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The Elvis Cruise
Maiden Sailing 2007

by Linda Coffman

Not unlike many baby boomers, I don't remember a time when there was no television. And, like many families in the 1950s, on any given Sunday night mine could be counted on to gather around the television for the iconic "Ed Sullivan Show." September 9, 1956 was no different, except that my mother was excited to see a young up-and-coming singer, Elvis Presley. Mom's anticipation (Elvis was reputed to be somewhat "naughty") wore off on me and I've been a fan ever since.

Since I had the good fortune to attend one of Elvis' extraordinary concerts in Las Vegas many years ago, the opportunity to once again experience all things Elvis was simply irresistible. So, without hesitation, I signed up for the maiden sailing of The Elvis Cruise on board Carnival Cruise Lines' "Funship" Celebration out of Jacksonville, Florida. This, the first ever cruise gathering sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises, promised to be a truly special and spectacular event. Produced by the experts in full-ship music charters, Jazz Cruises LLC, it was everything I expected and more.

Embarkation Day
Even before the voice of reason in our GPS announced 'turn left,' my husband Mel and I knew where to go. Up ahead, parked on the corner in front of The Best Little Shorehouse in Town, was a 1950-something pink Cadillac.

We'd arrived at JAXPORT in Jacksonville to a terminal shaking to the rafters with the sounds of Elvis. Check-in proceeded to the beat and embarkation for The Elvis Cruise had begun.

Once aboard, the Elvis theme kicked into gear with a high energy pre-dinner performance by Joseph Hall, a top-5 International Finalist in the 2007 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.

The highlight of the first day of The Elvis Cruise was the evening concert hosted by Jerry Schilling--a tribute to Elvis' early years. Fittingly, Ruby Wilson, the "Queen of Beale Street" kicked off the show with "Walking in Memphis." Video clips of early television and stage appearances by The King alternated with The Dempseys, Terry Mike Jeffrey, and Ronnie McDowell performing Elvis hits, accompanied by The Jordanaires, long-time Elvis back-up singers. The show climaxed with all the artists on stage, rockin' the boat with "Shake Rattle & Roll."

A Day in Freeport, Bahamas

Let's back up a bit--back to when we arrived onboard. Everyone received a beautifully designed combination program-and-journal for The Elvis Cruise. Then, when we returned to our staterooms after dinner, Elvis posters awaited us. We were able to put them to use during autograph sessions with the stars who actually shared the stage with Elvis and who keep his legacy alive. How cool is that?

Docked in Freeport, Bahamas at noon, posed a tough call--what to do... go ashore to shop or stay onboard to play Elvis Bingo... that's E for Elvis, P for Presley. A downpour cut the shopping short, so we were able to do both.

Instead of dinner in our assigned restaurant, we took advantage of the lovely evening and opted to grab a bite in the casual Bistro to dine outside. The prime rib and batter fried shrimp were excellent and, of course, our dinner music was Elvis. The King rules throughout the ship.

The night's big production show, "Aloha," featuring music from Elvis' time in Hawaii performed by Ronnie McDowell, Terry Mike Jeffrey, and The Imperials, really brought back memories. "American Trilogy"--the finale--brought everyone to their feet!

Afterward, The Elvis Cruise hosted the first-ever challenge to find the best Elvis Tribute Artist at sea. The contestants really battled it out for cash prizes before a standing room only audience.

A Day in Nassau, Bahamas
Carnival cabin stewards are noted for their ability to fashion towel animals--cute creatures that greet passengers at nightly turn-down. Along with towel animals and chocolates on our pillows, we've been surprised with a special gift each night during The Elvis Cruise. Last night's was an exclusive Elvis Cruise cap. Today we made a fashion statement ashore in Nassau, Bahamas.

Elvis, like many creative people, was not a morning person and his habit was to sleep in late--very late. That's why the Elvis Breakfast Bar was served daily at 3:30 in the afternoon during The Elvis Cruise. The staple of the Elvis breakfast is his favorite 'Fried Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich.' Naturally, the Celebration's chefs have learned to make them fit for The King.

Celebration docked in Nassau until midnight, making it the ideal backdrop for The Elvis Cruise poolside BBQ dinner and a late-night Elvis Under The Stars deck party. Of course we enjoyed another production show--centering around "Vegas" with the TCB Band, Terry Mike Jeffrey, Ronnie McDowell, and the Imperials. And that wasn't all the entertainment on tap... following a second round in the passenger Elvis Tribute Artist challenge, Ruby Wilson, "The Queen of Beale Street," rocked the ship with a dose of powerful Delta blues.

Incidentally, we noticed numerous members of the armed forces onboard and there's a good reason for that. Jazz Cruises LLC, producers of The Elvis Cruise, donated cabins to make it possible for them and their families to sail along. Elvis is surely smiling his approval.

A Day at Sea

The joyous sounds of Gospel filled the Celebration this Sunday morning as The Jordanaires and The Imperials led us in fellowship with our shipmates. While the stirring sounds of one of Elvis' favorites, "How Great Thou Art," brought everyone to their feet, our sea day wasn't all seriousness.

After all, what would a day at sea on a Carnival "Funship" be without a party? Ours was the Elvis Cruise T-Shirt Party with complimentary drinks poolside from 1:30 to 3:30... yes, free drinks for everyone wearing their Elvis Cruise T-Shirt! Last night's gift was an Elvis Cruise insulated drink mug--ideal for use at a deck party.

While the cruise was winding down, the action didn't. On the final night's program was the Elvis "Gold"-themed production show and there was a lot going on all afternoon leading up to it--autograph sessions, Elvis Bingo, stage stories with the TCB Band and Joe Guercio, remembrances of "Driving With Priscilla" hosted by Jerry Schilling, and another top finalist in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest performed before dinner. Capping the evening was the final round in our own passenger Elvis Tribute Artist challenge.

Reflecting on The Elvis Cruise
Although I've sailed on 80-something cruises since 1989, The Elvis Cruise was a first for me--the first time I've participated in a full-ship charter. It was different in numerous ways.

Joseph E. Hall, International Finalist in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest 2007

First, everyone on board had an interest in Elvis Presley and enjoyed his music. I expected most passengers to be of a certain age... that is to say, "seniors" who grew up listening to Elvis. Granted that we were in the majority; however, I had the pleasure to meet newlyweds, Ensign Rebecca Johnson and her husband Lieutenant Junior Grade Adam Johnson, who serve in the United States Navy, stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport. At only 24, Rebecca confided that she and Adam, who is 28, selected "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" to share their first dance together as a married couple. That's certainly a testament to the endurance of Elvis' music.

Elvis Tribute Artists were also abundant on Celebration, ranging from finalists in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest 2007 held in Memphis, to passengers who participated in an onboard challenge of their own. My favorite was Drake, a 9-year old who has the looks, the moves, and even (temporarily) the finest back up singers possible... he ran across The Jordanaires at the pool and they appeared with him on stage as he performed "Blue Suede Shoes" for an appreciative audience. Drake didn't win the contest, but he's certainly the voice of the future and a really nice young man.

An Elvis Favorite: Fried Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich Breakfast, with Milk

While there were some typical cruise ship activities available, such as an art auction, and the casino, spa, fitness center, and Camp Carnival facilities all operated as usual, the producers of The Elvis Cruise were at the helm for all other activities. The Elvis theme began with a Sail Away party hosted by Elvis' friend Jerry Schilling and carried on virtually non-stop through scheduled autograph sessions, Sing the King Karaoke, Elvis Radio, Elvis Quiz Show, Elvis movie showings (both on cabin televisions and the big screen in a lounge), and informal talks presented by Elvis' friends and members of the TCB band. Even the ship's gift shop was transformed into The Elvis Store and well stocked with Elvis CDs, DVDs, and other memorabilia.

To answer questions and lend a hand during The Elvis Cruise, passengers had access to a Hospitality Desk manned by Jazz Cruises LLC staff members. I can't praise them highly enough for their professionalism.

Best of all was the entertainment! To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, it's been three decades since Elvis "left the building" for the last time. His music is legendary, but I wondered how the performers could pull it off without him center stage. Any doubt I harbored was washed away the moment Terry Mike Jeffrey began singing. His sessions with The Jordanaires and the TCB Band were indescribable. You had to be there to appreciate the spectacular concerts he and Ronnie McDowell headlined.

And, as The King of Rock 'n' Roll himself would say, "Thank you. Thank you very much."


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