choose to go to bed early that night. Actually, I’m usually exhausted on embarkation nights too and performing that night often feels like hard work. I think the added stress of doing the safety briefing really strains us musicians. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot of work but it’s still very intense work since you need to take the process somewhat seriously and need to be attentive for about 45-60 minutes.
Sailing away on the Carnival Miracle, Tampa 2018
After the show I usually go straight to bed, or have a beer in the crew bar to slow down and hang with friends. But since embarkation is exhausting for so many crew and the following day is a sea day, most crew decide to go to bed early on embarkation day. That’s also why the crew bar that night is almost empty except for the musicians.
This was the first post of five where I’ll be sharing with you what the different days look like onboard Carnival cruise ships. In the next post we’re taking a closer look at Sea Day 1.