This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a look at the evolution of the entertainment options available on board today's cruise ships.
There's no business like show business
One of the major selling points of a cruise vacation is that your entertainment is included in your fare. If you have ever been on a cruise you know that cruise ship entertainment comes in a variety of forms:
Firstly, you will find guest singers, instrumentalists, comedians, ventriloquists and even jugglers, performing their own shows or as part of larger variety shows.
While I will admit that entertainment is very subjective and that some folks might enjoy them, I must say that I particularly dislike ventriloquists. What an odd way to earn a living - putting your hand up the back of a doll and talking to yourself. I'm not keen on jugglers either and we can't expect cruise magicians to be up to the 'David Copperfield' standard. Making a handkerchief disappear instead of the 'Empire State Building' simply does not impress me. However some of the guest such acts can be rather good.
Secondly, there are the occasional 'audience participation' type of shows. These may take the form of a passenger talent show, a game show or even a 'Belly Flop' competition in the pool.
I have seen several onboard 'Mr & Mrs' game shows, featuring the passengers as contestants. These are not my cup of tea either, but strangely these are incredibly well attended. For some passengers this is the only show that they will make an effort to attend. Sometimes I almost feel sorry for the professional entertainment troop. They practice their craft for years and rehearse each show for hours, yet a bunch of amateurs doing a game show proves to be more popular. At least the troop gets a night off.
Thirdly, there will normally be a couple of 'production' shows during a 7 night cruise. These are often Broadway type song and dance ('flesh & feather') shows featuring the ships resident entertainment troop. Once again, the talent of the entertainment troop can vary from ship to ship, line to line. They are normally young people learning their trade and have tremendous energy and enthusiasm. However, often times their enthusiasm is not matched by their vocal abilities. In my experience, the male dancers are always slim, muscular and toned yet the female ones often appear to be 20 or 30 pounds overweight.
Fourthly, let's not forget that the onboard Swimming Pools, Water Park, Gym, Spa Treatments, Casino, cookery and napkin folding demonstrations are also forms of entertainment. There may also be 'enrichment programs' where you can listen to experts lecture on their chosen topic or learn how to use a Spreadsheet.
The opinions and standards can vary wildly between cruise lines and even between each show on the same ship. However I think that the passengers who never go to the formal shows do miss out. On a typical cruise there are at least a couple of good shows, if not one great one, in my experience.
For example, on Cunard's QM2's the production shows 'Appassionato' and 'Rock at the Opera' (performed during the maiden season and in year two) were outstanding by cruise ship standards. RCI's production shows 'Bond Voyage' (James Bond themed songs and dance) and 'History Repeating' (retro pop music) were also excellent. All four shows were high energy song and dance productions featuring contemporary pop music rather than Hollywood classics (although I like those too). However, RCI's 'Planet Ice' (the 'Voyager' class ice-rink show) is probably the best show I've ever seen onboard a ship.
But here's the rub - as the cruise lines expand their efforts to attract the younger cruiser, this traditional genre of entertainment is increasingly beginning to look out of date.
Several major cruise lines have attempted to add entertainment that they felt would appeal to the younger set. For example, in 2004 Celebrity created an alliance with 'Cirque Du Soleil, the contemporary 'Circus'. However instead of creating acrobatic type shows, which 'Cirque' are acclaimed for, Celebrity tried something very different. They turned a ships lounge into 'The Bar at the Edge of the Earth'.
In the words of Celebrities marketing guru's: 'The Bar at the Edge of the Earth'.
was to be part bar, part lounge and a completely alternate reality. Every evening, in the top-deck lounges of the cruise ship 'Constellation' and 'Summit', you would be invited to pass through a misty and mystical gateway. Inside was an unearthly cast of characters in a world of wonder. As you wander through this strange and fascinating place, you would lose yourself in a surreal atmosphere bathed in luminescence, pulsating with sounds and awash in mesmerizing visual effects.
If you are wondering who these characters were that you would meet, they included the 'Lantern Tuner', 'The Wave Correspondent', 'Pez Erizo', 'The Abyss Gardener' and the 'Dream Fisher'. Not exactly Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse was it?
You may notice that I am talking in the past tense and Celebrity has now scrapped the whole idea. As one of our Cruise Talk forum members nicely put it "People want to see a show and not a bunch of strange looking people walking around with funny costumes and hats". After all there are plenty of shore side bars full of weirdo's to choose from. However, I think we must give Celebrity full credit for trying something brave and new even if it was a stupid idea.
Princess Cruises currently offers a 'Cirque-like' stage show with acrobats and dancers and Norwegian Cruise Line recently introduced a new show on the 'Norwegian Pearl', called 'Tubez'. Although I've not seen the show myself, Tubez features rap music, skateboarding and BMX bike stunts. Those in their teens and twenties may well love it, but feedback from the over-thirty crowd has been generally negative with some calling it the "worst show they have ever seen on a ship". While the reception may have been mixed, I must once again give NCL credit for at least trying to do something different.
Maybe 'live' entertainment will take a back seat in the future to high-tech forms of entertainment. By the start of the next decade P&O, RCI, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, NCL and MSC will all have big new ships. Although the details of what exactly will be offered onboard these leviathans are still a closely guarded secret, they are all bound to have more entertainment and sports facilities than ever.
RCI already have a Flow Rider (surf wave machine), a Boxing Ring, and a Water Park at sea. NCL have a bowling Alley and a Rock Wall. Cunard have a Planetarium and P&O's new Ventura will have the first 3D Cinema afloat. Unfortunately those silly glasses never did suit me.