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Cruise Ships And Entertainment

Almost every cruise ship has entertainment. Here are some of our favorite entertainers over the years…

Allure-ChicagoThe signature production on Allure of the Seas reminded us what a terrific musical Chicago is — guess that's why it's been around for almost 40 years!

Riviera-FlamencoNot actually "on" the Oceania Riviera, this Flamenco dancer turned everyone's head at the then-new ship's christening ceremony on the Barcelona waterfront.

Navigator-Unexpecteds The Unexpected Boys, from an organization of tribute acts (The Four Seasons), on Navigator of the Seas

Unexpected Boys…and off-stage, where they have real names (left to right): Nick Celona, Aaron Young, Doug Carpenter and Scott Pearson.

Crown- Tony Tillman, named Princess Entertainer-of-the-Year on the Crown Princess, was inspired by the late Sammy Davis Jr. and has made a career playing him.

Blue Man Until seeing Blue Man Group on the Norwegian Epic, we might have considered this one scary act…but what a funny, entertaining show.

Glory Dayz-1A talented group from Rhode Island, Glory Dayz seemed headed for a bright future in cruising after spending a week auditioning on Explorer of the Seas.

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MSC Divina
7 nights
March 7, 2015
Miami (return): St. MaartenSan JuanBahamas
Inside: $349
Cost per day: $49
www.msccruisesusa.com

Epic Entertainment’s New Future

For anybody who has ever sailed on her, the “E” in Epic has always stood — unofficially — for “entertainment.”

Cruising is an industry that is all about “firsts” but in the big picture — the Epic picture if you will — time dulls the memories of which cruise line or ship first did this or first did that. Suffice to say, the Epic had its share of firsts, many of them in on-board entertainment.

We were fortunate enough to see the Epic when she was a baby, although it is awkward to call a 4,100-passenger cruise ship a baby. She was barely six months old when we Epicboarded her in November 2010 and after spending a week sailing in the Western Caribbean it was abundantly clear to us that she was “epic” in entertainment, at least.

There was Blue Man Group and Legends In Concert and the Nickelodeon set for little people, who had breakfast with SpongeBob, Dora and Diego. There was a bowling alley, of all things, and a cirque show and dueling pianos. There was an enormous screen on which to watch football, among other things, and a place to play Wii at a time when Wii is at its popularity peak.

That was then.

Now is now. For the Epic, that means a change in entertainment, a change necessitated more by geography than age, a change announced yesterday by Norwegian. Its former flagship is moving to Barcelona next year, permanently, and what entertains in the Caribbean is not necessarily what entertains in the Mediterranean. While there is some crossover in both markets, the majority of the demographic is different.

So here is what’s new on the Epic, or will be in 2015:

Burn The Floor — This high-energy theatrical dance show has already been a big hit on Norwegian’s Breakaway and Getaway, so the gamble here (if there is one) is that Europeans will take to it, too. Considering that the Vienna waltz is one of the ballroom dances that it updates, and that the Epic performance is “specifically designed for Europeans,” there’s a reasonable chance of success.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — This musical is based on a 20-year-old movie about drag queens and transexuals, and a bus named Priscilla. An Australian comedy-drama, it made Cavern Clubits big-screen debut in Spain and became a cult classic that won an Academy Award. The musical has been playing in several countries since 2006 and lasted a year on Broadway, where it won numerous Tony Awards.

The Cavern Club — In partnership with the famous Liverpool haunt that launched The Beatles, this figures to have wide appeal, just as the Fab Four did…and still do. The club still functions, 43 years after Yeah-Yeah-Yeah and 57 years after it opened. The club that has spawned a lifetime of entertainment (the band playing there Saturday is called The Cavern Club Beatles!) will be replicated on the Epic and feature appropriate music and international musicians.

Suffice to say, this trio figures to have the impact to make the “E” in Epic stand for "Entertainment in Europe.”

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- Cavern photo by Ronald Saunders (Wikimedia)

Norwegian Jade
10 nights
February 4, 2015
Rome (return): OlympiaAthensEphesusIstanbulNaples
Inside: $659
Cost per day: $65
www.ncl.com

An Epic Journey Ending In Caribbean

Barnacled and bruised, and beleaguered since birth, the Norwegian Epic is riding off into the sunset next spring. Perhaps the sun will be kinder to the big ship in Barcelona because, on this side of the ocean, the sun appears to have done melanoma-like damage.

EpicAmong the critics, that is.

The Epic arrived in New York in the summer of 2010. Despite her size (4,100 passengers minimum and close to 6,000 maximum), she was never the biggest. She was never the prettiest, sometimes derisively described as the ship with a box-top hat. She was never duplicated and when the idea of a potential sibling was aborted before Norwegian spent any more on the plan it only added to her unpopularity.

Yet we loved the Epic.

We were fortunate enough to cruise on her twice. She was the biggest “freestyle” ship anywhere, and that helped. She introduced Blue Man Group to the seas, and that was better than we anticipated. With a somewhat unorthodox traffic flow, there were pre-launch predictions of line-ups everywhere, but they never materialized. Only on the Epic was serious attention paid to accommodation for singles, and that made her a trend-setter.

Maybe it was because her first master, Trygve Vorren, was as nice a captain as we’ve ever met after being told he wouldn’t be, and because we had a chance to know him a little, not many months before he boarded the big cruise ship in the sky. And that his successor, Slam AllenFrank Juliussen, was just as warm, as honest and as entertaining…two years later. Maybe it was because Slam Allen blew us away with his performances at Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club on the Epic, even though we’re not huge fans of fat cats, jazz or blues.

The disaster in the cabins — sort-of see-through bathroom doors — was so much a non-starter with passengers that two years ago (when she was a two-year-old) readers of Travel Weekly picked the Epic as the “best overall individual cruise ship” for the third year in a row, and that same year Porthole Magazine named her the “Best Mega Ship.”  She has also been decorated for her entertainment, new restaurants, gambling venue and family appeal.

In what has to be an unusual marketing ploy, Norwegian is promoting her final Caribbean cruises as the Epic’s “Farewell Tour in the Caribbean” when her cruising days there end next April. Judging by the ship’s passenger popularity, it’s probably a certainty to sell out.

Why is the Epic leaving?

Norwegian has launched two ships (Breakaway and Getaway) since the Epic and two more (Escape and Bliss) are coming. The place to start new ships is always in the Caribbean, the world’s cruising hotspot, and there is a limit to a cruise line’s capacity. So it is time for the Epic to move on, perhaps to calmer waters.

It’ll be interesting to see how Europeans take to her. Undoubtedly, the Epic will undergo some changes to cater to Europe’s tastes and culture. They’ll have her for three years, minimum, and probably longer. However, if she’s not welcome, there’s a lot of us who would take her back.

Anytime.

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Carnival Sensation
4 nights
November 16, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $119
Cost per day: $29
www.carnival.com

An Epic Move in Norwegian Entertainment?

EpicOf all the cruise ships we've sailed on, the Norwegian Epic still ranks at or near the top of the list. This, despite the fact that many have railed against it as the ugly duckling of the family for any number of reasons, starting with its "box top" appearance.

Frankly, what a ship looked like never bothered us one way or the other. We were more concerned with where it was going, how comfortable it was if there's turbulent waters, how easy it was to navigate, what it had to offer on board, if its people were friendly and interesting, and what came out of the kitchen.

We love the Epic.

So now it's going to Europe, to be based in Barcelona. Oh, to be in Barcelona, a city we also love…

We do have a question about the Epic's new life: What about the entertainment?

Norwegian specializes in entertainment. It was on the Epic that we first saw Blue Man Group, not once but twice. It was in the Epic that we were introduced to the Slam AllenLegends in Concert. And it was on the Epic that we met and enjoyed a jazz/bluesman named Slam Allen — it appears we weren't the only ones who liked him, because Norwegian moved him and his band off the Epic and onto a newer, "prettier" ship, the Breakaway.

But what happens in Europe?

Do Europeans feel the same way about the glitzy performances of "legends" whom some — not us — might call poor imitations of the real Michael Jackson, the real Rod Stewart and the real Whitney Houston?

Eric Clapton notwithstanding, do Europeans find the blues (assuming that Slam Allen was succeeded by another blues band) as comforting and entertaining as North Americans do?

We're told that Blue Man Group played for tiny audiences in Europe…will it have a permanent place on the Epic?

Since its arrival in late 2010, the Epic has had its toe in European waters each summer, so Norwegian's decision to send it off to Barcelona was not done without research, of course. But those were just summer sailings and we wonder if this maligned yet popular ship will have what it needs the most: European entertainment sustainability.

Otherwise, the Epic will never be the same.

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
May 4, 2014
Bayonne (return): King’s Wharf
Inside: $494
Cost per day: $70
www.celebritycruises.com

What It's Like to be Blue

On one cruise, we met an “anonymous rock star” and if you think that’s an oxymoron, then you need to meet Andrew Calvert, one of the most delightful performers on the seas.

Andrew is a Blue Man.

That means he performs on the Norwegian Epic (where we saw him), or in Las Vegas, New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Vienna…or any of the 10 cities where Blue Man Group entertains.

The “anonymous rock star” definition is his. To kids who seem him on the stage, he’s a rock star. He’s anonymous because anybody could be in the elevator with him and never know it.

“I sometimes go to the kids areas on the ship and help out the councilors who work there… councilors work their socks off!” he says. “I enjoy working with kids. If I ask them where I work, they know I’m not a councilor, so sometimes they guess I’m a Blue Man.”

And he almost wasn’t.

An Englishman, he was in his third-year of acting school when there was an open call for Blue Men. The criteria was you had to be between 5’10″ and 6’2″ and you had have an athletic-to-medium build, some acting ability and some drumming skills.

Here’s how Andrew remembers it:

“I decided to go, even though I’d never picked up drumsticks. I was only 20 years old. I took the tube to the place, and as I got out of the tube [subway] station, I thought ‘I’m too tall, and I can’t play drums…I’m going to make a fool of myself!’ I went back to the tube station, and then I thought “I need to start taking risks, so why not? You gotta take the risk!”

The acting part included a little…faking, and not just with drumsticks.

“I’m a bit on the tall side, 6′-2 1/2,” he says. “You spend your whole life walking tall, and here I was kind of slouched to make myself look a bit shorter.”

After the interview, a drum solo and five rounds of acting, he made the cut.

“They said: ‘You’ve got great character but you really can’t play drums!’ They hired me anyway and sent me to drum school!”

That was in 2006. Except for a break to play Shakespearean roles in 2009 (“a real passion of mine”), being blue has dominated his resume.

Calvert estimates he is one of “about 70″ Blue Men. There are always four on the Epic, three on stage for each show, of which there are eight on a week-long cruise. Sometimes the four meet for the first time on the ship. They cross-train for all three roles because the roles, while they may look somewhat the same, are different. They get a cap glued to their heads before being painted over their wet suits, and they have to learn to stay accurate throwing marshmallows and paint gum balls, even when the ship is in rough water.

“The true meaning,” he says, “of rock and roll.”

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