Estimated salary range: $450 – 2,000 a week
When I was employed as the keyboardist in a show band, I made $350 a week, or $50 a day with Holland America. I understand Holland America pays near the lower range of salaries for musicians, but I did hear that they have raised their minimum salary to $65 a day ($455 a week). If you had been with them for many years, you could expect to max out at about 150% of minimum, which these days is probably just under $100 a day.
I can tell you from experience that $50 a day doesn’t go very far. I didn’t save anything (but I did have a good time).
Headliners and guest performers can make much more income, between $800 and $2,000 a week, and probably more. Guest performers also typically work less hours than musicians in the house band or lounges and are housed in single passenger cabins.
There are other aspects of cruise ship employment that add value. Cost-of-living at sea, for example. Say, on land, you spend $100 a week on food – you no longer need to pay that $100, as all food will be provided for you. Also, you live rent free. Same for utilities, gas for your car – maybe you put your cell phone service on hold because you’ll be out of the country. In my opinion, you should factor those savings into your cruise ship salary. Let’s be conservative and say you save $200 a week by living at sea. To make the same value, then, you’d have to find a job that makes $800/month more on land.
In this way we see a cruise job that pays $27,000/year ($75/day) is similar to a job that makes $36,000/year on land.
Whether or not you are able to save money on your job depends a lot on where you are cruising. If you are in Alaska, you will have a hard time finding somewhere to blow your money. In Europe, especially with the current exchange rate, forget about bringing any of that cash home. The Caribbean and Mexico are still cheap – you get the picture.
Little luxuries really add up on a ship, and its typically little things that add up to crew members not saving money. Partying can become an expensive habit, souvenirs for family and friends add up, “cheap” electronics in the Caribbean or Asia are still big purchases – again, you get the picture.
But if you are frugal, you could come off of a cruise ship job with a lot of money saved up – even if you make near the low end of the salary range.