Updated September 14, 2017
Will there be live music onboard my cruise ship?
Every cruise line -- oceangoing and river -- provides live music as part of its entertainment offerings. From musical theater shows and a resident band playing popular radio standards in the atrium to piano bars, a classical quartet in a lounge or Caribbean music by the pool, many aspects of a cruise experience come with a live soundtrack.
Will the size of my cruise ship affect the types of live music I find on the ship?
Yes. Larger ships will have a greater variety of live music than smaller ships, meaning you're less likely to have jazz and line dancing and samba and classical music on a small ship. You also are less likely to encounter as much live music on a riverboat, apart from a singer playing the piano nightly and occasional acts that might board your ship as part of local enrichment. It is unlikely that there will be much -- if any -- live music on an expedition vessel, so check with your cruise line if live entertainment is a must.
What kinds of music can I expect to find onboard?
Music varies by cruise line, ship, itinerary, time of year, you name it. Most ships, at minimum, have an onboard band playing nightly, as well as a piano bar usually open from late afternoon on. On sea days, the band might also have daytime sets. Bands and piano players typically host theme nights once or twice a cruise, when they'll play various genres or the hits of a certain era or artist. Most ships -- especially those covering warm-weather itineraries or departing from Southern U.S. regions like Florida and Texas -- will feature a Latin and/or Caribbean band, typically on the pool deck during the day. Most luxury lines host afternoon tea with a classical quartet as accompaniment. The easiest way to navigate the gamut of onboard musical offerings is to check your daily cruise program for times and locations of all options. These are typically not available prior to sailing.
Do you have to pay to see live music onboard?
No. Unless there's a special big-name act onboard (which should be announced prior to boarding), all of the music -- live bands, piano, poolside music, theater performances -- is included in the price of your fare, as it's part of the onboard experience. If you're sailing on a music-themed cruise, the price of the concert(s) is included in your cruise fare.
Can I attend a concert or a music festival at sea?
Yes, and there's quite a few to choose from. Whether your interest is country, indie rock, heavy metal, the oldies or the futuristic dance music of today, there's likely a theme cruise -- or two or three -- to suit your musical tastes. Sixthman is a theme cruise company known for hosting many successful music festivals at sea, including the annual Mad Decent Boat Party (think electronica); Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea; Kiss Cruise; and sailings featuring Train, 311 and Weezer as headlining acts. Outside of shipwide music-themed cruises, Carnival hosts a concert series called Carnival LIVE, which features headlining artists in a small venue for an additional fee. You don't have to attend the concert to sail on the same cruise, but you do have to pay to attend the show, which comes with the option of VIP access to the artist. Expect names like Journey, Rascal Flatts, Smokey Robinson and Styx; tickets cost less than you would expect to pay on land.
Can I perform live music onboard?
If you have visions of belting your heart out on stage in front of impressed (or horrified) fellow cruisers, then you're probably looking for karaoke -- something found on most ships. However, the chance to truly rock out with the musicians on a cruise ship is usually limited to events with audience participation. Howl at the Moon, onboard Norwegian Cruise Line, is a dueling pianos bar with an interactive atmosphere. The audience requests songs and then sings along to rockin' covers of Billy Joel, Lady Gaga and others. Princess Cruises hosts a Princess Pop Choir, which you can join to rehearse with other passengers over the course of your cruise, culminating in a live performance.
Personal instruments are banned on some -- but not all -- cruise lines, so check with your line before bringing along your guitar, sax or ukulele. Even if you are allowed to jam onboard, beware of noise complaints; your instrument could be confiscated if there is an issue.
How can I find out more about live music onboard cruise ships?
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The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.