Pickin’ and playin’ awaited cruisers as almost 2,000 Bluegrass lovers descended upon the Norwegian Sky in early February for Mountain Song at Sea, a floating bluegrass music festival featuring more than 12 artists across a variety of venues.
Sixthman and Norwegian crew greeted cruisers with a barrage of high fives at embarkation, and many made their way up to the pool deck for the sail-away party, featuring free beer and a performance by the host band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Here’s a rundown of the cruise, from the music, to the theme nights and the food:
Music: There was never a dull (or empty) seat in the house. Bands such as The Kruger Brothers and Mandolin Orange rocked across venues including the Stardust Theater and Captain Cook’s Bar from sun up to sun down. As with any Sixthman voyage, each artist performed at least twice during the three days, so there were no excess crowds with any particular performance.
One of the musical highlights was the Battle for the Boat competition. Six amateur bands were given free cabins aboard the cruise, and they faced off in a classic throwdown. Each band performed two songs as the audience held their voting cards. The wife of one of the members of the first band, North Carolina-based Sanctum Sully, tried to persuade cruisers by handing out free drink holders. (They didn’t win.) Kudos to the Sixthman staff, who had to set-up and modify the equipment after each artist. The winning band, Chicago-based Henhouse Prowlers, played their winning set again a couple days later. Don, 72, from Miami appreciated the basics: “Traditional bluegrass is all acoustic,” he said.
The weather was the only real sour note. Many of the artists who performed on the pool deck were subject to sub-70 degree weather, a bit cool for a Caribbean cruise. Cruisers who did not bring the appropriate clothing stayed inside, hence a reduced crowd for the outside venues. The weather was equally chilly in Great Stirrup Cay, the only port of call, where cruisers enjoyed a beachside barbecue and watched a horseshoes contest.
Activities and Theme Nights: Each night had a different theme. The first was Rep Your Roots. Cruisers showed up in hats, sports jerseys and old bluegrass festival T-shirts. Next came Italian formal night. Beyond the expected Italian dinner, were fancy suits and colorful dresses. The surprising star of the night? A Bluegrass version of “That’s Amore” from one of the artists. The banjo and fiddle combination with Italian music worked surprisingly well.
Throughout the cruise, fans and artists interacted. In addition to a couple not-so-private after parties, Town Mountain and the Steep Canyon Rangers hosted a Bourbon versus Whiskey challenge, where cruisers and the artists sampled different kinds of whiskey and bourbon. The Steep Canyon guys also hosted a poker tournament in the Sky Club Casino on Deck 7. And bingo and trivia was not your regular fare, either. Shannon Whitworth called out the numbers during bingo and a number of artists, from the Punch Brothers to The Deadly Gentleman, were on hand for “Newgrass Q&A,” which focused on the growing presence of new-school bluegrass artists.
Food: From the late night buffets to the 10 a.m. breakfast, food was never in short supply. Two dining rooms — the Palace Restaurant and Crossings — offered sit-down fare such as New York strip streak and pork medallions. The Garden Café on Deck 11 had a rotating wok station, two dessert stations (one with cakes and the other with a chocolate fountain) and many hot food options. I was particular impressed with the late-night buffet. Many strolled in after midnight after the last show, as food included shrimp fritters, spring rolls and chimichangas. The Sky Club Casino also offered snacks such as pigs in blankets and finger sandwiches.
The event fell over Super Bowl Sunday, when Norwegian’s service and food was best on display. The Longboard Bar created a special menu for the game, which featured classic selections such as chicken wings and hamburgers, and also tomato soup, cheesecake and fish and chips. Waiters ducked under the televisions to take orders, fill water cups and ask passengers if they wanted more wings.
Sixthman addressed cruisers’ dietary concerns as well. When a vegan couple struggled to find something to eat onboard, they reached out to Sixthman public relations manager Ben Ferguson, who had the chef whip up a platter of vegan-friendly foods in about 20 minutes.
Recap: Mountain Song at Sea paired bluegrass fans with cruising to create an unforgettable experience. The focus on customer service and making sure the music sounded right created a welcome atmosphere. All cruisers received drink holders and Mountain Song at Sea tote bags in their cabins. And even before the cruise, Sixthman mailed out custom luggage tags.
Chris Kappi, who has served as a marketing scout for Sixthman since its first charter in 2001, compared it to being left-handed, saying cruises are typically structured like the right hand.
“Sometimes its fun being left-handed,” he said.
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