Thursday, February 09, 2006

Review: Dave Matthews & Friends Caribbean Cruise (brought to you by Murphy Paralegals)

Back in October, an intriguing email hit my inbox, inviting me to take part in a   novel Dave Matthews-featured cruise. The description:
It begins in Florida on Friday February 3, 2006 as Sovereign of the Seas sails from Port Canaveral while, simultaneously, Majesty of the Seas sails from Miami, each ship carrying fans and Artists on a weekend musical odyssey to the Bahamas. Dramatically, in the Atlantic, these two sister ships will converge and sail in tandem, an event which has rarely occurred in cruising history. At our first destination, on Saturday morning, Nassau, in the Bahamas, you will be able to spend time ashore shopping, exploring, taking lunch or excursions. All afternoon our private tenders will be ferrying passengers, on demand, to a secret island carefully selected to provide fans with the best the Bahamas have to offer and the concert experience of a lifetime. On Sunday, our second stop, Royal Caribbean’s private island, CocoCay, provides a wonderland of adventure and activity. With nature trails and aquatic facilities, CoCoCay offers activities for everyone, from parasailing to snorkeling a reef abundant with marine life.

The Plan:
To make a nice, first-real-vacation-together-since-the-honeymoon trip, the wife and I got flights to Orlando to allow a couple Disney days before hitting Canaveral for the cruise.  The trip itinerary called for a Friday afternoon departure for Nassau, 6 hours of island time before the evening beach concert on Paradise Island, and a leisurely Sunday in Coco Cay before heading back to Florida.

The Good:
The Disney leg was a smashing success, mostly because the greatest amusement park in the world was virtually empty.  Note to self: forget their education, any kids of mine will be visiting this place during a school week in February.  
The boat we were on was full of “look on the bright side” people our age determined to have a good time.  As an added bonus, most everyone could hold their liquor.  If there were any cameras aboard, the Sovereign of the Seas would have made a fantastic feature for this year’s MTV Spring Break.  Spring Break!  Wooo!
Both Disney and Royal Caribbean demonstrating fantastic forethought into making the trip seamless and easy with things like allowing you to charge shopping, dining, and drinking to your room.  Do you take… keys?!
The Dueling Pianos (Jeff and Rhianna) Show in the lounge bar on night 2.  Wonderful entertainers that really knew how to work an audience and have fun with by-request songs.  The fastest mistake-free rendition of We Didn’t Start the Fire in history took place, and I was awfully impressed.
If I were a kid and saw Fantas-magic at MGM studios, I think I would pass out from awe.

The Bad:
Damn Epcot’s Mission: Space space flight simulator!  Wife loved it; I was ill for the next 36 hours until involuntarily going on the Lindsay Lohan diet.  Just as I was getting over that experience, we boarded the boat to a Bourbon St-esque happy hour.  Juicey Juicey!  More booze makes for better cruise!  This was all well and good until we left dock into rough waters, quickly turning me into a Kermit look-a-like and sending me into the Dramamine supply.  Lucille saw the drowsy eye label on the bottle warning not to take alcohol but mistakenly took it as a suggestive winking eye.  I was horizontal within an hour or two, permanently damaged my equilibrium, and now have a newfound sense of identification with Liza Minelli’s A.D. character.  
A very shoddy “formal dinner” on the final night of the cruise, with the formal wait staff serving the passengers (well-dressed or not) with near-disdain and a style more fitting to livestock.  A clearly cutback menu and a table full of strangers seated with us partway into the meal awaited as if we emerged from a sewer.  Our buffet experiences were infinitely more romantic.  
Save your money: a tour of Nassau is decidedly less interesting than a tour of Detroit’s abandoned warehouse district.  

The Ugly:
No group could be perfect.  I can count the bad apples on one hand, but they managed to set new lows for cruise ships: an open (and thankfully failed) attempt to steal soda by distracting the waiter with a friend; an all-night dance partyer who donned a cane, a napkin & scotch tape “ankle wrap,” and a mysterious limb the next night to obtain handicapped seating for the main concert; and one girl woke up to find out from the crew that her boyfriend maxed out her credit card in the casino while she had been sleeping.  
The headlining Dave & Friends Concert was plagued, pure and simple.  2-3 ferries attempted to shuttle the 4 thousand-plus fans to the beach, and needed well over 4 hours to do so, causing a fair number of people to miss the first few songs of the evening.  The Atlantis resort and Clear Channel Entertainment choose a logistically horrendous arrangement that forced concert goers to exchange cash or credit cards for raffle tickets that would be used for food and drink purchases.  Because the tickets were one-per-dollar and had to be handcounted, this led to my standing in a 90-minute line for tickets and faced me with an equally long line for drinks.  I made an executive decision that we would go with a liquid-free dinner.  
An hour into the concert, a severely high wind downpour hit and was accompanied by a quick drop in temperature.  This storm was a show-killer, pure and simple.  Despite efforts to continue for a half hour, the band’s equipment shorted and even the drums eventually held so much water that they became distorted.  Matthews made some feeble comedy about the show soon consisting of a guitar and a maraca, only to minutes later experience a shorted-out guitar that aborted his attempt at a solo song.  Left with only a mic and a rapidly vacating audience, the show met its apparent end (a little more than an hour later, an acoustic set took place in front of a few hundred remaining diehard fans).  The most burning memory for me was the parents of infants and toddlers desperately trying to return to the ships in the midst of the near-freezing storm and facing lines for the infuriating slow ferry transport.  I can only imagine that panic.

The Hilarious:
Running across the Japanese next-gen toilet while wandering Epcot’s Land of Tommorrow: a jet-spray & blow-dry system that takes T.P. out of the equation.  After first cringing, we quickly realized that this would be the perfect thing for our guest bathroom in the new house.   Horrified screams would likely then lead to extended stays for the likes of Ted and Kadim.  
Christina, the tripped-out interpretive dancer on the boat, was at nearly every show we saw and was a dead-ringer for the Woodstock mudpeople without the caked-on appearance.  Let the music move you Christina, let it become you...let yourself become the music.    

The Wonderful:
Cirque de Soleil’s Delirium at Disney downtown.  Simply awestricking, if I can make up a word (I’ve always thought of myself as presidential).  We left knowing that we’d already seen the best show of the trip.  
Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio, Tim Reynolds, and the rest of the crew making an unannounced appearance on the Sovereign at 1 am to stage a make up show just before we were scheduled to leave port.  All the songs aborted from the original beach setlist were played, but the bigger deal was that the group went the distance to make things right.  Dave and Trey in particular made a concerted effort to shake any hand within reach.  Not surprisingly, half the ship missed breakfast and lunch the next day.
The attitudes of our fellow shipgoers: the quintessential lemonade-makers.  You would think that a virtual flushing of the entire itinerary added to BAC’s pushing 2.0 (at least one guy won the drink 20 cocktails, get an IV catheter free giveaway) would lead to a complete trashing of the ship and an impromptu UFC being held.  Instead, the vast majority rolled with the punches, with the aforementioned spring break by the pool, throwing money away in the casino, and checking out bands (note: check out Grace Potter and the Nocturnals this instant).  Sure, the organizers are going to be read the riot act, but the important thing was no actual onboard rioting.

The Final Verdict:  
In the end, the main show was chopped up into 4 pieces and strewn out over 9 hours, with almost everyone drowned like a rat and missing at least a good portion.  20 hours on 3 islands became 8 hours on 2.  Crazy as all this sounds, it may have injected a sense of spontaneity and fun into the trip.  Largely, it was not the disaster it should have been because of two key factors: 1) the people on board kept the atmosphere upbeat; and 2) the onboard appearances by Dave Matthews and his band of Merry Musicians provided a sensational emotional swing for those that saw them.  What a grand gesture!  How wonderfully grand!
In the end?  I’m delighted that I could have been a part of this, in spite of all the wackiness that ensued.  I’m still convinced that Bobby Brady hid his cursed Hawaiin tiki statue into my bags, but even it couldn’t cast a shadow over the most sincerely moving effort I’ve seen an artist demonstrate to a fanbase.  
Final Grade: A-


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