Rock 'n Roll Cruising

| January 6, 2008

"I've seen the future of cruising, and it ROCKS!" Reporter Judy Cuervo sums up Concerts at Sea's 15th Annual Rock & Roll Cruise.

Picture this. It's Thursday morning and the Caribbean sun beats down on the sun deck of the 86,000 ton Costa Mediterranea as she sails toward Grand Turk. Across the deck, Righteous Brother Bill Medley is having a late breakfast with his son Darren, lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Joe Butler of the Lovin' Spoonful is filling a cup at the outdoor coffee station while Davy Jones of the Monkees can be seen strolling across the deck above, possibly en route to an appointment at the Ischia Spa.

Paul Revere & The Raiders Rock the Costa Mediterranea

A rock & roll fantasy? No. Just down time aboard Concerts At Sea's 15th Annual Rock & Roll Cruise.

The Fort Lauderdale Cruise Ship Terminal was a welcome sight to my husband and me who escaped a brutal New York winter for a 7-day Caribbean sailing to San Juan, St. Thomas, La Romana and Grand Turk. We joined the other 2,098 passengers for check-in procedures and found hundreds of them sporting the blue and white Concerts at Sea t-shirts that identified them as participants in the special 50's and 60's rock & roll celebration that would take place during the sailing. On board, the program's popularity was even more evident as we sought our cabin and noticed a Concerts at Sea flyer affixed to the door of each cabin occupied by a fellow rock & roller.

Once inside our own digs, we found the official Concerts at Sea program, a 40-page booklet containing general information, bios on each star, an ambitious schedule of events, trivia and a listing of our 1,050 fellow Rock & Roll cruise passengers and their home towns. That evening, we weary travelers would get a small preview of the week ahead with a poolside performance by Idaho legends The Fabulous Chancellors and Elvis impersonator Stacey Wayne.

Sunday officially set the stage, so to speak, with a taste of some of the events that would become regular favorites throughout the week. Big Jack Armstrong of Boise, ID's K00L 104.3 and trivia guru Wayne Ridgeway gave early risers a destination with The Morning Show, an hilarious two hours filled with music, good-natured banter and trivia. Like watching a live classic rock radio show, Jack & Wayne would appear most mornings of the cruise, attracting an intimate crowd of bleary-eyed fans who wanted some entertainment with the breakfast they'd toted along from the buffet located on the deck below. Dance lessons with the Concerts at Sea Dancers and Trivia Contests (which quickly convinced me that this was the first cruise I'd ever been on where other people -- lots of other people -- knew more than I did about the British Rock Invasion) were also popular features throughout the sailing.

But it's the concerts at sea that makes Concerts at Sea, and my first taste came later that day in the form of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

First, a bit of a confession. I'm basically a music snob. If it's not the Kinks, Strawbs or Bruce Springsteen (my one nod to the 70s), I tend to wrinkle my nose and slap on headphones through which I can immerse myself in the sounds of one of the aforementioned performers. Though keenly intrigued by Concerts at Sea, I was not looking forward to Paul Revere and the Raiders in concert. Okay, to be honest, I was dreading Paul Revere and the Raiders in concert.

It was with this ambivalence that I took my place on the "preferred seating" line 40 minutes before the 1:30 p.m. show time and marveled at the sight of two rather mature women sporting full "Raider" regalia, complete with fur-trimmed three-pointed hats, knee length boots and military jackets ("All that luggage space!" I tsked). Ten minutes later, I was admitted, claiming a front-row orchestra seat in the ship's elaborate two-level Osiris Theater and ordering a glass of wine in an effort to make the show more bearable.

I suppose it's never too late to learn what you've been missing. Part theater, part comedy (even poking fun at the Speedos favored by most of Costa's male Italian guests no matter what their size), and a big part great music, at 70 years old, Paul Revere is living proof that you're never too old to rock & roll. Perched behind keyboards obscured by a Stars & Stripes-emblazoned motorcycle fa´┐Żade, donning the same Raider costumes he made famous in the 60s (albeit a bit larger), surrounded by powerful musicians and featuring Darren Medley, Bill Medley's son, as lead singer, the band entertained -- and I do mean entertained -- for well over an hour, performing "Cherokee People," "Just Like Me," "Kicks" and other Raiders classics before ending with Mitch Ryder's "Devil With a Blue Dress" and the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." (The latter was the equivalent of a personal ejector seat, propelling me on to my feet to dance like a maniac in front of the stage.)

Concerts at Sea takes over Margaritaville on Grand Turks

It's really no wonder Paul Revere's performance aboard this sailing was so explosive. Concerts at Sea can trace its roots back to Paul who, 16 years ago, was approached by NCL with the rock & roll theme cruise concept. Paul liked the idea and contacted Bob Harmon of Harmon Travel who was both a Boise neighbor and Paul's travel agent for the previous 30 years. Together they worked on the concept and developed Concerts at Sea which, to this day, is operated by Harmon Travel with a great deal of hands-on assistance from Paul.

The Concerts at Sea schedule of events is exclusive to participants in the program. Available only through Harmon Travel or one of its partnered travel agents, a cruise rate is quoted based on cabin category and includes all taxes and fees, onboard gratuities, and the entertainment package (the concerts and all other activities). Additionally, "preferred seating," an arrangement that offers premium seating through early admittance to concert showrooms, is available for an additional $200. (This "preferred seating" charge is waived for anyone who books the following year's cruise while on board the current sailing.)

The shows may be the big draw, but additional star-studded events are also included in Concerts at Sea's activity line-up. Blow the dust off your old LP covers, tuck them in your suitcase and offer them and a Sharpie to your favorite classic rocker during the outdoor autograph session by the pool. A crowd favorite that attracts a seemingly endless line, on our sailing, each artist patiently signed album covers, t-shirts and more, and often took a few moments to chat. One particularly poignant moment came when a woman presented Davy Jones with a U.S. passport to sign. "Will I be arrested?" he asked, eyes wide. The woman explained that the holder of the passport intended to join her on the cruise and even paid her passage but in September, tragically, he passed away. Davy's autograph, she explained, was to be a bittersweet momento. The ex-Monkee signed the document, took the woman's hand and recited a touching poem in her ear about loved ones living on in our memories.

10:00 a.m. was an early start to Question & Answer Session with the Stars and some of the humor was in watching a panel of rock musicians attempt to be alert enough to field audience questions before noon. Despite the hour, Bill Medley, Davy Jones, The Lovin' Spoonful and Paul Revere responded comically and candidly to questions about their careers and their personal lives as Concerts at Sea staff prowled the audience with wireless mikes for those wishing to question their idols.

On Tuesday evening, Bill Medley took the stage for the second of the week's four signature concerts. In a moving tribute to co-Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield who died nearly five years ago, the show began with classic footage of the two performing "Unchained Melody." The elegant smiling Medley then appeared, salt and pepper hair flowing, and captured us not only with the expected hits but with personal favorites like a powerful blues number. Later in the show, he summoned members of his talented family to the stage. Darren, who we had been treated to during the Paul Revere & the Raiders concert, joined his father to perform Righteous Brothers' megahit "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" and daughter McKenna delivered an electrifying rendition of Etta James' timeless classic, "At Last."

I nearly skipped the keynote event of the following day for the same reason I initially dreaded the Paul Revere & the Raiders concert. How could, I, for pete's sake, attend something called Mike Harvey's Super Gold Sock Hop?? "I'm going to stay 15 minutes," I insisted, "A half hour at most." Dress for the occasion suggested 50s or 60s attire and I emerged from my cabin donned in an op art silk mini dress and 60s make up. En route to the Cadmo Pool, I passed a virtual sea of poodle skirts. Fashion faux pas, I feared.

I was at the pool, dressed inappropriately and positioned for a quick exit. when suddenly songs I hadn't heard in 30 years surrounded me. I found myself and my go-go dancer dress dancing´┐Żon the dancefloor, near the bar and with a group of new-found friends -- and that 15 to 30-minute time limit I imposed was completely shattered. The ship's hotel director approached me and said "Looks like you're having a REALLY good time!" which is probably not a good thing for a travel journalist to be told but when "Born to Be Wild" came on, I simply didn't care.

I never made it to the Jack & Wayne Morning show the day after the Sock Hop but, to be honest, I'm not sure if Jack & Wayne did either. A noon arrival at Grand Turk meant sleeping in a bit before arriving at the island to find the Concerts at Sea takeover of Margaritaville. Located right at the pier, the popular chain's Grand Turk outpost was commandeered by Big Jack Armstrong and his trusty sound system blasting out hits of the 50s and 60s. In no time, music loving passengers from the other visiting cruise ships learned about Concerts at Sea, watched and wished they'd booked the Costa Mediterranea that week.

Thursday night's performance was Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Lovin' Spoonful who reminded us just how many smash hits they've had: "Do You Believe in Magic," "Daydream," "Nashville Cats," "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice," "Darlin' Come Home Soon," "Jug Band Music" and so much more. Even devoid of original front man, John Sebastian, the distinctive sound of the autoharp and the Spoonful's trademark feel-good lyrics catapulted all of us back to 1966.

For many, particularly the woman who lined up at 10:00 a.m. for the 4:00 p.m. performance, Davy Jones' show on Friday was the highpoint of the cruise. Exhibiting antics not unlike his character on the phenomenal Monkees TV show of the 60s, the older, but not taller, Jones criss-crossed the stage, dancing, singing and playing the tambourine and guitar while his energetic back-up band brought a decidedly present-day slant to the 90 minute show. The set, which featured Monkees tunes sprinkled with a few standards, often had a Broadway feel, calling to mind Jones' roots on the stage. But it was the hits that drew the greatest reaction, particularly closing number, "Daydream Believer," which brought the crowd to its feet in a deafening, though melodic, sing-along while Davy crossed the stage shaking the hands of those lucky enough to have claimed first row.

The 15th Annual Concerts at Sea sailing may have drawn to a close on Saturday, January 26th but most of its participants can already look forward to next year, having booked on board. And I'm not surprised. The program is run flawlessly with communication and organization given the utmost attention. From a hospitality desk manned twice per day to immediate attention given to those who commit no-nos like attempting to save seats at concerts, the capable on board team tackles everything quickly and completely.

With today's average cruiser of 49 years of age, I say it's about time that 50's and 60's music take center stage aboard ship. Why endure the typical production shows, puppeteers, magicians and tired entertainment so often found on board when Concerts at Sea delivers the music that we grew up loving and still love today.

On my Concerts at Sea cruise this week, I not only saw Paul Revere, Davy Jones, Bill Medley and the Lovin' Spoonful, but I also saw the future of cruising. And let me assure you, folks, it rocks.

An annual event, Concerts at Sea has grown over the past 15 years from a small contingent of primarily Boise, ID music lovers to over 1000 participants from all over the U.S. at this year's event. Past performers have included The Grass Roots, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Dion, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Buckinghams and more.

Concerts at Sea's success has triggered a different approach for its 2009 program: Back-to-back sailings with the first focusing on the 50s, its music and performers; the second week focusing on the 60s. The 50s cruise, featuring The Original Comets, The Drifters, Fabian, The Chiffons, Bobby Vee and the Vees and David Summerville of The Diamonds, will sail on January 10th from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and the Dominican Republic. The 60s cruise, featuring Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Guess Who, and Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean (as well as other acts yet to be finalized) sails from Fort Lauderdale on January 17th to the Dominican Republic, St. Maarten, Antigua, and the Bahamas.

Both 2009 Concerts at Sea Cruises will be aboard MSC Orchestra. According to program producer Tammy Selee, the change of vessel is due only to the fact that Costa Mediterranea will not sail the Caribbean next year and the layout of Costa's replacement ship (the Fortuna) is not conducive to many of Concerts at Sea's most popular activities.

For more information, contact Concerts at Sea at or give them a call at 1-866-365-3437.

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