Over the last few months, whilst counting down the days until the ship sailed, 80’s hits have blasted out of my speakers and my postman has been busy delivering 80’s fancy dress costume accessories to my door. (I **may have got a little carried away shopping online!).
Last week it was finally time to head to Southampton to join the ship along with my huge bulging suit cases, my very excited youngest son, Claire from Tin Box Traveller and her two daughters.
So how do I even begin to review the largest retro festival ever to take place at sea? With 35 80’s music acts onboard and over 100 hours of performances I can’t share everything with you but I can share the highlights of our memorable week afloat reliving the 80’s.
Back to the 80’s Cruise Highlights
The onboard atmosphere – I spent three years working at sea and hand on heart I’ve never experienced a cruise quite like this one. All passengers onboard had one thing in common – a love of 80’s music. Even when talking to strangers whilst sharing a lift or ordering a drink at a bar the conversation flowed easily. Everyone loved chatting about their favourite acts, the costumes they wore and the songs they performed.
There was a buzz around the ship from our arrival in Southampton until a week later when we returned. The first passengers we spotted as we embarked the ship were dressed as characters from Hi-de-Hi in yellow blazers and white shorts. During our first lunch we found it very amusing that YMCA village people were wandering around the buffet table. Whilst some passengers arrived in fancy dress, others wore it just for the themed evenings and a few seemed to wear neon all week. There was no set rule, just a fun and relaxed atmosphere onboard.
The 80’s acts – The line up was awesome! No expense was spared in ensuring that all genres of the 80’s were covered. Many of the acts had been flown in from Australia to join the ship and most were onboard for the entire week. The headlining acts – Tony Hadley, Belinda Carlisle, Kim Wilde, Martin Fry from ABC, Sara Cox, Go West and Mike Read – performed/spoke throughout the cruise at least twice to ensure all passengers had the chance to experience their performances.
I thoroughly enjoyed singing along to Belinda and Kim’s sets who both covered their most popular songs and some newer ones too. It took me days to get Belinda’s ‘Heaven is Place on Earth’ out of my head and I’ll never forget the face of the guy sat next to me as I attempted to sing along with Kim to ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On!’
I’m embarrassed to admit that I contemplated staying in the hot tub around the pool deck rather than attend the audience with Mike Read. (Sorry Mike!). Thank goodness I changed my mind as he was truly fascinating to listen to. During an entertaining hour he described his career as a broadcaster, best-selling author of 36 books and songwriter. He compared his role as a song writer to that of the essential role an engine room plays on a cruise ship.
It was interesting to hear about his experience writing songs for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Cliff Richard and hilarious to hear him describe the disappointed faces searching for Prince Charles when he attends Princes Trust events in his honour, through his role of charity patron. Mike was very happy to answer questions from the crowd and even shared secrets of his time in the jungle from I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here. The session ended with a huge round of applause, after a woman stood up in the audience and thanked him for using his radio show to raise the spirits of the soldiers on foreign soil during the war. What a guy!
The Can’t Get Enough 80’s Rivers of Neon Party hosted by DJ Sara Cox was brilliant fun. It took place on the Royal Promenade in the middle of the ship to huge crowds, (wearing neon if you hadn’t guessed!). Sara was hosting from on a bridge above so everyone had a great view, even when the crowds started bouncing up and down to Madness, Prince and Whitney.
My favourite act was Tony Hadley… what a legend! His performance was incredible. He literally did not stop dancing, joking, smiling… He clearly enjoyed every minute of his first ever performance at sea.
He joked about the captain being drunk as the ship was rolling around so much and chatted in between every song. He had a brilliant rapport on the stage with his musicians/backing singers and wished his fans happiness whilst swigging on a JD and coke brought to him by his number one fan onboard, George who came to the front of the stage to hand Tony his well deserved drink.
There was a sea of light in the audience as everyone attempted to record his performance using their mobile phones. The funniest moment was a duo with the female drummer to the song Barricades. It was amusing to watch as they had to hang onto each other as the ship rolled… of course being pros they didn’t miss a beat! He then treated us to a performance of his new song – Tonight Belongs To Us, an old favourite – Dakota, and of course his finale – True Gold which truly was gold.
The headlining acts were supported by smaller acts and some tribute acts too. My favourite tribute act was Rebecca O’Connor, from the Tina Turner Show. Rebecca was the only act we went to watch twice, I could have watched her every night. Her show was energetic, upbeat and featured realistic Tina Turner outfits from tight leather skirts to gold glitzy dresses. Rebecca had incredible stage presence, she was a delight to watch and dance along to. We had the honour of meeting her and her band and I couldn’t resist asking how she managed to do all of her costume changes. Her band were quick to point out that there was no time for modesty back stage!
Fancy dress themed evenings – Of course it wasn’t all about the 80’s acts. Passengers had the chance to relive the 80’s by dressing up too. Our first fancy dress evening was on the third night, we were invited via the ships newspapers to dress up in neon in preparation for the party hosted by DJ Sara Cox. The atmosphere on deck was utterly brilliant. Everyone onboard had made a huge effort. There were some incredible wigs and the most outrageous outfits. These two Scousers wearing shells suits were my favourites…
On the 5th night we were invited to dress up as a 80’s icon. Can you guess wh0 Claire and I were supposed to be?
If you’ve guessed Madonna (with a rather dodgy hair do) and Cheetara from the ThunderCats you can help yourself to a virtual gold star!
It was fun walking around the ship and seeing other passengers dressed up. There was a Wally & Wendy from Where’s Wally, a few Tina Turners, a Freddie Mercury and of course some Baywatch Babes.
Chance to meet the stars – One of the most exciting features of the cruise was the chance to meet with the stars during an autograph signing session on the second to last day.
It was a popular event which attracted a huge line buzzing with excitement outside the theatre doors. Souvenir autograph books were on sale for a rather reasonable $24. (I overheard a few passengers comment that they hoped to sell the souvenir books and make money from them!)
Most of the 80’s acts were onboard all week and if you kept your eyes peeled you would see them around the ship. We spotted Mike Read having lunch and Sara Cox grinned at Claire and I as we sat sipping wine in the hot tub. (I’m sure she approved of our style!).
Everyone had tales of Tony Hadley spontaneously bursting into song in the piano bar and enjoying a drink with passengers. As you would expect some stars were happier than others to mix with passengers. Tony Hadley was undoubtedly the hero of the cruise. I won’t mention names of the stars who kept themselves hidden away in their cabins… (although Belinda Carlisle and Kim Wilde were the only ones not to attend the autograph signing session so you can reach your own conclusion!)
Final thoughts, Back to the 80’s Cruise Review
It was clear that much thought had gone into organising the entertainment schedule so that all passengers onboard had an equal chance of seeing the acts and getting good seats. All of the acts performed at least twice and all of the headlining acts were colour coded so you were allocated a slot to watch their performance. Showing your matching coloured card gave you priority to enter the theatre first, after which passengers who wished to watch a repeat performance were permitted to take a seat. It was an excellent policy which meant we never had to queue to watch an act, or fight to get a good seat!
So would I recommend a themed music cruise with Cruiseco?
100% I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn’t think twice about going on one again. We honestly had a blast and loved watching all the acts. There was a real camaraderie onboard from wearing fancy dress. The cruise attracted a different clientele to whom I imagine would normally cruise with Royal Caribbean. This was my first RCI cruise so I am speculating however, I spoke to a lot of first time cruisers during the week who had been persuaded by the heavily discounted prices and 80’s cruise acts. It was a week of partying and socialising whereas I would imagine regular RCI cruises are more about the sightseeing and dining experiences.
For me, the only downside of cruising during a themed music cruise was that it replaced the regular onboard entertainment. We didn’t get to experience any of the Royal Caribbean West End style musicals, ice skating shows etc as all the venues were taken by the 80’s cruise acts. This of course means that I’m now pestering my husband to let me book a cruise for us all!
Would you be tempted to book on a themed music cruise? What theme would you most likely enjoy?
Whilst Claire and I were onboard the Back to the 80’s cruise we published daily postcards on Cruising with Kids. You can check them out here…
Day 1: Embarkation Day & Kim Wilde,
Day 2:– Sea Day & Mike Read
Day 3: Bilbao & 80’s fancy dress for DJ Sara Cox neon party
Day 4: Vigo & the Mockingbirds
Day 5: Lisbon & Belinda Carlisle
Day 6: Meeting & watching Tony Hadley perform
Days 7&8: Sea Day, Bee Gees Show & Saying Farewell!
You can read my full review of the Navigator of the Seas here – Navigator of the Seas with kids: Everything you need to know
Disclosure – We were invited as guests to join the Back To The 80’s Cruise in return for this honest review. Cruiseco have no plans at this time to repeat the Back to the 80’s cruise departing from the UK however other music themed cruises by Cruiseco, which depart from Australia, can be found here – cruising.co.uk/