Category Archives: Entertainment

No karaoke, thanks, we’re British

When it comes to the new concept of performing karaoke on board to a live band , Cruise Critic’s UK fans have spoken! And put it this way, they’re not queuing up to be first in line for ‘My Way’.

We ran a poll yesterday on our home page asking “Karaoke with a live band on a cruise is…”, and these were the answers:

  • A great opportunity for budding singers: 6.8%
  • An activity that should be banned: 46.60%
  • Something that should be subject to audition first: 16.5%
  • A good idea after a few drinks: 30.10%

Seems slightly Scrooge-like, wanting karaoke scrapped altogether; I’ve always felt it fits well in small, enclosed, ideally private spaces, late at night and dimly lit. Nearly a third of you seemed closer to supporting this more tentative approach, saying it would be ‘a good idea after a few drinks’.  

But it doesn’t look as though our sample audience is buying into the full rock band and backing singers that’s becoming all the rage at sea. We’ll stick to the dodgy lyrics and cheapo backing videos of pub karaoke, thanks! SJB


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Going Gaga for Karaoke

Someone ought to devise a mathematical formula that correlates the level of alcohol consumption with one’s tendency to think that karaoke on a cruise is a really good idea.

Why are karaoke evenings on ships almost always held late at night? Because the vast majority of Brits need a good few cocktails inside them before they get up and sing, that’s why. If ‘sing’ is the right word. Karaoke may have been invented by the Japanese in all seriousness, but surely Brits have only ever taken it ironically. Until now.

Now, we live in the age of the X Factor, where anybody has the potential to be a star and even the truly atrocious get their moment of fame. Throw the hit American show Glee into the mix and we murder dance routines as well as songs.

Cruise lines are cleverly tapping into this Fame mentality by stepping their karaoke offerings up a notch, taking it professional, with a live band and backing singers, recording opportunities and performances (heaven forbid) on giant screens. Check out today’s news story on Cruise Critic. Soon, cruise ships won’t need professional entertainers.

Has Britain got karaoke talent?

But the thing is, does anybody actually enjoy karaoke unless a) the performer is so bad it’s laughable b) the performer is their loved one/child or c) they actually are the performer and are drunk enough or brilliant enough not to care? Do we really want the full-blown X Factor at sea?

Judging by the ongoing poll on Cruise Critic UK today, we don’t: When posed with the question “Karaoke with a live band on a cruise is…?”, the answer “…an activity that should be banned” is currently in the lead, with 40% of the vote. (“A good idea after a few drinks” is in second place, incidentally. Do add your own vote!)

My own observations are that American cruisers (and forgive the cultural stereotyping) are generally much more polished karaoke performers than most Brits, because they work at it. They practice, they know the songs, they perform in little groups or pairs and have perfected their harmonies and steps. They don’t make fools of themselves.

We, on the other hand, are either dismal pub crooners, hen parties who think they’re Lady Gaga, the odd warbling Whitney, or, annoyingly, the occasional glamorous one who can actually sing but would be described by Simon Cowell as ‘a bit cruise ship’.

While I personally welcome diverse entertainment at sea, I’m not sure we Brits will find stardom in the new karaoke lounges. It’s all too much of a joke to us. SJB

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Football Fever

Fans watch England beat Slovenia on board Norwegian Epic

We were surprised by the response to a pre-World Cup poll on Cruise Critic, asking you where you were going to watch the football. More than half of you weren’t planning to watch it at all, 38% opted for viewing at home, 3.96% had a date with the pub and only 5.45% were going to watch on a cruise ship.

A lot of cruise lines were pretty late announcing their World Cup coverage, presumably because they were still negotiating for the rights to screen the matches. This could explain why so few Cruise Critic members had planned cruises to coincide with the football.  But a cruise ship is actually a great place to watch a match, and football widows and widowers can hardly complain about having nothing to do — I imagine there were plenty of spaces available in the spa on Norwegian Epic yesterday when England played Slovenia.

And what an afternoon it was! I only rarely follow football, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. All the business sessions stopped (this was a trade-only preview cruise), and people packed into O’Sheehan’s, the onboard pub, and around the Atrium Café one deck below, where there’s seating around giant screen that normally shows calming images of waves breaking on beaches.

Up on the top deck it was even better; a blisteringly hot afternoon in the English Channel (for once), free-flowing beers and hundreds of fans crammed onto the tiered sunbathing areas of Spice H2O, which I predict is going to be one of the places to be on Epic, especially when the pool and hot tubs are working. The clarity of the huge screen and the sound quality are fantastic, and although the initial mood was admittedly tense rather than jubilant, once Defoe had scored in the 22nd minute, it really felt like the party had started.

Mind you, this was tame compared to the match I watched on Costa Serena two years ago when Spain beat Italy on penalties in Euro 2008; imagine the atmosphere on a ship packed with both Italian and Spanish fans, all in football strip and all in full voice. The downside is what came next; half the ship (the Italian half) was in official mourning for several days afterwards.

Wherever you’re cruising, enjoy Sunday’s game — and send us your party reports afterwards!



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Dine With Nick Stars!

This morning I had one of the most lively breakfasts of my life. The location: The colourful Spiegel Tent on Norwegian Epic. The event: A character breakfast with the stars of Nickelodeon.

Now, since this isn’t a revenue cruise – and  the ship is mostly full of weary travel agents who may have had one too many glasses of Champagne last night – the atmosphere was perhaps not quite as electric as it would be on a regular cruise when families will be flocking into this eatery.

However, we got into the spirit of things, and as our cooked breakfast came out (sausage, eggs, bacon, pancakes),  so did the stars of the kids TV programmes.

SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron (who posed for a picture with me!) and pals paraded on stage and sang their rendition of “Celebration” – that certainly woke us up!

There were a couple of children in the restaurant and when we were all given the chance to meet the characters, you could see the excitement on their faces. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of fully grown adults standing in line to have their photos taken with the stars!

It’s a great addition for NCL, and if you’re planning to sail with your kids, definitely try to check it out – it’s on three times a cruise and you can book in the Box Office. For children aged 4-12 the cost is $10 per child; ages 13 and upwards, the fee is $15 per person.


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Celebrities Who Cruise

On which cruise line’s ships are you most likely to bump into Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, stars from “Strictly Come Dancing” or John Travolta? Let’s be frank – there aren’t a whole lot of celebrities who cruise (and mostly those who do are participating in some sort of guest star role) but these three were definitely spotted onboard (Gallagher hopped on a Silversea Cruises Atlantic crossing when ash madness grounded planes, “Strictly Come Dancing” performers have been spotted on several Princess cruises, and John Travolta was on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas a few years back.

Oprah, the U.S. reigning queen of daytime chat, has taken a cruise; she chartered NCL’s Norwegian Gem for a staff trip – and presided over the events from the plush garden villa. Even Guns ‘n Roses’ guitarist Slash has been known to tweet about his love for — ready for this? — Disney cruises.

In a new story today on Cruise Critic UK, check out other celebrities who you might spot at sea.

The reason that most inspired Norwegian Cruise Line executives to name American country music and sitcom star Reba McEntire as godmother of its new Norwegian Epic (christening’s July 2 in New York) is because – she actually cruises for pleasure! NCL president Kevin Sheehan told us that on a Mediterranean cruise a few years back he ran into her so often (around the ship and on shore excursions) that he was afraid she’d think he was stalking her. Seriously though, she really loves cruising and so is the rare godmother who regards the christening as more than just a publicity stunt.


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Norwegian Epic’s Ice Bar

Norwegian Epic’s Ice Bar is of course one of the ship’s most unique features. Inspired by the Ice Bar in Stockholm (and beyond), it’s the exact same concept: you queue up at a designated hour, don a quite attractive pewter-colored nylon parka-poncho with fake fur hoodie, slip on some wool gloves, and head inside. About 20 people at a time can participate (you’re asked to show up on the hour, put on the protective gear, and then enter at half past, from 5 – 11 p.m.). Cost is $20 per person, and you get two tickets each for pre-made vodka drinks (think vodka/peach schnapps or vodka/Curacao) that are ice-like looking. And warming…

This is a “chalk this up to an experience” experience. The oddity of it makes the group of 20 strangers come together as if at a very civilized cocktail party (albeit one that takes place in Lapland in January). You’re very social if only because you’re trying to distract yourself from the fear that you might be getting cold, even with the extra outerwear! And be forewarned: Those who wear flip-flops do so at their own peril (beyond worries of frostbite, you might also slip; the floor slides a bit here and there where touches of ice have melted).

Though reservations are generally suggested, I just stopped on by (slow night? 5 spaces were available). I was on Deck 7, wandering past the Ice Bar enroute to Bar Central, and I was intrigued by a gaggle of people donning grey coats as if to embark on an Arctic expedition. I paid my $20, got my drink tickets and my gloves, and headed on in.

The actual time you spend inside maxes out at 45 minutes; most can’t take it much longer than a half hour or so before the cold penetrates, says Romeo, the Filipino bartender on duty for this shift. He can handle two Ice Bar sessions in a row (with a 15 minute break in between to warm up — and he does dress in layers), and then he moves on to warmer climes in Bar Central or elsewhere.

Tonight, we’re drinking our cocktails in plastic cups; Romeo says that the machine that makes the ice goblets is on the fritz. I frankly think the plastic’s easier to hang on to.

Beyond feverish chatting through clicking teeth, the big fun is to take silly photos of all and sundry. The furniture — yes there’s furniture — looks reasonably comfortable for a loveseat made out of ice, but, and I’m not sure you can see the terror in my face, some earlier patron has apparently warmed it up to the extent that it now slopes. Sit gingerly.

As the last of us headed out, having spent some 40 minutes in a glass-and-color-infused meat locker, Romeo endured one patron’s final question: “What did you do wrong to get assigned to this bar?” With a gentle smile and a ready quip he retorted, “Hey, we have the coolest job in town.”

I’m thinking that Paul (pictured first), a London-based cruise fan who’s onboard for this short sailing and then beyond, could help out if need be. Noting that he simply doesn’t feel the cold the way others do, he took off his parka shortly after entering — and stuck around for a good half hour in only his shirt sleeves (yes, his arms did have goose bumps!).


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All booked up on Norwegian Epic?

Norwegian Epic’s first two-night cruise ended this morning in Rotterdam, and I really don’t think we still know what’s going to be hot and what’s not. The ship is designed with enough options to keep things — dining and entertainment especially — fresh for seven full nights and days, and a mini-cruise like this one is by nature more compressed. Everybody’s trying to eat everywhere and see every show in a two-day period, which lends a frenetic nature that I trust won’t be felt on Epic’s regular schedule.

Tonight’s a one-nighter between Rotterdam and Southampton (we arrive there early in the morning), and with just half the time onboard, I suspect the atmosphere will be even more caffeinated.

Even if the rhythm is not what it will be, I was curious: If we’re really going to do the “freestyle” thing — which at NCL means do what you want when you want to — what restaurants and shows were available to me? At 4 p.m. I went to the restaurant reservations desk and inquired. You don’t need reservations for Tastes and the Manhattan Room as they are the fee-free eateries (and the Garden Cafe is one of the nicest buffets in cruising, no need to book there either). But I wanted to try one of the specialty restaurants.

Guess what? Basically I was out of luck. Of all the alternative restaurants, the only venue with pretty open opportunity was Shanghai (not a good sign?). Oh and yes, I could slip into LeBistro, the ship’s French restaurant, at 10:15 p.m. Every thing else, Teppanyaki, Charrascuria, Cagney’s, La Cucina, etc. was fully and completely booked. So be prepared to be a bit — un-freestyle — if you really have your heart set on a particular dining venue. Book ahead. Still, having dined in all three of the fee-free places, they’re quite lovely as well.

I was curious also about entertainment venues and their availability. Now mind you, some shows, like Blue Man Group, were extremely limited (it only played one night) on our abbreviated cruise. Cirque Dreams is small venue so by nature it’s tough to get into (though the fact that it does two shows a night alleviates some of the congestion). The Ice Bar was waitlist only. Space was available at Second City’s only show — a 7 p.m. performance, and not a bad time. In fact, going to Second City and then dinner afterwards, at LeBistro, would have been a great option (and if I were on my own schedule, I’d opt for that happily).

Other performances, like Howl at the Moon’s dueling pianos, Legends Unplugged in the Manhattan Room, and Fat Cats’ house band (again, second night in a row, seriously standing room only — do not miss this!), neither require nor accept a reservation.

By the way, there’s a desk on deck six, between the main theater and Cirque Dream’s Spiegel Tent, where passengers can make entertainment reservations for Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams, Murder Mystery (not available on our short cruise, but I’d love to try it!), Nickelodeon’s character breakfast, Slime Time Live, and Legends in Concert (the Legends Unplugged folks in a longer, more theatrical format). The first day onboard the reservations desk was mobbed; since you can make advance bookings via the Internet before you leave home (and that goes for restaurants too), I’d suggest that you do so for anything for which your heart’s really set.

An interesting question at a press conference yesterday: Would the fact that passengers could pre-reserve restaurants and shows mean that those who waited until they got onboard be locked out? We were told that the advance reservations system will only offer so many spots for pre-reservations so that people can be flexible once on their cruise.



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