The world of cruising has changed dramatically in recent years. From the cabins and dining experiences to the itineraries and packages; every aspect has undergone a transformation, but perhaps the biggest developments we’ve seen have been to the onboard entertainment. Aiming to generate interest in cruising among new generations, cruise lines have developed their entertainment programmes and facilities to provide a plethora of choices for their guests.
The demand for quality onboard entertainment has been met with cruise lines in a major way, and an evening at sea could well provide more options than your local town centre! Many cruise ships now have full-scale productions on board in their theatres including Norwegian Cruise Line which showcases performances of musical hits Legally Blonde, Rock of Ages, After Midnight and recently, the sparkling production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Norwegian isn’t the only cruise line offering great theatre – Royal Caribbean showcases Chicago, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray, while MSC Cruises presents 80 original shows across its fleet – with at least six different shows available on each ship in the West End scale theatres housed on board. These theatre experiences are a far cry away from what you’d expect to find in a land-based holiday resort and they’re included in the cruise package, whereas on average you’d expect to pay around £45 to £65 per ticket to see these shows in theatres around London. With a different show on offer almost every night, this represents incredible value for money and as a result the entertainment packages are helping the cruise industry to attract a new market of holidaymakers.
In addition to the numerous theatre opportunities, it isn’t out of the ordinary for cruise ships to also offer musical performances, comedy acts, magic shows and screenings of blockbuster movies… the list is almost endless! Plus let’s not forget to mention the casinos, bars, night clubs and other options also offered on board.
Music has become a big part of cruise culture. Cruise lines such as Carnival give you every opportunity to enjoy a variety of music genres, whether it’s having a go yourself at karaoke nights, to listening to the pros during the Carnival Live season which is a series of concerts from popular musicians such as Lionel Richie, who performed at Glastonbury earlier this year and drew the biggest crowd of the weekend. Princess Cruises have taken their karaoke one step further and developed The Voice at Sea which has been inspired by the BBC programme. This interactive entertainment really allows guests to immerse themselves in the experience of a cruise holiday, offering them more fun, more memories and more stories to tell on their return home, which in turn fuels the all-important social and word of mouth marketing for the cruise line.
Some cruise lines are also offering more unconventional forms of entertainment, like the planetarium on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which dazzles guests with magical illuminations. Royal Caribbean offers ice-skating shows and an aqua theatre – pictured above – where professionals dive form dizzying heights before performing beautiful synchronised swimming displays. Norwegian Cruise Line also has a unique dining experience which combines an enchanting Cirque Dreams performance with an exquisite three-course meal.
One of the most exciting aspects of modern day cruising is the creativity that is being put into the entertainment schedules and itineraries. Cunard has longstanding partnerships with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Julliard Jazz School. Carnival Cruise Lines have enlisted the help of American stand-up George Lopez to help select their comedy line-up, while Princess collaborated with composer Stephen Schwartz, known for the Broadway musicals Wicked and Godspell, to develop four shows for them including the captivating Magic To Do. This expert curation is becoming the norm for cruise lines, which are now providing unique and high-quality entertainment for their passengers as a requisite.
In addition to the theatre, musical, cabaret and comedy productions, many cruises also offer guest lectures and themed takeovers from familiar faces with film director Wes Anderson and actor George Takei making recent appearances on the Cunard fleet. Celebrity Cruises is also known for its guest lecturer line-up which has previously featured naturalist Brent Nixon talking about his fascinating work researching Alaskan wildlife including bears, whales and orcas. Cruise line seminars have even been picked up on by publications such as USA Today which voted Holland America as one of the best cruise lines for their guest speaker programme, which has featured several notable lecturers including maritime specialist Melvyn Foster and Desmond Tutu, the South African social rights activist.
Cruise lines are able to attract world-class talent to their shows by offering experienced and skilled performers the opportunity to travel the world while performing to filled theatres every day. With their accommodation and meals all catered for, seeking a performance career on a cruise ship is a very attractive offering so cruise lines are able to select the best performers from a wide pool of talent. As the quality of productions has elevated, cruise ships are now an aspirational place for many actors, singers and dancers to showcase their art.
As cruises continue to evolve to fit the needs and desires of their passengers, we’ll continue to see more improvements to what cruise lines offer on board as well as more unique offerings by cruise lines to distinguish themselves from their competitors. It’s an exciting time in the cruise world of onboard entertainment.
Phil Evans is managing director of Cruise Nation