How Old Are Most Musicians on Cruise Gigs?

Angela is about to finish music school and asks:

I’m curious how old entertainers tend to be?

Great question Angela, and congrats on getting to the end of your music program.  The age of musicians on cruise ships varies greatly, but in my experience, there are a lot of younger players on ships.

On my first ship most of the show band musicians were in their early 20s.  The majority of us had just gotten out of college and, not finding any performing jobs on land, taken cruise jobs to make some money and see the world.  In fact, the majority of the crew was somewhere in their twenties.  The crew bar was probably the best impromptu singles bar that I’ve ever found.

Of course there were exceptions to this.  On that first ship our sax player and bassist had each been on ships for 14 years straight.  Both of these guys had divorced somewhere in their 30’s, lost their house and kids and left soon after for cruise ships.  It was a pretty good deal for them – no mortgage, no cooking, an initial escape from troubles. And if you stayed with the company long enough you were sometimes able to reap the benefits of seniority.  For instance, if there were 5 guys in the band and 3 rooms to house them, the musician with the most seniority usually got the single room.  Also, musicians that stay with the company are often able to pick which ships and itineraries they would like take contracts on.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that many cruise ship gigs are supplied with musicians from one of these two categories – the older divorcee and the recent music school grad.

On my second ship, the whole band was older divorcees and certified bachelors.  This particular ship paid health benefits and pension to it’s employees, so it was an even better deal for these guys and they’d been around for a long time.

Outside of the show band, the lounge acts tend to be a more mature bunch. The lounge gigs pay better and usually have better accomodations, and perhaps for that reason, experienced performers are still willing to take those gigs.  Also, I would argue that the lounge gigs are more demanding and require a large repertoire and very young players often don’t have the stamina or experience to fill the spots.  Certainly I know I wouldn’t have been able to hack it right out of college.

In her question Angela also asked if musicians needed to be over 21 to work on ships.  I actually don’t remember exactly what the rule on that is – but if it helps – I at least don’t remember ever working with anyone under 21. *See Ryan and Steve comments below – you can work on a ship you are under 21 and I remember now working with a few cast members under 21.

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David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn (@davidjhahn) is the co-founder of and a former Broadway conductor. He grew up near Chicago, lived in New York City, and settled in California. In 2012, he left the music business to found California Surfcraft, a San Francisco-based start-up that makes high-performance surf gear out of fiberglass-reinforced cork. He is the inventor of the Bodypo®, a sustainable alternative to the traditional bodyboard. He is a cancer survivor, an advocate for unlikely career paths, and, beginning in spring of 2015, a father.

30 thoughts on “How Old Are Most Musicians on Cruise Gigs?”

  1. The musicians on board our ship currently range from about 24-55. The Dancers and Singers tend to be in thier early 20’s, and the rest of the grunt crew on board tends to be anywhere from early 20’s to late 50’s.

    The showband usually has the youngest. The two sax players on our ship before I came aboard were 19 and 21 – so some musicians are young. The lounge band musicians etc on board tend to be older and more experienced. Thier gig is more stable – ie, they tend to play the same times/places every day. But, they tend to play EVERY day. The showband may work more or less depending on who is on board.

    I find on our ship in particular there are VERY few females on board. I’ve heard this is a little more odd that usual from the other guys on board who have done lots of ships – but they still say there are way more men on board any ship than women, fyi.

    1. I am looking to get a cruise gig this summer (3-4 months) as a musician. I’m a music major and am proficient at Alto/tenor, clarinet, and flute. I am wondering….do they take musicians who are 20 years old?? I am quite young for my class in school (Junior in college, just turned 20 in September) and won’t be 21 until September.

      Also–being a female, does that help my chances… minority wise? I am not worried about being “good enough” for a gig, I am just worried about my age more or less.


  2. Working on the same ship as Ryan I can vouch for the lack of females… the new cast is certainly an exciting time for the entertainment department in general!! haha.

    Also I’m the youngest of the musicians at 23 but the old and new cast had a few people under 21 I think. The only problem I could foresee would be if you like to drink, you can’t buy any alcohol onboard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in the bars to socialise.

  3. Yeah, I think I was wrong about not working with anyone under 21. I think I remember a few cast members now that were too young to drink. I’ll make a note of that in the post.

    But which liquor laws do crew members have to follow on ships? I mean, if you are an American on a Dutch ship in French waters…can you still not drink if you are under 21? Isn’t Dutch law 16 or 18? Do the French even have a law? I forget how this works…

  4. I asked because I am 19… but I live in canada so I am legal age here. I read on one cruise page that you have to be 21, which is understandable in USA waters. I’ll be 20 when I hope to be working on a ship.

    Not too many girls huh? Seems to be the same way in my music program. I don’t mind at all, though. :)

  5. I’m on an American ship so it’s 21 but I honestly don’t know about other companies. I would think (and hope) that a non american ship would follow the companies countries laws whilst not in US waters, seeing as how the whole 21 yr age limit is preposterous (well my opinion anyways from a non american)

    On the flip side if you can’t drink you won’t go to the crew bar as much because really it’s no fun unless you don’t know what’s going on, and hence you will save your money and stay healthy.

  6. Even if I was underage I might prefer going to the crew bar and not drinking than sitting in my cabin and watching the crew movie for the 180th time :-)

    On my last gig I wasn’t a crew member and not allowed in crew areas – including the crew bar. Also – because that ship was always in American waters, the crew had to always be sober. They were only allowed 1 drink an hour in the crew bar. How lame does that sound? I wasn’t allowed in there, but I’m not sure I missed anything.

  7. great blog. my wife and i are steel drummers and are curious about a temporary ship gig. we are both music teachers in a public school.
    we have a family band, but COULD do a duet. what do you think? i value your ideas.


  8. I am a 50 year old singer/guitarist and have worked several ships out of the USA over the past eight years. I think David’s first response nailed it when he said “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that many cruise ship gigs are supplied with musicians from one of these two categories – the older divorcee and the recent music school grad.”

    There are some husband and wife music duos from their 20’s – 60’s as well. It really varies from ship to ship. As far as I can tell, age is not a factor as long as you are over 18 and can pass their physical. Keep in mind that the passengers are from all age groups so they need young and old performers both to please everyone.

  9. Hello-
    I am a 16-year-old, very talented, trumpet player. I mostly focus my energy on jazz, but I am well experienced in other genres, including classical and pop. I am involved in an Independent study program, where I do not attend school daily, but instead see a teacher about once a week. Therefore, I am able to travel on a weekly basis. I was wondering if there is an age requirement to be a musician on a cruise line. Thank you so much.

  10. I would like to know if at my age 58 although most people think I am 45 can I still can get booked on a cruise ship. I have years of experience in all genres of music and a wide vocal range which enables mean to sing anything. People like singers who have great report with the audience and who can really sing and entertain.

  11. @diane – I don’t think they care that much about age unless there are associated health problems. You’ll have to pass a full physical exam and (as I understand it) show no signs of systemic health problems.

  12. Hello everyone,I hope I’m welcome here because I’m an old geezer at the ripe old age of 56.I used to play the club scene in Houston/Corpus Christi,Tx in my younger days.I met a great lady and married,had 2 sons,took a legit job(the inlaws would say)as a fitter/welder,put my boys through Texas A&M I’m proud to say and now I want my wife and I to see the world.I have never put my guitar down over the years and now I want to see if I can job up on a cruise ship as a guitarist.I would appreciate all input positive or negative just to see how the world feels about an old fart as a lead/rhythem guitarist aboard ship.Thanx to all.

    1. Hi JD. Talent is talent and age doesn’t matter. I saw a very talented 80 yr in New Orleans and this guy was so good that any cruise ship would want him as long as he could pass a physical. If you’re not talented, than you better rely on youth and good looks (or big boobs) because something has to sell. lol

  13. Hi,
    I am 28 yrs old, currently studying jazz performance at university in Australia, I have never done a cruiseship gig before and am just researching all the requirements. My intention is to have my band from school audition for a cruise to the US from AUS ( I want to travel in the US for 3 weeks in between OR after the contract ends)….. other details are that my class mates are all 19 yrs old, want to start after university finishes for the year (so late november).

    So ultimately I am just wanting to find out whether it is (A) possible to do a contract in two parts, how long would we be able to stay in a particular country for? (B) what is the best way to go about getting the ball rolling for an audition? (C) Do we need special visas for going into other countries after porting? (D) does any of this sound realistic/ would we be able to pull this off?

  14. Hi,from Nevada. I am an older musician looking for a new adventure. I always thought about playing cruises and now have the opportunity to do so.I will be living close to Seattle and thought this is it! I am singer, composer, 12-guitar (lap style technique)autoharp and keyboards. 46 years in the music business from show bands to 50’s thru 90’s variety. My 5 minutes of fame as winner on the Gong Show in l978. Let me know the ropes as far as what I should do. I have CD’s, resume and photos. I know I should get on u-tube and I am learning to do that. Thanks for your interest. Sherrill

  15. Hi,
    I am an ‘ancient’ musician at 65, but am a good reader and jazz sax/flute player with tons of experience. My only problem is that I have a disability which means I limp badly and walk with two canes so do you think I would pass the medical and be allowed on the ship? Thanks, Alan

    1. Hi Alan – I guess I don’t know? If the disability is a high-maintenance kind of disability – I mean if you need to take regular medication, see a doctor regularly, constantly be on the watch for complications – then I think that would be a problem. But having a disability by itself shouldn’t disqualify you from employment. I’m sure that would break employment laws in several countries!

  16. Hi, I’ve work the cruise ship gigs for (4) years with a trio and fell in love with it!!!! I was 40 yrs.old at the time. Now Iam wanting to get back out there,as a trio again. Iam 53 now;A pro.saxman,vocals,some keys too. Iam looking for a drmmer/w vocals and keys/w vocals.ASAP!!!!!!!!!Call me at 1-785-220-7749 or Email me. Iam on face bk./zunigajaramillo. I work with Booking Agents. Thanks-Luv & Peace Orlando J. Zuniga,Topeka KS.

  17. Nice group of people of different ages and backgrounds here & I’m glad to have discovered you. Would be interesting to hear about everyone’s new ship experiences here as they unfold.

  18. I’m 44. I’m at least an amateur musician. Do you have an estimate for beginners’ salaries? You said most of the musicians are in their early 20’s. Does that mean I would be surrounded by hip hoppers? Do musicians only play music that’s assigned to them? Or do they perform whatever they want. Or half and half.

    1. Charles – I don’t know what a hip hopper is. If you’re asking if musicians play hip hop on ships the answer is no. The gig is mostly jazz and pop in most of the lounges.

  19. Hi, I am a Canadian 66 yrs old good shape and in excellent health and have a lot of experience as a bass player.I Can sing lead and or b/u vocals and play most all genre of music .How does a side man such as myself find musicians or a band to hook up with.I would like to know if there is a websight or agency that I may contact for finding a like minded band or musicians.
    Thank you, Daniel Sandford.

  20. Hi, I am a very experienced 18-year-old violinist interested in playing on cruise ships. Every cruise line I have looked at has a minimum age requirement of 21. However, I have heard they will hire you when you are 18, especially if you aren’t serving alcohol. Do you have any idea which cruise lines to apply to? Any info/tips you have is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  21. Hey. This website is very interesting. I’m an 18-year-old highschool senior who has been playing the trombone for 8 years now. I play both jazz and classical at a really high level around Boston. I was talking to a friend of mine who just graduated from Berklee and is on a cruise ship, and am trying to figure out if it would be possible to get a gig over the summer to earn some money for college next year. I was wondering a few things: 1. Does it matter if I can do classical, or do they just want jazz? 2. If I were to try to audition, would it make more sense to contact the cruise lines of talent agencies directly, or should I try to attend an audition at one of the colleges around Boston? and 3. Would it be possible to get a job like this? Or would it make more sense to try to work at the local McDonalds? Thank you so much for your help.

  22. The type of person/age is right on as listed above. I did one contract with in the Med and UAE during with I turned 50. Though I was one of the “older guys” the MD was in his 60’s and there were a few guys in there 30’s and 40’s. The Showband on my ship was 9 players so the age spread was a bit wider. Youngest guy joined the ship before his 21st birthday. Band was all male save for a female that came in on a vacation fill. I thought it was a great gig and would’ve stayed had I not been doing research for my degree when I started. I may go back. I consider it a viable option to stay employed as a musician. Not because of a lack of gigs, but because I really dug the scene and enjoyed the experience.

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