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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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."