By paul motter
Two recent developments signal an entirely new cruise paradigm. The first was the overwhelming adulation given to Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas by the outsiders to visit her. Because of the virtual picture blackout of the ship after she was finished no one really knew what to expect onboard. What we found was an overwhelmingly beautiful, technological wonder that takes cruise ships to a level never seen before.
The second signal of a new cruise paradigm is the just announced decision by Carnival to order a brand new ship of its newest and largest class. This will be a third sister ship to the Carnival Dream (just debuted three weeks agao), and Carnival Magic set to debut in 2010. This third Dream-class ship is the first new cruise ship ordered since the economic collapse over a year ago.
In just six months we will also embark upon the new Norwegian Epic, the largest and most innovative ship ever built by NCL. Epic promises a number of staterooms unlike any ever seen. They will feature gently curving walls with soft lighting and separate rooms for the showers and toilets, with the sink being in the room itself - a handy idea since you can use a sink for far more things than just brushing your teeth.
Why are these changes happening? Bigger ships bring economy of scale to the cruise lines - especially in terms of onboard entertainment. The funny thing about the cruise business is that unlike Las Vegas or Broadway, entertainment is not a money-maker. In fact, it is a money "loser" since all cruise shows are included in the cruise fare. So, when you have a competitive marketplace you spend the most money for entertainment on the newest and biggest ships, of course.
I just left Oasis of the Seas and I was wowed by their production of Hairspray and their ice-skating show "Frozen in Time." They also have an AquaTheater-based show that will be a huge crowd pleaser as soon as it is ready for prime time. They did not have ample opportunity to rehearse in the actual venue until the ship reached Florida, and they have been inundated with interruptions according to a confidential source I have.
Norwegian Epic will feature one of my favorite shows of all time; Blue Man Group. This New York-based hit show did not start on Broadway, but it became such a cult hit it was able to go on the road and eventually find a permanent home at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. I guarantee that once you see this show you will never again think of cruise ship entertainment the same way. I have seen the show four times myself (in New York and Las Vegas) and it is a huge crowd pleaser in ways I can hardly explain. It is more than a show, it is an experience you just have to "see" to believe.
Carnival's new ships, Dream and the coming Magic, have a style of entertainment I have not seen happening so much on other cruise ships and I am not sure exactly why. It seems Carnival has discovered something no other line has done.
Although the average age on cruise ships, especially Carnival, is now something like 42, until a few years ago you might have thought cruise ships shows were written for retirement homes. Not anymore, and especially not on Carnival. I just visited Carnival Dream and the main lounge there, the Ocean Plaza, has a stage that is dominated by a real rock band. I mean a chick-singer in tight black jeans, a lead guitarist who can "wail" and a drummer who actually uses sticks instead of brushes. They do hits from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s; in other words, MY kind of music. No longer are cruise ships featuring trombone and piano players soloing on songs like "Satin Doll."
Yes, it was a sad but true fact throughout the 90s that cruise ship shows seemed to be geared toward the previous generation, and young people generally just didn't go. No more. Today's cruise shows are more fun than ever. They have become authentic, in terms of talent and content, and no longer just something the line felt they had to do to fill in the time after dinner.
My personal past work in the cruise business was as a stage manager, and when we started CruiseMates in 1999 I had to be honest and say that cruise ship entertainment was not living up to its potential. I have now changed my mind; I believe cruise ship entertainment is better than it's ever been, by far. In fact, you could say nothing has improved so much on cruise ships in the last few years as the onboard entertainment, and considering it's free that's a pretty good deal.