Cruise Line Entertainment Changes

| Tuesday, 01 Apr. 2014

After many editorials about cruise line entertainment, I now make a bold prediction.

Over the years I have correctly predicted some of the big changes we have seen in the cruise industry. For example, I first suggested the show “Blue Man Group” would work on a cruise ship while working as a stage manager for Holland America in 1993.

In 2009 Norwegian Cruise Line held a press conference in Las Vegas to promote their new “White Hot” deck parties. When I arrived I said to one NCL person, “My guess is that you invited us here to announce Blue Man Group will be on Norwegian Epic.”   I was wrong. That announcement did not come for another year.

Over the years I have written about cruise ship entertainment many times. Long ago I suggested that cruise ship shows lacked “authenticity.” I cited a stage show where the spiritual song “Old Man River,” was sung by a young, fit and healthy white boy.

I think my comments were heard. These days many cruise ships feature “full book” Broadway shows. Carnival just announced an affiliation with Dr. Seuss movies and characters, while Norwegian already has Nickelodeon and Royal Caribbean has DreamWorks characters.  Of course, Disney is an entertainment company, and so the cruise line is nothing but Disney entertainment.


Today’ Cruise Entertainment

Few aspects of the cruise experience get more unjustified derision than shipboard entertainment.  Examples include comedian Gary Shandling’s “The Larry Sanders Show” where he played a late-night talk show host with a sidekick (always the butt of jokes) who often pointed out his former entertainment experience as a “cruise director.” (That’s the joke, in case you missed it).

Comedian Jimmy Dunn wrote a book entitled “Boat Hack,” where he says cruise ship gigs are the lowest rung on the comedy ladder. I disagree with this completely, so I bought the book.  Jimmy will need the money as he is tries to survive solely on the land-based comedy circuit. Cruise ship comedy is hard work, but it pays well. So, what’s the drawback? You’ll never get a part in an Adam Sandler movie doing routines based on vacuum toilets and life boat drill. Not too surprising, his book is mostly one profane joke about cruise ship staff and passengers after another.

The best line I ever heard by a real (famous) comedian aboard a cruise ship was when Disney Cruise Line brought Jerry Seinfeld aboard Disney Fantasy for a 30-minute set while the ship was docked in Manhattan in 2011.   Jerry walked out and said “Wow, I’m on a cruise ship and it’s beautiful.  I had no idea these ships could be so amazing. I’ve seen my future, and -- (wait for it) -- it’s not that bad!”

My Cruise Entertainment Prediction

I also believe I have seen the future.  Royal Caribbean just announced its new “Dynamic Dining” program for the forthcoming Quantum of the Seas, scheduled to arrive in November, 2014.” Quantum and her sister (Anthem of the Seas) are the only “all new design” ships coming out this year and for several years in the future. They contain many new and innovative ideas.

“Dynamic Dining” eliminates the traditional cruise ship dining room. For Royal Caribbean that has always been a large (up to three decks tall) open space surrounded by floor to ceiling windows.  Royal Caribbean hopes this will change the common misconception that cruises are too regimented (by those who have never taken one).  

The space that would have been the aft dining room will now be a multi-purpose lounge and showroom called 270° (pronounced “two-seventy degrees” which describes the viewing angle provided by the windows).  At night the windows will go dark and turn into screens for multi-media projections as backdrops for “cirque-like” shows with “flying” acrobats. At least, that is what has been announced so far.

So, here is my prediction… I predict that Quantum of the Seas will be the first modern cruise ship without a main theater for production shows. I know the deck plans show one - but we have seen no renderings of it, nor heard any discussion as to size, etc. Similar to what the line is doing with dining, I predict we will see “Alternative Entertainment.”  Feel free to use that. “Dynamic Dining and Alternative Entertainment” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

To be clear, rather than a large dedicated room where the entertainment changes each night, I predict Quantum while have a variety of alternative but dedicated entertainment venues; such as a comedy club, and Karaoke spot, a Piano Bar, a Blues Club and modern ballroom-style dancing to a live band, and 270° - but all of those venues will be dedicated spaces – and there will be no main theater.

None of this has been announced yet, and I could be red-faced if they make a different announcement tomorrow, but I am sticking to my prediction until I hear differently, and for the record I have been saying this privately for about a year, not just since “Dynamic Dining” program was announced. I will also say I did NOT predict “Dynamic Dining.”

Keep in mind that “Las Vegas-style production shows” in a main showroom have been a staple of modern cruise entertainment since - forever, usually with three or four different production shows per cruise.


The New Entertainment Era Already Here

I need to clarify that having dedicated entertainment spaces is not new - notably, Norwegian Cruise Line broke the “production showroom theater” tradition in a big way with Norwegian Epic in 2010. Norwegian Epic and all of the line’s ships that follow have a main theater, but it is almost fully dedicated to just one show night after night.

Carnival Cruise Line went to smaller stage show a few years ago, down to just four to six cast members from as many as 20 on competing ships. Carnival makes up for this by using projected images that look like people on stage. Now that I say that out loud, I realize how cheesy it sounds; although it works just fine on board. I guess it is a little too easy to make fun of cruise ships.

Royal Princess, the newest Princess ship, is another example of new-age entertainment venues, although hers are more multi-purpose and not dedicated spaces. The expanded main atrium features string quartets, circus-like performers (jugglers, tumblers, etc.), singers and DJs at night.  The trick here is to make everything that happens appear to be “spontaneous” – as if someone just decided it would be fun to give the passengers an impromptu show.

Just like “Dynamic Dining” I think we are starting to see the end for most traditional cruise entertainment. And even though one can argue that this new age started with Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Free-style” adaptations, what matters most is not who did it first, but “who does it best?” 

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