Making The Most of Your Cruise Ship Contract

by Elena Bonomo ’14

Read Part 1 & Part 2

Elena BonomoMany people shy away from working as a musician on cruise ships because their previous expectations and experiences as a musician on land are different than those of which are expected of them on a ship. The notion of being away from home for months at a time, the thought of playing music that has been provided for you by a company, and the fact that you will be playing consistently every day can be intimidating and even mundane to some people. But there are ways to take these experiences and turn them into something that will be beneficial and rewarding for your musical career in the long term.

What I enjoyed the most about working on cruise ships was the fact that I had the opportunity to play a variety of styles of music every day. From jazz standards, to ballroom dance music, to Broadway-style show tunes, to pop classics, there are opportunities to play a variety of styles in just one night! For all us musicians who are hoping to make a career out of performing, it is extremely important to be as versatile as possible in your playing. The more styles of music you can play, the more job opportunities there are that you can take advantage of.

Eventually, you begin to develop a routine. You’ll find that during the first few weeks of your contract, you’re sight-reading pages and pages of new music during every show. But after playing each song a few times, you begin to become so familiar with the arrangements that you begin to memorize them. While most people might be bored at this point, you can use this to your advantage! Every time you play a song, challenge yourself to do something that you’ve never done in that song before. For example, I might use brushes on a song that I’ve only ever played with sticks. Or I might challenge myself to never hit a “crash” on the downbeat. Or I might figure out a way to voice my parts differently around the kit, like playing on the rim instead of the high hat—you get the point. There are endless amounts of ways to challenge yourself.

When you’re not working, take the time to meet people who work in other departments on the ship. You’ll meet people from all over the world, and there is so much to learn! Some of my closest friends on previous ships are from Israel, Scotland, Canada, Romania, South Africa and Australia. It’s truly amazing to be able to talk these people, hear their stories, and learn about so many other cultures.

Elena Bonomo & Sloth

And going along with learning about other cultures—when you’re in port, get off the ship and EXPLORE! You have the opportunity to travel the world for free, take advantage of it! One of my favorite memories is when my friends and I rented a car and drove around Curacao. We didn’t have a specific plan other than that we wanted to go to the beach. We ended up taking a beautiful scenic drive around the island, passing through neighborhoods, parks, until finally we reached the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen.

There are endless amounts of ways to make your cruise ship contract not only enjoyable, but also rewarding and beneficial to the rest of your musical career. Take advantage of them while you can!

Living on a ship is really like living in a small city in the middle of the ocean. From dining, to entertainment, to daily routines like laundry and going to the gym, your ship will make you feel right at home.


Hailing from Cortlandt Manor, NY, Elena Bonomo is a drummer, percussionist, composer, and music educator. A recent graduate of Berklee College of Music, she holds a Bachelors Degree in Performance, Summa Cum Laude. Elena is an avid music lover whose style spans a number of genres from jazz, to musical theater, to rock. Her notable performances have included appearances at: Symphony Hall, the Berklee Performance Center, the Agganis Arena, the Fresh Grass Music Festival, and the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center. Elena has toured nationally with Boston based Americana/Folk group, The Novel Ideas, with whom she recorded a full-length album, produced and engineered by Rick Parker (Lord Huron, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club). In January 2015, Elena became a Mission Jazz artist and a member of the Fellowship of the Swing; an artist advance held in Santa Barbara, California, led by Winnie Swalley and artist-in-residence, drummer Kendrick Scott. Most recently, Elena finished up a contract with Holland America Cruise lines, where she performed in the Bahamas, Aruba, Curacao, Panama, Columbia, Costa Rica, Spain and Italy. Elena has studied privately with Neal Smith, Bob Gullotti, and Terri Lyne Carrington and considers them to be her biggest influences.

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