Having spent a few days warming up in South Beach, we joined our "Sail Across the Sun" cruise at the Port of Miami – the busiest cruise port in the World.
Dealing with such a large number of cruisers means that they have their procedure off to a fine tee and, having first been high-fived by the organising teams from Sixthman we were on board our home for the next 5 days, Norwegian Pearl, in no time at all. This time we knew the cruise was going to be extra special as the embarkation lounge was a veritable throng of people who knew each other from previous years and boy, did they look pleased to be back!
Arriving into the ships atrium we had the first hint that this was going to be rather different to the average cruise as much of the space had been taken up by a stage and all the equipment for a full blown concert, but our first destination on what was a beautiful sunny February day was to head to the pool deck for a refreshing drink. Again this felt different, with sound engineers and roadies buzzing round putting the final touches to their preparations for Train’s Sail Away Show later that day. Being follically challenged I should really have made sure I had some sun cream available, but a friendly family from Michigan came to my rescue with a quick squirt and within the hour we had become firm friends.
Train took to the stage as the shadows began to lengthen and I have to say I found the experience of sailing off towards Key West and The Bahamas accompanied by the familiar strains of their music to be quite emotional, the highlight for me being the crowd’s response to the line from "Drops of Jupiter" that’s goes "So tell me, did you sail across the sun?" it brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it!
Of course embarkation day always has its slightly serious side but this was the first, and very probably the last, time that I have had the opportunity to share my muster station with Bob Marley’s Wailers. I could have stayed there for days listening to the stories they had to tell from their 40 year career. I only wish I could remember as much about the rest of our first day, but suffice to say, after a few more beers and a couple more acts we did, eventually, decide that our cabin might be worth a look. We fell into a happy sleep as we steamed, rather slowly, towards our first port of call, Key West. I think the distance by road from Miami down to the Southern-most point of the continental US is about 150 miles, so us taking 2 days to get there was what you might say was going at a leisurely pace.
We filled our full day at sea heading South with fun and games, quite literally. Train themselves held a karaoke competition which had some variously talented participants including one christened by the crowd as "Weed Shirt Man" for fairly obvious reasons. There was a belly flop contest (taking place in the small pool that hadn’t been covered over thankfully!) and a film crew following the guys from "Impractical Jokers" plus cooking demonstrations and wine tastings hosted by the bands. As for the music you could choose from one of a dozen concerts all within a few minutes walk of the restaurants, bars and comforts you would expect on a cruise ship. The Wailers played on the pool deck in the sunshine. Grammy award winners A Great Big World followed with an eye opening set, before Andy Grammer held court on what was, by now a rather cool and windy evening – proper festival weather, but Glastonbury it was not. The late night spot was taken by a covers band called Yacht Rock Revue. Personally I hadn’t heard of them before but suffice to say, if you need a party band for any occasion these guys should be it. Talented and totally brilliant.
We awoke on Sunday tied up in the Conch Republic, Key West, known for its legendary pubs and shopping. We didn’t need a second invite to join the merry throng heading ashore and, having enquired of an art dealer about the best place to head for breakfast, we ended up at Blue Heaven which had a 90 minute line for food. We waited patiently amongst the cats and roosters, listening to live music and consoling our empty stomachs with Mud Slides. The food was brilliant, the Key Lime Pie sublime and we wished the line was longer!
Being a shore day the entertainment back on board The Pearl didn’t start until late afternoon with a number of warm up concerts, before Train took to the stage again for their second concert of the cruise. Sadly, their lead singer Pat Monahan had lost his voice but, the show must go on as they say, so the band took to the stage with vocals handled by artists from the other bands on board. It was great! We headed for a late night concert by Andy Grammar in the main theatre afterwards and as the ship gently swayed on the high seas heading for the Bahamas, he was joined by first his Dad and then his wife for a memorable set which had everyone dancing in the aisles, probably my favourite moment of the whole cruise and I must admit I had never heard of him before we booked.
I think it’s pretty unusual for any cruise review to get this far without mentioning the food on board but, on this occasion at least, it really was of secondary importance to most. We ate in the main restaurant a couple of times but it was mostly empty with people finding other ways to entertain themselves and grabbing a quick bite to eat from the buffet when the need arose so, food buffs – I don’t think this cruise is for you.
The next day we found ourselves in The Bahamas, in Great Stirrup Cay to be precise which is a defunct outpost of the US military, now owned by NCL and operated as a little bit of paradise complete with buffet restaurant, shops and restrooms. It was a bit choppy for The Wailers to get their equipment ashore on tenders for a beach concert, that would have been great, so we had to "make do" with an acoustic set from John Driskell Hopkins as we lazed in the warm sunshine drinking beer. It's a tough life but someone has to do it!
Heading back to the ship for our last night on board we saw Ingrid Michaelson on the (cool) pool deck, A Great Big World did a brilliant acoustic set in the Spinnaker Bar and we finished off our Mardi Gras themed evening (one of three during the cruise that most didn’t really bother with, but it looked like fun) with a late night show hosted by Yacht Rock Revue in the Stardust Theatre.
When we awoke the next morning we were, quite unbelievably, back in Miami. I’m sure we had only just left, but the gathered contact details of new found friends, list of downloads to purchase and ever so slightly sore head suggested otherwise.
You know sometimes when you experience an event or place that is so good you wished all your family and friends were there to share it? Sail Across the Sun is one of those!
If you’re a music fan book Sail Across the Sun for 2016 – I’ll buy the beer!
If you would like more information about upcoming Music Festival cruises including discounted fares, flights and hotel accommodation, please contact me here) or call me on my Freephone number