Cruise to the Edge 2014 was a (loosely defined) progressive rock band cruise sailing out of Miami on April 7 for five days.
Apparently, in 2013, the MSC Divina was only semi-transformed into a rock vessel, leaving those passengers who had not paid to go on a rock cruise both befuddled and angry. It seems as though half the ship was closed off to them for the duration of the cruise. I later found out they had trouble selling spots for the entire boat that year, and even this year, there were a few passengers who were not there for the entertainment.
But not to worry. Cruise to the Edge 2014 had more bands and more venues than the year before. Also, the staff had experience under their belt. During the previous weeks, the ship served as the Monsters of Rock and Moody Blues cruises. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a number of things. It quickly became apparent that the headlining acts (Yes, Steve Hackett, etc.) would perform twice, but each passenger would get to see each top act only once. Each passenger got a pink or blue laminated pass, which designated their concert. Concerts were sometimes 75 minutes, sometimes 90 minutes. This meant short sets.
This had a number of repeat Edgers on edge even before the ship sailed. The staff apologized some, but never did explain ( at least, not to me) why it was not clear in the literature until only a few days before the cruise that tops acts would be seen by each passenger only once.
A secondary market for access to shows developed (I traded a Steve Hackett show for a UK show at first.) The staff gave conflicting instructions concerning the availability of extra seats, at first saying that none would be available, then that extras in the balcony would be available first come, first serve. The production company was clearly not interested in knowing about passengers changing ID tags to get a second viewing of their favorite act.
It was impossible to see every band and/or go to every event, as a number of them overlapped. I had no plans to go into Mexico or Honduras (the ports the ship visited) as I would have missed out on a number of things I would have liked to hear.
The first band up was Saga, playing poolside. I got a seat near the front by showing up an hour before the show began. It became apparent that to see any band (and not just hear them) one had to arrive early. At a number of smaller venues, the crowd began to reserve chairs and spaces in stairwells an hour in advance.
Because a number of venues had low ceilings, bands had to blast their sound straight at you. After being front row for Stickmen, I don't think my ears will will ever be the same.
But I digress.
After a long sound check and some decidedly family-unfriendly words from the Emcee about divorce lawyers (not to mention a few staged photos for the website with the audience holding their arms in the air) Saga took the stage a bit late. Granted, it's rock and roll, but the ship was on a tight schedule.
One-hit-wonder Saga opened up with a heavy, layered song I had never heard, and it took the entire ten-minute song to get the vocal mix right. Then disaster struck during the second song, "Tonight We're On The Loose."
Saga had about ten keyboards on stage, and apparently one of them had not been sound checked thoroughly. The piano sound coming from it during the chorus was both loud and piercing, and it sounded as if the keyboardist was having difficulty keeping up with the rest of the band. After the keyboardist during the break did not play the most famous line from the song, I left the show.
The ambience of the ship was confusing at best. The MSC Divima is a large boat, and the fact that I can get lost in a parking lot didn't help matters, but the staff did little to acclimate passengers. Yes, there was the security drill, but no "get to know you" activities.
In addition, there was the issue of open seating at dinner. Couples were seated randomly when they arrived in the dining room, leading to the awkward where-are-you-from/I-could-care-less conversations.
And finally, there was the incessant progressive rock being piped in from all sides (including Rush and Pink Floyd, who were not represented on the ship in any manner.) It almost felt like they were trying to spoil the main act, Yes (or what remains of them.) I mean, I love the music, but 24/7?
The most interesting choice of background music was very recent Genesis, featuring the music and dance rhythms of Phil Collins. Genesis? Yes. Progressive? Hardly.
Highlight of Day one -- seeing Tony Levin and Eddie Jobson talking casually about nothing. Weird feeling of the day -- rocking back and forth to the music while the ship rocked in a different direction.
Quick side note: At almost every lounge show I attended, people sat or stood in the aisles. In case of emergency, it's the Who concert all over again. People talked and walked around during the shows, ordering drinks and whatnot. At some shows, this distracted from the music, as this behavior, in my view, had all the charm and class of rock and roll dinner theatre.
Day Two: I ran into a production person at 4:00 am (I'm an early riser.) The production assistant informed me that the cruise was having difficulty selling raffle tickets for a car.
It was estimated on the Monsters of Rock cruise, the net worth of the participants was $35,000 or so. On the Moody Blues cruise, it was estimated that the net worth of participants was more than six figures. On Cruise to the Edge, the production company had come to believe that the average passenger lived in their parents' basement (their phrase, not mine.)
I doubt the staff of the production company wanted this splattered all over the Internet, but after watching them screw up a number of times, it was difficult to resist calling out their every mistake.
As I wrote this, I overheard a long conversation concerning rock stars and extra terrestrials. This kind of talk was par for the cruise.
Many of the men on board were balding, with what was left of their hair hanging down as far as possible. It wasn't a good look. I've also decided that overweight middle-aged women should not wear stretch pants.
Not all the bars were open all the time. The caramel coffee frost drink was to die for, and would have been great at 7:00 am. It only cost one drink voucher. I'm surprised that some of the bars weren't open until later in the day, or even the evening -- this was a drinking crowd.
This was also a smoking crowd. More than once, I saw people light up in non-smoking areas. I imagine I was not alone in my disapproval of this, but when the person sucking on a butt is seven feet tall and looks like a retired Hell's Angel, it's hard to speak up.
This was also a group that ate with its hands directly from the buffet line.
Update for Day 2: The Patrick Moraz outdoor concert has been canceled due to wind issues. It's fine to go outside (it's a beautiful day) but apparently unsafe for rock and roll. Who knew? They cancelled a few shows last night, too. I wonder if Cruise to the Edge 2015 will schedule outdoor shows, then cancel them, feigning ignorance of Atlantic Ocean weather conditions.
Interesting side note: When I approached the Cruise to the Edge hospitality desk to see if all the outdoor events were cancelled for the day, they didn't know. "Did you hear it over the loudspeaker? All we know is what we hear over the loudspeaker, and we can't hear everything because of the noise." Keeping the front line staff informed did not seem to be a priority.
Okay, even later update: We hit a big storm, and a number of things have been "rescheduled." The "storyteller" for Patrick Moraz becomes a concert (in an acknowledgement that people prefer live music to live interviews.) The UK storyteller now conflicts with the Yes concert (brilliant move, guys -- make two headliners compete with each other.)
Highlight of the evening--watching Eddie Jobson and John Wetton play/sing Rendezvous 6:02.
Day 3: I got the feeling that the passengers did not tip well. I witnessed more than a few interactions at the bar or wherever where the waiter or waitress was waiting for a tip, and none appeared. It may have been because everyone had to pay a gratuity up front, and perhaps this covered everything. I wonder how the ship's crew felt. about that.
It also appears that lots of people here think they know the bands. This may be the case, but I notice that when I meet some famous rock star, and call them "Mr. Squire" or "Mr. Wetton" I get a great response.
I don't pretend to know these folks as best friends, and I think it's appreciated. People who pretend to be on a first name basis with all the bands strike me as pretentious.
Late update: Okay, now I'm upset. After waiting an hour (I wanted to get a good seat) for the Eddie Jobson master class, I find out it was cancelled. It's still on the monitors, yet there was no sign on the door. I watched an ugly scene as several passengers ripped apart a staff member.
Apparently, there was a barely publicized sign up sheet, and those folks who signed up got notified of the cancellation, but the rest of us suckers were left high and dry. Several other passengers seemed to feel like I did, and ripped apart a staff member to the point that she appeared on the verge of tears.
Later update: I took a photo of the monitor showing the Eddie Jobson master class. I also took a photo of the cheap stickers used to assign seats in the main theater.
Final straw update: I just spoke to the customer service people about my ticket for the incredibly ugly "Starship Cooper" car they are raffling off for a good cause.
"Where do I put my ticket?" I asked.
"You take it to the casino, and put it in the big tumbler."
"I've been there," I replied. "There is no big tumbler, and hasn't been all day." I had checked at least three times.
"That's because the casino is closed. You can do it tomorrow."
Thanks for not posting a sign or something...
Day 4, 1:00 am-ish: I just witnessed someone on deck smoking pot and being loud as ship crew members walked by, collecting beer bottles. He was obviously high, wearing sun glasses, holding a joint and lighting it occasionally, stomping his feet randomly to the ill-gotten video of some band he probably made on ship, and letting out long, loud "yaaaaaaa..." sounds.
We are in port in Mexico, and the staff could bust him and put him off ship, but I'm guessing no one is interested. So much for zero tolerance of illegal substances.
Day 4 (tail end of Day 3): There is a prog rock jam arranged over the internet by a bunch of musicians on board. Apparently it was open to everyone, but not well publicized (I didn't know, and I paid full freight.) I would have loved to get in on the action. I guess this was the result of another mysterious sign-in sheet.
I note that at least some of the background music that is played at a high volume in many areas of the ship (making conversation difficult) is only one side of the stereo mix. It is as if someone plugged a stereo cord into a mono jack. I wonder who the technical genius was who did that. This group can't even provide conversation inhibiting music in stereo.
Okay, I just heard that Eddie Jobson was informed about his master class by a fan, and responded "that's two hours before the gig. That's never going to happen." Also, some people got both blue and pink IDs if they complained long enough. The rest of us suckers have to wait in line to see if seats are available if we want to see a headliner twice.
I found this out while in line before a Meet and Greet with a bunch of bands. I actually saw an ID with sharpie on it allowing access to both. I would have taken a picture, but I didn't need the questions.
Five minutes before the Meet and Greet the staff is "still missing a lot of artists, but the main guy from UK is here." Which one, several of us wondered. John Wetton? Eddie Jobson? Both are original members of the band.
Security Madness: I just witnessed one of the ugliest scenes in rock and roll ever. A security guard at the Meet and Greet was hurrying people through, and making sure no one had a good time. It seems another member of security dissed him (or something stupid like that) and he said, in a very loud voice, "Come here!" It looked for a moment that they might come to blows. Imagine two really big guys exchanging words.
I was never so glad to get out of a room. I guess there is zero tolerance for enjoyment at Meet and Greets, but bogarting a joint on deck 14 in full view of staff and passengers is A-Okay.
Day 5: We changed time zones, but apparently, no one notified the stage crew. Because the stage crew did not set their clocks ahead, many of the shows are running an hour behind. Not an auspicious ending.
Fans were lining up for UK (only for people with blue tickets.) There are a number of people with pink VIP tickets hoping to score a seat. They got in. I'm guessing that it was probably easy to see a show twice if you were persistent.
Dishonesty in action: Someone I met on board walked up to the cruise concierge desk and said "I lost my pass for the shows." The result? A new pass -- of a different color. The staff took his word that he was in the pink group, when in reality he was in the blue group (he had his blue pass in his pocket.) I doubt the production company had any system for checking his true color.
The UK show itself appeared beset by technical difficulties. Eddie Jobson kept running backstage, and roadies kept trying to do something to his keyboard setup. John Wetton kept tuning his bass and adjusting his amp. I would guess some of these issues were due to the rush job that got them onstage in the first place.
Highlight of the evening: Three Friends sounded great!
The verdict? If you want a lot of good, loud, progressive rock (without skilled logistics to back it up) this is the cruise for you. Bring your moxie, and score both pink and blue passes early. Be prepared to discuss space aliens. If you want to be on a boat where the staff runs a tight ship, look elsewhere.