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Cruise Entertainment Heats Up

Written by: Paul Motter

Cruise line competition for the best in onboard entertainment is heating up, and we are the winners.

Last Monday (Oct. 3) Carnival held a special press conference in New York City to announce its newest entertainment initiative called FunShip 2.0. The $500-million plan will bring two television celebrities into the Carnival fold to “brand” future aspects of the cruise experience on Carnival ships. FunShip 2.0 starts with recently departed TBS late-night talk show host George Lopez becoming “Director of Comedy” for all the shipboard comedy clubs across the Carnival fleet. Additionally, Food Network personality Guy Fieri will bring his own personal touch to the new “Guy’s Burger Joint,” restaurant to be featured on all Carnival ships.

Is it any coincidence that Carnival called the press conference to announce this just after Norwegian Cruise Lines had already announced it will hold a press conference in New York City on October 6th (tomorrow) to announce the latest developments in its Project Breakaway ships? Is it any coincidence that Carnival then held their press conference three days before the Norwegian press conference?
Did Carnival intentionally steal Norwegian’s thunder? My little black 8-ball tells me “It is decidedly so.” But can you blame Carnival for doing that?

Carnival had been the lone holdout in terms of ramping up to the next level in onboard entertainment. The line has always had good stage shows, but nothing for guests to brag about when they get home. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean and NCL (the two mainstream cruise line competitors to Carnival) have both been focused on much better entertainment for a few years now. Now that Carnival has joined the ranks, with a hefty $500-million investment, the very definition of cruise ship entertainment is going to a higher level.

Most likely, that Norwegian press conference will be for the purpose of announcing the entertainment offerings NCL has lined up for the two new “Breakaway” ships set to debut in April of 2013 and April 2014. And the news they intend to announce could be impressive, if the entertainment offerings on Norwegian Epic are any indication.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has had very good entertainment at sea for years now, and Norwegian Epic, the line’s newest ship, has the best entertainment at sea in my opinion, and that is saying a lot when you consider the shows Royal Caribbean presents on Oasis and Allure of the Seas. Those ships have real Broadway shows, ice and aquatic acrobatic revues and 3-D movies and characters from DreamWorks (Disney’s top animation competitor).

But Norwegian Epic has Blue Man Group, the Second City comedy group of Chicago, Howl at the Moon (dueling pianos) and a great blues bar hosted by authentic New Orleans bluesman Slam Allen. The ship certainly wins my award for best entertainment. Meanwhile, Norwegian is attempting to build excitement for its upcoming Project Breakaway ships, and I can’t help wondering what they could possibly do to top Norwegian Epic.

In all honesty, I have no idea, unless it is a Beatles reunion with a resurrected John Lennon along with Johnny Carson as the cruise director. Okay, let’s put it this way; the Project Breakaway entertainment will either be fantastically cool, or a disappointment. If the latter, the size of the disappointment remains to be seen. It could a little disappointing, or it could be a real bummer.
The ball is in Norwegian’s court. What can they do to surpass Blue Man Group?

Personally, “Rent” is one of my favorite Broadway shows, but it is a little controversial. “Spider Man” would be great, but not in high seas. You know, I’ll bet they had this very conversation at NCL.
They could get the actual Cirque D’ Soliel to do a show, rather than the pale imitation “Cirque Dreams and Dinner” (the act I forgot to mention above) that they currently have on Norwegian Epic now. They could get a big star, like Celine Dion or Conan O’Brien to live on the ship and entertain nightly…

Maybe they will do something completely different – like spend the night in Nassau once a week and have stadium shows by great rock bands where they save the floor seats for the cruise passengers. Bands like Pink Floyd or Eric Clapton will entertain.

In any case, one thing is certain with this announcement by Carnival; cruise ship entertainment has now officially gone to the next level. The days of “A Salute to Hollywood” stage revues featuring no-name singer/dancers culled from Dollywood are behind us. The new generation of cruise ship entertainment is Las Vegas caliber, not Branson Missouri.

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Comments

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 5, 2011 at 5:02 am

Interesting this new slant on entertainment. For years the schlocky not quite ready for vaudeville entertainment haunted cruise ship, and liners, and ferries – wherever passengers could sail and take a cabin.

Show lounges, or “the main ballroom at sea” was a low ceilinged affair that housed all venues, from dance classes, to tea time, bingo, captains gala, the ships evening entertainment and on and on – whereby usually two crew members “worked the lights” for the “big shoooooow”, a nod to Ed Sullivan, where they stood atop ladders, clung to a pole and maually circled the lights around the performing act. dancers shrugged under the low ceilings, and that was about it. Boring.

Then came along the big show lounge, multi level, and that changed everything. I believe the first massive show lounge was in the MV HORIZON, latish ’80′s., at least, the first one I recall. Then it al changed, and I feel mostly for the good of the passengers.

There is a lot of talent out there, as witnessed from the celeb-tv reality shows, the singers, dancers et al. Cruises are new venues for their talents. Offering pros to help find this talents it crucial, as noted with George Lopez, a real trooper.

A couple of mute – and serious – points –

In order to truly offer superb musial entertainment, gone should be canned – lip synched and click tracked music -for good – replaced by live music, orchestral and vocal.

And lastly, true, Vegas style, the vibrant celebration of entertiainment, is welcome, and there will always be a place for Broadway songs and the like, but what is not welcome, the homophobic vibes that enenate from Branson.

Comment from suzanne@choozientertainment.com
Time October 6, 2011 at 8:40 am

“Canned” music can be fabulous when produced by excellent musicians and engineers. Our music for “Oasis of Dreams” was composed and recorded by Michael Brennan, MD for Le Reve in Las Vegas, Lion King, Avenue Q, Mamma Mia. We continue to hear people wanting to purchase a CD of the music on a regular basis. The problem with canned cruise ship music is that they have been using the same arrangements and tracks since the 80′s! Studio technology is vastly different today and can create a live sound that is mind blowing! We are creating a new music program for another line, using the musicians from Phantom, Lion King and Jersey Boys, engineered by a 5 time Grammy award winning engineer, and the sound so far is amazing! Btw, we are doing songs from “controversial” musicals such as Book of Mormon, Spiderman, etc.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

susanne

Canned music in dedicated shows, in say, Vegas or other MAJOR venues, is a delight. The rub is with the garbage can music as you point out, on cruise ships, is mostly from the ’80′s, and I must whole heartedly agree, it is now and was and will always be, awful.

Featuring canned music from major shows is completely acceptable, since the sound must be the same, regardless of the performers, night to night, month to month.

While we are on the subject, I have noted ill fitting costumes, torn and dirty ones on ships. This is not good.

I was not putting musical entertainment down, merely addressing the poor qulity on many, not most ships as it is presented today. I do remember when a “player” grand was used for the older folks for dancing at night – it was gross – click-track-to “Blue Spanish Eyes, Tie a Yellow Ribbon -” get the picture – awful!!!!!

Comment from Paul Motter
Time October 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Hi Suzanna – it is GREAT to see you posting here (she is from the AquaTheater company on the Oasis ships – hope I didn’t blow your covber).

Anyway – Vegas music went “canned” a long time agao and there was a protraced musicians strike about it.

Anyway – these days recording is actually far more exciting than live, with surround-sound and other effects they have with the new digiatl systems.

Comment from suzanne@choozientertainment.com
Time October 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Ha … no worries Paul, you didn’t blow my cover. I read Cruisemates when ever I can but just don’t post much. I was interested in the Carnival press release because I am doing something very similar for another line and we’ve been chatting with our cast (some of whom are ex Carnival people) and were wondering if maybe someone let ‘our cat’ out of the bag. The similarities are too close for comfort, as the expression goes. We roll out end of this month, so you will hear all about it soon enough, all vocalists most from Broadway (AEA and SAG members), including a creative team with Broadway, West End, Pop Stars/Headliners AND movie credits! We’re doing Motown, New Musicals, Women of Pop, Lennon/McCartney … but we’re also doing an Opera show (inspired by Il Divo, Josh Groban, East Village Opera Company), which I don’t think Carnival is doing. But other than that, the similarities are astounding! :-)

Comment from suzanne@choozientertainment.com
Time October 8, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Hi Kenneth … oh I totally got your gist and I very much agree. The thing I have found in all my years in the cruise entertainment industry is that the guest demographic of the different lines dictate what they deem as ‘passable’ entertainment, although I have forever believed most don’t give their audiences / guests enough credit for knowing quality when they see it. Even when I was doing the Aqua Show, as good as RCCL’s entertainment is, they have a very passe, 80′s way of doing things. I struggled to bring a new way of working to them by letting the talent participate in the creative process (the way Cirque du Soleil works … no more “Director as Dictator”) but they only know the ‘parent (director) child (talent) way of putting up a show. I found it incredibly demeaning to the talent. Of course, the other things is their budgets. Entertainment never gets the same kind of budget consideration as food and beverage so if they can get by with tracks from the 80′s and people will still get up and dance to Celebrate or the Village People, why should they invest more money bringing their entertainment into the 21st Century? I think NCL shook it up a bit with Blue Man and Second City (Cirque Dreams not so much … Neil Goldberg ‘s shows are Cirque-esque but certainly not the real deal) and Carnival, in turn, is taking a swing at upgrading their entertainment as well. I hope it encourages more cruise lines to get rid of their cheesy production shows and think out side the box.

Oh … sorry for the diatribe … I only responded to comment on your costume observation! Totally agree! I have done away with ‘costumes’ in the new entertainment program I am creating for one of the luxury lines. We are doing haute couture gowns for the women, and designer suits for the men. Shopped Barneys and Neiman Marcus for many of the looks. There’s not a rhinestone on ANYTHING! :-)

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 9, 2011 at 5:24 am

Suzanne, thanks for putting it out there – I started taking cruises and crossings when I was quite young, late ’60s, how time flies – and very little indeed has changed, for some, that may be ok.

Without naming specific cruise liens, some seem to “pull off” decent entertainment, whole others fail miserably.

Please keep us all up to date with your hearty endavors and good luck turning the tide on cruise ship enrtainment!

Comment from jason jones
Time November 1, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Carnival is firing all of their lounge bands, half of their dancers, the calypso duos and cocktail pianists. However they are adding more bars (in the library?) as well as all of the additional food venues. All Carnival is concerned with is their customers eating and drinking themselves to death. I suppose if you’ve ever been on a Carnival ship however you realize that they aren’t targeting classy individuals. Where ‘da food at?
Oh…and also, taking the live musicians out of the production shows…all tracks! Awesome! Anyone that likes live music and supporting the arts PLEASE choose a different cruise line.

Comment from John Brady
Time December 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Paul,

Thanks for this article. Carnival, while a great line and value, has needed a little more in the onboard entertainment. Lopez and Guy gives us something new and easy to connect to with our clients.

Please keep us updated with any new twists in the story as it continues to evolve.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time December 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Hi John, I would be happy to provide you with updates on Carnival entertainment as long as they keep us in the loop, but even though I write one of the most visible cruise columns in the U.S. (for foxnews.com) they recently chose to not invite on a press trip they held for the funship 2.0 enhancements. I was prerry surprised, to tell you the truth.

Comment from suzanne@choozientertainment.com
Time May 12, 2012 at 7:34 am

Thought I would update this message board now that the first contract for the new entertainment program for Silversea is finishing. We are in rehearsals again for the next contract.

The World Cruise finished with the highest ever ratings for the entertainment cast ever…a 9.23 average for the 116 days. Every Silversea vessel is turning in 9′s and above as well.

The Artists on the World Cruise has been invited back for the 2013 World Cruise, with the majority of the Artists finishing their first contract, expressing a desire to return.

The Opera show on all the vessels receives standing ovations most every show, as does the others.

We rolled out a new show on the recent Spirit install, and are doing the same for the Silver Wind changeover. Additionally, when the Silver Shadow turns over, every Silversea vessel will have the opulent Venetian Costuming for the Venetian Society night and the arias which are performed by the Artists.

The program has proven to be a great success and we here at Choozi couldn’t be more proud of the 30 vocalists out there right now, performing for the guests of Silversea!

Kindest regards,
Suzanne
Choozi Entertainment

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