An exciting Princess Love Boat cruise aboard the current Pacific Princess celebrated the cruise line's 50th anniversary by making another run of the lines' inaugural itinerary to the Mexican Riviera. The ship set a course for adventure with the help of the six main "The Love Boat" TV show stars, who hosted talks, autograph sessions and even a top-deck disco.
Fans had been eagerly awaiting the festivities and snapped up all 338 cabins within hours of their release. "We started at #157 on the waiting list, which Princess had to cut off at 500," said Holly Mikulik. "My husband John and I really lucked out to get a room. And it's right next door to the captain. We're sharing a wall with Gavin MacLeod!"
"The Love Boat" cast was just as delighted to see the series' legacy not just alive, but much loved. "Why has it resonated so much?" asked actor Fred Grandy (Gopher). "Maybe because it cherished life? Unfortunately you can't say that about much of TV now. There's quality -- I like 'Game of Thrones' as much as anyone! -- but there's not as much cherishing. That's why we keep coming back to the show. It was cancelled, but it never ended."
Cruise Critic was onboard the December 2015 celebratory sailing and followed the cast around to see what fun they and the other passengers had on Princess Cruises' anniversary sailing.
--By Amanda Castleman, Cruise Critic contributor
The cast salutes Princess Cruises' 50th anniversary from the top deck of Pacific Princess. Left to right: Bernie Kopell ("Doc" Adam Bricker), Ted Lange (Bartender Isaac Washington), Fred Grandy (Ship's Purser Gopher Smith), Lauren Tewes (Cruise Director Julie McCoy), Jill Whelan (Vicki Stubing) and Gavin MacLeod (Captain Merrill Stubing).
The first female cruise director, Jeraldine Saunders, wrote the glamorous autobiography "Love Boats," which inspired the 1977-1987 TV show. Together, her book and the hit series introduced cruising to the general public and powered up the fledgling industry. The 92-year-old author attended a celebratory luncheon on Pacific Princess before it sailed from Los Angeles. That city and Santa Clarita -- home to the line's headquarters -- declared December 3 "Princess Cruises Day" to mark the company's 50th anniversary.
Scoops of sorbet -- and neon lights -- colored the champagne waterfall that salutes each Princess embarkation. For this special sailing, "The Love Boat" cast welcomed cheering passengers packed around Pacific Princess' Deck 9 pool and Deck 10 fitness track above. Then crooner Jack Jones launched into the series' theme song as Pacific Princess cast off from Los Angeles.
This celebratory trip -- retracing the line's first route, 50 years later -- sold out within hours. More than 90 percent of the passengers held Elite status in the Captain's Circle loyalty program (honoring those who have completed at least 15 cruises or 150 cruise days). "Everyone's a V.I.P this time," the passengers joked.
While onboard, "The Love Boat" cast filmed promotional spots for the cruise line. The tongue-in-cheek skits showed the actors trying to take over the ship. Here Julie the cruise director (Lauren Tewes) scolds Vicki, the captain's daughter, played by Jill Whelan, to "get a real job."
Fred Grandy reprised his role as Gopher and pretended to trade barbs with Hotel General Manager Karin Luppes, left, who guest-starred along with customer service agent Nami Joo. After "The Love Boat," the actor traded in his shorts and knee socks for sharp suits, serving four terms as an Iowa congressman. He later captained Goodwill Industries and worked as a political commentator on National Public Radio.
As Princess's newly minted Celebrations Ambassador, Jill Whelan appeared in most of the comedy sketches, which will run on social media. Her mission: to share how special occasions can become extraordinary at sea, especially with one of the line's packages to commemorate events from birthdays and honeymoons to Mother's Day. That's an easy message for her. "I got married on Caribbean Princess," she told passengers. "I said 'I do' and then 'I christen thee' a few minutes later. I was multitasking even then!" Whelan is also godmother to Dawn Princess and, most recently, Regal Princess.
Actor Bernie Kopell recorded a promotional vignette with the actual ship's doctor, Timothy David Berlyn. The two pretended to tussle over who should treat an attractive female patient. Kopell also starred in the final "Wake Show" of the trip, sharing jokes and some very poignant moments with the standing-room-only crowd in the main theater, the Cabaret Lounge.
In L.A., Pacific Princess docked alongside the battleship USS Iowa, where he served from 1956 to 1957. "I don't like to talk about my heroism, but I will," Kopell said. "I was the librarian onboard. I kept America safe from overdue books!" He finished by advising the crowd to "keep cruising. This is the sweetest way of life. The world comes to you."
For his comedy sketch, Ted Lange tried his luck with a pretty lady (nail technician Sherene Byfield from the ship's Lotus Spa). His groovy '70s pick-up line failed: She sighed in disgust and strode off.
But Issac, the bartender, wasn't lonely for long. A blonde (Lotus Spa Manager Margarita Popzafitova) slunk up and asked for his cabin number. "Times sure have changed," he marveled.
Crooner Jack Jones delighted passengers with "The Love Boat" theme as the ship cast off. He originally released the track in 1979. The singer's latest album debuted in mid-November: "Seriously Frank" honored Sinatra's 100th birthday on December 12.
At a special Love Boat-themed drinks demonstration, Bartender Reggie Haboc revealed how to make "The Isaac," a rum and pomegranate cocktail inspired by Ted Lange's classic character. She then kept the show-biz razzamatazz going with a rendition of Neil Diamond's song "Sweet Caroline."
The mixology event ended with a sing-along as Lange and Deputy Cruise Director Jen Glancey encouraged the crowd to chime in. Another tidbit we gleaned: After the actor's stint shaking and stirring hearts on the high seas, he studied at London's Royal Academy and now writes plays, highlighting black lives that have slipped into history's footnotes.
Passenger and Cruise Critic member Doug Hombroff bought this model ship at a flea market for $2 and had it autographed onboard the throwback voyage. "I booked this trip in the first five minutes it was available," he said. "This is my 49th Princess cruise. I wish I'd thought to make my 50th on the 50th anniversary. That would have been cool!"
The cast signed photos, books and memorabilia for fans at events throughout the sailing. "'The Love Boat' is a dream that always stayed with us, so we picked Princess when we started cruising," said passengers Julian and Robb Betty. "Though the first time it was more waltzing than disco!"
Here's a real life Love Boat romance: Pacific Princess passengers Dr. Fiorenza Albert-Howard and Nicholas Howard met on her first cruise, a Sun Princess itinerary to Alaska in 1980. She was a passenger; he was working as a bartender onboard. He said: "It wasn't like the TV show -- the crew couldn't romance passengers. But we started writing letters, and I eventually swallowed the anchor and got married."
Travelers toasted the sunset as Pacific Princess retraced Princess Cruises' inaugural route on the 50th anniversary of its first sailing (to the day!). The line's first ship, Princess Patricia, stopped at Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlan, Loreto, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.
Jill Whelan and Ted Lange took a break amid the first weekend's frenzy of autograph sessions, photo-ops with passengers and video shoots for Princess Cruises. In an especially touching moment, a lady stood up during a Q&A, wearing a Miss Iowa sash. "Every time a man said 'that's not possible,' I would turn on 'The Love Boat' and feel empowered by all the things women could do and the adventures they could have. Thank you."
That's a wrap! The film crew from Eric Allen Productions posed for a cast photo with "The Love Boat" actors and Pacific Princess bridge officers, including Captain Mario Ciruzzi (third from the left).
While on the bridge, actor Gavin MacLeod did a shipwide announcement. "This is the captain speaking -- Captain Stubing, that is, welcoming you to the 50th anniversary cruise. Many of you have sailed with us before, and as you can see, none of us actors are getting older," he joked. "But you are. So I would encourage you to have some lunch, and chew each bite 36 times! Drink some water, have a wonderful time and go home new!"
A poolside deck party brought The Hustle and other disco moves to this new incarnation of the Love Boat. (The series filmed six weeks annually on the original Pacific Princess from 1977 to1986.) The ship's dancers, including Emily Williams (pictured here), helped the crowd get in the groove. The throwback cruise also featured evening performances by Jill Whelan (Vicki). Among songs about love, she threw in a cheeky version of "There's No Business Like Show Business," which included some hot Hollywood gossip.
Once the cast stepped out of the deck party spotlight, they plunged into the crowd, dancing with each other, the performers and also passengers. Here Fred Grandy (Gopher) took a spin on the dance floor with a passenger, as Lauren Tewes (Julie), Ted Lange (Issac) and Jill Whelan (Vicki) boogied in the background.
Can't get enough of "The Love Boat?" Gavin MacLeod's latest book, "This Is Your Captain Speaking," reveals more about the beloved hit series. It proved so popular that the Pacific Princess gift shop ran out of copies and had to express-mail more to Cabo San Lucas, the cruise's last stop before disembarkation in Los Angeles.
Passengers were thrilled to be so close to the stars, especially on such an iconic anniversary sailing. "I always loved ships and grew up with 'The Love Boat,'" said Martha Underwood, who has cruised 50 times with Princess. "Being with the cast on such an intimate, boutique ship was magic. It wasn't like going to a concert and seeing them onstage at a distance. We got to live with our heroes for two whole weeks!"