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Old November 20th, 2011, 07:03 PM
Jason Leppert
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In concluding this virtual cruise, I’d like to share some thoughts regarding the Portofino specialty restaurant, the entertainment onboard and the Martina McBride concert.

For our final formal night we dined at the specialty Italian restaurant, Portofino, situated on the lido deck. Since this restaurant applies a cover charge of $20, I was expecting a meal superior to that served in the included main dining room. While our dinner was certainly enjoyable, I found my filet mignon entrée to be less flavorful than the one I had downstairs earlier in the week. The same was true of the shrimp risotto. While the appetizer was acceptable, I found it to be somewhat lacking here. Our table also shared a number of pastas around the table which were far better. I’m a pesto fan, and their pesto pasta was quite tasty but a bit uninspired in its preparation. What I was truly impressed with was their dessert. No matter what was ordered around the table, the presentation was theatrical. The fantastical shapes arranged in and delicious flavors drawn from chocolate were astounding. But I still hold that Johnny Rockets is the unique culinary gem on this ship.

On this formal night, we were also entertained with a great production show called “Rhythm and Rhyme.” It was more or less a typical cruise-fare medley of Broadway tunes, but the vocal and dance performances were extremely solid. One of the female vocalists had serious pipes, only surpassed on this stage by Martina McBride on our day of disembarkation.

The set pieces were limited but very well done. The tiered band stand was framed in by an arched curtain that was decorated with the names of the featured Broadway composers spelled out in popcorn lights. At one point, a quaintly makeshift taxicab is scooted around the stage by the dancers and “driven” by one of the male vocalists. The lighting design was also impressive and well featured in a “recording studio” scene partly obscured by a fog scrim and showcasing three female vocalists. This intimate set was wonderfully colorful and cinematic in its art direction.

I must admit that I had grown accustomed to watching such shows on cruises from the upper balcony as I’m partial to that particular perspective. However, this time I was front and center and only about 5 rows back. There is something to be said for how much more the sound and the experience in general impacts you at this position. The sound mixes onboard were well balanced from any seat in the house this week, perhaps is preparation for Martina McBride’s impending arrival, but details in the audio and visual elements of this show were far more apparent at this distance. Maybe this observation seems obvious, but the contrast in experiences was so striking that I felt it merited mentioning.

The Royal Promenade itself was the chosen venue for several onboard shows and musical performances. I had discussed previously how well this corridor is utilized for entertainment performances with the caveat of congestion. The 50/60s night was musically fun and included some performers dressed up as dance hosts. Later in the week, the 70s night was far more elaborate and featured the use of the bridge-way that crosses the “street.” Here dancers dressed up like the Village People danced to music from the era and entertained the onlookers. Such events are a lot of fun and utilize the audio and visual capabilities of the promenade to a limited degree.

The facility is used to full effect when even more of the entertainment staff is in play for the Party Around the World parade that took place here on the last sea day. This show takes a substantial effort and includes the additional decoration of the various outcroppings. Dozens of performers are well costumed, and the whole show is emceed by the cruise director in a strange Nordic get up. The overall effect of the show, however, is underwhelming. There really is no narrative, and the performers nonchalantly traverse the length of the corridor along with a handful of crew members waving flags designating their respective ship departments. Most cruises offer an opportunity to feature the staff on stage to celebrate their commitment to the passengers as well as their international diversity. This here seemed to be a halfhearted attempt to shoehorn such an event in. The show is kinetic with wind machines blowing streamers, lights dazzling, and a Segway scooter being featured for a very brief ride by the cruise director. The production just needs more cohesion and energy, in my opinion. It’s not bad, but it's not great.

Another infamous entertainment offering onboard Royal Caribbean is The Quest. Advertised as showcasing the adult side of the cruise line, this game show is a scavenger hunt that incorporates everyone in attendance at the venue, on this ship it was Studio B. The entire hunt remains inside the one room and is played by six teams, crowds divided by bleacher section. The cruise director is again the emcee, and here assigns points to the teams as they meet the requirements of each “quest.” Quests – which must be met and then seen and confirmed by the cruise director wherever in the room he or she may be, adding a bit of a hide-and-go-seek element – range from docile ones such as a man giving a woman a piggyback ride to more suggestive ones such as a man wearing lipstick, keeping in mind that the lipstick need not necessarily be worn on the lips.

Things got rather adult within the first few minutes of the game as one woman ripped open the back of her dress during the piggyback portion and exposed her bare buttocks to the crowd for the game’s entire duration with zero inhibition. Quests ramped up to seeking as many men per team wearing bras as well as seeking women’s thongs, thus requiring live disrobing. To be sure, no one was ever fully nude, but things got pretty close quite frequently. The game is extremely amusing for those who chose just to watch, our group included, but at times became rather revolting such as when said exposed buttocks were flaunted about.

Nonetheless, people really get into this game which has become a staple tradition among repeat cruisers. The commitment is apparent when you observe how people dress up for the event in anticipation for the wild expectations of the quests. One person, for instance, dressed up in a full Elmo costume wearing a head piece that surely filled up a piece of luggage all on its own. Despite all warnings against children being in attendance, one couple even brought their 5-7 year old daughter and even exploited her as the team’s shortest member for one of the quests. The game show is fun but often inappropriate in its elicitation of lowest-common-denominator behavior as part of a bizarre social experiment. In short, this scene is not for everybody onboard.

Entertainment became more mainstream with the arrival of Martina McBride for a special onboard concert. After disembarking the cruise we returned to the ship almost immediately for a pre-concert cocktail party followed by a 45-minute set in the main show lounge. Martina showed up for a brief Q&A at the cocktail party with priority given to contest winners who were invited to the concert events and the following week long cruise. Martina was extremely congenial towards and accommodating of her fans. It was a pleasure to see her so casual and relaxed amongst everybody. She is certainly an everywoman celebrity.

The concert itself was an impressive affair. While she came onboard just for the concert, many of her crew were onboard the week before in preparation for her arrival. Her crew fully took over La Scala theater to the point that not even the ship’s own mixing board was used. Instead, it was boxed in and used as a stand for their own mixing station with a cable snake run to the stage to pick up all the microphones and instruments. The house speakers were used but were likely amplified to their limits as the volume was set to concert loud. The mix was well balanced and clear, and it never overloaded the speakers.

Martina’s vocals shined through terrifically. She can certainly sing. She hits her notes with enthusiastic belting, and the backing vocals and instrumentals accent her performance with appropriately high energy. Our group was lucky to have front row seats off to the side of the stage and had a great view of the entire performance. Martina plays very well to the crowd, interacting with them and working the full stage to attend to every section of the auditorium. She has a playful sense of humor and genuinely enjoys singing.

Her set of songs included many numbers from her newly released album as well as some of earlier hits. The audience ate up every foot stomping song and was quick to reward the performances with standing ovations. She is quite the entertainer, and her band is equally proficient at working the crowd. Her lead guitarist walked the front of the stage often and seriously waled on his guitars. At the end of the set, she and her band met the final standing ovation with an encore performance. For this final number they covered Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and honored the piece with a wonderful rendition. The concert and the cruise were both truly fantastic experiences of a lifetime. Until next time, friends...

Last edited by Jason Leppert; November 20th, 2011 at 07:12 PM.
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