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Q&A with Carnival Spirit Band Music Manila

New Kids on the Block Cruise Promises "The Right Stuff" for Lifelong Fans

Gina Laguardia
Contributor
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The New Kids on the Block may have peaked in the late '80s/early '90s, but that ship hasn't set sail yet -- or has it? Donnie Walhberg, Danny Wood, Jordan and Jonathan Knight, and Joey McIntyre have hosted a themed cruise for the past nine years that keeps their lifelong "Blockhead" fans "Hangin' Tough" thanks to plenty of nostalgic performances and flashback festivities that foster friendships and fun memories.

The five-day, four-night jaunt has included such ports of call as Bermuda, Nassau, Cozumel and Key West aboard chartered Carnival cruise ships from Miami, New York City and New Orleans. The days and nights are filled with exclusive concerts, celebrity-fueled events and even a meet-and-greet that promises a face-to-face hello, hug and keepsake group photo.

Join us as we take you "Step by Step" through a New Kids on the Block theme cruise.

The New Kids on the Block cruise scheduled for April 23 to 27, 2020, onboard Carnival Conquest, has been canceled due to COVID-19. No new sail date has been announced.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

Even before the band members set foot on Carnival Triumph, they did not disappoint. There were intermittent squeals of eagerness as each New Kid entered the Port of New Orleans' embarkation area one by one -- and with plenty of fanfare. Throughout the check-in process, groups of travelers participate in mini reunions adorned in custom T-shirts and tanks that mark the friendships they have forged thanks to a shared passion for the band. All the while, NKOTB tunes play in the background, setting the tone for a journey they would all be "lovin' forever."

--Photo appears courtesy of Jenni Murphy

Euphoria. That's the word that came to mind during the 2017 New Kids on the Block cruise sail-away party. As the chartered Carnival Triumph set sail with 3,000 screaming fans, the atmosphere was full of excitement, giddiness and the surreal feeling that the fans' 12-year-old selves would never believe this was happening. The performers channeled their boy band mojo from yesteryear to sing and dance to fan favorites and mingled with the crowd to today's tunes. There was also the annual reciting of Donnie's Wahlberg's "oath," which pledges that worries and fears be left behind so cruisers can "live it up like there's no tomorrow."

--Photo appears courtesy of Angela Antonakos

Although life-sized cardboard cutouts of the New Kids on the Block and elevator stickers in the likeness of Jordan, Joey, Donnie, Danny and Jon were not in abundance this year (they had been "borrowed" in years past by unscrupulous cruisers), the NKOTB branding was in full effect on the ship's elevators, stairs and lounge tables. The feeling of fanfare carried over to each deck as cruisers vied for the title of Best Door Decoration, a contest held annually. Walking the halls made for quite an adventure, with cabin doors and hallways flaunting fan pictures, concert paraphernalia, lights, giveaways (imprinted rubber bracelets were popular), even outfitted New Kids dolls to coincide with each night's theme.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

Most of the key events on a NKOTB cruise take place at night. Moments of hilarity ensue each year during the NKOTB Game Show. One never knows what'll happen as the New Kids are pitted against fans in a battle for correct answers -- or ones that don't embarrass everyone too much! The game show is held at two separate times to coincide with the two groups of diners (early and late), so everyone can attend. The highlights of this year's "NKOTB Jeopardy" for the early diners included Joey venturing out in his bath towel and "story time" with Jonathan chronicling some never-before-shared, behind-the-scenes memories from last summer's "The Total Package" concert tour.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

Of course, one of the main attractions of the NKOTB cruise is hearing the group perform in a smaller venue than a stadium or huge concert venue. Each cruise attendee is privy to an intimate concert in the ship's theater. Separated into two showings by dining group, this 90-minute set is reminiscent of what fans would see in larger venues, as the New Kids perform an array of classic hits like "Step by Step," along with new music from their most recent albums. The extravaganza is capped off with their signature confetti explosion.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

Nightly themed deck parties are always a highlight of a NKOTB cruise. Fans and band members love to dress up during the evening festivities that double as dance parties. Each of the three-hour-plus parties celebrate "Blockhead Love," as fans are able to bask in the thrill of new and old friendships fueled by a love of teen idols who just so happen to be partying right along with them!

Blockhead Ball is the New Kids' version of "formal night," when fans utilize old-school pins, leggings and lapels with New Kids' faces and even old NKOTB bed sheets to create their party attire. During Super Hero night, costumed cruisers got a good chuckle out of NKOTB's performances as Batman and Robin, Wolverine and -- wait for it -- "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," reminiscent of the "Saturday Night Live" skit. Perhaps the most meaningful is the annual "GPS Love Fest," which honors the global fan base that makes the trek every year to see their beloved New Kids; everyone dresses to represent their hometown and the Boston-based band members represent their home city in full effect.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

In addition to the wristband cruisers receive as they board the vessel, which indicates dining room and seat assignments for all theater-based shows (determined by time of booking), there are also ones specifically for "VIP" access. That means you are granted entry to a security guard-sealed upper deck area during each deck party -- a nice respite from the throngs of fans plus a bird's-eye view of the fun. There are also wristbands for "Breakfast Club" members -- those invited to Donnie Wahlberg's exclusive after parties that begin most evenings between 3 and 4 a.m. Only 200 to 300 guests, typically friends of the band and "regulars," along with some random fans who patiently wait in line, are let in. All approved partygoers relinquish their phones -- not because the soirees are full of risque activity, but because Donnie's intention is to create an atmosphere where he can mix, mingle and dance with his fans until dawn (literally).

--Photo appears courtesy of Kelly Kurowski

In years past, the NKOTB cruise included numerous daytime agenda items -- yoga with Jordan Knight, "Duets as Dusk" with Joey McIntyre, even beer pong with Danny Wood -- but the 2017 cruise was a bit more low-key.

One scheduled event was a midday outdoor acoustic set. However, when inclement weather wreaked havoc with that plan, two New Kids got creative. Donnie Wahlberg started a selfie line with fans waiting on the damp lido deck. (Throughout the course of the cruise, he took about 2,200 selfies in all according to his Flickr account.) And blue-eyed New Kids crooner Joey McIntyre held an impromptu concert in the ship's atrium that lasted more than three hours.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

A lighter itinerary afforded fans a chance to catch up on sleep after dancing ‘til dawn night after night, as well as an opportunity to enjoy excursions in Cozumel. Some past cruisers missed the days of NKOTB beach concerts and port pool parties, which many hope will be reconvened on future cruises.

One activity that continued was the Jacquelyn Hutchinson Charity Annual Poker Tournament. Winners of the game series played a final game with Donnie Wahlberg, and all proceeds benefited a foundation started on behalf of a fan who lost her life in 2009.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

The spirit of fan appreciation on the New Kids cruise is evident, as the band members repeatedly recognize the value of fans who have remained devoted for 25+ years. Although celebrity face time beyond the cruise's official meet-and-greet session is not guaranteed, there is a fairly good chance you'll land a selfie with at least one of the five guys if you participate in events, strategically stand near a path of party entry or just find yourself in the right place at the right time. (A bunch of fans got selfies in the gym one year!)

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

After four days and nights of endless dancing, laughing and partying like it was 1989, NKOTB Cruise 2017 did come to an end. The very last deck party was still going strong as Carnival Triumph sailed into the Mississippi River, but we were able to quell our oncoming post-cruise depression, thanks to the announcement that there would, in fact, be a 10th cruise in 2018. For any Blockheads who still haven't made it onboard, our advice is -- as Donnie would say -- "Get on the boat!"

Find out more about the next New Kids on the Block cruise.

--Photo appears courtesy of Gina LaGuardia

Updated April 16, 2020

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