Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 3

This article is part 3 of a 3-part series by Nathan Whitney, who spent 6 years working on cruise ships all over the world. Please also visit parts 1 & 2 of this series, which discuss the choice of guitar and amplifier/effects for the gig:

Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 1
Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 2

After my last article, I had quite a few questions regarding mulit-effect units vs. individual pedals. There are many advantages and disadvantages to both of these systems. Let me list a few:



  • One unit contains all effects, no extra cables/power needed
  • Individual patches can be customized and saved
  • If required, it is possible to go direct to the board
  • Quick set up/tear down time


  • If unit breaks, no access to any effects
  • Tone’s must be programmed for each room/situation and deep editing of patches on the fly may not be quick
  • Quality of individual effects sometimes not equal to that of individual pedal

Individual Pedals


  • One pedal = one job = no confusion of that pedals function
  • Quality of effects usual fairly high (depending on brand/pedal design)
  • Quick set up/tear down time (if mounted on pedal board)
  • Easy access to changes, one knob affects one aspect of tone


  • Can be time consuming when resolving issues (having to trouble-shoot all pedals/patch cords)
  • If required to go direct, tone may not be very good.
  • Requires individual power supplies to each pedal (can be avoided with the use of a dedicated multi power supply)

Although not a full list of advantages and disadvantages, you can see that each option has their own strengths and weaknesses. No matter which route you choose to take, always, always have a back up plan. It could be as simple as an extra overdrive pedal available to use with an amp in case your multi-effects unit goes down. Or in the case of individual pedals, having extra patch cords and power supplies available.

One pedal that either group could use as a back up is an amp-modeling pedal, such as the SansAmp GT2 or one of SansAmp Character Series pedals, like the Liverpool or Blonde. These pedals emulate an amp type response and could be used to go direct to the PA system, in case a multi-effect unit goes down or an amplifier is not available.

Use what you are comfortable with and within your budget. Always have a backup for your backup plan. As long as you have the basics covered one way or another, most ship gigs are fairly flexible tone wise and you can always build your arsenal of effects and gear while on board the ship if you really need to.

Additional Accessories

A list of some essentials that any professional guitarist should have with them:

Strings – Bring extra. Extra’s for your extra’s. You’re going to use them up at some point so it’s better to have extra left at the end of the contract then to have to search for them when you have time off the ship. Bring a string winder/cutter combination tool as well. Wiping down your strings with a cloth or using a string cleaner, such as GHS Fast Fret, will also help extend the life and sound of your strings.

Picks – While as guitarists we tend to gravitate to one type of pick that fits our playing style, often the easiest (and cheapest) tonal change we can make is by using a different pick. I myself am a religious user of the Dunlop Jazz III picks, but for jazz I would use an even thicker, rounded pick like the Dunlop 208. For funk, R’n’B and faux-acoustic sounds, I use Fender Medium style picks. You can purchase picks by the bag and have the bags last for years.

Capos – While I’ve only used a capo once on a ship gig, you should have one available to you. You never know when someone is going to want to transpose “Honky-Tonk Woman” up a minor third and want the open string licks played exactly the same as the original.

Slides – Slides come in all different shapes and materials. I recommend a metal slide, not for tone so much as for functionality. I broke two glass slides while on one ship (I brought one for backup) then I wised up and purchased two brass slides. Brass gives you a slightly different sound, not that noticeable to anyone in the audience, and if you drop them, they won’t break.

Cables – Instrument cables and the small individual cables that you will use for effect pedals have a habit of breaking at the worst possible moment. Always have at least one instrument cable and a few small pedal patch cables available.

Multi-Head screwdriver and Jeweler’s screwdrivers – You never know when you’re going to need to take your guitar apart. Or adjust your glasses.

Power Strip /Extension Cord – Bring your own to plug your gear into. Make sure it’s a dark color and waterproof. Label it!

Flashlight – Stages can be dark. A small LED type is all you need.

Headphones – As most ships are heading towards in-ear monitoring and many shows you will play use click track, make sure you bring your own headphones. Bring ones that fit well and are not obvious looking (don’t wear your iPod headphones on stage). Make sure to bring an extension for your headphone cable and a few of the various headphone adaptor combinations, as the ship will not usually have extras.

Hearing Protection – Your ears are your greatest assets so protect them! Whether custom molds or the standard foam type, make sure you have them available. You never know when you are going to be the guy positioned directly next to the drummers crash cymbal. If you are using foam earplugs, try to find a bag of the flesh/skin tone color variety (not the florescent green type) so that they blend a little more. As with headphones, you don’t want to be a distraction for the audience. And you would be surprised at what audiences will notice.

Practice amplifier/mp3 player – One of the main complaints of musicians on board ships is the lack of space to practice. As electric guitarists we have an advantage of having an instrument that does not generate a lot of sound. This is great for practicing, as we can go pretty much anywhere available, but at the same time makes it difficult if we are in a noisy environment.

I have been using the Tascam MP-GT1 for the last few years. Not only does it allow me to hear myself, but it also has a built in MP3 player and can slow down (in pitch) and loop MP3’s. It also has a metronome and effects built in. The Korg PX5D Pandora is another similar device. Batteries can be expensive and unreliable, so make sure you have the appropriate power adapter for your unit. If you are still using CD’s, there are units that do the same job, but use audio CD’s rather than MP3 files.

9 volt batteries – Bring a few along.

Footstool – Depending on your practice position and the height at which you wear your guitar strap, I would bring along a footstool for my practice sessions.

Pencils, Erasers, Manuscript, Notepaper – Always bring a pencil to rehearsals. You will need to make notes about the show and there will always be corrections to be made on the score. Make sure your notes are in pencil and ask the act if they would like your notes erased after the show is finished. Manuscript and notepaper is for your own personal use. You never know when a hit song idea will strike or when you need to write down some settings or reminders for yourself.

This brings us to the end of this series. I hope it has been informative and helped in making the transition from ship to shore easier. Above all, remember to bring your positive attitude and your willingness to learn. Cruise ship gigs are a great experience that will push you as a musician and in other non-musical ways. Keep that smile on your face and enjoy your time at sea!

Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 2

This article is part 2 of a series by Nathan Whitney, who spent 6 years working on cruise ships all over the world.  Please also visit part 1 of this series, which discusses the choice of guitar to bring on a cruise gig:

Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 1
Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 3

Welcome back to part two of this series. I hope the information about guitars was helpful. Thanks for all your of your kind comments and thoughtful emails.

In this article I’m going to begin to layout the basics of which amplifiers you’re likely to come across when you join a ship, as well as some of the effects that I found to be useful.


Cruise ships do provide a backline (amps) for the rhythm section.  I have seen everything from a full-blown Marshall stack to a Peavey practice amplifier. While we have to be open and willing to work with whatever is provided, there are a few standard amps that seem to be on ships.

Though as guitar players the consensus (however subjective that may be) seems to be that tube amplifiers are the best tonally, you will usually find a solid-state amplifier on board. In my experience, these amps are popular on cruise ships as they are usually low maintenance and lightweight, which the technical staff is thankful for. Solid-state amps also tend to cost less, so if one breaks or needs to be off-loaded the ship for repair, they are easier to replace.

An industry standard in the solid-state arena is the Roland Jazz Chorus 120 (JC 120). This amplifier has an excellent clean channel with an equalizer that is fairly responsive and will allow you to tailor the amp to the venue.  Though the JC 120 is a two-channel amplifier (clean and overdrive/distortion) I have found that it is better to depend on external effects for overdrive, as the built in overdrive is somewhat lacking.  I’ve also seen a few different Peavey 1×12 (One twelve inch speaker) style amplifiers on ships and found that Peavey’s are reliable amplifiers. The recent technology advances that Peavey has released (“TransTube”) have greatly increased the tonal quality of these solid-state amplifiers.

The Fender Twin Reverb is a tube amplifier that I have had the pleasure of using on some ships.  This amplifier has a great clean channel and excellent reverb.  Something to remember with tube amps is that you will often find that the tone improves as the tubes warm up. So for optimal tone, I would make sure that before a show or rehearsal, you give the amp a bit of time to do just that. And  be aware not to touch those glowing embers of tone good-ness, lest you want to find yourself in the infirmary with 1st degree tube burns.

Digital modeling amplifiers, by manufacturers like Line 6 and Vox, can be found on ships.  Some of these digital amplifiers even include a tube preamp section to add some sought after “warmth” to the equation. These amplifiers are especially interesting as they often have built in digital effects that can be switched on and off with a dedicated foot controller during performance. Foot controllers, for any amplifier on board, have a habit of being abused and misplaced, so do not depend on having one. This all being said, I have found that the best use of a ships amplifier is to find the settings for one good clean tone and then to build off of that tone with effect pedals.

Effect Pedals

For the non guitar players reading this article, effect pedals are those multi colored, tone shaping/modifying boxes that you’ll see a guitar player step on and off through out a performance.  Effect pedals (“stomp boxes”) come in all shapes and sizes, from individual pedals that do only one thing, to giant multi-effect boards that contain nearly ever effect known to man. There are many ways to use effects, but there are definitely a few basics that every cruise ship guitarist (or any guitarist) should have in their equipment arsenal.

Here is a list of some of the stomp boxes that I would bring on a contract:

Tuner – A tuner, while not an “effect”, is essential to your rig.  I would recommend a pedal style tuner such as the Boss TU-2 or Korg Pitchblack.  These pedals will mute your output for silent tuning.  You could also use a “hand held” tuner like the Boss TU-12 if it is connected to volume pedal that has a tuner output, or an a/b switch that will send your signal only to the tuner. You will find that unplugging your guitar from the amplifier to tune is not only time consuming but can also result in loud pops when reconnecting to the amp.  Be aware, some volume pedals do not interact well when a tuner is attached to their “Tuner” output (strange isn’t it?). You will have to test and see if there is a tonal difference when using this set up.

Wah – Though use of a wah pedal may be infrequent during your contract, I would always recommend having one available so that when you’re playing a show of disco classics, you’ll fit right in.  Wah’s can also be used as tonal shaping devices if set in one position, or swept slowly from top to bottom of it’s tonal spectrum.

Overdrive/Distortion/Clean Boost – For various styles of rhythm and lead guitar you will need an overdrive. Please note there is a tonal and gain difference between an overdrive and distortion. Overdrive pedals tend to be lower gain, with more pronounced mid range, while distortion pedals are higher gain and tend to have a more scooped mid range.

While possible to use just one overdrive, I would recommend bringing two.  Start with a common overdrive such as the Ibanez TS-9, TS-808Boss SD-1 or Boss BD-2 and then either add a second overdrive (same or different as the first, but with different settings) or a distortion like the classic Boss DS-1 or an Ibanez SD-9 for your higher gain tones. One way to use your second overdrive is with the gain turned down and volume turned up as a clean boost.  This would allow you to increase the gain of your main overdrive or boost the volume of your main overdrive, depending on the order in which you use them.

Indpendent clean boost pedals, such as the Keeley Katana or BBE Bosta Grande, are great options as your second “gain” pedal. Another overdrive option are pedals like the Fulltone Fulldrive or Z.Vex Box of Rock, which have an overdrive sound and a semi or completely independent clean boost.

With so many gain pedal options available today that it can be overwhelming to find one that is right for you and your playing style.  Take your time, do some research online, listen to sound samples and take them for test drives, if possible, at your local music store before you get on the ship.

Modulation – Modulation effects are the ones that give you a swooshing or shimmering sound, depending upon which adjective you like to use. Chorus, Phase, Flange, and Univibe type units are in this category. Chorus is a standard sound that can be found on a lot of pop music, but more recently I have been using a Uni-Vibe type pedal to give me my “shimmer and swoosh” at the same time. I would start off with a chorus initially and then build my modulation arsenal from there.

Ambient – Ambient effects include delay and reverb.  I would start off with a delay to add atmosphere as most amps have a reverb effect built in.  I would also recommend a delay that has a “tap” function that allows your delays to line up with the tempo of the song that you are playing.

As with guitars, bring the effects that you feel most comfortable with and are within your budget.  While possible to survive a contract with just an overdrive pedal, but I always found that having the right effect not only enhances the song, but makes the gig more fun. And music is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?


All of your effect pedals require power, whether from a battery or “wal-wart” power supply. While batteries are great and reduce cable clutter, they can wear out at the wrong time and also can be expensive. I have used the Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 in the past when I had a lot of pedals, but for cost and convenience, I would suggest the Visual Sound One Spot or Godlyke Power-All. These inexpensive adapters allow you to “daisy chain” all your pedals together from one power source. It is so inexpensive that you should make sure you bring a second, incase your first is misplaced or damaged.

Pedal Boards

The above basic list of pedals should be attached or fitted to your pedal board.  Pedal board you say? That’s right. Whether it’s store bought or home made, I would always recommend a pedal board. Pedal boards allow for easy set up and tear down, reduces wear and tear on your pedals and also (if small enough) can be brought on a plane as a carry-on. Make sure you bring some extra small patch cords (always back up your back up plan) so that if one on your pedal board isn’t working (which will happen, likely more than once), it won’t take you long to get things up and running again.

I hope this article has shed some light in the area of effects and amplifiers.  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to respond.

In the next article of this series I’ll be continuing to expand on some other types of effects, multi-effect pedals, gear and tools I found essential for the ship. Until next time…

Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 1

This article is part 1 of a series by Nathan Whitney, who spent 6 years working on cruise ships all over the world.  Please also visit part 1 of this series, which discusses the choice of guitar to bring on a cruise gig:

Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 2
Equipment for the Cruise Ship Guitarist, Part 3

Congratulations! Welcome to the satisfying/un-nerving/enjoyable and hopefully profitable world of cruise ship entertainment. If you’re reading this you’re probably wondering which guitar and equipment you’re expected to bring with you in order to meet all the tonal options that you may be required to fill.  These articles have been written with the showband guitarist in mind.

Part 1: Your Guitar

Looking at the job description supplied to you by an agent and knowing exactly what to bring is quite difficult for guitarist compared to other instruments. As a guitarist, you have to be sure you know what type of job you are showing up for. And then be prepared for every-other possible option.

The basic showband gig requires the guitar player to be able to perform and have the appropriate tones to back up guest entertainer acts as well as play occasional cocktail (aka: jazz/fakebook) sets. Some lines also require the guitarist to perform solo guitar sets (ala Joe Pass or with appropriate backing tracks if you have them) for private parties, cocktail hours and tea times.

The cruise line that I have been employed by for the majority of my contracts has, over the last few years, had the showband playing Top 40 dance sets at various venues through out the ship when not backing up guest entertainers.

In general, the job of showband guitarist requires you to cover the tones of:

  • 20’s, 30’s and 40’s swing era
  • 50’s rock and country
  • 60’s pop, rock and “Motown”
  • 70’s funk, soul and disco
  • 80’s pop, rock and power ballads
  • Occasional acoustic guitar, nylon string guitar, banjo and mandolin sounds

Sounds easy enough, right?

Which Guitar Should I Bring?

When choosing your equipment, please take into consideration what you are most comfortable with guitar-wise. 99% of your audience will not have a clue if you are playing a Squier or a Suhr, so know what you like and need, both playing wise and financially.  You’ll want to have an instrument that is set up well and allows you to easily execute the material that is placed in front of you.  Having the skills to set up and maintain an instrument is extremely valuable as well, as your local guitar tech is usually about 250 nautical miles away at any given time.

I have worked on ships for over 6 years and have come up with my opinions after many years of trying different things. The guitar and gear that you bring to the ship allows you to perform the job to the best of your abilities but also helps have fun with the job.

Your main guitar will be an electric and should be able to coax a:

  • Single coil sound most associated with a Stratocaster and Telecaster
  • Humbucker sound that could be used for rock as well as jazzier type sounds.

With so many guitar options and pick up configurations available it is easy to be a little overwhelmed when trying to decide which guitar to bring. While it is possible to do the gig with nothing but an archtop, you’ll come across a lot of situations where you’ll be wishing you had something more versatile. I have found that a “superstrat” type guitar gives the most options for your tonal palette.

For those not familiar with the term “superstrat”, usually this is in reference to Stratocaster style guitars with the the HSH pickup configuration (humbucker in neck position, single coil in middle position, humbucker in bridge position) originally played by 80’s shredders Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and a multitude of ‘Hair’ metal bands.  The HSH or SSH pickup configutarion has always given me the greatest tonal palette to work with. If the strat body style isn’t your cup of tea, there are many body options available with a similar pickup configuration.

Some examples of how I use these various pickup configurations:

  • Neck pickup with the tone control rolled down for a nice mellow “Freddy Green” jazz tone, tone control almost or all the way open for a standard “rock” guitar clean
  • Neck + Middle pickup gives you that Hendrix-y sound as well as a pretty standard clean pop type sound perfect for disco and funk.
  • Until recently, I was underutilizing my middle pickup. On its own it fits into a neat sonic frequency that sits just nicely when playing a rock/pop Top 40 tune. It also can help emulate an acoustic guitar with some help from your tone controls and your amps EQ.
  • Bridge + Middle pickup for a country twang. Palm muting on this setting is great for rock rhythm and some nice Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry type tones can be pulled out of this setting.
  • Neck pickup for a slightly more aggressive rhythm guitar tone and with some overdrive/distortion for a head cutting lead tones.

When choosing which instrument to bring, make sure you consider the weight/balance of the guitar. Some cruise lines are moving towards having the showband stand for shows and sets.  While this can be a more engaging for the audience, if you are standing anywhere from 3-5 hours with an extremely heavy or imbalanced instrument hanging around your neck, your next trip in port may be to the chiropractor or massage therapist rather than the beach. Make sure you have a guitar that plays comfortably seated or standing and, if possible, bring a strap that is well padded.

Once again, no one in the audience really knows what you’re playing, so pick something that suits the gig, you and your budget.

Bringing a couple of guitars for the contract can be a wise decision. Your second guitar is your back up (always back up and have a back up plan for your back up plan) and can give you more tonal freedom. A strat/tele and a Les Paul will give you the ability to try different things. On some contracts, it would be nice to have a strat and an archtop with humbuckers. Hollow body electrics also offer you a great amount of tonal variation. Your main guitar, and second guitar if you choose to bring one, should reflect you as a guitarist as well as having the sounds to cover a lot of ground.

If you are on a ship that is not porting in North America it can be difficult (ie: possible but expensive) to find strings, picks and patch cords. This difficulty can be exacerbated if you are trying to find an instrument to purchase in case yours needs repairs or is completely out of commission.  On such itineraries, I would highly recommend bringing a second guitar with you. The last thing you need to worry about is trying to get your instrument fixed or purchasing a new one when in an unfamiliar European or Asian port.

You want me to play where?

In addition to having more tonal freedom, in many ship situations over the last few years I have been required to go from a rehearsal in an air-conditioned theater directly to an outdoor deck set in the hot Caribbean sun then immediately back inside to play at another venue.

I’ve also played on the bow of a ship as it was docking in Shanghai, China.
In February.
While it was “gently” raining from an overcast sky.
With all that being said, extreme temperature variations as well as humidity changes can affect the guitar in negative ways.

Besides affecting the action and intonation of your guitar, strings will get dirtier and corrode much quicker. Having a spare guitar to use specifically outside and as back up for your main guitar may save you money and time in the long run if you don’t have to change your strings more than necessary or if your main guitar were damaged due to weather.

As part of your essential guitar items, bring a second strap. Not just in case your original breaks or is lost, but also if you need to replace your first once it has become sweat soaked from playing in the sun for two hours a day and smells quite bad.


An acoustic guitar is a nice addition to your shipboard arsenal, but every extra guitar that you bring is another piece of luggage that you have to pay for when you fly. Some companies are giving musicians baggage stipends, but before you haul your effects rack and 3 guitars to the ship, you’ll want to confirm if you’ll be reimbursed for your expenses.

If you’re on a ship that docks regularly in a major North American port and want to have an acoustic, I would recommend looking into purchasing a well made, good sounding, CHEAP acoustic guitar from a local shop. Bring a sound-hole pickup and you’ll be flying. You’ll find opportunities to sell your acoustic when you leave the ship. You could also donate the guitar to the crew welfare committee or even “pay it forward” by leaving it for the next guitar player.  Buying a second electric as a back up once you reach the ship can also be a more cost effective solution.

As with any job as a musician, you’ll have to be prepared for the unexpected and especially on a ship, you’ll have to make it work. Keep a smile on your face and remind yourself that this is (hopefully) better than flipping burgers. I hope this article has given you an idea of what to expect on the ship and what guitar you may consider brining for the job. Part 2 will be deal with guitar effects and amplifiers.

See you next time!

Should I Bring a Bass Amp On My Cruise Gig?

We have a question this week from Ryan, who asks:

What kind of amps have you seen bass players use?  I was thinking of using my Acoustic Image Clarus with a Markbass Traveler 102P.  Small and light is good, right?  Would a 2×10 bass cab be enough to play with?

I asked one of our writers that is currently working as a bass player on a ship if he could help us with an answer.  He writes to us from Europe. – Dave

Hi Ryan,

First of all, let me state to David and everybody of my apologies for not being around lately.  Internet on the ship is not great, and lately, there’s been server problems.  When I am on, I just usually check my email and get off.  I will be writing a new blog soon, especially due to all the time I’m going to have on the transatlantic crossing I’m on right now (FIVE sea days in a row!).  Look forward to that.

Now on to Ryan’s question.  No, you shouldn’t need to take an amp, and I would suggest you not take such great pieces of equipment as an AI and a Markbass if you did.  For me, I use my Fender more than my Epiphone bass because it’s better, but maybe in the future, I might just bring the Epi or another cheap bass.  For the basses, the weather changes so much due to the different ports, then the season changes in Europe, and now the crossing to the Caribbean to bring the weather back around to warm so fast.  With my Japanese made Fender, that means I have to keep taking off the neck to do the adjustments, which could hurt its life expectancy.

Continue reading Should I Bring a Bass Amp On My Cruise Gig?

Recommended Packing List for Cruise Ship Musicians

You probably have a good idea about what you’ll want to bring. Remember that living on a cruise ship is different than taking a vacation on a cruise ship, so take into account the fact that you’ll be there so long. You’ll need your passport and bring copies of all the paperwork you were sent by the cruise line or talent agency. Bring phone numbers of all of your contacts – including country code numbers if your are going overseas so that you know how to get a hold of the talent agency if you are stuck in Berlin/Hong Kong/[insert-faraway-place-here] on your way to the ship. Bring – and I know this sounds silly – bring writing utensils. It took me 3 days to find a pen the first time I went on a ship (weird, right?).

The following is a list of specific items you should bring with.

See also the Detailed Packing Lists for 2 examples of item-by-item packing lists – one from a keyboardist and one from a trombonist.


If you’re in the show band, chances are good you’ll have to play with a click track as some point, if not all the time. It sucks. Totally. But somewhere along the line the mucky-mucks at the top decided that they would rather pre-record music and hire only enough musicians to give the illusion of live music, and to make those musicians play along to a click, i.e. robots. Don’t get me started.

As much as it sucks, you’ll have to do it. Its not that hard, really, you just have to get used to it. And it’ll help to have good headphones – and not just any good headphones – good headphones with an OPEN-EAR design. This means that the headphone cups are not a closed or noise-cancelling design. See, if you have a closed-cup or noise-cancelling design, you’ll have to play with one cup on to hear the click, and one cup off to hear the band. You can get used to this, but an open-ear design allows outside sound to penetration the headphone cups, so that you can hear the band and hear the click with both headphones on. It is a big convenience.

These headphones are open-cup, as well as collapsible (good for travel!), and are also sennheiser, who makes respectable products. I would keep these as your stage pair, and have something else (buds, etc.) to use for personal use. You don’t want to crush your good pair on a camel ride in Morocco and be out-of-luck at the show that night.

Sidenote: you are not required to bring your own headphones on the gig, you would be provided some, but who knows what kind and what quality. I recommend bringing your own.


Don’t bring a full-size hiking pack as your main luggage. I did that the first time and it ended up being really dumb. Your luggage will go into storage either in a storage room or, more likely, under your bunk in your cabin. Rectangular suitcases fit well in the rectangular spaces under beds, but hiking packs don’t as much. You can also fit more into a suitcase than a pack. Hiking packs are great for backpacking Europe or the rockies – times when you have to carry things long distances – but when you work on a ship there are only two times you’ll even see your luggage: your flight there and your flight back. (Also, backpacks are terrible on planes.) Believe me, get a suitcase.

I actually own 2 of nearly this same suitcase. I think having 2 of them is perfect. Perhaps you want to bring a big one and a little one, but I recommend just getting to medium sized ones like this 25″. After you live on the road for awhile, you grow tired of wearing the same 3 shirts and you want to expand a bit.

That said, if you can fit everything into one suitcase, all the better. There’s usually only enough room to fit two suitcases in the storage under the bottom bunk of a crew room (one for you, one for your roommate).

A nice, wheeled duffel bad might be cool, too.

Luggage Cart

Remember I said I brough 2 of the above 25″ suitcases? It’s manageable and convenient, but the wheels on most 25″ suitcases aren’t engineered to holding up two 25″ suitcases (usually I like to piggy-back my suitcases on top of each other on travel days, so as to roll them both along at once with one hand).

The wheels, as I found out, bow under the pressure of two suitcases. Yet, instead of changing the suitcase set-up, I suggest you bring a luggage cart. This one is great because it folds up nice and flat for storage in your room.

Once you get on the ship, you can also use this for rolling packages back home (I promise you’ll have to ship something at least once during your contract), and many other uses.

Day Pack

You’ll need a very good daypack. Spend some money on this – you’ll use it WAY more than your actual luggage. Every time you leave the ship you’ll want to bring with you beach stuff, or an extra coat, or a guide book, or something.

In general, you’ll want something that isnt too big – I’d say 30-40 liter capacity (2300 cubic inches). Waterproof would be a nice bonus, and a subtle internal frame wouldn’t hurt. If this all sounds a bit much – believe me – it won’t after you carry this thing all over 5 continents.

I recommend the Kelty Redwing Backpack. I own an older version of this Kelty backpack and it’s worked great for me and held up very well over time. In fact, my father liked my pack so much that he bought one himself. The main compartment is big enough for a beach towel, snorkel and mark, or maybe some extra layers if you plan on being off the ship after dark. The newer Redwings have a great organization system of zipped up pockets smaller compartments. The long side pockets are perfect for a bottle of sunscreen.

Hydration packs look really dorky, but you might find, as I did, that they are really nice to have when hiking in the 90 degree heat of Greece.

Personally, I use my Timbuk2 Messenger Bag, which is waterproof and cavernous and slick and it’s perfect. This should bag distribute the weight of your stuff in a way I find much more comfortable than regular backpacks. The weight rests much more on your frame than it does on the soft tissues of your upper back, and I find that I can carry my Timbuk2 much longer without fatigue. There is a detachable stabalizing strap that holds the bag to your body if you are bending over (a common problem with shoulder bags is that they fall in your face when you bend over). The Timbuk2 is a great bag.

Clock with Alarm

This little electronic is so valuable on a ship, not just for convenience, but for safety. This is a flashlight, thermometer and alarm clock combination. I have bought this e-x-a-c-t clock THREE times. I would not travel without it. As I write this I can actually look across the room to see it. I found this clock at TJ Maxx each time I bought it, and I’m really glad to see it available on Amazon. Buy it! For real!

You’ll need a clock next to your bed, of course. None will be provided, and you’ll need to keep to a strict schedule on a ship. For that matter, you should really bring a watch. A clock radio doesn’t make any sense, though, as your cabin will likely be below decks with no reception. Also, a small clock like this one will fit in your small, cramped cabin.

Furthermore, you should always have a flashlight near your bunk for emergencies. More than likely, if there is an emergency on a ship, it’ll be at night. Maybe the ship will lose power, and how will you find your way out? The handy flashlight right next to your bed may help lead you and others to safety in a dangerous situation

And as if that wasn’t enough, the themometer on this clock is a nice feature. It’s nice to know the temperature in your cabin. (You’ll be surprised how cold it often is!)


I would recommend buying a laptop before you go. You can’t find computers with English keyboards and MS Word in English overseas, so don’t buy them there. (Although I’ve heard electronics are cheap in the Caribbean?)

Do you need a computer? No. Is it a nice luxury? Yes. And without rent or groceries or gas or car insurance to pay for, you’ll have the thing paid off in a month, so why not?

If you have a laptop you can access the internet wireless – that means you don’t have to hang out in the computer lab waiting for one to open up. That also mean you can write your emails (or blog posts?) offline and upload everything later, saving you tons of money on internet fees. (Yes, you have to pay for the internet on ships – typically $.10/minute for crew.)

I recommend getting one. Buy I don’t (DON’T) recommend buying one (or ANYTHING) and having it sent to the ship. I made that mistake once, and I lost my computer entirely.

If you get a mac, buy a USB to PC game pad controller and download the Snes9x emulator and some of the hundreds of games before you go. Better yet, buy two controllers and make friends when you get on the ship.


A camera is essential. I bought a 3 mega-pixel camera within the first week I was on a ship and used it daily. I recommend something small and travel-ready, like this Coolpix. Buy it before you go on the ship, because sales tax overseas is considerably higher than it is stateside (I bought mine in Helsinki and paid 24% sales tax!). You can get the sales tax back, but there’s a whole bunch of paperwork involved. Get it before you go so you can start taking pictures right away!

Check out the pictures I took while working on a cruise ship. They were all taken with a 3 mega-pixel Coolpix I bought in 2004 and still use.


This may be taking the packing list too far, but those of you who read my blog know that I have a folding bike and I use it constantly. There is no better way to see a new place than to see it on a bike, and a folding bike fits perfectly in a cruise ship lifestyle. Space is tight on a ship, and having a real bike is out of the question. But without any mode of personal transportation, you’ll have to get a taxi or shuttle to get around. That will either be really expensive, or limit you to seeing only where the shuttle takes you.

Get a folding bike! It’ll be worth the expense, and it’s more than likely you can sell it after your contract if you don’t want to keep it. Look for one that is $400 or more, because folding bikes cheaper than that end up falling apart. I would recommend you buy one when you get to your ship, even those you can get them to fit in a suitcase.

I WISH that I’d been so lucky as to have a folding bike when I worked on a ship in Europe. I could have biked around Rome! Croatia! Athens! What an experience that would have been!

Beach Wear

Dude, you basically live on the beach. Get some sandals. Shoes are worthless in the Bahamas.

I own a pair of these sandals in brown and they are supremely comfortable. They are comparable to Reefs, but I think they look better. Highly recommended!

Laundry Gear

You’ll want to do your own laundry on the ship. There is laundry service, but its expensive and I think all ships provide laundry machines for crew. If I remember correctly, the crew facilities are free.

Get a collapsible mesh laundry back like this before you go. Put this in the bottom of your closet, and go to the laundry when its full. At the end of your contract throw it out all together if you want.

Suntan Lotion

Dude, you basically live on the beach. Put some SPF on that.

I don’t mean to get all cosmetic on you guys, but you might find, like I have, that this is the best sunblock that you can find. As a cancer survivor, I’m a big proponent of wearing sunblock. Remember that cruise ships don’t go where it’s rainy. If they did, they wouldn’t get any guests. Cruise ships go where it’s sunny, and you should wear sunblock every time you go in the sun. Even if you want to get a tan.

This stuff does what it says. It block a wide spectrum, not just UVA, but also UVB rays. It rubs in quickly and has a nice, sheer, dry feel to it. Most sun blocks end up oily, even if they say they don’t and even if they are rubbed in. At the beach that can mean that all the sand will stick to you in that really uncomfortable way that sand is known to do. This stuff is much better and I use it all the time now.

Most likely, you’ll be alone on this gig. If you want to get sunscreen on your back and don’t have anyone to do it, get a can of spray sunscreen for the hard to reach places.

Detailed Packing Lists

Our friend Steven is leaving very soon for a cruise ship gig that’ll take him all over the western hemisphere. He starts in the Baltic, drops down to the Mediterranean, trans-Atlantic’s it over to NYC, up to Canada, then down to the Caribbean. Not bad, eh? That’s the way to do it. I wish him luck, it sounds like a fun itinerary.

He wrote to me asking for advice on a packing list. It can be so difficult to know what to pack for so many different climates! I can certainly relate. Between tours, cruise ships and regional theaters, I haven’t lived in one place for more than 3 months in over 2 years. I’m perpetually packing and unpacking. I was at my parents house for a few days last week and visited the rest of my clothes. They were in a closet! There were so many of them! It was amazing!

Unfortunately, I had to pack only a few of them in two suitcases and leave for the next gig. One day I will take them all with me – along with the record player, those fancy glass tumblers Chief gave me, and all of my music books. (sigh)

Alright, so what do you pack for an adventure like Steven’s? Well, he sent me his list and I decided to make a mock list of my own. They are both presented below as two examples of what to pack for a cruise ship job. You’ll see, actually, that they are mostly pretty close. Sometimes he uses the British term and I use the American.

It’s important to note that not every gig requires a tuxedo. Some ships just don’t use them anymore, which sounds strange and feels stranger. Make sure you check with your agent about what exactly to bring to the ship.

As for advice, my only advice to him was to bring some office supplies – meaning pens, pencils, tape, paperclips, sticky notes. Those things are strangely hard to find on a ship and will be a big help in rehearsals for taking notes and marking scores.

From Steven (Trombonist)

Private clothes
A few t-shirts
A few nicer dress shirts
2 x Jeans
2 x Dress shorts
1 x sports shorts
1 x Tracksuit pants
1 x Casual slacks
1 x Hoody
2 x jumper
2 x jackets
1 x Cap
1 x Beanie
1 x Scarf
1 x gloves
Socks and jocks

Work Clothes
2 x Dress black slacks
2 x Tux shirts
2 x white double cuff shirts
1 x regular white shirt
2 x black double cuff
1 x regular black shirt
2 x Tux jackets
1 x waist coat
2 x bowties
1 x long black tie
1 x long white tie

Patent black dress shoes
Regular black dress shoes
2 x trainers
Flip flops

Hard drive
Cables and adapters
Phone and charger
A few bits of music and exercise books
Collapsible music stand
CD wallet
MP3 Player


From Dave (Pianist)

2 pairs jeans
4 pairs of shorts
1 swimsuit
7 t-shirts
3 collared, casual shirts
2 polo shirts
1 fleece vest
1 hoodie
1 thin rain jacket
1 winter hat
1 wool scarf
1 package of white socks
brown dress shoes
tennis shoes
brown belt

1 Hawaiian Shirt
1 pair khaki pants
1 black suit
1 black tux
1 white tux shirt
1 black tux shirt
cufflinks & studs
2 bow ties
1 black vest for tux
1 cumberbund for tux
black dress shoes
1 package of black socks
black belt

combo alarm clock/flashlight/thermometer
collapsible laundry basket/bag
hard drive
iPod and earbuds
extra AA batteries
4 gallon zip lock bags, 2 medium zip lock bags, rolled up and tied with a few rubber bands
paper clips
a book of manuscript paper
2-3 paperback books
2-3 music instructional books (orchestration, technique, Bach, etc.)
cell phone and charger
hair clipper (my barber!)

Xerox’d copies of IDs and credit cards

You’ll notice that neither of us are apparently bringing any underwear. You definitely don’t want to be our roommate.

Drum Equipment – How Much Should I Bring?

Here’s a question from a drummer about equipment. I’ll answer it as best I can:

What have you seen drummers bring with them to the ship (if you were paying attention, that is). I want to be comfortable playing there, but I don’t want to burden myself with extra equipment if I don’t need it.

I once roomed with a drummer and what I remember most is that the man snored like a freight train. I’m trying to remember what equipment he had with him…

Naturally, he had his stick bag – nearly bursting at the stitches with all the extra sticks and brushes he’d brought. You can find new sticks overseas or in the Caribbean, but it can be a pain. Bring lots.

I also remember he had brought his own cymbals in a cymbals case. I’m not certain if he had brought all his cymbals or just a crash and a ride. I know he had the case, though. I used to trip over it in the middle of the night!

When I was on a Broadway tour, that drummer brought all kinds of things. Throne, toys, sticks, mallets, bells…all kinds of stuff. But space wasn’t as much of an issue on tour as it is on a ship. Whatever you bring with you, you won’t have much space to store it. So I recommend bringing a stick bag bursting at the seams, and if you want more – only your favorite cymbals. Leave the rest at home.

If there’s a drummer that happens across this post, maybe you can leave some more thorough advice in the comments.

Folding Bikes are Great for Cruise Jobs

I know this blog isn’t about folding bikes, but I can’t resist talking about mine.  It’s just perfect for a cruise ship job.  I will give two examples.

  1. Thursday we were in Kauai, and my Dahon Vitesse and I got off the ship.  I unfolded and biked into town.  The main road through town looked too crowded, so I climbed up a side road that looked much less popular.  Eventually I found myself at the commercial area, where the Kmart and mall are.  Then it started pouring!  I was soaked, and none too happy about riding back to the cruise ship.  I remembered, though, that the free shuttle back to the cruise ship stops at Kmart.  I relaxed – visited the book store, the coffee shop, the sandwich shop.  Then, when I was ready, I folded my Dahon up and brought it with me onto the free shuttle, no questions asked.
  2. Today we were in Honolulu and I was to meet my friend S., who lives on Oahu, later in the morning.  I got off the ship mid-morning, stopping briefly at the local bike shop, then pedaled on to Waikiki.  I biked all along the boardwalk, past the beaches, stopping now and then for something to drink – then later something to eat.  When traffic allowed, S. arrived in Honolulu and called.  We met at a nearby intersection a few minutes later, and I folded Vitesse up and she fit perfectly in the truck.  And we were off to the beach!

A Dahon Folding Bike

I’ve always liked bikes. I remember being strapped into the chair in the back of my parents bikes when I was too small to pedal myself, rolling through the neighborhoods near our house. In high school I used to go out on long rides with my buddies, and after I beat cancer a few years back, I took cycling up again and rode 10,000 miles in my first summer.

But after that summer I ended up taking a lot of jobs on the road – tours, regional theatre, and now a cruise ship – and for the most part, that ended my access to a bike.

Last week I saw a crew member on a folding bike. I’d seen these on the internet and in New York City. They are strange looking things with an odd frame and smaller-than-normal wheels. I test-rode a few of these bikes last summer when I was thinking about going on tour. The way I saw it, I could take a folding bike as my second suitcase – quite possibly in my second suitcase (it’s true! You can do it!).

The only bad thing about folding bikes is that they are a little bit uncool. You sit much more upright than normal, and you can’t help buy look a little square when you are stiffly perched atop a bike with diminutive sized wheels. There’s no way around that. But I’m pretty sure a recent purchase of crocs has proven that I am no longer cool, and that I no longer even pretend that I might be.

I saw this same crew member today and I asked him about the folding bike. He said it had totally changed his experience of working on a cruise ship. He said he took his bike everywhere, and the low-impact transportation of cycling helped him a lot with his bad knees. He felt it was a great way to get around the islands (we’re in Hawaii), and there were others on the ship with folding bikes as well. He told me he had no trouble getting it on and off the ship or through security.

I bought a Dahon Vitesse folding bike about an hour later. There was a place just down the street, and I bought the only one they had.

I should make it sound like such an impulse buy. Really, I’ve been looking for an excuse (any excuse) to try one of these out for awhile now.

Maybe a folding bike might not be in your budget, and maybe it wasn’t even in my budget. But if you don’t like it, chances are good you could sell it to another crew member before you get off the ship. The guy I talked to said that other crew members are always asking him where they can get a folding bike for themselves.

I think the only way to see a place is on a bicycle. I already saw places today in Maui that I never would have gotten to on foot or in a taxi, bus or rental car. Plus, I’m very glad to lessen my carbon footprint and ride a bike around.

It’s not something you need on a ship, but it could really change your experience. Visit the Dahon website to see the brand I bought. There are a growing number of brands of folding bikes these days, but you are definitely going to want to buy one when you get to your ship and not before – and you’ll also definitely want to test ride a few as the ride is a little different than a normal bike and you’ll want to find the one that fits you best.