I will be sailing aboard the Voyager of the Seas from Saturday, November 12th to the 19th in the Western Caribbean. My cruise will take me to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica, in and out of New Orleans. I encourage you to join me as I share my cruise experience with all of you.
Greetings everyone! I am currently sailing aboard the revolutionary and seminal ship, Voyager of the Seas, once the largest cruise ship in the world in 1999 when introduced. Royal Caribbean is marking its return to New Orleans service with the mega ship that has since spawned the likes of the Oasis and Allure of the Seas. The ship is in beautiful shape minus a few caveats, and New Orleans as a city is phenomenal but as a port a bit lacking, at least currently.
Having never visited the Big Easy previously, I arrived a day early into New Orleans to get a taste for the city. I am extremely impressed. The Mississippi port city is brimming with rich history, eclectic architecture, exquisite food, and outstanding music. There is nothing else quite like listening to traditional jazz live in New Orleans. To a jazz lover like me, it’s magical.
I started out my day of touring with a two-hour city overview by bus. The Gray Line tours here are extremely well done. My bus driver/guide, Sylvester, was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We drove around the famous French Quarter, down residential streets with pre-Civil War antebellum homes, through the city park, and to a quick stop at one of the above ground cemeteries. I became quickly aware that one day would only just touch the surface of all there is to do and see in this great city.
After my bus tour, I boarded the genuine steamboat, paddle-wheeler, Natchez, for about a two-hour lunch cruise on the Mississippi River. I enjoyed a tasty roast beef po-boy sandwich and then proceeded out on deck to gaze upon the rather stark banks of the river. This is certainly an industrial port with dock facilities and anchorage points for various tankers. Rising above the flat landscape is the sinuous structure of an oil refinery, a weather-beaten sugar factory, and military facilities, along with some residences. Still, don’t expect to see anything like Long Beach in the way of an abundance of docks and cranes.
This river cruise afforded me the first glance of the cruise terminal I would soon be sailing from. Situated amongst a complex first built for a world’s fair, the terminal is in a state of flux. From the outside you can see an old gangway structure with torn canvas coverings, possibly a relic of hurricane Katrina’s carnage six years ago. Otherwise, the building is in fine shape, although still in the process of interior remodeling, and reminds me somewhat of Canada Place in Vancouver. I’ll have more to discuss on this later.
After the river cruise, I strolled through the French Quarter on foot to peruse the shops and soak in the unique energy that infuses these streets. Royal Street, for instance, was closed off to traffic and instead made way for various street musicians and performers. There was much more pedestrian traffic this time of year than I had expected which contributed to the vivacious vibe of the city. I enjoyed the sounds of jazz on the streets, the smell of delectable treats, and the sights of architectural history.
In the evening, I took a walking tour that begun with a fantastic sit-down meal complete with a wonderful seafood-topped pasty and a very tasty banana bread pudding. The tour took us through the French Quarter at night to a small jazz club and bar where we were treated to a set of traditional jazz standards and a hurricane, a delicious New Orleans drink of fruit juices and rum. The night concluded with a visit to Cafe de Monde where you aren’t served just one or two, but three powdered sugar coated beignets along with a cafe au lait. And yes, the beignets truly are as delicious as they say. Krispy Kreme has got nothing on these sweet babies.
The next morning my cruising experience began. My hotel was only two blocks up from the cruise ship terminal, so I decided to roll my luggage down and expected to walk quickly and easily into the check-in area. To be sure, New Orleans is a fantastic city, but its port proves to be a bit of a bottle-neck to say the least. At noon, many guests from the previous cruise were still exiting the terminal areas while many new guests begun to arrive. The porters were extremely friendly and helpful in gathering luggage and pointing out directions.
The check-in process took an abnormally long time to divvy up everyone’s room keys. The situation was further confounded by the tiny waiting area which quickly filled up beyond capacity with guests forced to sit on the floors and stand while waiting until 1pm when boarding finally commenced. I since heard that bathroom facilities were so scarce here that some had to leave the secure area for a comfort stop only to be required to go though the security check once again. The terminal corridors in which we passed to make our way on the ship were still under construction awaiting final installation of flooring treatments. Still, we happily made it onboard after a brief disorganized period.
The ship was scheduled to depart at 5pm. It didn’t actually make way until 7pm. The lifeboat drill took place at 5:15pm, itself delayed from 3:45pm, on the promenade deck where I peered over the side of the ship to assess the situation. There was a slew of luggage and provisions yet to be brought onboard the ship. This is my 45th cruise, and I have never been two hours late in sailing before. However, it’s my understanding that this is a newly configured cruise terminal with a new staff. That plus the fact that this is the largest cruise ship ever to dock at New Orleans is sure to present logistical hurdles on a scale new to this port. I’m hopeful that the turnaround time for this ship in this port will improve, but for now, it’s less than ideal.
The ship on the other hand is generally wonderful. The ship from the outside is clean and well painted except for a few oddly located rusty blemishes. The public areas are pristine and have held up very well for a 12 year old ship. My stateroom, however, is starting to show its age. The cabinet finishes are very scratched up and worn down, and the outside veranda is very rusty. The only other noticeable shortcoming across much of the ship is the poor upkeep of the deck railings which are missing a substantial amount of their varnish.
All in all, the ship is still magnificent, and it remains an industry benchmark for its introduction of so many revolutionary cruise ship features. For instance, I have already indulged in a meal at the delightful Johnny Rockets at sea, and it continues to amaze me that this ship has an ice rink onboard. And of course, there is the always impressive Royal Promenade – the open “mall” space stretching a good length of the ship from atrium to atrium – flanked by so many unique interior staterooms that have an inward view. I truly get a kick out of this ship.
Tonight is formal night, and we are sure to be treated to a very nice meal in what is, in my opinion, one of the nicest dining rooms at sea. The decor is perfectly balanced with a rich yet subdued color palette of white, jade, merlot, and gold. And tomorrow we will be in Cozumel, Mexico, where I will be enjoying a salsa and margarita making shore excursion. It should be fun. I’ll keep everyone posted.
This past evening was formal night aboard the ship, and with it, I chose to take in an early headline show and a later dinner in the main dining room. For a formal night, I was very surprised to find a fun variety show instead of the usual lavish production that is typically reserved for such evenings. Instead, a trio of Motown singers, dubbed Horizon, took to the stage backed by the ship’s very talented orchestra. It’s difficult for me to place it. These singers, performing numbers from the likes of the Four Tops and the Temptations, were good, but they just lacked a certain vocal punch. I found myself more impressed with the band than the singers themselves. Even when they sang a cappella, their vocal profile as a trio just didn’t strike me as very impressive. This was their first of two shows for the evening. So it’s possible that they could have been saving their voices, but I doubt it. The group did play extremely well to the audience, however, and used a great deal of humor and interaction to get a rise from the crowd. In many ways, their comedy was more entertaining than their singing. When you exit the main show lounge to be more delighted by the great band playing in the Royal Promenade than the show you just saw, it definitely tells you something.
The formal dinner in the dining room was very good and remains consistent with my past culinary experiences aboard Royal Caribbean. While the food is not to the level of premium lines like Celebrity, the dishes were still satisfying. My lobster bisque was just a couple degrees cooler than I would have liked, but the flavor remained bold to the taste. The caesar salad consisted of sporadically cut lettuce drizzled with very little dressing. But the main course was excellently prepared. My medium-rare filet mignon was cut into two thick slices set atop a pile of rosemary mashed potatoes and finished off with a delicious gravy sauce. The meat was easy to cut and very pleasant to the tongue. The meal was concluded with a light and airy strawberry cheesecake that was a perfect send off.
Today we are docked at Cozumel, Mexico just down from a grouping of shops and restaurants including Senior Frogs. I have been tied off at this diminutive dock before aboard the since retired Celebrity Mercury – which had then appeared to dwarf the moorings. Suffice it to say, the Voyager of the Seas and the Jewel of the Seas just across from our ship overwhelm this dock on a far grander scale.
My tour today was Salsa, Salsa and Margaritas. The tour began by checking in pier side before being escorted to taxis which took us all of eight minutes away to a local hotel. Upon arrival, we were brought to a raised patio overlooking the colorful waters of the coast just below. There were a number of tables all outfitted with ingredients which we were invited to sit down at in pairs to learn how to make salsa and margaritas. This is a really fun tour. The double reference to salsa in the title refers not only to salsa making but also to salsa dancing. Our cooking and dancing session was emceed by two very energetic women who took us step by step through the process of making two margaritas and seven salsas.
In between sampling our creations with chips, quesadillas, and taquitos, our table captains (somehow, I was randomly chosen) and later those not currently dicing ingredients (again, somehow me) were instructed to salsa dance for the instruction benefit and general amusement of the remaining table-mates. Even having had a couple of margaritas, I’m not certain my dancing skills had improved, but I did enjoy my silly dance time nonetheless which is certainly the objective here.
Today was mostly an overcast day with a substantial amount of cloud cover making for a very humid climate. So spending time under cover with a nice cool breeze making salsas and margaritas, and yes, even dancing, was a nice change of pace from the usual fare of lounging in what was today a relatively nonexistent sun. We started by making margaritas, one traditional and the other a blended strawberry version. On an empty stomach at 9am in the morning, the margaritas were thankfully followed quickly with the salsas and snack foods. Our salsas included simple ones like pico de gallo to tomato red and tomatillo green. The green salsa acted as our base for what became our guacamole. That was easily the tastiest of our creations today, in my opinion, but that could very well be because I’m known for making a mean guacamole of my own back at home. We also learned how to make some fruit salsas and even a dessert salsa consisting of fruits and a sweet vanilla rum liqueur. Even those who chose not to drink any of the alcohol were equally included in the fun and welcomed to at least make the food and drinks, and those guests were also offered non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy with their salsas instead. This tour gets a solid A in my book. I would highly recommend it.
Tomorrow our ship will be in Grand Cayman where I will be going on a Stingray Swim excursion which should be a blast. I’m bringing my waterproof digital camera, so I should have plenty of great photos to share from that journey with all of you later on.
Before I update everyone on today’s activities in Grand Cayman, which was swamped with five anchored cruise ships, I wanted to give a bit of an entertainment update. (Photos from today’s excursion are inserted immediately below as well.) Last night on Voyager of the Seas, the Royal Promenade came to life for the 50/60s dance party. There is no doubt that the ship has an unmistakable energy which is thanks primarily to the unique layout of this ship. The Royal Promenade that was introduced with this ship 12 years ago creates a bustling street atmosphere right smack dab in the heart of the vessel. The fantastic music and lighting of any street party found here create a dazzling spectacle that is sure to entertain.
The only minor but noticeable caveat to this busy intersection of people is that it creates bottlenecks in the flow of pedestrians attempting to traverse from stem to stern. Curiously the bandstand is situated immediately across from the Cafe Promenade which serves the popular treats of coffee and ice cream. Here is where the most congestion occurs with spectators, dancers, and snack patrons. To be sure, the Royal Promenade acts as a great entertainment venue and cultural center onboard, but it also must act as a thoroughfare. The expectation of this space to handle both creates difficulties that are not easily overcome. However, any delay in passing is at least rewarded with fantastic sights and sounds.
I’ve found myself enjoying the smaller acts onboard this cruise far more than the so called headline shows. This would include said street performances in the epicenter of the ship. It also includes acts like Matt Yee in the Schooner Bar, a traditional maritime themed piano and drink venue. Matt Yee is a very well known entertainer on cruise ships. This is my first time seeing his act, and I find his flamboyant sing-along to be a delightful romp that brings people together in song and laughter. Sure, his amusing humor can be bold and risque, but his equal celebration and ribbing of all walks of life solidifies a heartfelt communion amongst everyone present. What’s more, Matt is a truly kind and generous soul as I discovered today as he joined us on our tour and we had the chance to chat for awhile. We love you Matt!
The tour I speak of was the famous Grand Cayman Stingray Swim. Despite a very haphazard departure to our tour boat, this excursion was another home rum. I had previously swam with dolphins in Puerto Vallarta twice as I am a huge fan of aquatic animals. While dolphins remain my favorite animal, our close encounters today with stingrays was a treat as well. Our boat took us out for a good 25-30 minutes off the coast in pristine blue waters. The deep navy blue abruptly gave way to a silty turquoise that one might expect to see in brochures. Here was the sandbar where our encounter would occur. Even though quite a few boats stop at this area with hundreds of people at any given time, the sandbar is plenty expansive enough to accommodate everyone, and there are a great many stingrays to mingle with.
You disembark the boat from a stairwell that drops into the water at the bow. Once off, you are able to stand comfortably in waist high water, so no lifejackets are required for this experience. You are briefed ahead of time on correct etiquette for stingray interaction, but you are generally free to touch them on their upper and lower surfaces. They feel silky and almost slimy, even though they really aren’t, to the touch, and are very similar to dolphins in that way – although their looser epidermis doesn’t seem to be nearly as wetsuit-like firm and is mildly prickly in spots.
The tour guides are great to facilitate everyone getting face time with the animals as well as informing you a bit about their anatomy. These animals are very docile and friendly but not necessarily as naturally social as a dolphin. Photo opportunities abound in these waters if you have a waterproof camera or are extremely careful to keep your traditional one high above the water’s surface. The tour escort also will be there to take photos of you with the stingrays available to purchase on the return boat trip. The price for a handful of image files burnt to a CD was a steep $40, but it’s worth the cost if you don’t want to hassle with a camera at all or value a picture of your stingray interaction.
Today was a great journey. Tomorrow is a busy one, and I will likely not have time to post. However, I will be back in full swing the following day with an extra large post to compensate. Stay tuned for more musings on the food onboard as well as a review of and photos from tonight’s terrific ice show. TTFN! Tata for now!
Due to a slow internet connection and a far busier day than I anticipated, this latest post is coming to you a bit late and abbreviated. Still, there will certainly be more to come later today in the PM hours. Stay tuned. And even though my opening discussion has a culinary focus, the first few photos here are actually from Ice Odyssey, reviewed below.
With each new bite in the dining room, I’m coming to the realization that the food on Royal Caribbean has actually improved, in my opinion. While I previously considered it to be on par with my previous sailings aboard the line, I can honestly say that I’ve had a number of dishes in the main dining room now that have struck me as quite superb. Two nights ago, for instance, the restaurant featured an Italian themed menu. The Caprese salad offered fresh tomato rounds accented with delectable mozzarella and finished off with a light dressing. The small scallop risotto appetizer was surprisingly filling. And the southwestern slanted rigatoni with chorizo sausage slices, peppers, and onions was a flavor explosion. Well done Royal Caribbean.
Of course, the culinary options onboard Voyager of the Seas range from this fine variety to the diner variety with Johnny Rockets. I have always been a fan of 50s diners. There is just something special about the music from that time played from a coin-op paired with a big juicy cheeseburger, french fries, and a milkshake or Coca-Cola. Then take that combination and place it on the top deck of a cruise ship at sea. Now that may not be considered fine dining, but it sure is a culinary treat and my favorite dining venue onboard these sister ships. I have already made four visits.
Three nights ago we were entertained in Studio B, the alternative entertainment venue that is famous for its genuine ice skating rink. The humidity and heat of the Caribbean have been very intense these past few days, and yet inside the ship is this chilled wintery ice box where international skaters perform an intimate show that is absolutely dazzling. The show, Ice Odyssey, presents a certainly more abstract narrative that is not always entirely clear. However, you so quickly lose yourself to the vibrant performance of colorfully costumed skaters gliding gracefully across the cool surface. The music builds and the lighting enchants as these skaters begin to aggressively chisel the ice with increased speed and agility within just feet of where you are sitting.
The overall effect of the show succeeds more as a medley of tightly synchronized group choreography interspersed between solo and duo performances. At one point, one of the audience members is invited down to the floor and sat down at a throne that is then slid across the ice in unison with the skating action. In chromatic and musical tone, some numbers are light, and others are dark. One performance, in our case, showcased an individually featured skater who incorporates dozens of colorful hula-hoops into her beautifully kinetic act. Her athletic balance to spin several loops at a time around her limbs and torso simultaneously while skating is a sight to behold. As a member of the audience sitting in a chilled environment, you can’t help but be transported by the spectacle before you. This show is a must see.
Later today I will have a full report on the new cruise port of Falmouth, Jamaica and additional thoughts regarding onboard activities. TTFN, Tata for Now!
Jamaica was the port highlight of the cruise. Welcomed by a very strong but short lived rain storm, we docked at Falmouth. This port is brand new to cruising as of this past February when the new reclaimed land complex was first used but is actually a historic port from the island’s past. The launch of the Oasis-class ships was the impetus for Royal Caribbean assisting the island in reintroducing this port to ships. While the port of Jamaica has full control over the actual land and which ships make berth here, Royal Caribbean arranged for the financing necessary for Jamaica to afford this new development which is also being overseen by the cruise line with the ultimate goal of creating a mixed use facility beyond the retail shops already open to visitors.
It’s an impressive port. The buildings are new but are made to resemble the local architecture, and the dock is large enough to accept two mega cruise ships. Yesterday, both Voyager of the Seas and the Freedom of the Seas, two ships representing the first of their respective classes, were docked across from each other, separated only by the new triangular port development. From afar it was striking to see the difference in size between the vessels viewed straight on. The Freedom is certainly plumper. The port is expected to receive ships from other lines soon too including Holland-America.
The people of Jamaica are extremely friendly. You feel an almost instant sense of camaraderie with the locals, and they made for fantastic guides during our shore excursions. Our first tour was a zip-lining and tubing combo. After leaving the port, we took a 30 minute bus trip to an historic sugar plantation that has since been converted into a tourist destination featuring the above mentioned activities along with hiking, ATV, and canoe options, making it a great destination for visitors seeking a range of physical activities. The area is lush with plant life and seemingly custom made for its current tourist use.
After, dropping off our belongings at lockers – a process that could be better explained and streamlined by the staff as it was not immediately made clear that we had to deposit our gear here instead of keeping it on the bus – we headed out to get harnessed into our zip-lining gear. After a brief orientation we were off to the first of five runs. Our tour was a sampler of sorts and featured only three of the five.
I had never been zip-lining before, and I was extremely excited to try it. The experience is simply a kick in the pants and is very much like a roller coaster ride except you are yourself the coaster car and the scenery is the forest canopy of an exotic land. The first run was very long. It certainly takes a bit of courage to sit down in the harness and raise your legs up to release yourself into the initially steep course, but once you do, you are rewarded with a surprisingly smooth and fast horizontal glide through the trees. You can’t help but feel a bit like Jack Sparrow here in the Caribbean or Indiana Jones on an archaeological adventure as the site is spotted with old plantation structures overgrown with foliage.
After traversing three runs strapped tightly in your gear in a very tropical humid climate, you’ll be sweating for sure. The following tubing portion of our tour was delightfully refreshing and relaxing after the adrenaline filled zip-lining. Between the two portions of the tour you are taken on a short but ridiculously bumpy outdoor truck ride that is reminiscent of an extreme version of the Indiana Jones Adventure ride at Disneyland. You are made quick acquaintances with everyone onboard as you are thrown about while laughing hysterically from the absurdity of the terrain.
The contrast that awaits as you glide peacefully down the river is undeniable. We were seated into inner-tubes that were strapped together into a string of four or so. Each grouping of tubes is escorted by a guide who directs the flotilla down the river and into a handful of minor but exciting rapids along the way. The water was cool but not cold and offered a chance to swim a bit too between rapids. When in the tubes, you are protected from the rocky riverbed at the rapids by a shield that plugs the underside of each inflatable. You are still required to lift your bottoms up and legs in at the rapids just to be as safe as possible, but you never feel in any danger as all precautions are carefully considered.
The river is so beautiful too. It reminds me a little bit of the Jordan River in Israel crossed somewhat with the Jungle Cruise at yes, you guessed it, Disneyland. The foliage is thick and often arches across the river to create a floral tunnel. Our guide pointed out the varieties of trees, bamboo, and flowering plants as well as different nests. It was fascinating. This combo tour of zip-lining and tubing is one of the best tours I have ever been on and certainly the highlight of this particular cruise.
On the way back to the ship we stopped at the plantation house which was in amazing shape and featured beautiful white-washed architecture with warm interior tones. The floors were all original made from wild orange tree wood that was somewhat similar looking to koa wood. Ordinarily, this location would offer a sit down lunch, but we were behind schedule and had to take ours to go. The local cuisine was very tasty. Our meal included jerk chicken, fish, and a fantastic rice concoction.
Unfortunately, this wonderful tour that we had just enjoyed was followed by an afternoon aboard the Captain Hook Adventure. There likely is an appeal, albeit very limited, for this type of tour, but to our group it was painful to be in attendance. Featuring a cast of pirate characters led by the so called Captain Hook, the show, if you can really call it that, was a barely discernible, narrative mess. It tried to be equal parts dance cruise, booze cruise and pirate show, a combination that failed at every turn. It was derivative and kitschy to say the least. All drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, were included as was a lunch of nasty hot dogs and chicken nuggets. It was occasionally amusing and the performers really did give it their all given the circumstances, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this tour. The only saving grace is that it afforded a fantastic view of the ships docked at the pier.
In concluding this live voyage review, I’d like to share some thoughts regarding the Portofino specialty restaurant, the entertainment onboard and the Martina McBride concert.
For our final formal night we dined at the specialty Italian restaurant, Portofino, situated on the lido deck. Since this restaurant applies a cover charge of $20, I was expecting a meal superior to that served in the included main dining room. While our dinner was certainly enjoyable, I found my filet mignon entrée to be less flavorful than the one I had downstairs earlier in the week. The same was true of the shrimp risotto. While the appetizer was acceptable, I found it to be somewhat lacking here. Our table also shared a number of pastas around the table which were far better. I’m a pesto fan, and their pesto pasta was quite tasty but a bit uninspired in its preparation. What I was truly impressed with was their dessert. No matter what was ordered around the table, the presentation was theatrical. The fantastical shapes arranged in and delicious flavors drawn from chocolate were astounding. But I still hold that Johnny Rockets is the unique culinary gem on this ship.
On this formal night, we were also entertained with a great production show called “Rhythm and Rhyme.” It was more or less a typical cruise-fare medley of Broadway tunes, but the vocal and dance performances were extremely solid. One of the female vocalists had serious pipes, only surpassed on this stage by Martina McBride on our day of disembarkation.
The set pieces were limited but very well done. The tiered band stand was framed in by an arched curtain that was decorated with the names of the featured Broadway composers spelled out in popcorn lights. At one point, a quaintly makeshift taxicab is scooted around the stage by the dancers and “driven” by one of the male vocalists. The lighting design was also impressive and well featured in a “recording studio” scene partly obscured by a fog scrim and showcasing three female vocalists. This intimate set was wonderfully colorful and cinematic in its art direction.
I must admit that I had grown accustomed to watching such shows on cruises from the upper balcony as I’m partial to that particular perspective. However, this time I was front and center and only about 5 rows back. There is something to be said for how much more the sound and the experience in general impacts you at this position. The sound mixes onboard were well balanced from any seat in the house this week, perhaps is preparation for Martina McBride’s impending arrival, but details in the audio and visual elements of this show were far more apparent at this distance. Maybe this observation seems obvious, but the contrast in experiences was so striking that I felt it merited mentioning.
The Royal Promenade itself was the chosen venue for several onboard shows and musical performances. I had discussed previously how well this corridor is utilized for entertainment performances with the caveat of congestion. The 50/60s night was musically fun and included some performers dressed up as dance hosts. Later in the week, the 70s night was far more elaborate and featured the use of the bridge-way that crosses the “street.” Here dancers dressed up like the Village People danced to music from the era and entertained the onlookers. Such events are a lot of fun and utilize the audio and visual capabilities of the promenade to a limited degree.
The facility is used to full effect when even more of the entertainment staff is in play for the Party Around the World parade that took place here on the last sea day. This show takes a substantial effort and includes the additional decoration of the various outcroppings. Dozens of performers are well costumed, and the whole show is emceed by the cruise director in a strange Nordic get up. The overall effect of the show, however, is underwhelming. There really is no narrative, and the performers nonchalantly traverse the length of the corridor along with a handful of crew members waving flags designating their respective ship departments. Most cruises offer an opportunity to feature the staff on stage to celebrate their commitment to the passengers as well as their international diversity. This here seemed to be a halfhearted attempt to shoehorn such an event in. The show is kinetic with wind machines blowing streamers, lights dazzling, and a Segway scooter being featured for a very brief ride by the cruise director. The production just needs more cohesion and energy, in my opinion. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.
Another famous entertainment offering onboard Royal Caribbean is The Quest. Advertised as showcasing the adult side of the cruise line, this game show is a scavenger hunt that incorporates everyone in attendance at the venue, on this ship it was Studio B. The entire hunt remains inside the one room and is played by six teams, crowds divided by bleacher section. The cruise director is again the emcee, and here assigns points to the teams as they meet the requirements of each “quest.” Quests – which must be met and then seen and confirmed by the cruise director wherever in the room he or she may be, adding a bit of a hide-and-go-seek element – range from docile ones such as a man giving a woman a piggyback ride to more suggestive ones such as a man wearing lipstick, keeping in mind that the lipstick need not necessarily be worn on the lips.
Things got rather adult within the first few minutes of the game as one woman ripped open the back of her dress during the piggyback portion and exposed her bare buttocks to the crowd for the game’s entire duration with zero inhibition. Quests ramped up to seeking as many men per team wearing bras as well as seeking women’s thongs, thus requiring live disrobing. To be sure, no one was ever fully nude, but things got pretty close quite frequently. The game is extremely amusing for those who chose just to watch, our group included, but at times became rather revolting such as when said exposed buttocks were flaunted about.
Nonetheless, people really get into this game which has become a staple tradition among repeat cruisers. The commitment is apparent when you observe how people dress up for the event in anticipation for the wild expectations of the quests. One person, for instance, dressed up in a full Elmo costume wearing a head piece that surely filled up a piece of luggage all on its own. Despite all warnings against children being in attendance, one couple even brought their 5-7 year old daughter and even exploited her as the team’s shortest member for one of the quests. The game show is fun but often inappropriate in its elicitation of lowest-common-denominator behavior as part of a bizarre social experiment. In short, this scene is not for everybody onboard.
Entertainment became more mainstream with the arrival of Martina McBride for a special onboard concert. After disembarking the cruise we returned to the ship almost immediately for a pre-concert cocktail party followed by a 45-minute set in the main show lounge. Martina showed up for a brief Q&A at the cocktail party with priority given to contest winners who were invited to the concert events and the following week long cruise. Martina was extremely congenial towards and accommodating of her fans. It was a pleasure to see her so casual and relaxed amongst everybody. She is certainly an everywoman celebrity.
The concert itself was an impressive affair. While she came onboard just for the concert, many of her crew were onboard the week before in preparation for her arrival. Her crew fully took over La Scala theater to the point that not even the ship’s own mixing board was used. Instead, it was boxed in and used as a stand for their own mixing station with a cable snake run to the stage to pick up all the microphones and instruments. The house speakers were used but were likely amplified to their limits as the volume was set to concert loud. The mix was well balanced and clear, and it never overloaded the speakers.
Martina’s vocals shined through terrifically. She can certainly sing. She hits her notes with enthusiastic belting, and the backing vocals and instrumentals accent her performance with appropriately high energy. Our group was lucky to have front row seats off to the side of the stage and had a great view of the entire performance. Martina plays very well to the crowd, interacting with them and working the full stage to attend to every section of the auditorium. She has a playful sense of humor and genuinely enjoys singing.
Her set of songs included many numbers from her newly released album as well as some of earlier hits. The audience ate up every foot stomping song and was quick to reward the performances with standing ovations. She is quite the entertainer, and her band is equally proficient at working the crowd. Her lead guitarist walked the front of the stage often and seriously waled on his guitars. At the end of the set, she and her band met the final standing ovation with an encore performance. For this final number they covered Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and honored the piece with a wonderful rendition. The concert and the cruise were both truly fantastic experiences of a lifetime. Until next time, friends…