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The Malt Shop Is Ready To Sail

Malt Shop Memories Cruise
Tampa, May 13-17, 2010
Carnival Inspiration

by Linda Coffman

"What exactly is a sock hop?" That's what my house/cat sitter Amy wanted to know when we returned from the Malt Shop Memories Cruise. While Mel and I were sailing from Tampa aboard Carnival Inspiration, our college-age sitter was following along on the daily Cruise Diva Blog. Although she'd had a hula hoop as a girl and attended her senior prom, she was confused by some of our other teenage rituals from the 50s and 60s.

First off, I explained the sock hop—dances that took place in the high school gym where we couldn't wear street shoes that might damage the highly polished wood floor. Yes, Amy, we danced in our socks.

The concept of a "malt shop" was also something to which Amy had trouble relating. How could over 1900 of us aboard Carnival Inspiration have all gone to a malt shop if we were from far-flung areas of the country? C'mon, girl, you're in college. Think about it. Naturally we didn't all go to the same mythical malt shop, but we all had teenage hang outs. Mine was the Tastee Freez. Mel's was the A&W Root Beer Drive-In. Think Sonic, Amy.

After our little chat and my explanation of mid-century popular culture, it dawned on me that Mel and I had a great time on the cruise because we'd been sharing the experience with an entire ship full of like-minded people. We were a community who'd make similar lifestyle choices, had a lot in common (in addition to our ages), and were fun to be around. That's the beauty of a theme cruise aboard a full-ship charter. And, of course there is the music.

For the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, Sixthman, the affinity travel company that develops musically-driven lifestyle events with an emphasis on themed cruises, and Time Life, which markets a collection of "Malt Shop Memories" CDs, put together a line up of popular artists and cool events to turn back the clock to a time of simpler, happy days on a sea-going hang out for those of us who remember spinning 45s on our turntables and dancing in our socks.

Every prom has to have chaperones

Pre-Cruise/Embarkation/Scheduling
To get everyone in the mood, Sixthman arranged a pre-cruise party at Gaspar’s Grotto in Tampa's historic Ybor City the night before sailing—a shiny red Studebaker parked out front made it easy to find. With our Sixthman hosts on hand, a couple hundred of our fellow Malt Shop cruisers had a great time dancing to 50s and 60s music and even sharpening their hula hoop skills for the contest to be held on board.

On board Carnival Inspiration with fairly little hassle in Tampa on embarkation day, our Sixthman hosts “bought the first round” for everyone and we settled in to wait in the lobby bar area for cabins to be ready. Once we made our way to M172, we found tote bags with the Malt Shop Memories Cruise logo waiting on our pillows. I filled mine with essentials and made good use of it throughout the cruise.

When Carnival Inspiration was underway, Frankie Avalon made an appearance at the Sail Away Beach Party and the memories had begun to accumulate by the time we passed beneath the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Along with Frankie, the line up of artists on board included some of our favorites, Bobby Rydell, Lesley Gore, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Lou Christie, Herb Reed & The Platters, and the Drifters. Other groups entertaining us were the Del Rays, the Devotions, and the Fireflies. Soon to become a favorite, Elvis Tribute Artist Gino Monopoli drew such large crowds that Sixthman quickly rescheduled the venue where he was performing to accommodate the growing audience.

Back home, Amy was also curious about how ticketing for the shows was handled on the Malt Shop Memories Cruise and how everyone had the opportunity to see each artist perform. Every passenger was issued a ticket for an assigned seat in the Paris Lounge and there were three shows each night at 6pm, 8pm, and 10pm—the three performers scheduled for the main stage alternate show times. For instance Frankie Avalon performed at 6pm one night, 8pm the next, and finally at 10pm on another. Artists who aren’t appearing on the main stage are also alternating performances each night—similarly, there are three shows in the Candlelight Lounge (open seating) at 7:30pm, 9:30pm, and 11:30pm. Plus there was live music on the Promenade, in the Atrium, and beside the Lido pool.

I was somewhat disappointed that Lesley Gore wasn't scheduled to perform in the Paris Lounge. One afternoon I was sitting outside the smaller Candlelight Lounge while she was rehearsing (sound carries and she sounded great) and I certainly enjoyed her show there later. However, the room was terribly crowded despite all the extra chairs that were provided. Due to demand, my wish to hear her in the main show lounge came true as Sixthman rescheduled her final performance in the larger venue.

With three shows scheduled each night, dinner was served in each of the two main restaurants on an open-seating basis, which worked out quite well. Naturally food was available nearly around the clock in Carnival Inspiration's casual grill and Brasserie, the lido deck buffet restaurant.

Creative Door Decorations

Activities
Hallmarks of a Sixthman music-themed cruise are activities and the opportunity to interact with the artists. The Malt Shop Memories Cruise was no different and the level of passenger participation was high. A walk down any accommodations passageway on Carnival Inspiration demonstrated that those of us who remember malt shops, 45s, drive-in movies, and poodle skirts hadn’t lost our creativity. About a third of the Malt Shop Memories cruisers participated in a “door decorating” contest and some of them were quite elaborate. My vote would have gone for the one right across the hall from my cabin (pictured here). One incentive to take part was the first prize of a $100 onboard credit, 2nd place got $50, and third place $25. However, there was also the incentive to share memories—many door decorations included high school photos and we even saw a diploma or two on display.

We enjoyed sunny and warm sea days filled with dance lessons, a hula hoop contest, dance lessons, and a sock hop, as well as “Prom Night” under the stars. Passengers really got into the theme and poodle skirts were the fashion statement for the sock hop and many broke out their prom dresses as well. Sadly, I could only wish that my prom formals from 1960-something still fit.

You didn't have to participate in the scheduled activities to mingle with the artists, although Lou Christie hosted a wine tasting and Little Anthony (of Little Anthony and the Imperials) led couples in a renewal of their vows. One morning Mel found himself on a treadmill adjacent to Little Anthony and later he enjoyed a chat and a cigar with Clarence Collins (founder of the Imperials). Bobby Rydell often relaxed in the Chopin Lounge during the evening and posed for photos and signed autographs for fans.

An absolute highlight was the Artist Q&A in the Paris Lounge where Lesley Gore, Bobby Rydell, and Little Anthony answered questions and reminisced about their careers as teenage stars. For instance, Lesley Gore revealed that she was 'discovered' by Quincy Jones and recorded "It's My Party" on a Saturday afternoon. By Monday it hit the top of the charts and yet she didn't hear it until Friday of that week when she was listening to the radio.

Answering fans' questions, Bobby Rydell, Lesley Gore, and Little Anthony

The Performances
It’s pretty obvious why Frankie Avalon is still so popular that he's one of the busiest nightclub performers in the country. I’ve had the opportunity to see him several times over the years and he never seems to change, nor is he ever disappointing. While my husband doesn’t get it, I consider his cameo appearance to sing “Beauty School Dropout” one of the best scenes in the movie “Grease.”

Mel's musical taste was somewhat different than mine fifty years ago so he wasn't as familiar with Lou Christie and Bobby Rydell as I am. We were both impressed with Lou Christie's ability to hit his signature high notes and we loved Bobby's show and his tribute to his late friend Bobby Darin, another of my favorites from the 60s. I was thrilled to hear Lesley Gore sing not only "It's My Party" and "Judy's Turn to Cry," but also "You Don't Own Me."

When Little Anthony and the Imperials performed for our reserved show they received a standing ovation just for walking on stage. They really rocked the boat and had everyone singing along until they left the stage to another standing ovation. Mel was so blown away by their performance that we got two of their CDs from the "Malt Shop" merchandise store.

As graduates of the Malt Shop Memories Class of 2010 we look forward to going on to the next step in our lives by making new memories while cherishing the old. What are we listening to on our iPods? The going-away present we received from Sixthman—from the Malt Shop Memories collection, a "Dancing in the Streets" CD. (Yes, Amy, we also danced in the streets, but we wore shoes for that.)

Top Photo Will Byington, Others CruiseDiva.com

Check out Sixthman for more musical themed cruises and you'll see why nearly two-thirds of their passengers "repeat" a Sixthman event.

NOTE: The Malt Shop Memories cruise is an annual event that has been hosted by Entertainment Cruise Productions since 2011.

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