The Moody Blues on stage on Poesia
Warning: If you're a big fan of The Moody Blues or other classic and prog rock artists, you'll be kicking yourself for missing the March 20th rock cruise on MSC Poesia. Cruising round trip from Fort Lauderdale and visiting Jamaica and Grand Cayman, this was the real rock and roll deal: No tribute bands or stand-ins, but the original, legendary artists themselves assembled for an extravaganza that was chock full (and I mean chock full) of concerts and events that allowed fans to get up close and personal with many of their idols.
Don't be too hard on yourself, though. Unless you're a die-hard, dedicated follower of The Moody Blues, you'd never have known about this full charter of the 2,550-passenger Poesia. Consumer advertising was limited to the band's website and a companion Facebook site which, in the end, was all it took to fill the ship to capacity with fans from 20 different countries including Australia, Norway, Belarus, Turkey, The Philippines and New Zealand.
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The Moody Blues Cruise was probably rock cruising's best kept secret. Sandwiched between two other rock-themed Poesia sailings-Monsters of Rock heavy metal cruise and Cruise to the Edge, a sailing dedicated to the band Yes-the concept was the brainchild of 25-year cruise industry veteran/theme cruise creator Mike London and concert promoter Larry T. Morand who, together, entered the rock cruise arena in 2009 with Shiprocked. Moody Blues fans themselves, the two identified the Nights in White Satin rock icons as a global draw and tracked down the band's agent to bang out a deal. London, a friend of MSC President Rick Sasso, arranged for the charter of MSC's "Musica-Class" Poesia, selecting the vessel based on its capacity and the fact that the ship was purpose-built for entertainment and music. In July 2012, details were finalized and fans got their first wind of The Moody Blues: The Voyage.
The original "The Zombies" perform on the cruise
As one who's passionate about both classic rock and cruising, this was worlds colliding in the best possible way. I'd learned about the sailing in October from a member of The Strawbs, a band I've known for 10 years and whose music I've followed for 40. Like The Zombies, Asia, Ambrosia, Little River Band, Stephen Bishop, Prog Collective, Joe Williams of Toto and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Strawbs would be among the artists scheduled to perform during the five-day sailing. As someone who thinks she has her finger on the pulse of the cruise industry, I simply didn't believe that such big news could have passed me by. But it certainly had, and the next time I would see The Strawbs, it would be during the boat drill aboard MSC Poesia.
Like any embarkation day, seating at the Fort Lauderdale cruise ship terminal filled quickly, but not with the mix of families, small children, teenagers and elderly that typically comprises a ship's passenger roster. Look around and you'd notice that the crowd was almost entirely comprised of the baby boomers-aged 50s to 60s-whose life soundtrack was provided by the bands and the music that would be celebrated on board. Look again, and you'd notice a whole lot of blue-blue t-shirts, blue dresses, blue pants, blue boas and, in one case, blue hair--the "official" color, I'd learned from The Moody Blues Cruise Facebook site, of Moodies fans worldwide.
Welcome aboard, Moody Blues Cruise style, included an outdoor greeting by the Moodies themselves and while the scheduled sail-away appearance by Ambrosia was rained out and rescheduled for later in the cruise (our only instance of less than stellar weather), the thousands assembled had their first look at The Pool Stage. This was no slip-shod poolside platform but an extravagant showcase complete with an excellent sound system, lighting and theatrical effects that would serve the performers well in the five days ahead and be the site of Friday's Zombies concert-a performance that many felt was one of the most electrifying of the week, with the hit Hold Your Head Up generating a frenzy of participation by happy dancing and singing crowds that mobbed the stage and lined the rails on the decks above.
On deck for a Q 'n A with the Moody Blues
The big ticket, however, was indisputably The Moody Blues, a British Invasion standout that first came to our attention with the pop hit "Go Now" in 1965 and matured over the decades into one of the most innovative bands of our time with masterful compositions like Nights in White Satin, Question, The Other Side of Life, and Tuesday Afternoon. Not surprisingly, the Moody Blues concert performances would be among the only shows requiring assigned seating and separate performances for early and late sitting diners (the only exception to this was Greg Lake who had a similar arrangement). In a genius-and fair-move, seating at the Poesia's incredible two-level, 1,240-person capacity Carlo Felice Theater was determined based upon time of booking, with those who pre-booked the cruise at the VIP level awarded the best seats in the house (and, yes, numbers were actually taped on each row and every seat-Note to Seat Labeler: I really, really hope they're paying you enough). VIPs also received a gift bag filled with Moodies goodies including a cruise t-shirt and "gold record" plaque designed to commemorate the voyage.
The first Moody Blues performance, for those assigned to early sitting dinner, was held on embarkation evening while those at late sitting had to wait until the following evening for their show which included most of the band's best-known works. Between the two performances, however, The Moody Blues participated in a Thursday afternoon Question & Answer session at the pool stage, responding to questions that fans had posed ahead of time via the Moody Blues Cruise Facebook site. "My wife and I chose Nights in White Satin as our wedding song," the MC read to lead singer Justin Hayward, "And now I understand that the song is about a homosexual. Can you tell us if that's really true?" Justin, holding the sun-heated hand mike with a towel and sporting an Aussie bush hat that made him a dead ringer for Crocodile Dundee, responded "If that's the case, I must be a Lesbian."
Justin Howard's Q 'n A session
One of the most engaging aspects of the Moody Blues cruise was its "Storyteller" series. In addition to concert performances, most artists offered a session where they would discuss an aspect of their band's history or the inspiration for some of their best-known hits before performing the song. Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, approached the session differently, not playing a note of music but giving an intriguing glimpse at his work and revealing that the ELP signature song Lucky Man was written by him when he was 12 years old.
During the Moody Blues show
While the Moody Blues wouldn't appear on stage again until Friday and Saturday for their own Storyteller performances, there was no escaping that this was, indeed, a Moody Blues Cruise. Moodies movies "Live from Royal Albert Hall," "Live at the Isle of Wight," and "Lovely to See You" were broadcast from the pool stage until midnight, concert footage was displayed on the TV screens around the ship and their songs were piped through most public room sound systems. There was even a session of Moodies Karaoke!
For some fans lucky enough to score online tickets to any or all of three optional Moody Blues events scheduled, the cruise offered an opportunity to be part of a more exclusive and intimate audience. Justin Hayward's New CD Preview Party, A Poetry Reading with Graeme Edge and a Wine Tasting with John Lodge were each limited to 150 participants and priced at $60 per person. All sold out in less than five minutes.
The Moody Blues play in the Main TheaterIn any cruise review, a significant amount of discussion centers around the ship's dining and cuisine. Not here. While opinion of Poesia's food varied wildly during our sailing (with the only consistent comment being that hot dishes could certainly be hotter), for many, the non-stop schedule of concerts and events prevented guests from stopping long enough to enjoy a formal, multi-course dinner. I, personally, subsisted on the salad and tepid-but-delicious pepperoni pizza I'd grab during a quick buffet pit-stop between shows.
It's ironic that the best thing about The Moody Blues Cruise was also the worst thing about The Moody Blues Cruise. With a schedule that would have made my head spin even during the height of my teenage concert-going prime, some of the true luxuries of a cruise were lost. Instead, I'd find myself stressing over whether to catch the Strawbs' or the Zombies after the Moody Blues performance ended at 8:30 p.m. And how could I possibly get decent seats for either when The Moody Blues set doesn't end until the Strawbs and Zombies sets begin?
But for the vast, vast, vast majority of those aboard the inaugural sailing of The Moody Blues: The Voyage, most of them first-time cruisers drawn to the sea only by the big name artists who would perform on board, decisions like those were the nicest problems they could ever hope to have.
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