Music by design: implementing tourist music on cruise ships

Document Type


Publication details

Cashman, D 2012, 'Music by design: implementing tourist music on cruise ships', paper presented to Soundtracks: Music, Tourism and Travel, Liverpool, UK 6-9 July.


The touristic space of a cruise ship has been referred to as a “cocoon”, separating guests physically and culturally from the cultures through which they travel. There is some merit in the idea. Cruising, the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry, is safe, relaxing and non-confrontational. It is the image of travel to exotic ports and cultures, which is important while actual cultural contact is mediated to be short, safe and easily digestible. Onboard musical performance significantly contributes to this facade. The music-cultures visited are represented by local shows or onboard performances, broken down into popular-culture musical and visual signifiers designed to be easily digestible. Other performances reflect the perceived ‘glory days’ of shipping in the 1930s. Others emphasise the perceived high social status of a cruise ship guest, while in reality cruise ships keep fares low and cater to all comers. To keep complaints to a minimum and to ensure lucrative repeat business, cruise lines remove anything confrontational, thought-provoking, ribald or ‘foreign’ (as opposed to ‘exotic’) is deliberately removed from the musical product. This paper discusses music’s contribution to this fantasy cocoon of the cruise ship. Interviews with and surveys by shipboard musicians, onboard management and head office staff provide context for analysis of the cruise ship musical product. The principle researcher’s notes from his time aboard cruise ships are also referenced. Cruise ship music does not represent reality. Instead, it creates a fantasy designed to tantalise, entertain and reassure guests. Though they may be in foreign countries, they are safe and secure in familiar western surroundings, the only contact with the music-cultures through which they pass safely mediated by cruise lines. They may almost have never left home.