It was one o’clock in the morning and I was standing in a buffet line between a fake Madonna and a real Kurt Harland. The Information Society lead singer had just finished an amazing set two decks above and I couldn’t help thinking about what a weird situation this was for both of us. I was considering snack options with the person responsible for “Pure Energy,” a song I played so often in 1988 that a friend tossed my cassingle of it out of a moving car. Harland was dealing with being stared at while just trying to find some food.
“Madonna” went with the pizza.
It was the end of another day on board The 80’s Cruise, where passengers could run into their musical idols at odd and often inopportune moments. One morning, I watched as a very patient Colin Hay took several selfies with sweaty, sunscreen-drenched fans on a boat transporting us between the cruise ship and shore. The fans looked hung-over and everyone was vaguely greasy, but the smiles were genuine.
The weeklong joie de vivre started a few days earlier as we departed Ft. Lauderdale. All cruises start with some sort of departure shindig, but the party on the top deck of the Celebrity Summit was significantly more festive than most. Hundreds of people swarmed around the makeshift stage to watch NYC’s Jessie’s Girl. The cover band was so popular on the 2016 sailing, they were called back for year two. Cocktails were served, appetizers were passed, and fists were pumped in the air to, “Living on a Prayer.”
The party eventually ended as everyone prepared for the first main stage show of the cruise. Original MTV VJs Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter followed the night’s theme by welcoming everyone “Back to the 80’s” before introducing Tom Bailey. As lead singer of The Thompson Twins, Bailey’s career started by topping the charts in his native England, eventually finding fame all over the world.
Bailey discussed all of the diverse projects he’s worked on since the Twins era during a Q&A the next day, but he clearly knew what the crowd wanted for their first night at sea. His upbeat, engaging set featured tracks from The Thompson Twins’ first few albums, including “In the Name of Love” and “Runaway” as well as songs from the height of their popularity, such as “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “Hold Me Now.” A nice surprise was the inclusion of, “If You Were Here”, which is also known as, “That song in Sixteen Candles when Molly Ringwald finally gets to kiss Jake.”
The “at sea” days on board the cruise were filled with a myriad of 80’s themed activities. Some were delightful throwbacks, such as Donkey Kong tournaments and Giant Twister, and some were really dumb. “Bacon and Bourbon Tasting With Men Without Hats” stood out as the most ridiculous considering lead singer, Ivan Doroschuk, is a vegetarian who doesn’t drink.
Most reliable during the week were the daily trivia sessions with Brad Williams and Steve Spears. Williams and Spears co-host the “Stuck in the 80’s” podcast. Their roles on the cruise appeared to have been, “Guys Who Get Groaned at Daily” because of the difficulty of some of their questions. If you’re getting a room full of people up at 10:00AM to test them on the Magnum P.I. theme song, you should probably expect a few groans. Their droll, self-deprecating style never failed to amuse the crowd and each session was more crowded than the last.
Howard Jones may have been shoehorned into the “Purple Rain” theme thanks to a scheduling change, but faux jheri curl wigs and inflatable purple guitars didn’t deter him from giving a theater filled with Prince lookalikes a hit-filled, buoyant show. Jones was chattier than usual as he recounted the backstories to not only his most famous tracks, like “No One is to Blame” and “What is Love”, but also the two new tracks he performed, “The Eagle Will Fly” and “Engage”. He ended his set with a group sing-along to his biggest hit, “Things Can Only Get Better”.
The second night also featured a performance by Men Without Hats, best know for their hit song, “Safety Dance”. The band performed most of their first album, “Rhythm of Youth” adding in songs from their other albums, including two tracks from 2012’s, “Love in the Age of War.” Lead singer, Ivan Doroschuk, may have seem subdued whenever he was spotted casually walking the ship, but on stage, he was an animated disco ball in a black sequined shirt.
Days in port were uninspiring unless you took part in an excursion off of the ship because there was almost nothing to do onboard. After meandering around Cozumel for a while, I made my way back to the ship in time for the start of “Hip Hop vs. Rock” night. DJ Needles worked the turntable for a battle of the genres that was fun, but also a bit contrived. A bit later, there was a “Family Feud” style game show following the Hip Hop vs. Rap theme hosted by comedian, Alonzo Bodden and Alan Hunter, but it overlapped with the show on the main stage, and I didn’t want to miss Belinda Carlisle.
Carlisle first found success as the lead singer of the Go-Go’s, but she had a string of solo hits after the band first broke up. Her set mostly included songs from her solo career, but she threw in four Go-Go’s tracks, including crowd favorites, “Vacation” and “We Got the Beat”. The solo songs leaned heavily on the “Heaven on Earth” and “Runaway Horses” albums, with only “Mad About You”, from her first solo album, “Belinda” making the cut. Like her music, Carlisle’s set was vibrant and fun.
The late night show featured Berlin, introducing Terri Nunn to the many cruisers unfamiliar with her effervescent personality and style. You would have had to have been asleep through 1986 not to know Berlin’s chart-topper, “Take My Breath Away”, but the band was a favorite to many new wave devotees in the early to mid-80’s. Songs like, “The Metro”, “Sex (I’m A)” and “No More Words” were staples on many a mix tape and Berlin’s videos were favorites on MTV. Their set was so popular that the ship was still buzzing about it the next day.
Tuesday was another port day, so after a quick round of trivia, it was out to explore Grand Cayman. To make up for having nothing on board during the day, the cruise booked a ridiculous number of activities for the evening hours. I missed a host of Valentine’s Day themed events because I didn’t want to miss the evening’s performance.
Morris Day and the Time were the featured performers that night bringing their signature funk and flair to the stage. Despite some fun stage theatrics, the show felt a little mellow for a band known for high-energy sets. Perhaps it was because the band had to rush from their Grammy’s appearance on the 12th in LA to join the ship two days later. Despite being slightly subdued, Morris Day and the Time gave the audience a vivacious performance.
The fifth day of the cruise felt longer than most as the ship stayed in port in Jamaica until late night to allow for Cheap Trick to board long enough to do a Q&A and two performances before departing to fly back to the US. It was a pretty aggressive schedule for a band that’s been together for over 40 years. They gave the audience a true rock and roll experience and really embraced the festival spirit by inviting members of Berlin on stage for both of their sets.
The theme for the day was “Neon Beach Party” and it fit perfectly with Information Society’s late night show. The band’s self-titled album, released in 1988, bridged the gap between 80’s dance music and 90’s rave culture and their show brought both of those aesthetics to the stage. The frenetic set kept neon adorned wrists in the air through two encores and proved to be the biggest surprise of the week. I expected to enjoy their set, but I didn’t expect it to become the best party on the cruise.
After all of that dancing and late night snacks with Harland and “Madonna,” I would have enjoyed a day of rest, but I figured I could always sleep when I returned to the frozen tundra of the northeast in a few short days. I was awed by the passengers who were able to make 9:00AM, “Awesome Aerobics” because I could barely pull myself out of bed for another round of trivia. Despite suffering another crushing loss, I was feeling pretty good about remembering Jamie Gertz’s roll on “Square Pegs.” I was ready to jump into a rum-based cocktail and plunge into the pool party featuring The Romantics.
The Detroit-based band spent the 80’s hovering somewhere between new wave and more traditional rock, but their high-spirited set sounded a bit like a flashback to an earlier era in rock history. Their covers of songs by The Kinks and The Animals put their original music into a new perspective. It became obvious that at the root of their catchy singles was more than a hint of the British Invasion bands of the 60’s.
The rest of the afternoon offered passengers almost too many options to fill their schedules before the main stage show. I somehow managed to fit in a Berlin Q&A and autograph signing, a Howard Jones autograph signing, and a Q&A with former Men at Work lead singer, Colin Hay. Hay’s session was particularly entertaining because he came across as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He happily shared stories about his successes and his failures to a packed house.
A very busy day soon became a very busy night. Debbie Gibson brought her lively brand of pop music to the stage for the Pop Icon theme. Gibson emerged as a chart-topping powerhouse in the late 80’s with six top ten hits before the decade rolled over into 1990. She’s fiercely loyal to the large fan base she affectionately calls, “Debheads”. Her fans had to wait almost a week to see her finally perform, “Only in Your Dreams” and “Foolish Beat,” and they weren’t disappointed by her energetic set.
Berlin played their final set immediately following Gibson, and it proved to be even more engaging than their first. The band was originally supposed to play one of the smaller venues on the ship, but following the popularity of their first show and Q&A, they were moved into the main theater to accommodate a much larger crowd. The current Berlin line up brings something new and exciting to Nunn’s sound and as a last minute surprise, the band was joined by David Diamond. Diamond formed the core of Berlin in the early 80’s along with Nunn and John Crawford.
The final day on the cruise was a whirlwind of activity. The ship was anchored at Coco Cay, and most of the passengers spent the day on the beach. Because it was the last day, however, everyone had to have their luggage outside of their cabins before 10PM leaving little time to take part in any of the activities scheduled for that night.
The last show on the main stage featured Colin Hay and it turned into the most contentious of the cruise. Since leaving Men at Work, Hay had cultivated a solo career consisting of more thoughtful, acoustic guitar driven music that was a departure from the more pop rock sound of Men at Work. Most of the artists on the cruise performed very familiar versions of their most famous songs, whereas Hay brought a wholly different aesthetic to his interpretations. Not everyone was satisfied with the changes.
I loved the reworked versions of the songs, and Hay made interesting song choices. He left the really big singles for the end of the show and chose to put lesser known album tracks into the beginning of the show. He also peppered in a selection of his solo cuts in with the Men at Work songs. Joining Hay on stage was his wife, Cecilia Noël, a Peru native who has built a name for herself in the LA music scene by combining traditional rock with latin beats.
I wasn’t ready to go to bed after Hay’s show. I wanted to squeeze every last moment out of the cruise, so I headed to my second home on board the ship: the martini bar. While discussing how much fun the trip had been with new friends, Colin Hay and his band came into the bar with Mark Goodman. I was able to casually discuss the show and the latin influences I’d heard with his backing band, and ended the night telling Hay how much I enjoyed his solo work. It was the perfect way to end the cruise.
The next morning I ended up disembarking the ship at the same time as Howard Jones. I grew up with posters of Jones on my wall and his first two albums have always been on my list of top ten records from that time. I fought the impulse to milk one more conversation out of him, but it was obvious that he was tired, and I was tired. It was finally time to relax… at least until next year.