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My life living and working on a cruise ship

Natalie Relf, 27, is from Portsmouth. She shares her experience working on a cruise ship as an entertainer.

I have worked on ships for the last five years since graduating from performing arts college.

During this time I have worked for a number of different companies including Celebrity Cruises, Fred Olsen and currently Carnival.

A passion for performing

From a young age, I started taking dance lessons and I always loved it!

I also took singing lessons and was part of a local drama group.

My weeks were really busy packed up with classes, activities and school. But I think when I hit the age of 11 I really started to take it seriously.

I wanted to be a ballet dancer and I was lucky enough to gain a place with the Royal Ballet Mid Associates programme. I would take a class with them every Saturday.

Read more: I work as a professional dancer, and even appeared on Strictly

This continued until I was 16. I then decided at this time that I didn’t just want to focus on one discipline, so I auditioned for a couple of performing arts schools and was awarded a full scholarship to Laine theatre arts.

From the ages of 16 to 19 I trained professionally in dance and musical theatre. 

Working on a cruise ship

Depending on the day of the cruise, be it a sea day or a port day, we get one full day off a week.

A normal sea day for me would be to get up around 10am, go to the gym, have some lunch.

Then I possibly teach a dance class or would be a part of some of the shipboard activities like Dr Seuss storytime for the kids or another performance-based activity.

We normally get a good amount of time to ourselves in the day where we can train in the gym or sit on deck and read, get a coffee or catch a few rays.

Preparing for a show

Then around 5pm I normally start my makeup and hair. It takes about an hour and depending on what shows we have as each show has a specific look we have to achieve.

For example, for the show “Flick” we have to put our hair in two buns and create a Marilyn Monroe style makeup look. We also put glitter in our parting and have glittery red lips. So as you can imagine this can take some time.

Before soundcheck at 6pm, I aim to pre-set my costumes. We have lots of quick changes in most of the shows so some costumes have to be set on the side of the stage.

I’ll grab a quick bite to eat, from 6.15pm to about 7pm I will get my body and voice warm.

I normally take a good amount of time to do this as it’s very important to keep our bodies in good shape and to be very warm as the shows are very physically demanding with lots of lifts and techniques required.

We then have two shows that evening one at 8.15pm and one at 10.15om.

Most port days we can also get off the ship and enjoy the ports that we dock in as we do get free time to get off and explore. 

Life on board

At first, it’s very daunting and a little scary as it’s crazy that you live on a moving vessel.

But it honestly really does become your home.

You get to meet some amazing people from all over the world and make friends for life.

It has its ups and downs as anything can, but I couldn’t love it more. That’s why I keep coming back.

The only thing that is horrible sometimes is being away from family all the time.

Also if we get bad weather it’s not pleasant when the sea is rough, but I feel extremely lucky to get to do the job I love whilst travelling the world.

The challenges

One of the hardest challenges I faced was actually getting a job working on a cruise ship in the first place.

It was a real struggle at the beginning. I am very short for a dancer, and lots of cruise ship production companies have specific requirements that they have to meet. For example, being 5ft 5 and over, or asking for a specific look.

A lot of the time I would go to auditions, get to the final round and never hear anything or to be told I was simply too small.

That was very frustrating for me as it was nothing I could do.

Eventually, my hard work and determination to not give up were rewarded and I have never looked back.

In this industry, you have to be very thick-skinned and be able to take criticism to use it to better yourself.

My advice is to never believe that you have reached your full potential. Always strive to make your performance even better than the last one. 

The best thing about the job

Getting to perform to over 2,000 guests each evening is a dream come true.

It’s such an amazing feeling to know that the guests love what you do.

When you’re working on a cruise ship you also become a little celebrity on-board. You get recognised everywhere which is really rewarding, especially when they compliment you on your performance.

Also, it’s brilliant getting to perform in these incredible state of the art theatres every night.

It’s almost like being on a West End stage, sometimes even better.

We have LED screens and moving stages which just adds to the whole element of the show.

I love to wake up in a new destination each day and to say that my job has taken me all over the world is such a privilege. It’s something I never thought I would be able to do. 

My advice on getting into the entertainment industry

I would say it’s the best job in the world.

It’s very demanding and you have to want it and be willing to work hard and train hard.

It’s not just having talent, you have to have drive, passion and a love for what you do.

Read more: I travel the world with my work

But in the end, it’s rewarding in so many ways, and I encourage anyone to go for it and dream big. 

I have to thank my family who have always been so supportive of my career even when times were hard and I was close to giving up.

They never stopped believing in me. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without them. There have been countless dance and singing lessons over the years and not to mention the expense too.

I’ve also had some fantastic teachers pushing me and making me realise my potential along the way.

I feel very lucky and blessed and hope that this has inspired anyone who wants to become a performer or is interested in working on a cruise ship to go for it and never give up. 

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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