Doc & The Mrs. Go Cruising 2020

So the 2019 On The Blue Cruise with Strawbs, Procol Harum, Steve Hackett, Alan Parsons, etc. was so outstanding that the decision was made to do another one in 2020.  For my review of last year’s OTBC, you should check out the Feb. 2019 post, but suffice it to say that the lineup was so amazing for yours truly that it will be hard for any other to top it.  The OTBC was on Royal Caribbean while the one we ended up choosing this year  (’70s Rock And Romance) was on Celebrity and there were definitely differences which we will get into in a bit.  If you are interested at all in doing a music themed cruise (and there are several), be certain to book early as many tend to sell out quickly (though you have to wonder what the global health scare will do to cruises).  Keep in mind, also, that they are not cheap – with airfare to Miami plus an overnight in a hotel and various fees it was at least 6500 smacks.  We made it a point to get great seats for all the shows by getting in line early and if you figure we had front row seating for 2 at 24 concerts, 10 Q&A/Interview sessions (plus autographing after), 2 trivia contests and all the food you could eat – it was worth the price.  The OTBC was 5 days and we crammed 25 concerts, etc. in a shorter time (so were exhausted) while the ’70s R&RC was 7 days so posed far fewer tough decisions (which shows to skip, when to eat & sleep, etc.).

We flew from Denver to Miami on a Frontier red-eye (ugh – that is such a miserable airline – no seating room though they did get us there at least).  Having done the Everglades, Key West, etc. last year we decided to hit the Frost Science Museum in the morning and Little Havana in the afternoon  After a wonderfully filling Cuban lunch neither of us were in the mood for a big Valentine’s dinner so walked from our hotel on Miami Beach to a Denny’s for crepes and ice cream that night (hey, don’t judge us).  The Lyft from the hotel to the jam-packed cruise port on Saturday AM was about 45 minutes as everybody else is doing the same thing to get to their ships before 2:30.  We opted for an 11:30 check-in so we could grab a free lunch and scope out the ship’s layout for concerts and eats. Leaving the harbor that night the seas got pretty rough and while in the dining room that night the wife was overcome with seasickness and opted to head to the room.  Luckily that was the only time for her headache and queasy stomach after we picked up some meds that did the trick (so if you think that will be a problem, bring your own Dramamine or the like).    The rooms on both cruises were compact, but nice and very comfortable. You are in pretty close quarters so it was a good idea to have brought some air freshener which the wife thought of in advance.  An extension cord was also a good idea.

The Food

We only went to the main dining room once on both cruises as it seemed like a big time waster having to wait to be served and frankly we found that the food wasn’t dramatically better than in the buffet. On last year’s OTBC run by Royal Caribbean, the food was simply okay till the very last day when it was outstanding.  This year’s cruise was Celebrity and the food was far better generally.  For breakfast, without a waffle it isn’t a vacation and they didn’t disappoint plus they had wonderful fruit, omelets, oatmeal, carved ham, etc.  For dinner they at least made an attempt to switch things up every day so it didn’t get boring.  There were some nice touches like a grill for steaks and chops, a fresh pasta station and even a chef making stir fry to order.   After late night shows we went to the grill to grab some ice cream and discovered that they also had some excellent goodies like sub sandwiches plus Chinese dumplings and spring rolls (so even with all the walking I still gained 2 pounds).  Man it was hard to skip the desserts too.

The Day Trips

After a Couple of days at sea, we hit land at San Juan, Puerto Rico where the wife and I managed to take in a charmingly historical walk that included the citadel El Morro that dates from the 16th to the 18th century and guarded the city. After an overnight sail, we next disembarked at Samana, Dominican Republic for a whale watch and some free time at the beach. Having gotten thoroughly drenched in the pitching waves, I can attest to the fact the sea is indeed salty.  The next stop for our ship (the Celebrity Infinity) was Labadee, Haiti which ended up being a day to swim in the ocean (it was a bit of an odd feeling to have small fish swimming around your feet while you are walking in the sand).  I never wear shorts and the following picture shows why (yikes!). Considering we (and many other folks) left the cold and snow, the heat, humidity and wind were quite the contrast.

 

The Music

Even though they supply you with a list every night of what is happening the next day , I found it useful to make my own master list before we left Denver to carry at all times so we had a good idea of where concerts were located and which ones we could skip if that act was performing another day at a more convenient time.  That being said, it is important to read the daily schedules they supply for any changes/additions not to mention time changes (one day we did indeed cross into another time zone and many folks nearly missed out on that detail – including us).   Before we boarded, Star Vista (who ran the music part) had assigned half the folks to an early concert (and late dinner if you chose) or vice versa.  That applied to the main shows which were in the large Celebrity Theater where we opted for the late show which seemed to be a good choice since that allowed some mixing of acts.  You always got a seat, but if you wanted to sit in the first couple of rows for the main shows you needed to get in line between 1 and 2 hours in advance. Always that allowed us to talk to some great like-minded music fans and share stories about growing up to this music plus their cruise experiences.  We managed to always get excellent seats.  The more casual shows either took place outdoors on the pool deck or in a smaller room with seating first come first served (Constellation Lounge, Rendezvous Lounge).  As the title of the cruise indicated, the music was rock and romance.  Frankly the raucous rock appealed to us far more then the quieter romance music.  Many couldn’t handle the crashing Cheap Trick rock (which we ate up) while we were sorta bored with acts like Stephen Bishop and Jason Scheff (a later lead singer with Chicago – Peter Cetera, please!).   Across the board, everybody we asked loved the Randy Bachman show (with his son Tal) as he played all the BTO and Guess Who hits (“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, “American Woman”), but also told fun stories about how the songs were written.  We enjoyed that show so much that neither of us took enough pictures so all I really have is a washed out one and a blurry Gerry Beckley of America jamming on “Takin’ Care Of Business”.

We saw John Lodge of the Moody Blues twice and thought he was one of the highlights of the cruise.  He was the rockin’ opposite of his bandmate Justin Hayward who led last year’s OTBC and put me to sleep as he was so mellow (plus you NEVER saw him during the whole cruise while Mr. Lodge was everywhere and seemed happy to be there).  Hearing loud versions of songs like “Ride My See-Saw” and “Legend Of A Mind” brought goosebumps plus the current Yes lead-singer (Jon Davidson) had a great time singing songs like “Knights In White Satin”. America had memorable stories to tell as well as a back catalog of classic soft rock hits (“Sister Golden Hair”, “I Need You”). Don Felder is a fantastic guitarist and had some cool stories to tell while playing the hits of The Eagles.  Since he wasn’t the singer of any of those songs it was left to his bandmates to handle vocals on those while he sang solo songs like “Heavy Metal” and “American Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  The Jefferson Starship (Airplane) is down to just a couple of original members in drummer Donny Baldwin and 81 year old David Freiberg who still sings like an angel.  The new crew including vocalist Cathy Richardson (who fills in well for Grace Slick) did all the eras from “Somebody To Love” to “Miracles” to “We Built This City”.  During “White Rabbit”, Richardson came out in a top hat and cape and offered cookies to the front rows. Edgar Winter’s 4-piece band played a couple of shows high-lit by “Free Ride”, “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” (from his late brother Johnny’s catalog) and a “Frankenstein” that had him playing keys, sax and drums.  The other two mainstage shows were a contrast in style musically, but both acts were intent on having fun.  While I like a lot of Todd Rundgren’s music, it was hard to tell from his set that he feels the same as he only did one hit grudgingly (“Hello It’s Me”) plus an assortment of a few album tracks (okay, I did love “One World”) and a bunch of odd covers like “Muskrat Love” and “Don’t Bogart Me”. This he did while mostly sitting and sipping on an alleged alcoholic beverage and being generally clever (and with a guitarist the cool image of John Lennon).

Rundgren also pulled a surprise guest shot with Cheap Trick on their opener “Hello There”. After that the guys blasted and bludgeoned their way through a rock and roll set that didn’t let up.  Their catalog is so extensive by now that it must be hard to choose what to play, but they pleased the crowd with “I Want You To Want Me” while pleasing the wife and me with “California Man”.  Bassist Tom did a Velvet Underground cover, drummer Daxx kept the beat pounding, but it’s singer Robin Zander and the goofy but great guitarist Rick Nielsen that are the main focus.   At one point Rick saw my coat in the front row and motioned for me to come to the stage. He shook my hand and gave me a guitar pick then after the song ended introduced me as “the man who wrote ‘Don’t Be Cruel'”for Elvis which of course is nonsense but had several in the audience convinced and me laughing hysterically (thanks Rick and thanks to Janice Burns for forwarding me the picture).  

On the other end of the musical spectrum was the excellent Rita Coolidge show which was an intimate affair in the Constellation lounge.  She charmed with her relaxed southern style and hits like “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher” and “We’re All Alone”. Other name acts were Pablo Cruise, Peter Beckett’s Player, John Ford Coley and Ambrosia (without lead singer David Pack who we saw on last year’s cruise). Having never been a big fan of cover bands, it was surprising how much we enjoyed acts that impersonated Queen, The Who, The Bee Gees, Led Zeppelin and especially ABBA (all the way from Sweden).

This was in addition to various entertaining unknowns like The Newbees and the Bad Ass Horns , The LSB Experience and All You Need Is Love (who charmed us by playing T Rex, The Band & The Beatles).  Frankly we had a great time listening to the music on both the cruises we have been on – sort of a floating music festival.

The Other Stuff

There were plenty of other things you could do on the boat besides the concerts if you desired – drinking, casino gambling, shopping for high end items, sun and swim, karaoke, etc. – none of which we did.  Both cruises also had themes for each night and encouraged folks to dress accordingly – TV shows, school gear, ’70s, etc.  While the OTBC had fewer folks into that, this year there were some really great costumes – the Addams Family, the Blues Brothers, Wonder Woman, Alice Cooper, etc. Some of the really nice folks we met were from Canada and wore some great ’70s gear as you can see from the first picture in the blog (thanks for sharing, Dawna!).  Okay, we didn’t do much of that, but in addition to what I have already mentioned we did do a couple of trivia contests (we won both) and attend question & answer plus autograph sessions.  On last year’s OTBC, there were organized photo shoots, but aside from Steve Hackett nobody had autograph time scheduled.  This year was great as all the artists took time for pictures and autographs graciously (save Stephen Bishop who was funny in the Q&A but seemed like a real jerk for skipping the signing and Cheap Trick who really didn’t have the time as they were on the boat for only the day).  Heck, Maxine Nightingale (“Right Back Where We Started From”) wasn’t even scheduled to be on the cruise and signed anyway. 99 percent of the folks getting autographs are like us and only want to get a memory and a quick moment with the artist.  I saw on both cruises, however, the 1 percent who are obnoxious professional autograph seekers and frankly make me sick.  Those people who bring piles of albums and CDs then sell them after are scum and give the rest of us a bad name.  Now, here’s some random pix from those sessions in addition to the picture of John Lodge signing that was in the blog intro.

Pablo Cruise
Randy Bachman
John Ford Coley

America
Jefferson Starship
Todd Rundgren
Edgar Winter

Don Felder
Ambrosia & Peter Beckett (Player)
Rita Coolidge

The End

When we got our luggage from the ship (delivered slowly on carousels after you go through customs), there were shuttles available on the dock to take us to the airport for 10 bucks a head which was pretty painless.  Waiting at Miami’s airport for the United flight home got a bit dull, but we really did need the rest after a late night show followed by an early morning wake-up for breakfast. As you can see – it was a great fun time and frankly it was just beautiful to be on the water.