Cruise Entertainment - Better All the Time

| 03.21.2011
Setting up a Carnival Production Show

The first time I ever heard "cruise humor" was the Jungle Ride at Disneyland. "Please hurry and get in, we can't leave until we're fully loaded, and that's the best way to go, that's why they call me Captain Morgan." That line could work just as well on a cruise ship.

When the ride was over, "I'll leave you with the same advice my mother gave me at 18, 'The free ride is over, get your things and get out.' - Now, if you enjoyed my jokes, my name is Kelly, if not, I'm Kathie Lee and this is Carnival!" Did Carnival deserve that knock from Disney? Yes, she wouldn't have said if Carnival wasn't already an icon.

Carnival has long been considered a leader in cruise entertainment, recently adding a fulltime comedy club to all its ships showing two different comedians nightly and four late-night "adult comedy" sets per cruise. But when it comes to stage productions, Royal Caribbean, NCL and even Holland America are now giving Carnival a run for the money.

For years the standard cruise show was the "Las Vegas-Style Production" written and cast by cruise-specialized producers who borrowed material from other sources ("A Salute to Hollywood (or "Broadway)" being a common theme. One of the first cruise entertainment revelations came when Royal Caribbean added ice rinks to the Voyager-class ships in 1999. The professional ice-skating shows with large casts and extremely talented skaters were a revelation. Now, Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class also has the AquaTheater for water-themed shows like the newly popular ones in Las Vegas.

In the main showroom, Oasis surpassed the standard cruise ship musical revue by showing the first fully licensed Broadway hit, "Hairspray." Then the Oasis sister-ship, Allure of the Seas debuted on the main stage the full Broadway book version of the hit show "Chicago - the Musical." Just last week, Royal Caribbean opened "Saturday Night Fever" aboard Freedom of the Seas.

Norwegian Cruise Lines first experimented with The Second City comedy troupe on Norwegian Dawn back in 2005, and now has full-time Second City troupes working on seven of its ships. NCL started showing "Tony and Tina's Wedding" on the Hawaii ships back in 2007 and soon moved it to other ships in the fleet.

With the debut of Norwegian Epic June 2010 the caliber of cruise ship entertainment took a huge leap forward with Blue Man Group, one of the most successful contemporary hit shows in New York and Vegas ever. The "Legends at Sea" performances, developed by Las Vegas producers "Legends in Concert" are also excellent shows that one would expect to pay $25 to $50 to see on land. Both of these shows are free on Norwegian Epic.

In the luxury cruise area Crystal Cruises has always been an entertainment leader. You can't beat the ship's daily program of expert speakers and classes in computers, music, languages, art and more. But the line's stage shows have also won the Condé Nast award for best cruise ship entertainment several years in a row.

The new Cunard Queen Elizabeth combines the best of Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria for a total of 25 performers in its production show cast, including four people who are professional actors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). This was the first time a ship employed "actors" for the entertainment ensemble, rather than merely giving speaking parts to singers or dancers.

Queen Elizabeth now has twice as many showtime entertainment hours than either of the other two Cunard ships. Queen Elizabeth's beautiful Art Deco-themed Royal Court Theater has the largest open expanse - with no supporting pillars - on a cruise ship yet. Not a single seat in the room has a compromised view of the stage.

Let us not forget Disney Cruise Lines. Disney is an entertainment company and the production shows on Disney ships lifted the bar for all cruise lines. Disney showed us that ships could use the same advanced technology that land-based shows use; laser lighting effects, integrated video effects and full fly-system staging with trapdoors and hydraulic platforms.

Disney started with two original shows in 2003 that have endured over the years; "Twice Charmed," loosely based on Cinderella, and "The Golden Mickeys." Now the Disney ships are showing "Toy Story, the Musical" with a cast of over 20 players. The newest Disney ship, Disney Dream, has two all-original and top-quality stage shows, "Villains Tonight," and "Believe in Magic.".

Disney was the first cruise line to install 3-D movie theaters with the advanced polarization method on its ships. Now Royal Caribbean's Oasis, Freedom, Liberty and Allure of the Seas all have the same 3-D process. Some of the Costa ships also offer the same process in smaller theaters and shorter features.

Holland America, with smaller passenger loads between 1800 to 3000 per ship, has never before been an entertainment contender, the biggest highlight of recent shows were the Bob Mackie costumes. But the line just announced it will be featuring some of the more likable and successful contestants from popular television shows like American Idol as well as proven Broadway talent.

This focus on talent over eye-candy appeals to me. Automated lighting effects and elaborate costumes are much more effective when true talent fills the tapshoes.

After decades of near conceptual sameness we are finally breaking completely free from the cruise ship stage show cliché.

To discuss cruise entertainment go to: The new era of cruise entertainment .

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