Here in the mile high environs, many of the older music acts simply can’t afford to stop on a tour as we are so far away from all the other large cities bands tend to frequent. Looking online to see if any likely musical suspects were coming to the Denver area, two patterns emerged: 1.nobody was coming to Colorado other than the high ticket acts like Elton John, and 2.many of the bands I love were all going to be in one place from February 10 – 15 – the On The Blue Cruise originating in Miami. Mrs. Dentist loves to travel while your intrepid reporter would rather stay in the comforts of home, but the line-up of acts was simply too amazing to pass up the opportunity. Steve Hackett, Procol Harum, Poco, The Orchestra (ELO covers), Alan Parsons, The Zombies/Colin Blunstone, Strawbs, Rick Derringer, Todd Rundgren, Dave Mason, Vanilla Fudge, David Pack/Wally Palmer/John Elefante (Ambrosia/The Romantics/Styx), etc. with the host being Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues – a mind-boggling group of acts in one place. On a last minute whim, a few thousand greenbacks were sent by the miracle of online transfer and we were set to spend a few days in Miami Beach then sail away on a classic/prog-rock floating Woodstock aboard the Royal Caribbean ship the Mariner Of The Seas.
Getting to DIA proved to be a challenge as it was -10 with the roads being a sheet of ice, but we made it and sat on an American Airlines plane for 4 hours or so then took the shuttle to the Ocean Reef Suites at 1130 Collins in Miami Beach. Walking the Art Deco restaurants and clubs next to the beach was a sensory bombardment (especially at night). We had to try a Cuban sandwich and grab a stroll on the sand.
Being Uber virgins, we paid extra due to a mistake we made but finally figured out how to venture forth riding with strangers (speaking Spanish mainly) to shop for 45s (didn’t buy anything) and see the wall art of Wynwood Walls.
We took day trips to the Everglades (about an hour south) and Key West (about four hours south). The Miami Tour Company bus came by and picked us up at our hotel just as they said they would (thankfully). Mrs. Dentist loved the huge shrimp and conch.
Cruise day dawned and we did the Uber thing to the dock dressed in our finest rock frocks. The opening picture of this blog was posted on their Facebook page (my sister Cheryl shared this with me as I am not a member of that group) and I must say that our clothing was the hit of the cruise – Mrs. Dentist worked for hours on the great one-of-a-kind rock and roll coat and more than one artist on-board asked about purchasing it (not for sale, sorry).
We found our way to the lunch buffet (the food was decent till the last day when it was outstanding) and then retired to our tight but adequate stateroom 7435. The huge bed took up most of the room along with a small couch and a chair plus a tv that never worked (but we were way to busy to watch the tube anyway). The bathroom was utilitarian, but fine however the tightness of the shower meant that you had to watch dropping the soap or else do some shimmying to retrieve it. The schedule of concerts was pretty daunting as each day was crammed to the hilt starting as early as 10 AM and ending as late as midnight or so, but they did supply a list every day of all the shows and where they were located. Some acts performed as many as three times in open seating venues such as Studio B, the Star Lounge and by the pool while others only did one show in the huge Royal Theater with assigned seating. Those who paid extra for VIP status were seated first then us riffraff were allowed access. To help figure out when and were we wanted to be, your’s truly made up a flow-chart which was invaluable as we raced from place to place. Everything started late as they were waiting for stragglers, but finally Justin Hayward appeared on the pool stage with his family to wave and welcome all only then to disappear completely for the whole cruise except for the final night concert we were assigned to (there were red and blue groups you were assigned to). That was a major disappointment frankly as many of the artists were wandering the decks throughout the cruise and often were available for a chat or at least a quick “you were great at your show” – not Mr. Hayward even though he was our host! Randy Hansen did a credible if incredibly loud Hendrix tribute by the pool and then we attended one of the best shows of the whole five days – Steve Hackett, the amazing ex-Genesis guitarist who stayed true to progressive music and left that band when they went pop. Mrs. Dentist isn’t a typical prog fan, but thought his show to be outstanding with amazing laser lights and musicianship on songs like “The Musical Box”, “Dance On A Volcano” and “Supper’s Ready”. The other shows of the day for us were Dave Mason in Studio B and a late night Pink Floyd tribute from The Machine which was by the pool and also so loud as to be painful (but had some nifty lasers).
Day two was a pretty hectic affair with the morning taken up with on-shore activities in Nassau, The Bahamas. You could go to the island that housed the Atlantis resort but we chose to look for historic structures in the town then took a cruise to see fish, etc.
The music part of the day was crammed full with an Al Stewart show, Procol Harum and Strawbs Q & A’s, the first of three shows we would attend by the Orchestra who do a wonderful ELO tribute (the other favorite act of Mrs. Dentist), Alan Parsons’ first of two shows, Todd Rundgren overly loud again by the pool, The Young Dubliners and David Pack’s Legends Live in their first of several shows. The Alan Parsons show was wild with all the lasers and great musicianship, but to call him a singer is a stretch yet he tries to sing some of the leads originated by the late co-Project founder Eric Woolfson. The Orchestra can lay claim to the ELO franchise even without Jeff Lynne as they feature some former members plus some other fine players like Glen Burtnik of Styx and Eric Troyer who worked with John Lennon among others. David Pack was the lead singer of Ambrosia (“Biggest Part Of Me”) and his band included Wally Palmer of The Romantics (“What I Like About You”) and John Elefante a later singer in Styx (plus powerful drummer Kenny Aronoff who wanted no part of giving your Dentist an autograph – the only uncomfortable moment of the cruise). The Strawbs are one of the best prog bands ever and frankly a fine bunch of guys to boot – young keyboard player Dave Bainbridge plus stalwarts Chas Cronk, Tony Fernandez (very nice guys to talk with) and the Dave’s – Lambert and Cousins. Talking to them was like talking to the Beatles for this writer. Alan Parsons was awarded a Grammy that day so was honored on board plus guested with David Pack as he had produced records for Ambrosia.
Tuesday we were at sea and decided to skip the Zombies Q & A to attend birthday boy Steve Hackett’s autographing of his new album At The Edge Of Light (and anything else you had, frankly). That was a brilliant stroke that oddly no other act took advantage of. Having an autograph session with copies of albums for sale meant more money for Hackett and other acts should have done the same as you have to figure they would have sold multiple CDs (the cruise merchandise table had t-shirts and music for sale but they were not autographed). We then hustled up from the Star Lounge to the upper deck Viking Crown Lounge (overlooking the pool stage) to experience a rare and unexpected treat – a live painting session with album cover artist Roger Dean (Yes, Asia, Gun, Osibisa, Gentle Giant, etc.). For $99 we purchased a limited edition signed exclusive cruise print – a very cool work of art. Former Colorado good guy Rusty Young of Poco did a Q & A as did Alan Parsons then we went to our first photo experience where a very long line awaited D. Pack Legends, Procol Harum, The Orchestra & Wishbone Ash. After the VIP’s entered, we were brought in to the room in waves of twenty then a photo was taken of each of us with the different acts. Frankly we still don’t have a clue how we will get to see those pictures but we are hopeful it will happen. We then crammed in Rick Derringer of the McCoys (on the painfully loud pool stage), Stephen Bishop (the folk singer in Animal House), Strawbs and the Zombies. Luckily they had late night eats from 11 PM to 3 in the morning as eating dinner didn’t fit that crazy day. Before you entered the Windjammer Buffet, there were many handwash outlets plus hand sanitizer stations (also spread throughout the ship to prevent illness). The Zombies were wonderful and for the last song “She’s Not There” they included all four living original members. We were given glow sticks to wave during the Argent hit “Hold Your Head Up”. Special mention needs to be made of The Strawbs as they were at the pool stage which actually sounded incredible for them with loud mellotron/guitar on songs like “Down By The Sea” and “Autumn”. They were troupers in the face of gale force winds which made for very dramatic pictures as their hair was whipping behind them but probably felt awful.
Day four had us at the private island of Labadee (Haiti) for a cruise along the shore (seeing the village and fishermen with lobsters) and a beach stroll, but prior to that we attended a Todd Rundren Q & A that was awful in that the interviewer didn’t ask any real music questions and didn’t allow the audience to participate (something that all the other Q & A sessions had done). At lunch we had a surprise moment with David Pack who has to have been the nicest celeb on the cruise – thanks, David! After returning to the boat, we enjoyed another photo experience with Alan Parsons, The Strawbs, The Zombies and Al Stewart. We attended yet another excellent Orchestra concert though they did the same songs (the other acts who did multiple concerts made changes to their sets). We saw Procol Harum by the pool which was again too loud and then Poco which was the most painfully loud of all the pool shows (even with earplugs, the bass was still uncomfortable). An extra add-on show was tacked on at 11:15 with an all-star band made up of players who had been on the Cruise To The Edge which ended prior to ours (featuring Yes, John Lodge and a host of young prog acts). The leader of that show was keyboard player Dave Kerzner whose New World (deluxe edition) was my top album a few years back (others were guitarist Fernando Perdomo and the McBroom sisters).
The final full day of the cruise was jammed with music but started as usual with us eating breakfast (no vacation is truly a vacation without a waffle after all) and doing at least two miles walking around the pool. The rest of the day saw us running around the ship starting with a 10 AM photo op with Dave Mason, Danny Seraphine’s CTA (a Chicago tribute we never had time to see), Poco and Randy Hansen. Next was a fun poolside Q and A with David Pack, Wally Palmer and John Elefante. We had a later photo op with The Young Dubliners, Steve Hackett (who comically said about our clothing that he felt under-dressed), Todd Rundgren with Utopia members and Rick Derringer (who talked to me about the 1965 Denver Freddie & The Dreamers, The Beau Brummels and The McCoys concert which was my first ever show). We caught Procol Harum in Studio B and frankly they benefited from much better sound than the pool gig and played a fabulous set with highlights “Grand Hotel”, “Whisky Train” (with hot guitar riffage from Geoff Whitehorn) and “Conquistador”. We managed to see half of the Colin Blunstone set where he combined Zombies hits with his own catalog including a rocked up version of “Say You Don’t Mind” and “Wonderful”. Oddly, the Strawbs in Studio B while good were not as hot as by the pool since the sound wasn’t as loud plus they lost a lot of their audience to competing shows (this cruise forced you have to make tough decisions on which shows to see and when to eat). We raced out to the main theater to see most of Alan Parsons’ set (“Don’t Answer Me”, “Time”, Breakdown”, “Sirius”, “Eye In The Sky”, etc.) which had a guest spot with Gary Brooker of Procol Harum singing “Limelight”. We again went to the pool stage which sounded better this time for the Orchestra and their third stab at playing the same set (but it was still a lot of fun getting to sing along to “Strange Magic”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, “Do Ya”, etc.). After an amazing dinner where all our good work at not overeating totally went out the window, we attended a very pretty but subdued Justin Hayward show which had at least one of us nodding off during the quiet songs like “The Actor” and “Are You Sitting Comfortably”. He seemed to labor over some of the vocals which has to be a concern going forward. Finally we managed to see a bit of Vanilla Fudge by the pool (again way too loud). They were extremely nice signing autographs and talking to fans.
All in all it was a blast to hear so much great music and to get to know some of the acts personally. I wish I had a handle on who could be approached for autographs as after the Aronoff debacle I tended to shy away from bothering these guys (there were obvious jerks on the boat too who pestered the artists to sign multiple items – those folk gave the rest of us a bad name). That being said, we got so many requests to have photos taken with us because of our clothing that you did tend to see how tiring it must be for these folk to constantly be bombarded with requests for personal time – we all have bad days, but these guys aren’t allowed that luxury which is too bad. I would recommend this sort of cruise wholeheartedly and would do it again as long as the the line-up was different enough to make it of interest. I don’t think a cruise with only a few entertainment opportunities would be something I would want to do however as it is obvious that you can get bored with too much downtime. It would be nice to also see one of these for British Invasion bands or something like that to appeal to us baby boomers who spend the money for these sorts of things. Thanks to all the artists and the hardworking staff for making this a memorable experience (we had a lot of fun talking to the great On The Blue security folk while waiting for events to happen as well). The last day we awoke at 5 to greet the Miami sunrise after breakfast then take our two mile hike before leaving the ship. For those who wonder, they assigned numbers to let you know when you would leave the ship (ours was an 8:10 exit) and then you go through customs (quick and painless) and grab your luggage to find a host of shuttles waiting to whisk you to the airport, etc. United Airlines did a fine job of getting us home to pick up an elated dog from his week at “camp”.