Ballroom dancing is big; so is comedy and high-tech shows with special effects. In the spirit of keeping cruise entertainment fresh, acts are getting more creative all the time. Though Vegas-style production shows with feather boa-clad show girls are still alive and kicking, more and more they're being offered with a fresh twist to keep the cruise experience as modern as possible. Though the quality of performers varies from ship to ship depending on the casts and musicians on board, sometimes the musical entertainment is darn-right outstanding. Imagine if you were on board a cruise where Jennifer Hudson was performing. Case in Point: he Oscar-winning star of Dream Girls began her career singing aboard the Disney Wonder playing the part of one of Muses in Hercules The Muse-ical. Here is some of our favorite entertainment on the high seas.
Disney Cruise Line
As you might expect, Disney's two ships -- the Wonder and Magic -- have the industry's best production shows. Performed in the grand Walt Disney theater, Disney characters and songs are weaved into impressive hour-long performances that include special effects, video, trap doors, zip lines, and even acrobatics. For 4-year-olds to grandparents alike, the shows bring down the house night after night. Disney's newest and most elaborate is Toy Story: The Musical, a show offered aboard the Wonder that showcases the adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Woody. Other shows' headliners range from Peter Pan to Prince Charming, Aladdin, Ariel, and some original characters, too.
Unlike other cruise lines who hire outside companies to handle nearly every aspect of their production shows, Royal Caribbean keeps its own in-house entertainment division to ensure better quality control and to build loyalty among the staff. And it shows. Aboard the new Independence of the Seas, for instance, four fresh and innovative productions include Center Stage, a dramatic extravaganza featuring the ship's entire complement of entertainers -- 20+ musicians, 6 singers, 10 dancers, 2 gymnasts, 1 professional ballroom couple and an aerialist. Another production show, Under the Big Top, headlines a trapeze aerialist, while in Once Upon a Time, there's a cool tight-rope walker segment.
Ballroom Dancing Competitions
A serial innovator, Royal Caribbean's latest head-turner is its dazzling new Invitation to Dance show aboard several of its ships. Choreographed by "Dancing with the Stars'" Louis Van Amstel, the reality TV-style ballroom dance competition features the ships' professional dance couple taking the lead as well as four passenger couples chosen to vie for a chance to perform in the main theater. There are tux rentals for the gentlemen and for the ladies, costume fittings, makeup and hair appointments, and jewelry borrowed for the evening from the ship's boutiques.
Regent Seven Seas
A full-time professional ballroom couple performs in a weekly production show aboard the Seven Seas Mariner, Navigator and Voyager called Ballroom Bravo. Presented with a live orchestra, the couples are also showcased in a number of shorter dance demos around the ship. On most crossings, RSSC also boasts its own version of "Dancing with the Stars" when the many sea days make it possible for as many as 20 guests to participate in a series of competitions. Guest dancers are paired with cast dancers, one of the professional ballroom dancers or a dance host for the various rounds, and the grand finale is one of the most popular happenings on the ship.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Aside from its flamboyant Vegas-style revues and musical acts, Carnival also gets big laughs for its midnight stand-up comedy routines. The line's R-rated comedy shows feature hilarious stand-up comics like Al Ernst and Happy Cole whose zippy one-liners and energetic delivery keep audiences in stitches. And these guys get around, both have impressive resumes that include television appearances on the major networks and live performances around the world.
Norwegian Cruise Line
The Second City improv comedy troupes perform on six NCL ships, including Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Spirit.Â Performing the "The Best of Second City" in the ships' main theaters on every cruise, unscripted improvised skits and songs leave audiences gasping for air as they double over in peels of laughter. It's a marvel that the performers can be so darn witty without memorizing any lines. On each sailing, the ensemble also performs two script-free improv shows in the ships' Spinnaker Lounge and offers improv workshops for adults passengers and kids alike.
One of the most enjoyable acts I've ever seen were the roving a capella singers aboard the Crystal ships. Hosted between September and May, on a recent cruise, four young hotties in well-tailored suits wowed guests with their vocal prowess, belting out spine-tingling songs sans instruments. One day it was an impromptu concert in the atrium lobby, another it was a scheduled set in a lounge.
The brand new Celebrity Solstice offers an edgy light shows in its retro-style Quasar lounge. The space has a space age-y Â?60s and Â?70s look, with banquette seating as well as pod-shaped acrylic chairs that swivel and are attached to both the ceiling and floor. Four large LED screens in the space are programmed with state-of-the-art lighting that's synchronized with music for abstract, futuristic-style nightly shows.
This small-ship line doesn't have a nightclub or show lounges on its rustic tall ships, but that doesn't mean the adventurous passengers don't like to be entertained. A few times a week passenger and crew shows are held on deck that have involve goofy skits, practical jokes and musicals acts. It's a down-to-earth hoot.
This line gets big points for throwing a good party. Its Italian-style entertainment is big on passenger participation and the super multi-lingual cruise staff is pros at creating excitement around the nightly offerings. On Caribbean sailings, the line's famous "Roman Bacchanal" party has guests donning togas and celebrating as the Romans did centuries ago. Other fun includes tarantella dancing, one of Italy's most beloved folk traditions, which has everyone dancing in a big circle and quickly switching directions when prompted.
From the QM2's planetarium showing 3-D science films to its lecture and performance series, Cunard offers more than the average cruise shtick. Highlights of several QM2 transatlantic crossings, for instance, include performances and workshops by Britain's famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. Aboard the Queen Victoria, guests in private Royal Court Theatre Boxes enjoy the great entertainment with hors d'oeuvres, Veuve Clicquot Champagne and chocolate truffles served by White Star bellboys; later they can meet the performers backstage.