How do you Like Shipboard Entertainment?

We believe CruiseMates has the most sophisticated cruise audience on the Internet. So we pose this question to our readers: How do you feel about shipboard entertainment? A message board has been set up for your input.

A central feature of the cruise experience is the after-dinner "ShowTime" in the main theater. ShowTime offerings run the gamut from classical musicians to late-night adult-oriented "blue comedy," but the staple aboard any large ship is the "Las Vegas-style production show."

I recently attended a Miami conference attended by the entertainment department heads of all the major cruise lines. As they discussed the need for "megabuck" lasers and holographic light filters, it occurred to me that these folks are living in a different world. They actually believed shipboard entertainment was a plum of the cruise experience.

In our cruise forums we see talk of food, ports, service and accommodations, but entertainment is barely on the radar screen of Internet cruisers -- even though American society in general is obsessed with movies, music and TV. Why are cruisers so blasé about shipboard entertainment? We want to hear from you! And so does the cruise industry.

My Thoughts

I have some experience in show business, including several years in Hollywood and New York in theater and recording studios and two years as a stage manager aboard cruise ships. I've seen dozens of shipboard shows, but few stand out as remarkable. In general, the biggest ships have the biggest casts and the most special effects, yet there is a pervasive sameness to all cruise shows.

"A Salute to Broadway" or "A Salute to Hollywood" are common themes. A salute to anything appears to be a good reason to dress young, attractive performers in spangles and send them undulating onstage. It's a decent if predictable start, but where does it go from there? Usually to the same repetitive formula ships have relied on for years: Costume change - dance steps - sing a familiar song - then repeat ad nauseum.

Here's what's missing:

  • Originality. Too many elements are copied from show to show. Did your last cruise show have a "fashion show" segment where the female dancers prance along a catwalk in big hats while a male sings "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody?" Disney's "Aida" on Broadway has a similar segment but the costumes are parodies (hats with neon signs) of such show cliches. When Disney, the antithesis of cutting edge entertainment, parodies you then its time to send that segment to the cutting room floor.

    The cruise lines say they want to appeal to Baby Boomers and families, but is onboard entertainment doing that? Since 1970 people have had movies, TV, comedy clubs, discos and rock concerts. If "revues" were still in demand, wouldn't Ed Sullivan still be on television? Ad marketers will tell you it is hard to sell to young people, but it is easy to sell youth to older people. Why do cruise shows appear to be selling "old" to their intended audience of young people? Look at the costumes. If I see another bamboo cane and straw hat on a ship stage I might boycott cruise shows forever.

  • Pacing. Do cruise audiences suffer from attention deficit disorder? Then why does a single song rarely last more than 15 seconds, barely a chorus, before the transition to a new song? The medley mentality is too pervasive in cruise shows. Slow down! Let me get the feel for a song and appreciate its lyrics and melody.
  • Character development. One big payoff of a great show is identifying with the characters and feeling the emotions they portray. The ability of live theater to touch an audience emotionally has kept Broadway alive in an age of blockbuster films. Why do I feel so unmoved by cruise shows? I don't care about the people onstage because I don't know who they are. I need them to communicate with me, not through non-original lyrics and costumes - through dialogue.
  • Exceptional talent. Video projections, smoke machines and lasers are flashy, but the emotional grabber is true talent. A singer can give me goose bumps with her interpretation, or a lift by the pas de deux dance team will send my heart soaring. Ever have a cheap birthday cake that was all sugary frosting? That's like watching wigs, spangles and pyrotechnics without talent.

    Why not book known talent on ships? You can't hire Celine Dion, but what about up and coming comedians fresh from Letterman, singers from American Idol? There has to be a sweet spot where talent and cruise ships can come together.

  • Authenticity. Give me a performer who is the genuine article. Think of Harlem kids in the Times Square subway break-dancing for spare change. Then picture "Old Man River" (a slave song for a tired, black man) being sung by a fresh-scrubbed blue-eyed young white kid whose last gig was at Dollywood. Which sounds more exciting to you?

Broadway is alive and well. Las Vegas entertainment is also. What can the cruise lines do to get you excited about their entertainment? Please visit our message board specially created for this: Shipboard Entertainment.

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