Ask the average guy in the street what images the phrase "Music Cruise" brings up and you're likely to get some pretty sad feedback: Guy Lombardo playing for half-gassed fogies on a creaky liner. "My Way" on steel drums at the midnight buffet. Carol Lynley lip-synching "The Morning After" in The Poseidon Adventure.
Luckily, it ain't necessarily so. While the 80s and 90s were the era of bargain-bin, Golden Oldies theme cruises, today the operative words are "specialized" and "outsourced," with specialists chartering big ships for floating blues- and pop-fests and smaller lines targeting highbrow to a discriminating audience.
The biggest of the former is probably the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise (tel. 888/BLUESIN; www.bluescruise.com). Now in its fifth season, it's grown from chartering little old tubs to filling some of the biggest new megaships, usually months ahead of time. That's the story with the next Blues Cruise, sailing Jan. 8 from Fort Lauderdale and already totally sold out. If you want to get aboard the one after that -- sailing four-nights from San Diego on October 3, 2006, aboard Holland America's Zaandam -- get your reservation in now. Musical guests include Taj Mahal, Ike Turner, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit, and more than a dozen others, with dozens of scheduled performances, nightly jam sessions (some of which allow passengers to play with the pros), instrumental workshops, and special menus, including barbecue sauce stirred up by Kansas City's Amazing Grace Harris. Prices currently run from $960 per person.
The Blues Cruise folks are also behind the 6-night western Caribbean Jam Cruise (tel. 212/777-0925; www.jamcruise.com), sailing January 7 from Ft. Lauderdale aboard MSC Cruises' 1,590-passenger Lirica. Performers include Bela Fleck, Galactic, Digable Planets, and more than a dozen others. Most cabins are already sold out, but about a dozen triples and quads are still available, starting around $1,140 per person.
For performances by pop divas, look to the lesbian/gay charter companies. Lesbian-oriented Olivia (tel. 800/631-6277; www.olivia.com) has recently brought aboard singers like Melissa Etheridge, Shawn Colvin, the Indigo Girls, k.d. lang, Wynonna Judd, and Mary Chapin Carpenter to kick off their weeklong lesbian-targeted sailings, while Atlantis Events (tel. 800/628-5268; www.atlantisevents.com) has had performers like Patti LuPone, Cybill Shepherd, and Chaka Khan. Can we say, "Know your market?"
Among the luxury lines, Crystal Cruises (tel. 866/446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com) and Radisson Seven Seas (tel. 877/505-5370; www.rssc.com) are holding the fort for traditional jazz and Big Band cruises, which were once among the most popular music theme cruises but have seen their numbers wane in recent years.
On November 16, 2005, the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity sails ten nights Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale, with port calls in the Azores and Bermuda and nights swinging to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, still going fifty years after its namesake's demise. On April 29 the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony sails nine nights Miami to Lisbon, with absolutely no port calls at all. To keep things lively, the line is bringing aboard jazz headliners as well as musician, writer, and Juilliard instructor Loren Schoenberg, who will offer lectures on the Big Band era. Fares currently start around $2,800 for the November 16 cruise, $2,300 for the April 29.
At Radisson, the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner goes jazzy on its weeklong March 13 cruise, with ten guest musicians entertaining as the vessel sails round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale to the eastern Caribbean. Fares currently start from about $2,600.
Going classical, high-end German line Peter Deilmann Cruises (tel. 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com) will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth in 2006 with a 7-night Danube cruise departing April 2 aboard the 200-passenger namesake vessel Mozart. Sailing round-trip from Passau/Munich and visiting Vienna, Durnstein, Budapest, Bratislava, Melk, and Grein. A small orchestra will perform on board throughout the voyage, complementing performances in Vienna and at Budapest's Hungarian State Opera House. Music-related sights include Vienna's State Opera House, the Figaro House, and the Hofburg Palace's Museum of Musical Instruments. Prices start around $1,800 for inside cabins, $2,600 for outside. An optional 2-night post-cruise tour visits Salzburg, with dinner and a chamber music concert at the Hohensalzburg Fortress ($490 per person). A second Deilmann music cruise will sail the Seine River aboard the 100-passenger Cezanne, departing Sept. 2, 2006.
Heading out to open sea, Deilmann is also offering a classically themed two-week Mediterranean cruise from October 4-17, 2006, aboard its flagship, the 513-passenger MS Deutschland, one of the finest boutique vessels sailing today. Sailing from Malaga (Spain) to Athens, the vessel will visit the Spanish ports of Alicante and Palma before heading north to Toulon, Monte Carlo, Rome, Valletta (Malta), and Heraklion (Crete). A chamber orchestra and a group of operatic soloists will sail with the vessel, and activities at sea will include discussions of the composers and works being performed. Prices start at $4,799 per person.
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