|By Paul Motter
It never fails to surprise us that two people on the same cruise ship can have entirely different cruise experiences depending upon on the extent to which each cruiser chooses to get involved with the shipboard events. Some people, which we will only now expeditiously refer to as "social cruisers," define their cruise by what happens during the shows, trivia games, pool contests, lectures, exhibitions, and other social activities. These people see the onboard social staff so often that they soon know them by name, and the one person who defines their experience the most is the Cruise Director.
But not everyone cruises for these pastimes; some people use cruise ships as a conveyance to see the world. These people often go their own way on days at sea - getting lost in guidebook on an upcoming port of call, for example. For these people, the concept of shipboard staff is largely defined by their waiter and room steward - as well as the shore excursion department.
There is no right or wrong way to cruise - everyone is free to get as involved with shipboard activities as they please. In fact, most people do not get overly involved, and this is especially true on cruise lines that specialize in "destination cruising;" cruise lines like Oceania, Azamara and the smaller ship luxury cruise lines like Silversea and Regent.
But even the entertainment-focused cruise lines; Royal Caribbean, Carnival and NCL, still understand that most people considering cruises book for the destinations in the itinerary foremost, and shipboard experience usually come second. On these ships, while the shipboard experience is vast for the people who want it, there are still many people who choose not to get involved - and that is fine.
In most cases, the people who get most involved with the social staff are repeat cruisers who truly enjoy the shipboard staff and cruise in order to interact with them. They especially enjoy trivia games played in teams for prizes like a bottle of champagne, for example, and they also get a charge from the antics of some of the funnier cruise directors like the well-known Carnival "master of mirth" John Heald.
Heald is the most recognized and popular cruise director in the business - known for his quick and deliciously mischievous wit. Even though John is known to say things no cruise director should ever say he is a master at walking the tightrope of better discretion. The "Welcome Aboard" show with John Heald is one cruise experience everyone should have at least once - even though none of his shows are ever exactly the same. John relies heavily on the unpredictable reactions of his guests, whom he has never met, selected randomly from the audience. No matter what they may say or do, John finds a way to make it hilarious.
As the "Fun Ship" cruise line, every Carnival ship has a comedy club with two different comedians playing nightly including a late night adult-oriented "blue" set. Carnival also features some of the best musical talent at sea - solid performers from America and Britain who play popular songs and even provide live musical backing for an American Idol-style singing contest on every cruise.
A different but still exemplary shipboard experience is Norwegian Cruise Line's flagship, Norwegian Epic. This ship has something exceptional yet different to enjoy every night of the cruise. The main attraction is the highly popular Blue Man Group for which NCL spared no expense to present the same lauded production values as the show achieves in New York and Las Vegas.
Norwegian Epic also features a comedy troupe from The Second City of Chicago, as well as the very popular sing-along show "Howl at the Moon" with dueling pianos. For late-night music lovers there is "Fat Cats," the only dedicated blues bar at sea now featuring a talented group of blues players led by Slam Allen, who learned his guitar chops directly from the legendary Muddy Waters and James Cotton.
The larger and newer Royal Caribbean ships, Freedom, Liberty, Oasis and Allure of the Seas, feature very high quality entertainment. You can see actual Broadway productions on these ships as well as enjoy first run 3-D movies. The excellent ice-skating and aquabatic performers are also not to be missed. The line finds excellent talent from around the world for these shows; Russian ice skaters and Mexican cliff divers, for example.
In the end it is hard to describe the excellence of the cruise experience solely because there are so many different styles of cruising. Not only that - any one cruise has many varied offerings from ship to ship. You not only see first class entertainment, but you get gourmet food and exotic destinations added in at no extra cost in time or money. Cruising can't be defined by one experience - it is combination of experiences which synergistically adds up to more than the individual pieces.