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Virtual Slideshow: Rock Music Theme Cruise
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Virtual Slideshow: Rock Music Theme Cruise

A dozen times a year, axe-wielding, tattoo-covered passengers invade Caribbean-bound cruise ships, tossing the "Beyond the Sea"-playing lounge act and Broadway song-and-dance stylists overboard. Live rock music blasts day and night from the pool deck, lounges, theater -- sometimes even the towering, church-like atrium. Musicians with flowing manes and dreadlocks judge belly flop competitions, host bingo, dominate the waterslide and line up nightly for all-you-can-eat sushi. All the while, a constantly erupting volcano of empty beer cans threatens to bury the bowel-based recycling squad.

This is the floating festival at sea, a theme cruise-niche that's been rapidly gaining momentum over the past decade. The original music cruises -- Jam Cruise, the Smooth Jazz Cruise and Rock Boat -- have been significantly augmented by sailings hosted by Kid Rock, the Bare Naked Ladies, the Backstreet Boys, Skynyrd, John Mayer and a multitude of other acts who now regularly take to the sea with 2,000 of their biggest fans.

As a veteran of many cruises not designed around a theme -- and a huge music fan -- I was itching to investigate the exploding music cruise industry. What's it like sailing with passengers drawn together by a common passion -- a magnet beyond the vague notion of fun and relaxation that generally attracts people to Caribbean cruising?

This is no typical cruise either. Guarantee 15 hours of live music a day, access to musicians, plenty of comfort food and a free-flowing party, and you've destroyed the stereotype of cruise vacation as pedestrian affair.

My first rock 'n' roll theme cruise was the "VH1 Best Cruise Ever," a four-night voyage on Carnival Inspiration out of Tampa, with a "rest and recuperation stop" in Grand Cayman. The sailing, presented in conjunction with VH1 and music theme cruise experts Sixthman, featured 14 radio-friendly bands spanning a broad spectrum of corporate success (i.e. album sales). The official headliners were Three Doors Down, a group that's sold more than 15 million records and had its songs featured in movies, television ads (the Geico caveman who just wants to be accepted) and TV shows. Lifehouse and Shinedown, neither of which are strangers to radio play and big album sales, were the top supporting acts.

Join us -- in pictures -- as scorching guitar solos make our ears bleed and our faces melt, set lists and drum sticks become prized possessions, a beer game is transformed into a raucous sporting event on the adults-only Serenity Deck, and band after band looks to rock -- onstage and off -- in an effort to please their old fans and win new ones.

Editor's Note: "VH1 Best Cruise Ever II" set sail at the end of April 2011. Lifehouse was back, and the band was joined by Train, Colbie Caillat, The Script and others. The setup was similar to version 1.0, but there were some new activities, including special theme nights (royal wedding night with vow renewals).

Day 1: Embarkation and the Party Begins
"The party starts now," said Sixthman's smiling CEO Andy Levine, extending his palm for a high-five embarkation welcome. "First one's on us," he added, presenting us with a ticket for a free beer...

Click to Launch Day 1's Slideshow.

Day 2: At Sea
At around 9 a.m. on day 2, I surveyed the post-apocalyptic pool deck scene. As you might imagine, mornings onboard were relatively sedate, a recovery period for many of the 2,000 passengers...

Click to Launch Day 2's Slideshow.

Day 3: Grand Cayman
For me, it would have been fine if the cruise just sailed around without stopping in port -- music being the first priority -- but our sailing included a day in Grand Cayman. Most music theme sailings are built in a similar way...

Click to Launch Day 3's Slideshow.

Day 4: At Sea
Curious about how such a floating festival came together, we stopped in for the "Ask Sixthman" panel chat. CEO Andy Levine explained how he managed to scrounge up $1 million, the up front fee, to partially charter his first ship...

Click to Launch Day 4's Slideshow.

Related Links
Carnival Inspiration ship review
Carnival Inspiration Member reviews
Caribbean Cruises
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