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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.”

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

- Cavern photo by Ronald Saunders (Wikimedia)

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

As Time Goes By, More Beatles Than Ever

By now, The Beatles must have almost as many impersonators (okay, tribute acts) as Elvis. This, despite the fact half of The Beatles are still performing, proving that you don't have to die to have lesser talents play you.

At one time or another every city in the nation must have been host to a Beatles show that didn't feature the real thing. From New York — where they've been on Broadway (Beatlemania) — to small-town North America (pick one), the Fab Four have spawned a "Revolution" unlike the one they sang about all those years ago.

Beatles ExperienceAnybody who passed through the sixties and didn't get left behind has eagerly chased the ghosts of The Beatles. Guilty, as charged. We've gone on a Beatles bus tour in Liverpool, their hometown, and seen a variety of acts that have dared to play John, Paul, George and Ringo in too many places to mention.

Now, it's Cunard.

In a few weeks, The Beatles Experience will board Cunard ships to perform "A Day In the Life"…or maybe that should be "A Life in The Day." It's unclear how they'll entertain as many Cunard passengers as promised, given that they're scheduled to be on the Queen Elizabeth somewhere between Hong Kong and Dubai on March 29, on the Queen Victoria between San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale on April 1 and on the Queen Mary 2 "Back in the USSR" (oops, Far East) on April 2.

Even The Beatles themselves couldn't have handled that schedule, so maybe the clones have been cloned and there's more than one copy of The Beatles Experience. Actually, there is but that's another story, one for the copyright cops.

One thing is certain: 

There's no cruise line more British than Cunard and no Beatles more British than the originals, so these shows are likely to be as good as it gets.

Carnival Conquest
7 nights
March 30, 2014
Miami (return): NassauSt. ThomasSan JuanGrand Turk
Inside: $359
Cost per day: $51

Cruising Loves The Beatles


Will the world ever get enough of The Beatles?

We used to think it was just our generation, which grew up on the seven years when the Beatles did "Get Together." It would appear, however, that The Long And Winding Road is multi-generational for its occupants.

If it weren't, there wouldn't be a theatre built for Love in Las Vegas, where the music of The Beatles plays twice daily.

If it weren't, today's teenagers wouldn't know the lyrics of many more Beatles songs than those two.

If it weren't, you wouldn't see things like Beatles Tribute Cruises, on the biggest ship in the world.

The latest incarnation of the cruise leaves Fort Lauderdale on March 3. It's on Allure of the Seas, which shares the "biggest ship" bragging rights with its sister the Oasis, which was the ship of choice for the 2012 Beatles Tribute Cruise. It costs almost $1,500 to ride around the Caribbean for a week, listening to people with Beatles connections talk and sing.

The 2013 Beatles connections are Mark Hudson, once a producer for Ringo Starr; Billy J. Kramer, once a well-known singer who covered Beatles songs; Joey Molland, once a singer for Badfinger, once a group on the Beatles label; and Revolution, still a Beatles tribute band.

If that sounds like a stretch, maybe it is. But after watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, billed as a tribute to British music, one thing was obvious from the number of Beatles songs that were performed or played.

This act is a long way from being over.

Carnival Conquest
7 nights
December 16, 2012
New Orleans (return): Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $439
Cost per day: $62

The Epic's Memorable Captain

Cruising is such fun, and then real life intercedes. For us, this happened yesterday.

We’d written a blog about Trygve Vorren, whom we met on the Norwegian Epic. We were told that he was a man of few words. His first language is Norwegian and, in English, he was shy. He is not always comfortable around strangers, and no ship in the NCL fleet carries more strangers (4,000-plus) than the mighty Epic.

In short, our interview with Captain Vorren would BE short.

We asked for 15 minutes. We wanted to talk about the ship, the man in charge of her and the cruise industry at large. We’d been fortunate to have dinner at the same table as the captain the night before the interview, so the ice was broken.

The interview lasted almost an hour and a half…not because of us, because of him. He regaled us, this man of few words, and we felt like we’d known him forever, or at least a long time.

When we met, he was one of two captains of the Epic, the biggest cruise ship in the world that doesn’t belong to Royal Caribbean. His home town was Stavanger on the west coast of Norway, a seaport not far from the Shetland Islands, but he had become Americanized, living in North Carolina, with two grown sons who live in Florida. All Norwegian ships have two captains and, yes, most of them are from Norway…19 of 22 at last count, with the others coming from Sweden, Finland and Greece.

As a young man, this captain was a fan of The Beatles and Elvis. He said he thought the music of the sixties and the seventies was better…other than perhaps Michael Jackson, and that in Europe in the sixties, it was all about the music. Everybody had favorite bands, and everybody liked disco. Music had become a big deal on cruise ships, especially among the young people, and he was witness to the evolution.

While all cruise lines are constantly trying to find ways to attract young people, Norwegian took the first step by introducing “freestyle cruising” which went a long way to eradicating the stuffy, rigid, tuxedo-wearing image of cruise ships (real or not). Captain Vorren was there for the beginning.

He was on the Norwegian Sea for some Christmas tours when NCL tried out the freestyle concept. He laughed about listening to the comments of the passengers, because this was the first ship with a bistro and the first on the high seas with a separate restaurant.

That toe-in-the-water experiment was followed by what was then full-blown freestyling on the Norwegian Sun and Captain Vorren was part of that, too. He said everybody wanted to see what it was all about, with the specialty restaurants and the coffee bars. It took some time before it was accepted in the industry, but it became popular quite quickly. It took a few years to get it right, schedule things in the right way, and the captain believed NCL was different for the time being, that most cruise lines would soon be introducing some form of freestyle cruising. It would just take a few years.

Yesterday, real life was getting word that Trygve Vorren passed away from cancer and surgical complications in August. The cruise world is worse off without him…the whole word is worse off without him.

Radiance of the Seas
12 nights
April 22, 2012
Honolulu to Vancouver
Inside $1,748

Beatles Tribute Cruise…with Beatles?

The people who run Beatles Tribute Cruises are, if nothing else, ambitious. For the 2014 edition of BTC, they’re hoping to have a Beatle, or two. Since there are only two, that means they’re hoping to convince Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to spend seven days on a cruise ships with 1,500 or so (screaming) fans.

And what would they give these two survivors to convince them to get on board?

“Basically anything they wanted,” promoter Woody Lifton told examiner.com.

Designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in North America (and appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show), the “enhanced” BTC would provide Paul and Ringo with the ultimate security on a ship of ultimate luxury. BTC says organizers have cruise lines coming to them already, and that was before the Real Beatles idea surfaced.

And they would perform?

Lifton said it would be up to them. Whatever the Beatles wanted.

A better bet might be to convince (gently) McCartney and Starr to do what Taylor Swift did last year, board a ship in port (Cozumel) and entertain only the passengers at a one-show-only event, so that the celebrities spend just a few hours surrounded by (screaming) fans.

The next Beatles Tribute Cruise is in February, on Oasis of the Seas, from Fort Lauderdale. As the world’s largest cruise ship — along with Allure of the Seas — that would make sense but by no means be a given.

And what would BTC charge passengers for this unique event?

Whatever they want.

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