Arguably the greatest positive aspect of working on a ship as a musician is time. That might seem like a strange assertion, given other positives like new countries to explore, beautiful beaches to visit, new and interesting people to meet, and the sheer privilege of playing music each and every day. But the simple concept of time -- free time, specifically -- as a result of the limited number of hours spent actually working, encompasses all of those other amazing opportunities, which is what makes it so valuable in and of itself.
I'll explain with a little basic math. If a musician works an average of 4 hours each day, that leaves 20 hours left over; knock off 8 for sleeping, and that same musician has 12 free hours to spend any way he likes. 12 free hours! No matter one's country of origin, cultural upbringing, or previous work experience, 12 personal hours each day -- while on a weekly salary -- is an unheard-of amount. Of course, everybody has different priorities and chooses to occupy time differently; some members of the entertainment department choose to spend the majority of the day watching TV shows in their cabins, and that's absolutely fine, as long as it makes those people happy and content. But there are plenty of activities around the ship and ways to maximize one's time on board, and this entry will discuss some of those options.
Going out in the various ports of call is an obvious way to pass the time, and one that hardly needs suggesting; all crew members, granted the opportunity, leave the ship to use internet, shop, grab some delicious local fare for lunch, walk around an old, beautiful neighborhood or head to the beach. (For more information on ports, see our Ports blog).
However, there are, on average, 1-3 sea days per cruise (and sometimes more, depending on the length of the cruise) where getting of the ship, of course, is not an option. All that free time "stuck" at sea might be an intimidating or unappetizing thought for some, but with a little initiative and motivation, there are lots of activities to keep crew members occupied.
The absolute best use of a musician's free time is practicing. Practice will, obviously, lead to self-improvement which, in turn, will help the overall sound and musicianship of one's group, be it the orchestra, lounge duo or party band quartet. The general term "practicing" encompasses everything from technical exercises, transcription of solos, rehearsing sections of production shows, improvising in certain styles, learning new songs, and more. For a list of practice spaces around the ship, see FAQ's-->'Can I Practice On Board'. There is no set amount of daily or weekly hours that a musician must practice, being that practicing is a highly individual endeavor, but creating a schedule or weekly routine can be incredibly helpful toward staying motivated and seeing consistent improvement.
Once the day's practicing is complete (or if you simply didn't feel like practicing), there are always the open decks to take advantage of, as long as the ship is sailing in a warm climate. In addition to the open deck for guests at the top of the ship, there's also a deck for crew either at the very front or back of the ship, often with a small jacuzzi and equipped with several lounge chairs. Crew members are free to sunbathe while reading a book, listening to music, or simply relaxing, and spending at least a bit of time outside every day is very important towards feeling healthy on a boat where it's surprisingly easy to go entire days without seeing sunlight.
And there are plenty of other to-do options, as well. Crew members can earn a little extra money by working for other departments (see Side Jobs Blog). There is a crew gym on board, as well as a guest gym to which crew have access; the guest gym includes treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines, free weights, and weight machines as well as an aerobics room, a steam room and a sauna. The crew training center has tutorial programs to learn new languages. The library has games like chess, Scrabble and Monopoly. And the list goes on.
Again, choosing what to do with one's free time is a purely personal decision. And regardless of whether that time is spent practicing, exercising, learning a new skill or catching up on the latest season of Mad Men, it is the freedom to choose some, all or none of those activities that is so wonderful and unique to cruise ship life.