- Cruise ship performers get paid to travel the world and perform in front of millions of cruise goers.
- They’re serious athletes from all over the world — Olympians, world champions, and professionals.
- The job requires 11-month contracts, performing six-days a week without a single holiday.
- We met Ariana Mazzagatti, the lead in Royal Caribbean’s aqua show HiRO, to get an inside look at the job.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Aboard the world’s largest cruise ship, 6,600 passengers pay a premium to be entertained every single day. That’s why Royal Caribbean hires serious athletes to do eight shows a week. They get paid to perform in productions around the world in front of millions of cruise-goers. But the job isn’t always easy. Performers work 11 months straight without a single vacation day, and they do it all on a moving stage in the middle of the ocean.
Ariana Mazzagatti: That is the biggest thing to get used to, is the rock of the ship. When you’re going to do a jump and you expect the floor to be here, but the floor is here or the floor is here.
Narrator: We went behind the scenes with the principal character of the aqua show to see what it’s really like to be a performer on a cruise ship.
Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, there are ice shows, Broadway-style plays, and an aqua performance.
Mazzagatti: Hi, I’m Ariana Mazzagatti. I go by Mazz here in the Royal Caribbean world. I am the aerialist for the show “Hiro” on the Symphony of the Seas, and I am also the aqua captain.
Narrator: Mazz is in charge of 20 other performers in the cruise line’s original show “Hiro.” It tells the story of three warring clans, and Mazz’s character brings peace between them. To bring her powerful character to life, Mazz is strapped into a 3D flying apparatus that allows her to flip and “run” above the crowd with only wires holding her up.
Mazz is American in a cast of performers from all over the world. And they’re all accomplished athletes: professional slackliners, Olympic-level divers, and world-renowned martial artists. Like many of her fellow castmates, Mazz never planned on being a cruise-ship performer. On a whim, she tried out for Royal Caribbean her junior year of college and beat out thousands of others for a spot.
Mazzagatti: It’s as difficult to get into a ship show as it is to get into a Broadway or a West End or a Cirque du Soleil show.
Narrator: And in 2015, Mazz got the call from Royal Caribbean. She dropped out of college and has been performing on cruise ships ever since. After getting a role in “Hiro,” the show’s performers head to Royal Caribbean’s training facility in Florida. This is where they spend two months learning and perfecting the routine. Then they’re off to sea.
Their stage? The tricked-out AquaTheater aboard the world’s largest cruise ship. It’s made up of the deepest pool at sea, with a transforming bottom, 30-foot diving towers, a trampoline, and tightropes suspended above the crowd. The new digs take some getting used to.
Mazzagatti: You’re brought from those plain, gray studios with mirrors into this, and you’re relearning everything, because it all changes. The water, the weight of the costumes, the quick changes backstage, the makeup changes, the hair changes. It adds so many new elements that you could not even dream of during rehearsals.
Narrator: Finally, they’re performing live at the 600-person theater.
Mazzagatti: It takes about maybe two or three weeks to get into the zone and to feel 1,000%, you’re not so stressed anymore.
Narrator: So far, this cast is about a third of the way through its 11-month contract. The performers don’t get a single vacation day during their run. Trips home are only allowed in the case of an emergency. They typically perform eight shows a week.
Before any performance, Mazz usually hits the gym for about an hour. Then she comes to the theater to run a safety test on the 3D flyer. The flyer is made up of a harness and four sets of wires connected to the ship. The technology is pretty complex and can move her on four axes. But the tech is proprietary to Royal Caribbean, so we couldn’t get too close. After Mazz is all set on the wire, she stretches, then heads downstairs to the secret 4.5 deck of the ship to put on her makeup and get into costume. Mazz and her castmates do all their own makeup.
Once the show starts, Mazz stays hidden through the opening. Then she quietly climbs on a platform at the back of the audience while a crew member straps her into the harness.
Mazzagatti: The harness is very tight so that I do not fall out. So the pain is necessary. I can’t necessarily say you get used to it, because every day it might be in a different spot, so you’re just bruising a new spot.
Narrator: The flying mechanism already has her routine programmed into it. So once a crew member hits a button in the production box, she soars above the crowd. While suspended, Mazz uses her body to control her flips and spins.
Mazzagatti: If I get too turned to the front or if my arm is out of place or if my chin is forward, it’ll send me rocking back and forth like this, and I’ll never be able to control it back because it just sends you, and once you get a pull in the wire, it’ll just keep going.
Narrator: Throughout her contract, Mazz and her castmates will do this same routine 200 times, using the same muscles every day. That’s why they’re required to keep in shape. But that’s not the only challenge. Remember, they’re performing at sea. If it’s windy, she’s blown around.
Mazzagatti: If it’s rocking, sometimes the wires will pull harder on one side. So I have to work around and be able to preemptively move my body in a way that if I know a rock is coming, I have to put more on one side than the other so that I can even out myself with the rock.
Narrator: All these things affect other aqua performers, too. A bob in the ship could affect the balance of a tightrope walker. If it’s rocky, where a diver hits the water could be totally different from where they intended to when they left the platform. If conditions are too bad, say, high winds or a rainstorm with lightning, they’ll postpone the performance.
Mazzagatti: Every day is an absolute adventure. Whether that be a difficult adventure, you’re tired. We work a lot. We have safety duties that I don’t think a lot of people necessarily even realize. We have so many more duties than just coming out and performing.
Narrator: Now, Royal Caribbean wouldn’t share how much performers are paid. But the cruise line did say they get health insurance while they’re employed on the ship and free housing on board. Performers live in the crew quarters on the lower decks.
Mazzagatti: We have roommates, so two live to a cabin. There are a few who have their own cabin. And then, as aqua captain, I get my own cabin.
Narrator: We weren’t allowed to see the crew quarters, but we were told that they have their own mess hall, grocery store, and even a dance club. Performers can use the passenger gym, eat at the reservation-only restaurants, and swim in the pools, all things no other crew members are allowed to do.
Plus, they get to travel. This contract with Symphony of the Seas sails in the Caribbean, docking in St. Martin, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and the Bahamas. But Mazz has been to tons of other places on her other five contracts, including Brazil, Asia, and the Mediterranean.
Mazzagatti: I will do this until my body physically cannot move. We are paid to dance, or sing, or dive, or ice skate, or synchronized swim, and we are paid to travel at the same time, and that’s the best part about it.
This is what it takes to be a cruise ship performer