Sail Across the Sun is one of a number of music festival cruises organised by the US based Sixthman company and with the firm being owned by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), it will come as no surprise to find that they utilise an NCL ship, Norwegian Pearl, for these short itineraries sailing from Miami.
Being a music festival at sea the main focus of the on board activities is of course live music, in this case headlined by the San Francisco based band Train, much beloved of Radio 2 listeners (though most know the songs, if not the band!) The cruise title “Sail Across the Sun” is a line from their Grammy Award winning song “Drops of Jupiter, although they have had more success in recent years notably with “Hey Soul Sister” and “Drive By” as recently as 2012. In short they are a hugely successful act and maybe not the type you might expect to find on a cruise ship!
With music stages erected in various places around the ship including the pool deck, atrium, theatre and bars there are plenty of venues to move around and catch the supporting acts, which this year included Andy Grammar whose hits include the Triple Platinum “Honey I’m Good”. Andy is well known in The States for his time on the TV Show “Dancing with the Stars” and has also been spotted on various TV shows in the UK.
Also on board were Philip Phillips (what were his parents thinking of?) who won the 2012 season of American Idol, Michael Franti, Pat McGhee, Rachel Platten and UK based singer songwriter Emma Stevens who won her place on board courtesy of an online competition voted on by booked guests.
With such a stellar line up of stars on board you might be surprised to learn that, although most performers are accommodated in The Haven suites, which for this cruise are inaccessible to other guests on board, most prefer to mix with the fans and can be found chatting over breakfast and making themselves available for photos and autographs throughout the sailing. Many of the acts also bring their own families along which helps to promote a really nice atmosphere around the ship.
After a painless boarding experience in Miami most passengers headed for the main stage on the pool deck to watch the sound engineers running final checks and to meet up with friends from the 2015 cruise. The Sailaway party then got underway in bright sunshine, with the headline act, Train on stage as we headed out into the Florida Straights bound for Jamaica, although many guests probably didn’t really care much whether we were sailing or indeed where we were going!
Once at sea the idea generally is to catch as many bands as you can in the limited time available and looking back, the memories I have apart from watching the live acts are of us dashing around the ship from one stage to the other, grabbing a slice of pizza or bowl of pasta on the way, although one of our companions seemed to last the whole 4 night cruise on a diet of soft scoop ice cream and the occasional Budweiser.
Most of the regular ship’s facilities are available for the use of guests throughout the cruise including the gym, spa and speciality restaurants but as far as I could tell they weren’t exactly overused and the main restaurant on board was deserted when I looked in on the last night which was the first time I had been anywhere near it.
In the circumstances, any review of the food on board ship has to be taken with a pinch of salt as you have to imagine that the ship caters specifically for the unique group of passengers on board. I can only add that for my taste the pinch of salt in question was rather too big! if I was being cynical I might suggest that this was to encourage the sale of drinks on board which, for this cruise, could not be purchased as part of a beverage package. Funny that!
There are other entertainments on board Sail Across the Sun apart from the music. I saw Emma Stevens and her partner taking part in an early morning Yoga session on the top deck and those of us lucky enough to be on our second cruise with Train were invited to have our photograph taken with the band. The other string to Train’s bow is that they own their own wine label and we spent an entertaining hour or so listening to Winemaker James Foster during a tasting session. The “Gong Show” which attempted to showcase the talents of the passengers rather than the acts, was hugely entertaining if not always because of the high quality on offer and late night comedians performed for those who wanted a change from the music.
As far as ports of call are concerned we had just one, Ocho Rios is Jamaica, which was a little disappointing unless you took an organised shore excursion. We elected to make our own way into town, a short walk from the pier, but increasingly frustrating the further you went as you attempted to shake off locals selling everything from their services as local guides, “This is our crossroads and over there is the petrol station” to various mind altering substances. We ended up in a nice bar about halfway between the ship and the town listening to Bob Marley and drinking Red Stripe but were disappointed to hear on our return to the ship that Michael Franti (one of the very best live acts I have ever seen, by the way) had taken his guitar and set up camp in a different bar along the street giving an impromptu performance for all present. Our bar did have free wi-fi though!
The best way to describe this particular cruise would be as one big family party where you can meet and chat with some of the biggest names in music on the other side of the pond. You might even describe the genre itself as Family Rock as it certainly seems to attract a nice crowd with a lot of love in it’s heart – the only problem being that once you have Sailed Across the Sun once you will want to go again and again which can play havoc with your future travel plans, although it wouldn’t be too hard on the budget – around £525 would by you a place in an inside cabin for two.
In conclusion a quick mention for the charity founded by Michael Franti and his delightful wife Sara. The Do it for the Love foundation brings people with life threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges and wounded veterans to a live concert and gives them a chance to meet their musical heroes. A couple of youngsters who have benefitted from the foundation joined Michael for an emotional performance during the cruise and you couldn’t wish for a more uplifting memorable and emotional experience. Visit www.doitforthelove.org for more details.