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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

James Taylor: smooth singing, sailing

Today, the Queen Mary 2 leaves New York for its traditional Atlantic crossing to jolly ol’ England. This is one Cunard cruise that is guaranteed to be smooth.

Even if the big ship encounters choppy waters, the smooth and silky voice of James Taylor will soothe the expected 2,500-plus passengers roaming her decks. This is five years after Taylor first performed on the QM2 and he joined a list that includes giants of the genre: James TaylorRod Stewart, Lenny Kravitz and the late Dave Brubeck.

On his last Queen Mary 2 sailing,Taylor played to standing-room audience although, to be fair, on a cruise ship with fewer than 3,000 passengers that’s not as big a deal. If he played to a crowd of 3,000 on the shore, critics would say he’s done.

Which Taylor is not.

Besides being gifted, he’s clever. The Taylor troupe will play on the ship, probably twice, and then parlay their Transatlantic cruise into a 17-city tour that ends, coincidentally, in London’s Royal Albert Hall on October 8. (November 12 return). Too bad he couldn’t find a cruise ship on which to perform for the trip home to Massachusetts.

We searched for him.

The best we could find was the Celebrity Infinity, which leaves Harwich on October 13, and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which departs Southampton two days after that. Both cruise companies are owned by Royal Caribbean International.

Cunard might not understand.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Ryndam
15 nights
November 1, 2014
Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga, Cadiz, Ponta Delgada, Tampa
Oceanview: $822
Cost per day: $54

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

Cruise Concerts: How Much Too Much?

Now that cruise passengers are comfortable with paying extra for upscale restaurants, are concerts next?

For example, in Las Vegas, to see Celine Dion in a "small venue," your ticket price starts at $117. Donny and Marie starts at $108. Elton John is $115…Rod Stewart $89. You get the picture.

Our last stadium concert event was country super star Tim McGraw, near San Diego. With tickets almost $100 each and a two-hour drive to get there, we figured the evening cost between $250 and $300 by the time you added over-priced food and over-priced gas. To make matters worse, we had to bob and weave to see the stage through the flailing arms of other concert-goers, and…don't get us started.

On the way back, we decided we'd rather have paid $100 to see it (that would have been nice) on TV. Even better would have been to pay more to see the show in a small venue…like a cruise ship.

Maybe the biggest stars are still out of reach for cruise lines, but maybe not. Sitting with 500 other customers to watch a name act at work would provide an intimacy you can only find in small-venue Vegas these days. For that kind of show, when you've paid over $100 to bob and weave and not see the show, does the price really matter?

Crown Princess
12 nights
May 24, 2012
Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Olympia, Athens, Mykonos, Ephesus, Santorini, Naples, Rome
Inside:  $999
Cost per day: $83


Legends and Legendary Rod Stewarts

We’ve seen Rod Stewart in concert four times. Maybe five. Okay, six. It’s like we’ve watched him grow old — no, we’ve watched him age — as we have. John Anthony? We’ve seen him once. On stage (left), he is Rod Stewart…or at least he plays Rod Stewart, which passengers sailing the Norwegian Epic these past three months already know.

John is the only “nearly Rod” we have seen, so we have no idea how he stacks up against the other tribute acts of the same name. For us, he was good, very good, and that at least in part explains why he works with Legends in Concert, playing a super star who’s about 20 years older than him. He leaves the Epic next week — as do “Britney Spears” and “Michael Jackson” — when a new cast of Legends boards NCL’s mega ship.

These were his first shows at sea. Anthony started playing Rod Stewart (right), in a modest way, as part of a band in Boston, his hometown (How does somebody from BAH-sten sound like a Brit from North London?). The more Stewart songs Anthony’s band played — and he sang, the more demand there was from the audience.

“I wasn’t a huge fan of his at first,” he says, “but the more I listened to his music, the more I realized that he’s really good. I’ve seen him in concert three or four times, and I’ve seen lots of film. But it took a little convincing to get me to do it.”

Somebody from Legends called when a “Rod Stewart” opening came along, and a career was launched. That was 12 years ago. Over time, Anthony incorporated all the moves (kicking soccer balls is a must, as is wielding the microphone like a baton) and all the props (like the spikey hair and the flashy clothes), but the looks and the skills were obviously there from the beginning.

When John disembarks next week, he’s heading to Las Vegas, home base for a company that’s built this business for more than a quarter of a century, booking its tribute acts all over the entertainment world. As one of two Rods on the roster, he’s played The Strip before, but this visit to Vegas was going to be different. He’d hoped to meet Stewart for the first time…the icon occasionally plays at Caesar’s Palace.

However, the performing schedules of A-Rod and B-Rod don’t match.

“If they had, I just assumed that I’d get to meet him soon,” he says, “because I’d be working directly across the street from him at Harrah’s. Plus, I know his sax player.”

Another time. Or as Rod might one day say…Tonight’s The Night.

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