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Pearl Time For The Legends

You know, those of us who have seen Legends In Concert on the Norwegian Epic should have known it would find a new home. We should have known it wouldn’t work as well in Europe, where the Epic has been since spring and where it will stay until November 2016, because Europeans don’t seem to take as readily to “tribute” acts as North Americans.

Legends in Concert-MJ copyWe should have known that Legends in Concert was sunk when a passenger pointed out last month on Cruise Critic that the show was cancelled during her cruise, with no explanation from Norwegian. In the fine print of the cruise line’s website, you can find (eventually) that the last show was September 20.

But we didn’t.

The good news is that Legends in Concert is moving to the Norwegian Pearl. Now the Pearl’s no Epic — a little more than half the size — but the theaters are probably much more comparable. Clearly, Norwegian had to find a home for this show once its five-year run on the Epic was over, or risk losing it to another cruise line.

Would that matter?

Norwegian is consistently cited for having the best entertainment at sea, often winning awards for it from the people who create awards. That goes for the Epic, too. It can’t be a coincidence that Norwegian has been at or near the top of the entertainment category for the last five years (the Epic is five years old) and that Legends in Concert has been a fixture on the ship.

PearlWe’ve seen Legends in Concert twice on the Epic. We weren’t expecting the shows to be winners, but they were. The “tribute acts” included some performers who were favourites (Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffett) and some who weren’t (Michael Jackson, Britney Spears). All were good.

On the Pearl, starting…now, the tribute acts are Madonna, Elton John and Tina Turner. Well, two out of three isn’t bad…and you can guess which two.

In the news…

• Norwegian Star's propulsion problem takes ship straight to Tampa
• Doug Ward's 2016 Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ship Guide released
• Smaller Maasdam to replace departing Volendam in Australia

Today at portsandbows.com: Second American river cruiser for Pacific Northwest

Crown Princess
7 nights
November 28, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas
Inside: $504
Cost per day: $72

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

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

Legends in Concert — A 'Really Big Shew' at Sea

Jimmy Buffett tributeSo…Jimmy Buffett or "Jimmy Buffett?" Rod Stewart or "Rod Stewart?" Michael Jackson or…don't go there. These are the options that Legends in Concert have given the world, for the last three decades. For the last three years, they've been doing shows on the Norwegian Epic…the 1,000th one earlier this month.

Despite having seen the billboards and come-ons for years in Las Vegas, it was the Epic that introduced us to Legends in Concert. We were skeptical, to say the least, about going to see "impersonators" which is what these people were called before they were "tributes." In thinking about it, the prospect of seeing "Elvis" at every state fair or local theater probably — in the early days at least — poisoned what this has become.

And what it has become is big business.

Legend-BritneyThere are tributes of artists from A to Z…that's Abba to Britney Spears to Whoopi Goldberg (as close as they come to Z). The cast includes stars from the relatively new (Katy Perry and Carrie Underwood) to the deceased — and the list there is long and, alas, growing: Frank Sinatra and Louie Armstrong, Whitney Houston Legends-Michaeland Judy Garland, Johnny Cash and John Lennon, Dusty Springfield and Donna Summer.

It includes people who don't or didn't sing, like Ed Sullivan and Jay Leno. Groups from The Beatles to the Supremes. There are currently 16 Elvis Presleys available (after all, he's only been gone for 36 years), four Michael Jacksons, four Neil Diamonds, three Blues Brothers (that's three pairs) and three Dolly Partons…don't go there, either. 

The current stable lists 117 imperso…ah, tributes.

And guess what?

The early skeptics — that would be us — have seen Legends in Concert twice, both times on the Epic. And now we'd go again…and again…and again…

Yes, they are that good.

Celebrity Constellation
5 nights
April 14, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): CozumelKey West
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $99

Standing on the Sidewalk, Waiting for…?

We were standing outside the terminal at Los Angeles International, waiting for a bus to take us to a car rental lot. Another passenger from our flight was waiting for the same bus, which was in no hurry to get there. He struck up a conversation.

While we recognized immediately he was from England, we didn't recognize him for who he really was.

That would be "Michael Jackson."

We'd just left a cruise ship, the Norwegian Epic, where we'd seen another "Michael Jackson." Two years before that, on another cruise, we watched yet another "Michael Jackson" in concert.

All of them are "tribute artists" who keep the music of the King of Pop alive, and entertain an audience that misses the deceased super star. But what are the chances that in four days you would meet two of them, without even trying?

On the Epic, the performance we saw was the artistry of J Lucas (left), who does this sort of thing for the world-famous Legends of Concert. We'd seen him the previous night in a brief, impromptu performance alongside Slam Allen, the bluesman who entertains nightly at the Epic's Fat Cats lounge.

About 24 hours later, when J turned into MJ, he was terrific as a tribute act. Later, he told us he studied Michael Jackson tapes intensively for six months before embarking on his new career. That was in 2009.

The MJ at the airport is quite a different story. His name is Navi, he's from the Caribbean, lives in London and does 250 shows a year, all over the world. We'd talked for about 10 minutes (yes, the bus was late) before he told us enough about his travels that we had to ask what he did for a living.

"I'm in the music business," he said. "It's kind of hard to explain, so let me show you."

And here, on the sidewalk outside LAX, we watch a snapshot of his impersonation on his smartphone (as much as you can tell from a 30-second preview, he is spectacular). And if you don't believe a guy standing at an airport waiting for a rental car bus when he tells you he plays Michael Jackson, check out his website: www.kingofpop.co.uk.

And here's the kicker. He used to work for the real Michael, originally as a decoy because there was enough of a facial resemblance that he could, and later as a legitimate impersonator who is articulate, affable and — clearly — approachable.

Sometimes, life can be really surreal, can't it?

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
January 19, 2013
Miami (return): St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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