Why cruise ship theatre shows are attracting full houses

Why cruise ship theatre shows are attracting full houses

Cruise ship entertainment is back and better than ever, writes cruise expert Jane Archer

I can’t quite believe this, but here I am gulping down a quick snack in the buffet on Royal Caribbean International’s Icon of the Seas, so that I can get to the theatre early to bag my favourite seat for tonight’s performance of The Wizard of Oz

I’ve never been a fan of shows on cruise ships. But I’m not up there with the critics who equate cruise ship entertainment with second-rate singers and shows, either – a view that I think is unfair, and very much out of date. These days, most singers and dancers on ships are talented performers, while the shows themselves cost the cruise lines hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage and are often choreographed by leading names in the world of showbiz. 

Lines have been ramping up budgets and productions in recent years, securing the rights to stage Broadway and West End shows while deploying expensive new technology to ensure the shows are even better than you’d see in world-famous theatres.

 MSC Rock CircusMSC Rock Circus

Leading the way, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have staged great productions of musicals such as Grease, Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys and Kinky Boots, while Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is currently playing on Norwegian Prima. Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises has installed banks of high-resolution LED screens in their theatres to provide spectacular backdrops to the action on the stage. 

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In Carnival Cruise Line’s Rock Revolution a swarm of drones ‘dances’ around the singers. MSC Cruises lays on shows filled with aerialists and high-flying stunts in specially designed Carousel lounges that seat the audience around the stage. Cunard teamed up with West End theatre producer David Pugh to stage an adaptation of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter on Queen Anne when it launched in May. 

Flying GuitaristFlying Guitarist in MSC Rock Circus

Entertainment Upgrades
Today’s entertainment at sea goes way beyond song-and-dance routines in theatres, with high divers, ice skaters, deck parties and guest entertainers who often do the rounds on many different cruise lines. The divers and ice skaters can be found on Royal Caribbean ships. The former thrill audiences with their daredevil antics in the aqua-theatres on the line’s largest vessels, with the latter wowing passengers as they whirl and twirl around on ice rinks. Shows vary but don’t be surprised to see stunning light effects and quick-change artists who skate into a tent in one costume and exit the other side in a different one.

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Passengers can dip in and out of specially designed venues playing live blues, rock (the bands come complete with shades and ripped jeans) and chart favourites. Disney Cruise Line is the king of deck parties, with Mickey, Minnie and the gang out in force on the day one sail-away and Marvel at Sea-themed bashes under the stars. In terms of guest entertainers, think singers, pianists, comedians and magicians. 

I’ve even seen a group of actors stage a Whitehall farce. Usually these acts are flown in to perform for a few days, then head off to be replaced by new talent, keeping the entertainment different and fresh. In March, on board Princess Cruises’ new Sun Princess, it was standing room only for comedian Robbie Printz and comedy juggler Goronwy Thom, who had audiences in fits with his madcap anything-can-go-wrong (and usually does) act. 

He was replaced by a ventriloquist, whom I wasn’t looking forward to, as a result of too many memories of Rod Hull and Emu. But Gareth Oliver aced it, picking passengers at random to be his ‘dummy’. 

Disney sail away partyDisney sail-away party

Icon of the Seas' Wizard of Oz
Back on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, I’ve managed to nab the seat I wanted and it’s not at the back of the theatre, so I can sneak off, like I might’ve done in the past. I’d caught 30 minutes of The Wizard of Oz the previous day and was blown away, so I’ve chosen a spot at a high table in the centre of the auditorium, giving me a perfect view of the stage. 

The show is 90 minutes long – bucking the trend of paring running times back to half an hour or so – but it was worth every minute. The stage sets are excellent, as are the performers – the actors auditioned for the various roles they play (23-year-old British actor, Ruby Dollner, who played Dorothy, is in her first job after studying at the Brighton Academy) and are on board only to play those parts. 

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There’s plenty of comedy and I love the scene where Dorothy’s house is carried off by the tornado (I’m not giving anything away but it was aerialist technology that, for once, made sense). The way in which the yellow brick road was created on stage was also clever. I even forgot that Toto, Dorothy’s dog, was not a real dog, but a puppet being ‘worked’ by a man running along behind. 

 Wizard of OzWizard of Oz

Cruise Agent Selling Tips

❂ Use the cruise ship shows to add an extra dimension to your sales pitch. Non-cruisers might not be aware of the quality and variety of entertainment offered. 

❂ Good seats to watch a West End or Broadway musical cost at least US$120. On cruise ships, there’s nothing extra to pay. 

❂ Shows on ships are subject to change. Always check with the cruise line before booking if there's a specific show your client is intent on seeing to make sure it will be running.


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