by Emily Looker

On Foreign Soil: Cruisin’ With Aro

by Emily Looker

On Foreign Soil: Cruisin’ With Aro

It was through word of mouth that Aro aka Emily and Charles Looker got into performing on cruise ships. Though they say that personally, it’s not their ideal holiday, working on a big boat is essentially paid travel that Emily describes as “hard to say no to”. She was kind enough to write about their experience as performers aboard the Pacific Jewel this winter. 

aroCharles and I make up a duo called Aro, a husband and wife combo who live on the road pursuing music full time. We had just finished our first nationwide tour when we were given the opportunity to play music on the P&O Pacific Jewel cruise ship from June 18 to July 3rd! This is a sneak peek into the life of a guest entertainer on board, with a few things to consider if you’re thinking about giving the working cruise life a go…

Having to spend the middle month of the year on a cruise to the tropical islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, where the sun shone and we had to wear sunblock again, was a real mid-winter treat!

Fifteen days we were cruising, six of which were port days, meaning everyone’s off exploring the islands – including us entertainers! We spent one day from Port Denarau in Fiji pasting mud all over ourselves, followed by a thermal pool dip, refreshments and coconut oil massage at Sabeto mud baths, which I would highly recommend if you’re over these ways! As the guest entertaining duo, for 13 of the days on board, we were playing music for up to four hours each day in one of the bars or lounges, up by the pools or in the casino.

aroYou do need a pretty big repertoire of covers up your sleeve, but we loved throwing a handful of originals through our sets as well when the vibe felt right. We enjoyed sharing a few sneaky tunes off our upcoming debut album during our gigs and had a bunch of people request more of the reo Māori arosongs, which was cool!

Being a guest entertainer means you are still considered a guest, but you’re also part of the crew too. You get the best of both worlds really, able to enjoy all the areas of the boat a guest might, eating here and grabbing a cocktail there if you fancy. Then sleeping in the crew area (in your own room of course), getting to be part of things like crew bingo with 600 or so hard-working, awesome people. The crew bar has its perks too!

Looking after yourself on board is important, much as it is on land. You have a gym, so many stairs and a pool to enjoy, so may as well keep your body happy while you’re here, cause it’s SO easy to just do…nothing.

aroIf you’re like us you’ll want to be enjoying the trip, but also using any downtime well. We spent the sea days learning new songs people had requested, meeting new people and working on the final demos for our album ‘Manu’, before we hit the studio. It was ideal having the room and space to bring our manu inspired album to a ready-to-record state, as well as planning the next tour!

For singers, I’d recommend taking some good remedies in case you get a scratchy old throat. Not only is it a decent amount of singing day after day, but you’re also constantly surrounded by a lot of people and a whole lot of air conditioning too. My body had become quite used to van life, where you don’t spend much time inside at all, so the constant air conditioning and space did make me a little sick. Thanks to fresh air and a fellow musician on board I was given a stash of vocal remedies and had my voice and energy back in a day!

On that subject, here are a few other things to consider bringing:

  1. A bit of spending mola in the currency of the countries you’re heading to is a good thing to consider pre-boarding, so you don’t get bitten in the bum by them extra fees – like we did.
  2. A snorkelling set! We had the most amazing day on Dravuni Island in Fiji. It was such a stunning place and we spent the whole day in the water following magnificent fish swimming around the coral reef. Take me back!
  3. Chocolate… But then again, there is a chocolate/lollie bar on board!
  4. Seasickness pills… We were lucky this time round with awesome weather, but the last cruise I did we had 14-metre swells and couldn’t even dock at one port we were planning to explore… I got very seasick, but thanks to a few ‘Sea-legs’ tablets, I was sweet after a bit.
  5. Themed outfits! We were told that there are a few themed nights on board, so we hit up the op shops before we cruised and got amongst. It’s honestly so much fun, and everyone goes pretty hard out too… Get into it!

aroThe final thing I have to say about cruising with ya tunes is that you spend a lot of time with the people in your band, or duo or trio… So before considering that sort of group immersion make sure you get along – or at least know how to give each other the space you need so that you can still enjoy musicing with each other! We’ve learnt how important this is from time spent living in a van together. Sometimes Charles just needs to watch a couple of YouTube vids, and I just need to go enjoy a coffee in a bustling wee cafe! Fortunately, it’s easy to find this kind of space on a cruise ship.

aroYou could easily live from working on ships. For the time you’re on board, you have free kai, your own room, a free gym and a bar with very affordable drink prices, not to mention a whole lot of sunshine! Because we’re currently van-dwellers, not having to worry about rent back home, for us it’s certainly worth it, and quite a treat actually! It’s hard to compare it to a covers gig because I’ve heard some people get next to biscuits for 3-hour long ones… Come on people- you’re/we’re worth more than that!!

It’s not as much for the time you’re playing as it would be on land (in my opinion) – but because of all the other perks I mentioned above I’d say – yup – it’s worth it and a good way to save, especially if you were doing the long haul (3-8 month) cruises. You meet lots of great people too – cruisers and crew!

If this sounds like something you might be keen to get into, one agency that auditions artists for work on cruise ships is Grayboy Entertainment

Look out for Aro’s debut album, alongside a 20 date nationwide tour, in February 2019.