Confessions of A Cruise Ship Musician
Musician and singer Dean DiMarzo had just joined a local dance band and had only been playing clubs with them for a couple of months when his bandleader got a call for a gig aboard the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship. After giving it some consideration, DiMarzo decided to take what many would consider a glamorous and luxurious opportunity.
For eight months, DiMarzo, who was born and raised in the Hudson Valley, New York area, lived aboard the ship and sailed from Bayonne, New Jersey to Bermuda, St. Martin, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Nassau, and Quebec City.
“It was pretty cool,” said DiMarzo. “Glamorous isn't quite the word I'd use, though. Yes, we got to travel, and play music for a living, and that was fantastic. It was still a job, though. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes stuff the passengers don't see. Weeks and weeks of safety training, weekly drills, and lots and lots of strict regulations. Of course I'm glad the cruise lines are taking the safety of both the crew and passengers seriously, it just wasn't all glamorous fun and games.”
As musicians, DiMarzo explained that he had a little more freedom than some of the other crew members on board. “We only worked at night for about four hours, meaning we were almost always free to go out into whatever island we'd landed at that day,” he says. “San Juan, Puerto Rico was my favorite port by far, but St. Martin was great, too.”
His room and meals were all covered, so he had no expenses. “I made a lot of great friends onboard, from all over the world,” he says. “I have friends in Italy and Hong Kong now.”
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Most days, DiMarzo didn’t have to be on stage until around 9 p.m., so he slept in. “If we were in port, I'd usually head into town with some friends from the ship, head to the nearest Starbucks and catch up on my emails, and do some sight-seeing if it was a particularly interesting destination,” he says.
During the day, while the ship was at sea, he would spend the day watching movies in his cabin, writing music or hitting the gym before working in Dizzy’s Lounge for four hours. “After we wrapped up, usually around 1-1:30 a.m., I'd either head down to the crew bar to hang out for a bit, or (more often than not) just head straight to bed. Four hours of singing Earth, Wind, and Fire tunes kind of takes it out of you.”
On his rare nights off, he would watch other bands play, or catch a show in the theatre. “We had a few fantastic mini-Broadway revues put on weekly by our amazing musical cast,” he says.
While it might sound like a dream job, there were some down sides. “The worst part was the lack of Internet and phone onboard,” he says. “It turned me into a Wi-Fi addict. We could be in the most beautiful island in the Caribbean, and as soon as we stepped off the ship I'd book it to the nearest Starbucks so I could check my email, because I hadn't been able to talk to my fiancé in three days.”
Even though it was only four hours of work a night, being a musician can be tough. “It gets tough to put on the same performance with the same level of energy night after night, every single night for weeks on end,” says DiMarzo. “We got a night off now and then, but it was still exhausting.”
DiMarzo says that it was an amazing experience that he’s very glad he did once, but doesn’t plan on doing again. “I'm getting married next month, and I don't think my future wife would be too excited about me disappearing off to the Caribbean for another eight months,” he says. “Also, I've been focusing more on studio work and teaching lately, and that's been really rewarding, so I think I'm going to keep heading down that road.”
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