You may be stuck on a ship in the middle of nowhere, but that doesn't mean that your cruise line won't want to make you feel like you're in New York, Paris, or -- more likely -- Vegas. Here are the most common ways they'll try to keep you happy.
Entertainment is a big part of the cruise experience on almost all ships, but especially on the megaships of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Costa, Princess, NCL, and Holland America, which all present an extensive variety throughout the day. We have noticed, though, the number of live musicians seems to be smaller of late, due to, we presume, lines cutting back to save money. Afternoons, you can dance on deck with the live dance band (which will likely be comprised of one or two musicians instead of four), which we'll bet 10-to-1 will be jamming calypso music or tunes by Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett. Or put on your waltzing shoes and head inside to one of the lounges for some swing dancing. Lines such as Holland America, Crystal, NCL, Cunard, Oceania, and Royal Caribbean often feature a 1940s-style big band playing dance tunes. Some of the most pleasant concerts we've heard at sea were aboard the Royal Caribbean Voyager ships. On one, a trio was so inspiring that two passengers joined in, belting out Italian opera songs like real pros. At another, the ship's big band set up just outside the pub, among the crowd, and played a relaxed set of standards.
Pre-dinner entertainment starts to heat up around 5pm, and continues all night to accommodate passengers dining early and late. Head to the piano bar for a cocktail or do some pre-dinner dancing to small-group jazz.
Usually two or three times in any week-long cruise, there are apt to be Vegas-style musical revues performed early and late in the main show lounge, with a flamboyant troupe of anywhere from 6 to 16 feather-boa-and-sequin-clad male and female dancers sliding, kicking, and lip-synching as a soloist or two belt out show tunes and pop favorites; the latest trend includes a ballroom dance couple in the mix. Expect a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber; Â?YMCAÂ?; at least one tune each from Grease, Footloose, and A Chorus Line; and maybe a few Richard Rodgers tunes. A live orchestra accompanies most of these productions, though not all (and overall, orchestras seem smaller than they were in the past). While the quality of shows industrywide is inconsistent, opinion here at Casa Frommer's is divided on the whole revue format: Heidi enjoys the medleys Â?if the singing's good -- which, granted, it isn't always,Â? and Matt thinks most of them are Â?all flash and no substance.Â? Two cruise lines we can agree on, though, are Disney and NCL. Disney has absolutely the best shows at sea, with characters and stories based on its parent company's classic films. Recent shows on NCL are also standouts, with strong soloists and really original staging, choreography, and choice of material.
On nights when the shows aren't scheduled, there may be a magic show complete with a scantily clad assistant being sawed in half and rabbits pulled from a hat; acrobatic acts and aerialists (always a big hit); headline soloists, some of them quite good (such as singer Jane L. Powell, a perennial NCL favorite whose amazing range takes her from Louis Armstrong to Bette Midler); and guest comedians or specialty acts, such as Costa's regular operatic recitals, Oceania's pianists, and Royal Caribbean's and Crystal's a cappella singing groups. Comedians frequently perform in the main theater or a second performance space, sometimes doing PG- and R-rated material at an early show and then running the X up the mast at an adults-only midnight performance (now, surprisingly, Carnival offers this). Raising the humor bar, Norwegian Cruise Line has hysterical shows by the famed Second City improv comedy group on Dawn, Spirit, Star, Jewel, Pearl, and Gem. On its new Norwegian Epic (launching after this book goes to press), NCL is even featuring a show by the Blue Man Group. Another not-yet-launched ship, Royal Caribbean's supersized Oasis of the Sea, will feature the Tony AwardÂ?winning musical Hairspray in her Opal Theater.
The disco gets going on most ships around 9 or 10pm and works it until 2 or 3am, sometimes later. Occasionally a live band plays until about midnight, when a DJ takes over until the wee hours, spinning tunes from the 1970s through the present; sometimes there's only a DJ. A karaoke session may also be thrown in for an hour or two in the afternoon or evening. Riding the coattails of the ballroom dance craze, some lines like Royal Caribbean and Regent Seven Seas are holding ballroom dance performances led by the entertainers and sometimes incorporating passengers who are especially talented.
An alternative to the disco or the main show may be a pianist or jazz trio in one of the ship's romantic nightspots, or a themed party, sometimes on deck -- NCL, Royal Caribbean, and Disney especially excel at after-dinner parties on deck complete with special effects and funky lighting. For a quiet evening, many lines show recent-release movies in a theater, a dedicated cinema, or up on deck on a giant LED screen.
To prove not all innovative entertainment has to be big, Crystal has strolling vocal quartets roaming around its ships in the evening, performing wherever people are gathered. On Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships, a troupe of clowns performs impromptu juggling, acrobatic, and comedy routines in various public areas. At different points of the cruise, they also give juggling lessons and might give a little talk about technique. Big thumbs up! Along similar lines, Carnival also features acrobats in the atria from time to time to liven things up.
Ships carrying 100 to 400 passengers have fewer entertainment options and a more mellow evening ambience overall. The high-end lines may feature a quartet or pianist performing before dinner and maybe a small-scale song-and-dance revue afterward, plus dancing in a quiet lounge. The small adventure-oriented ships may at most have a solo performer before and after dinner, or local musicians and/or dancers aboard for an afternoon or evening.
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