(4:01 p.m. EDT) -- Martina McBride became the latest artist to hit the stage on a Carnival cruise ship Wednesday night as part of the line's Carnival Live! concert series. The country artist, sparkling from head to toe (only in part because of her sequin-covered suit), belted out some of her biggest hits as well as pop and R&B songs she says she's always wanted to sing.
Performing in the 855-seat Sapphire Theater onboard Carnival Ecstasy, docked in Cozumel, the country sensation's concert encapsulated all that is good about Carnival's concert series: high-energy concerts performed by well-known artists for a bargain price. Tickets for Carnival Live! range from $20-$40 for general admission, $100-$150 for VIP tickets, which includes close-up seating, a meet and greet with the act and a souvenir photo.
Carnival unveiled the idea for the series of 49 shows in January at a snowy news conference in New York, and since then, has held nine concerts onboard ships docked in either Nassau or Cozumel. Each venue promises intimacy; the largest onboard theater (on Carnival Breeze) has a maximum capacity of 1,400. Acts so far have included McBride, REO Speedwagon, Styx and Kansas, while others slated to appear this year include Jewel, Jennifer Hudson, Daughtry, Olivia Newton-John and Lady Antebellum.
While booking ahead of time online is an option (and Director of Carnival Live! Bernie Dillon says more than 50 percent of passengers elect to do so), passengers can buy tickets onboard as well. From Day One, it was clear this cruise would feature the concert; big signs blared the announcement in the port and onboard the ship, and a D.J. gave away tickets poolside as passengers were embarking. Passengers noticed, lining up to purchase their tickets at guest services immediately upon boarding.
The relatively low price point and ease with which passengers can buy tickets appears to draw both fans and those who just want to catch a concert by a performer whose name they recognize. Last night's show had a solid mix of both types. Die-hard fans jumped from their VIP seats and danced stage-side to McBride's covers of hits by artists including Pink and Elvis, while her anthems like Independence Day and For the Girls had everyone on their feet. The show was flat-out fun, and afterward, passengers talked about how impressed they were, even though they "only knew one or two songs."
For McBride, who says she's never cruised, the experience was different as well. Though the approach to an intimate audience vs. an arena requires a different mindset, she said, it's all about making a connection with the audience, something she had no problem doing last night.
"I like this kind of venue because I can hear you all, and I can see you all," McBride said midshow.
"And I can see people leave in the middle," she joked. She didn't need to worry; no one was leaving.
Sound was a bit of an issue for the powerful McBride and her equally dynamic band, but it didn't dampen the experience for the audience, which she described afterward as "enthusiastic and loving."
Carnival is thrilled with the concert series so far and is already hard at work securing artists for 2015, which Dillon says will see more shows, bigger names, more ports and bigger ships. He says the appeal to artists is the ability to reach a whole new audience and, consequently, a brand-new market.
Count McBride among those who are sold on cruise. When asked if she might take a cruise vacation in the future, she responded: "After that experience, it's definitely something I want to consider."
--By Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor