Can I Bring My Bike on the Ship?

Starkey is leaving for his first cruise gig this week and has a question about bringing a bike:

I’m an avid mountain biker and would be sad to miss the opportunity to bike through some awesome Mediterranean country side. What are the thoughts out there [about bringing a bike]?

I’m a huge fan of biking. I think it’s a great mode of transportation – cheap, environmentally sound, a good source of exercise, and invaluable source of independence on gigs like tours and cruise ships.

I started thinking about finding a way to pack a bike when I was on a Broadway tour. I did a bus and truck tour which included 25,352 miles on a bus around American and Canada. Blech. I ate at restaurants 3 meals a day, sat on the bus 8-14 hours a day and spent every night in a new hotel room. I felt like one of those poor farm animals that are force fed food and kept in their cages without exercise to fatten them up for the slaughter. I gained 15 lbs and, generally, recreated the movie “Super Size Me” for 9 months. I would have given anything for a bike.

The problem is that bikes are poorly suited for airline travel. They don’t fit very well on trains, buses or, for that matter, cruise ships. If you can get your bike to a cruise ship, some ships have extra storage rooms for crew members where they can store their bikes, which is great because you’ll have a hard time fitting a full-size bike in your cabin with a roommate and all the other stuff.

In other words – if you can get the bike to your ship, you could have no trouble if your ship accommodates crew bikes. (Although, finding out if your particular ship will accommodate bikes is hard to do before you get aboard.)

Also, some ships actually have bikes already available for crew members.

Personally, I’m a big advocate of folding bikes. I know, I know, lots of people think they look like clown bikes. 20″ tires are a little strange I guess. But I own a Dahon Vitesse D7 and I think it’s great (although the color bugs me a little). The bike is so practical for my lifestyle. It fits in a standard 30″ suitcase, it folds up and fits on cruise ship elevators, trains, buses, free cruise ship shuttles, crew rooms – even in a shopping cart if you don’t want to lock it up outside.

Say you’re in the Mediterranean and you’re ship stops at Civitivechia (the port city of Rome). You’ll need to get off the ship, walk 1/2 mile to the train station, take the train to Rome, then find your way around Rome by city bus or by foot. How much better would it be to bike that 1/2 mile, fold up your bike to put it on the train, then bike around Rome like a local. You’ll see a hell of a lot more of Rome on a bike than on foot, for sure.

Or…say you are on a cruise in Hawaii, as I was recently, and you have a friend in Oahu, as I did. You can bike over to Waikiki for the morning, then fold your bike up and fit it in the truck of your friend’s car when they come pick you up to hang out.

OR! You can ride your bike to a cafe a few miles away from the ship. If it starts raining, fold up your bike and call a cab. Try doing that with a standard bike!

I dig my folding bike for all kinds of reasons, but I can understand why others wouldn’t. Especially, maybe, in Starkey’s situation, where he’d like to go mountain biking overseas (although Dahon does make a full-size, folding mountain bike). Starkey, in your case, you might find it worthwhile to box up your bike and pay the extra fees to get it overseas. It might be more convenient to rent a bike when you’re there, but that could be hard if you don’t speak the language. Another way would be to buy a bike when you get there and try to sell it before you get it home, but expect to sell it for less than you bought it.

Leaving on a Jet-Lag

I left my ship on Saturday and I’m still a bit jet-lagged.  I’ve been spending time with L. and her folks, and tomorrow we leave to visit my family in Chicagoland.

I’m grateful to be off the ship.  I miss the convenience of the buffet, I’m a little bummed that I have to pay for things like food and gas now, but overall I’m not feeling too nostalgic about the gig or about Hawaii.  We were doing the same 7-day cruise over and over, and that got a little boring (even in paradise).

I didn’t practice much on this gig, and I also didn’t perform much.  When I was a showband musician I came off the contract with razor sharp chops from playing non-stop, but the opposite seems to have happened this time.  I’m going to need some quality practice time in the next few months.

I’m stoked to find high-speed internet on land – something that’s near impossible to come by when working on a ship.  I’m catching up on podcasts and sprucing things up around this site.

Get Me Off This Stupid Boat

I’ve been out on a ship as a guest performer now for 3 months.  It’s been a paycheck and prime accommodations, but I’m ready to get the hell off this tug boat.  There’s something about working on a cruise ship that makes you crazy after awhile.  It might be the fact that you can never leave the place you work, or dealing with the same people all the time, or being away from your friends and family.  This gig is definitely easier if you are single, although even when I did this gig as a single guy, I remember feeling pretty sick of it after awhile.

I have just a few more days on this ship.  My boss has offered to send me out here again in the fall, but so far I’m reluctant.  This just feels to far away from my girl and the scene in NY/Chicago. I’m going to be looking for other stuff and we’ll see what happens.  It’s likely I’ll be out here for a month here or there in the future.

I’ve been getting great questions from you readers out there.  So keep sending them my way.  Answering your questions seems to be the best way to come up with good posts that people want to read, so it helps me a lot.

Rough Crowd

We had a tough audience tonight.  Comatose is probably a better word, but I’m not sure I’m qualified to diagnose something like that.

Audiences on cruise ships are different than on land.  On land, whoever you’re playing for has most likely paid for a ticket, or made some kind of initiative to attend the event at the very least.  On ships, people basically just roll out of the buffet and go take a nap in the theater.

Nevertheless, you sometimes get a good audience.  We had a great audience the last time my boss was aboard (lucky for us).  They laughed and clapped and stood at the end.

Tonight’s audience did only the minimum necessary.  They would finally, reluctantly clap long after the echoes of a song had finished echoing.  At the end of one particular song we received one, solitary clap and that was it.


You do this enough and you start to forget about the audience.  I do, at least.  Maybe it’s a psychological mechanism to not get nervous.  When I start playing, I just ignore that there are people out in the darkness past the edge of the stage.

Except when you get one clap.  That’s just cold.

In situations like that, where the audience in heinous, it makes the performers not want to even bother doing the show.  Then you have a situation where the performers don’t look like they care at all, and the audience has already proven their apathy.

This Cruise Ship Is Boring

My contract here on my current ship ends in just a little over a month.   The job has gone well, and it looks like I’ll be returning in the fall to continue the job.

I originally took this gig only to save some money to return to NYC and continue hustling work there, but it’s really difficult to turn down a steady paycheck.  Especially considering what this gig is like.  As always, there’s been some unforeseen problems on this gig, but for the most part it’s been pretty posh.  I work two days a week, and only for a few hours on even those days.  The rest of the time I enjoy the sunshine, destinations and free food.

On the other hand, I’m looking forward to getting a break in a month.  You might find this a little curious coming from the guy that runs a cruise ship musician blog, but I don’t like working on cruise ships very much.  In a way, though, that might make me the best person to give an honest overview of the gig.

I don’t like the cruise ship life, but I really can’t complain too much about this gig.  I’m nearly completely isolated from the economic woes that I hear about on the news recently – gas prices, food prices, etc…  I’m completely isolated from any natural disasters like the wildfires, floods, earthquakes or tornadoes I’ve also heard about recently.  The compensation is comparable to broadway touring, but if I decide I want a cheeseburger, I just press a button on my phone and they bring it to my room for free.

My girlfriend, L., came on a cruise with my last week.  It was a real treat, and not something that most crew members get to partake in.  Frankly, now that I’m in this new guest entertainer gig, I’m so far removed from the average experience of a regular crew member, that I might not be at all qualified to discuss crew matters anymore.  I’m not even allowed in crew areas!  What do I know about crew?!

When my girlfriend was here we were real passengers.  We ate in the restaurants, bought drinks, rented cars for the day – we had the real experience.  I realize that when she’s not here I live like a hermit on the ship.  I go to the buffet, I go to my room and I get off the ship.  Twice a week I go to the theater for our shows.  I never go out on deck or go to the bars on the ship.  There’s something about living where you work that I find really uncomfortable.  Maybe it’s more that I feel uncomfortable flaunting the fact that I work 6 hours a week by lazing at the pool or making the waiters wait on me.

I don’t like working on ships, but this beats most other jobs I’ve had recently.  Regional theaters don’t pay as well, and the product has a great variation in quality…touring is a rough life…NYC is expensive…unemployment is boring.  If I had to choose between all of those, I’d definitely stay here.  And since I am, essentially, choosing between all of those, I think I’ll come back here in the fall.

STCW Training

I went to STCW training this week at a U.S. Coast Guard certified facility.  When I worked on cruise ship in Europe I wasn’t required to do much training at all, but with my current gig, I’m required to take 5 solid days of ship-related safety training including shipboard procedure, personal survival, elementary first aid and basic fire fighting.

I did a lot of belly-aching about having to do this training.  Logically, this is a pretty stupid thing they sent me to.  See, in my current gig I have full passenger status – so much so that I’m not even allowed in crew areas without an escort.  I’m not part of any safety planning on the ship.  If there’s an emergency and they decide to deploy the lifeboats, I get my lifejacket and I get on a lifeboat!

Despite my complaining about needing training that I will never use, the class ended up being really informative.  We learned CPR and basic life-saving skills like helping people that are choking, bandaging wounds, how to handle a life raft, how to swim with a lifejacket on.  We also fought fires; big ones – in full fire fighter gear!

We watched videos of cruise ships sinking, up-ending, tipping, turning and burning.  We heard about whole crews that panicked in emergencies, got in all the lifeboats and took off without any of the passengers.  We heard about a lot of terrifying situations, enough to get us to pay attention.

In case anyone tells you differently, this is the schedule for STWC training:

Monday thru Friday
8:00 am to 4:30 pm

The U.S. Coast Guard mandates that the training has to be 44 hours.  We were told before we went that it would be a breeze – maybe noon to 3, then head to the beach.  That, at least, was not my experience.  We were there all day.

There’s 5 days and 5 tests.  The last test, the fire fighting written test, is the difficult one, but it wasn’t as difficult as the instructors made it sound.

I Eat Fire

I completed my basic fire fighting training today by donning my fire fighting uniform and putting out three simulated fires – a gas line fire, a room fire and an electrical fire.

I learned that fire fighters are not paid enough.  I don’t know what they are actually paid, but whatever it is, it should be more.  I picture millionaires sitting on their duff in cushy office buildings helping only themselves, and I should think that fire fighters should get paid more than that to risk their lives every day for other people.

This fire fighting was part of my STCW training for my cruise ship job.  This training is not required by all cruise ships, but it was by mine.  Even just to play piano.  It’s clear from the training that there are some very serious potential disasters that could happen on a cruise ship and despite all my previous belly-aching about having to take this training I’ll consider safety a lot more often from now on.

A Work Day in Maui

We ran our show in the morning, at 10 am.  The tech department doesn’t seem to take these rehearsals very seriously, and as expected, there were a few missed cues by the light and sound board operators.  I don’t stop for those anymore, though, it’s just a waste of time to try to get cruise ship techs to care about a rehearsal.

Afterwards I gathered my folding bike and pedaled from where the ship was in Kahului to Paia – about a 10 mile ride against the famous Maui trade winds.  It took 45 minutes to get there and 25 to get back.  I was glad the wind was to my back at the end of the day.

Paia is an old, forgotten agricultural town in Maui.  It’s been revived in recent decades by an increase in tourist traffic.  Some time ago tourist were made to believe that driving to a place called Hana is a good activity in Maui, and the Road to Hana starts in Paia.  Accordingly, there are lots of gas stations and tourist boutiques on the main stretch of Paia.

I’ve never taken the road to Hana.  I’m sure it’s beautiful, but I’m also sure that it’s 7 hours of round-trip car sickness on a narrow, winding, windy road packed from one end to the other with rental cars and tourist, retiree drivers.  Reportedly, when you find get to Hana, you find that there is absolutely nothing there.  Then your tussled middle ear convinces you to vomit continuously all over the street, and it’s back in the car for the ride back to Paia!

No thank you.

I’d found that my swim trucks are totally uncool, so I bought a pair of board shorts in Paia.  Then I went immediately to the beach to make sure they worked.  They work very well.  I laid on the beach a few hours, play in the surf, then got back on the bike and headed home.

We had only one show in the evening for too many reasons to explain, and then that was it.  That was the work day – 1 hour in the morning and 1 in the evening and beach in between.

I Don’t Bend That Way

Today is disembarkation day and, later, embarkation day. That means one group of passengers leaves, and another come on. On these days I’ve found that it best to get off of the ship for the whole day, as the crew works very hard in the hours between groups, and if you stay on the ship, you’re likely to get vacuumed up or polished until you shine.

I took my bike out, stopped briefly at the bike shop for a look around, then biked on to the beach. Hot dogs are better when mixed with the smell of surf and coffee is always good, so I stopped for both. Eventually I ran out of boardwalk and found myself in town, luckily around the time that my friend S. called. She’d come down from the north to spend the day together.

We drove southeast, hugging the coast and stopping at the first waves we saw. As we walked down the beach with our boogie board, the lifeguard stopped us. He asked if we were planning on using the boogie board today. I guess it’s pretty clear to an experienced lifeguard that I’m a total novice. Was I holding the board wrong? Was I dressed like a rookie? He said it was because I wasn’t also carrying fins.

He strongly recommended against boogie boarding the beach as a rookie. He said the beach had the most spine and neck injuries of any beach in America – 12-17 a year. That’s more than once a month!

That was enough for me, we didn’t take a step further and instead drove farther up the coast to a break he recommended.

I still managed to fall on my face and bend myself into a pretzel at this second beach, so it’s probably best I didn’t try the first. See, this second beach was the type with a very short break – the kind that forms a wave very large and very close to shore, then SLAMS this wave onto the steeply pitched sand/rocks/small children that line the edge of the water. I’ve experienced breaks like these before, and I should have known better.

I only caught one wave. It wasn’t until I crested the top of this wave (AKA “too late”) that I recognized what kind of break this was, but by that time I was about 15 feet above where I was about to be quickly SLAMMED into. I also found that the area I was above looked more like sharp, pokey, rocks than soft smooth sand. I ditched the board, also too late, and took a dive south over north, if you know what I mean.

It turns out I’m too old now to be bending my south over my north in that manner, as evidenced by the way my back complained afterwards. No real harm done, of course, but that was enough for me. I went back and sat quietly on the beach, having learned my lesson good and well.

Later S. dropped me off near the ship and I returned to my cabin. When new passengers first come on the ship, the jet lag puts them to sleep very early in the evening. By 11 pm I would venture to say that there isn’t a single person awake on the whole ship, except for the crew that is still on shift (no doubt wondering why they are working if everyone else is sleeping).

The ship is a ghost town, and it’s a great time to take advantage of the amenities. I went to the gym first. Then later, as the ship sailed on through the black water and the wind brought cool rain, I slipped into the hot tub at the very top and back of the ship and relaxed.

Hilo, Hawaii: Biking the Big Island

Some coworkers rented bikes yesterday and we all went biking on the Big Island of Hawaii. The roads are smooth around the city of Hilo and have wide strips of bike path along most of the roads. If you stay near the coast you’re almost sure to stay on flat ground, but if you head inland at all, you’ll be in for a climb.

We passed a lot of rocky, lava stone beaches before our path ended at a dirt road into a park where the evergreen trees stood tall against the surf. Half the group decided to drop the bikes and hike on into the woods, and half of up decided to double back to a black sand beach that we had seen on the way.

I regretted not packing my snorkeling gear, as the beach turned out to be packed with locals snorkeling with their kids. Even without the snorkel we saw sea turtles poke their heads out of the waves, and butterfly fish and parrot fish in the shallows.

About an hour after we arrived a local came out of the surf with an octopus hanging from the stick he used to spear it. A crowd gathered around the man and we all touched it and some let its tentacles suck on to their arms. I’m too much of a bleeding heart to watch an animal poked and prodded until it dies, so I went back to my book on the beach.

We biked maybe 10 miles through the Big Island, and my new folding bike held up really well. The technology of folding bikes have come a long way, it seems, and the whole contraption rides stiffly and securely. There were a lot of strange looks and questions from strangers, and a few people took it for test rides on the pier, but it was all positive. In other words, no one has beaten me up on the playground and taken my lunch money for riding a stupid looking bike. Yet.

Today was a show day with rehearsal in the morning and shows at night. It was a tender port, which means the ship anchors out at sea and you are brought to shore by the life boats (or “tenders”). I didn’t want to bring my bike on a tender (I’m certain I’ll drop it right into the sea), and tenders are generally a pain, so I stayed on the ship all day.

Tomorrow we’re overnighting in Kauai, which means the ship doesn’t leave until the following day and we have all day to explore. I think I’ll take my bike out, with my snorkel gear this time, and find a beach called “Poipu Beach”, which I hear has great snorkeling.

Guest Performer Work Schedule

My schedule this week is a little askew because we’ve just come back from a break and need extra rehearsals, but after things settle down, this will be the schedule:

10:00 AM – 1 to 1.5 hour rehearsal
7:30 PM – 1 hour performance
9:30 PM – 1 hour performance

10:00 AM – 1 to 1.5 hour rehearsal
7:30 PM – 1 hour performance
9:30 PM – 1 hour performance

7:30 PM OPTIONAL – Perform 1 song in farewell show (15 minute commitment)

TOTAL: 7.25 hours of work

I’m the organizer for the rest of the group I perform with, so there is some phone time, email and other organizing that I do during the week that adds up to perhaps 1 to 2 additional hours a week.

The rest of the time is free. There is a gym, 3 pools, 4 hot tubs, a few television stations and, of course, our ports of call to spend my time in. I’m considering looking into correspondence courses from Berklee as well.

Cruise Jobs – International vs. American Ships

When I was first employed on cruise ships, I worked on an international ship in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. There were a lot of advantages to this job.

  • Our cruise itinerary was incredible. We sailed through Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, all of the Mediterranean, North Africa – then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. I saw nearly 30 countries and dozens of cities. See pictures in the photo album.
  • The crew members I worked with were from very diverse backgrounds. I had friends from everywhere – London, Edinburgh, Munich, Holland, the Philippines, Indonesia, Poland – the list goes on and on. I had American and Canadian friends too, but we (North Americans) were the minority within the crew.
  • Rules were somewhat relaxed on the ship, now that I look back at it. We didn’t work very much, we complained when we did. People drank every night.

Now I’m working on an American ship, and its a different kind of experience.

  • The crew on an American cruise ship is paid hourly, with benefits, and many crew members are represented by workers unions. I was amazed when I found this out. Crew members are guaranteed 40 hours a week and paid overtime after that. On my international ship there were Indonesians working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for $600/month! Its my experience that crews on international cruise ships often feel over-worked and under-paid, but I don’t get that impression from this American ship.
  • Perhaps because of the better pay, morale seems higher on the American ship. As I said, crew members on my international ship sometimes spoke bitterly about the company we worked for, but I don’t find that as much on the American ship.
  • There is no casino on American ships.
  • All crew members on American cruise ships must apply for their merchant marine license through the U.S. Coast Guard. According to Wikipedia, “in time of war, the merchant marine is an auxiliary to the Navy, and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies for the military.”
  • The crew is not allowed to be drunk on an American ship. The U.S. Coast Guard requires that all crew members be under the legal limit at all times in case of an emergency. The captain of my ship requires that the bartender in crew areas limit each crew member to two drinks per hour, and the time stamps on receipts are monitored to make sure.

Generally, I think that there are good things about both kinds of cruise ship gigs. I think I prefer the itinerary of an international cruise ship job, but the comfort of a more satisfied crew.