Like other music lovers, we appreciate music
festivals where the artists really connect with their audiences.
Unfortunately, for most of us that means traveling to distant cities
where the hottest musicians are most likely to appear. It was
relatively easy for us to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
Festival when we lived nearby, but we've found an even better way to
enjoy concerts without the hassle of parking and crowds—one
of the full-ship charters presented by
Productions (formerly Jazz Cruises LLC).
Come along as we sailed for a
week-long Smooth Jazz Cruise aboard Holland America Line's
Even on a dreary afternoon in port Everglades we felt
the electricity generated by fellow passengers during embarkation on
Westerdam. Many were repeat Smooth Jazz Cruisers and looked
forward to hearing their favorite music and artists live on stage. Later,
as we waited in the Sports Bar for our
after-dinner show, one music (and football) enthusiast told me this
was his fourth Smooth Jazz Cruise—he’d only missed the first one.
To kick off the Welcome Show, Rick Braun and his trumpet made a
grand entrance, giving the audience a close-up as he literally
played his way to the stage. While the music swept over the Vista
Lounge, everyone was on their feet, moving and clapping to the beat.
A few bars of “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise” were met
Jazz Cruise posters awaited on our beds when we returned to our
cabins—pillow gifts that are great for collecting autographs, as are
beautifully designed combination
books we received earlier. We’ll have plenty of opportunity
to use them.
Two Days at Sea
Although we encountered strong winds and some rain during our first two
days in the Caribbean, we began our first sea day on a high note
during a rousing Gospel Hour with Jonathan Butler. What an
appropriate way to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
on this, his national holiday.
Don’t get the impression that it was all seriousness on board
Westerdam. Our first sea day was also T-Shirt Party Day with complimentary
afternoon cocktails and snacks served poolside and later a behind
the scenes look at “how songs become” and then Daiquiris with artist Mindi Abair.
Naturally, we attended another concert after dinner.
Because we set our clocks forward an hour, I had to cut my time
short at the PA-JAM-A party tonight. At least I was ready to fall
right asleep—the late night dress code called for PJs and, of course,
It was all about the music on the Smooth Jazz Cruise. I don’t
pretend to be an expert, but performances had me tapping my toes
and, of course, swaying with the beat. Ranging from the simplicity
of unplugged guitars to the rich sounds of multiple horns,
For a second day at sea—the sky was blue and the sea full of
“smooth” wavelets. Clearly we were in for a beautiful day full of
activities and behind-the-scenes looks into the lives and careers of
the musicians who worked so hard to entertain us.
addition to the lectures and autograph sessions, there was a
Smooth Jazz “Idol” in the making aboard Westerdam. One
talented passenger will win Wayman Tisdale’s Star Search
The Smooth Jazz Cruise backpack we received (pictured along with a
cute towel animal created by our cabin steward) will come in handy
when we go ashore.
Day in Aruba
Aruba is called “One Happy Island” and we were as pleased
to be going ashore with our Smooth Jazz Cruise caps and bags as the
residents were to welcome us. In addition to the main show last
night, extremely strong winds kept us rocking and rolling aboard
Westerdam so we've looked forward to spending all day in
appealing aspect of an evening in port is the accessibility to
local dining and nightlight. Well, it's usually appealing. Although
Carlos ‘n Charlies has its charm, I doubt that any Westerdam
passengers were there. In fact, the hottest night spot in Aruba was
surely the Vista Lounge when all the artists on board took the stage
and special guest Jeffrey Osborne made his first appearance.
We were pierside in Aruba until midnight and the night’s
schedule included one of the signature events arranged by
Entertainment Cruise Productions for their full-ship charters. Caribbean Luau Night began with a Poolside BBQ Dinner and ended with a Luau Sailaway Party. Westerdam’s
chefs (pictured) outdid themselves with the deck BBQ dinner. We were
treated to down-home and upscale fare: ribs, steak, chicken salmon,
chilled salads, and the best jambalaya at sea. There was even a
white chocolate fountain with assorted fruits for dessert.
Because food is such a highlight of any cruise, I’d like to say a
word about the cuisine on Westerdam—delicious. Seriously, every meal
was enjoyable and service was superb. In
addition to the elegant Vista Dining Room, where we were all assigned
to either early or late seating, a very popular alternative for dinner
the Terrace Grill where waiters served your entree and dessert of
choice after you made your own selections from appetizers and the
extensive salad bar.
Day in Curacao
We awoke anxious to go ashore in Curacao, one of our favorite Caribbean islands. Instead of a formal tour, we
joined a few fellow passengers downtown to sample the
local beers and compare our favorite brews and cruise activities.
It’s been a real pleasure to
with so many like-minded passengers and meet jazz fans from all over
the country. Many travel far and wide to attend concerts and some have been on
previous jazz cruises. Their delight at seeing one another onboard is
infectious and we are having a great time—this is a very social mix
Unfortunately, our time in Curacao was all too
short and interrupted by a brief, but heavy, tropical shower. Back
at sea, there was a full afternoon of activities to pass the time in
lectures and one-on-one meetings with the stars and the second round
of Wayman Tisdale’s Star Search.
The night’s concert, featuring Mindy Abair and Jeffrey Osborne,
promised to be one of my favorites. And, with a sea day to look
forward to, we could stay up late to enjoy the musicians in
Westerdam’s lounges without worrying about getting up too
early in the morning.
Day at Sea
Captain Peter Harris promised us clear skies and balmy
weather for our day at sea and he delivered. A gorgeous,
sunny day on board Westerdam was perfect for participating
in a volleyball
competition in the pool (crew vs. guests) or simply lazing on a deck chair.
The day’s line-up of activities was full with autograph signings, a
poolside party, and a “Just Sweet Enough” cookie baking class with
Gerald Albright. Naturally there is music everywhere. One of the
day's most entertaining events was an interview with comedian
Alonzo Bodden hosted by Smooth Jazz Cruise's very own Cruise Director, Dane
Butcher (left) with Alonzo Bodden
I must admit that I wasn’t a Smooth Jazz aficionado when we boarded
Westerdam and barely knew what to expect. While the style is
difficult to describe, it’s a little bit funky with some soul and
R&B tossed in, and all performed to a great beat. It’s contemporary and
the sounds are infectious. And, yes, you can dance to it. Janet—a
fellow passenger who is 83 years young—has captivated us during the
nightly concerts with her dancing in the aisles. Staying seated is
Dressing to the nines for dinner is
always special and never more so than on a cruise. Tonight was
our only formal night of the cruise and the ladies I’ve spoken to
are looking forward to dressing up… not that this isn’t a
well-dressed crowd already. All other evenings have been smart casual and
nearly everyone ramped it up a notch.
Another food note...
nothing beats dinner in the Pinnacle
Grill, Holland America's upscale, reservations-required restaurant
dinner). We looked forward to it so much that one of the
first things we did upon boarding Westerdam was make a
reservation early in the cruise. We set the bar pretty high and our
expectations were exceeded. In fact, it was so good that we were
pleased to find they had room for us a second time and formal night
was the ideal evening to savor steaks and seafood that were even
better the second time around.
A Day at Half Moon Cay
I don’t do time
zone change well, particularly when it means losing an hour.
However, we reclaimed the hour lost earlier in
the cruise, which meant last night's late-night comedy show starring
Alonzo Bodden wasn’t too late, even for me. And I didn’t want to
Westerdam’s scheduled arrival time at Half Moon Cay,
Holland America Line’s private island, wasn’t until 11am
so it was a good morning to sleep in just a bit since. Another day in paradise awaited
ashore where we enjoyed the pristine beach under an overcast
sky. The clouds were no problem; it was still nice and warm but
not overly hot and humid. Oh yes, there was food—a terrific
barbecue provided by the ship's culinary staff—and tropical drinks. While we shared Half Moon Cay with passengers from
Holland America Line fleetmate Maasdam, we didn't feel at all crowded.
Alas, after our day shore, it was time to think of packing up to disembark.
Our cruise was a week of music, fun, activities, more fun,
and making new friends. A fellow passenger from Montreal
commented that if nations could follow the example of passengers
aboard The Smooth Jazz Cruise then we’d all live in a better
world. I can’t disagree.
The final concert of the cruise
starred our host Wayman Tisdale and it was quite a show even
without a surprise presentation by passengers—the gentle giant
was truly touched when given posters autographed by participants
wishing him continued success in his battle with cancer.
Reflecting on The Smooth Jazz Cruise
Although I've sailed on 80-something cruises since
1989, The Smooth Jazz Cruise was different in numerous ways.
First, everyone on board had an
interest in smooth jazz and the artists brought together for our
enjoyment. While there were some typical cruise ship activities
listed on our daily programs, such as art auctions—and the
casino, spa, and fitness center facilities all
operated as usual—the producers of The Smooth Jazz Cruise were at
the helm for all other activities.
|Mindi Abair prepares to
"rock the boat"
Quite naturally, the music
was center stage, but the theme carried on virtually non-stop
through scheduled autograph sessions; informal talks
presented by various musicians; the hilarity of Bodden's Bingo;
sessions with featured performers in Westerdam's
intimate lounges; and cocktails hosted by artists Mindi Abair, Rick Braun, Jonathan
Butler, Brian Simpson, Jeff Golub, and Kirk Whalum (with a nominal fee
In addition to the Caribbean Luau BBQ and
theme parties featuring Pajamas and Spots & Stripes attire, all
guests were invited to attend a Smooth Jazz Cruise
afternoon T-shirt party poolside, where complimentary cocktails
and hors d'oeuvres were served.
To answer questions and lend a
hand during The Smooth Jazz Cruise, passengers had access to a Hospitality Desk
manned by Entertainment Cruise Productions staff members. I can't praise them
highly enough for their professionalism.
The Smooth Jazz Cruise: An Annual Event
The beauty of a full-ship charter with Entertainment
Cruise Productions is that everyone on
board is included in all festivities and no one is left out.
They think of everything and even select the itinerary. Best of all,
though, is the
great roster of musicians they bring together.
Fully booked, and with a waiting list, a hot
activity during this year's Smooth Jazz Cruise was making
reservations for next year.
The Smooth Jazz Cruise 2009 will set sail January 18-25 from Fort
Lauderdale, FL on m/s Westerdam and call at San Juan,
Santa Barbara de Semana, Santo Domingo, and Half Moon Cay.
Book your cabin early—with special guest Rufus, featuring
Chaka Khan, The Smooth Jazz Cruise 2009 promises to be a sell-out as well.
Cruise Diva's Blog:
The Smooth Jazz Cruise: Hitting the beach at Half Moon Cay