(10:45 a.m. EDT) -- Faced with uncertainty over what safety requirements will be in place next year, one charter company is taking a gamble and offering a version of its live music program in Las Vegas instead.
Entertainment Cruise Productions (ECP) had already rescheduled several jazz cruises from early 2021 to 2022 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The two Las Vegas shows -- Jazz: Live in Las Vegas and The Smooth Jazz Cruise: Live in Las Vegas -- will take place at the Encore Resort on the Strip.
"Our people love music. Nothing can take the place of a cruise, of course, but we are going to do all of our programming to mimic what we do on the ship," said Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of Jazz for ECP. "We are trying to give people their jazz cruise fix in this limited way."
Dates for The Jazz Cruise: Live in Las Vegas, which is meant as an alternative to The Jazz Cruise, are February 21-26, 2021. Confirmed artists at the five-day, five-night event include Christian McBride, Kurt Elling, Joey DeFrancesco, Shelly Berg, Clint Holmes, John Clayton, Randy Brecker, John Pizzarelli, Wycliffe Gordon, Emmet Cohen, Veronica Swift, Cyrille Aimee, Jeff Hamilton, Lewis Nash, Ken Peplowski and Niki Haris.
The Smooth Jazz Cruise: Live in Las Vegas is set for February 28 to March 5. The lineup includes Marcus Miller, George Benson, Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, Alonzo Bodden, Lisa Fischer, Jonathan Butler, Eric Marienthal, Eric Darius, DW3 and Mindi Abair, backed by two bands featuring Randy Jacobs, Gerey Johnson, Nate Phillips, Nate Kearney, Arlington Jones, Collin Clauson, Third Richardson, Jay Williams, Munyungo Jackson and Patches Stewart.
Besides the concerts, the events will have programming similar to what you'd find on a music theme cruise, including artist meet-and-greets, artist interviews and artist-hosted events. The Encore Theater has capacity for 1,500 people, but the organizers intend to cap concert attendance at 1,000 to ensure social distancing.
"The shows in Las Vegas are intended to replicate the shows we offer on the ship as well as jazz talks and other events," explains Lazaroff. "It should be far less bumpy."
Other Charter Cruises to Follow?
Packages for both ECP events include a choice of suites at Encore, starting at $2,750 per person. They include reserved seating for all concerts, activities and events; breakfast; Internet; access to spa facilities and airport transfers.
The events also have a generous refund policy, Lazaroff said. If COVID-19 restrictions are still at the point where the company can't deliver a quality concert product, guests will be informed and 100 percent refunds released in 72 hours.
"We will never present any program where either there is an issue regarding health or safety, or an issue to present something that we don't think is worthy of presenting," he said. "That's why we're not sailing in 2021, and we made that decision months and months ago. That's why we're pivoting."
Of the charter company's four jazz cruises, three had been completely sold out for 2021, and the fourth was 75 percent sold, Lazaroff said. Nearly 85 percent of the people who had booked the 2021 cruise agreed to push their reservation to the following year. "So doing this is really extra."
Beyond appealing to the loyal cruisers, the Vegas events will open the experience to people who love jazz, but for whatever reason felt uncomfortable cruising, he said. Vegas is also a drive market for the rich Southern California market, and is also convenient for a lot of performers.
ECP would not comment on whether a similar Vegas-based option would be made available for its other charter cruises, the Star Trek Cruise and the 80s Cruise. Both cruises are still scheduled for spring 2021, although a decision on whether the latter one will go is expected to be announced July 20.
Star Trek fans already have a convention in Las Vegas, so a separate event might not be feasible. Lazaroff said. As for the 80s, "the scale is different," he said. For example, jazz stages can be broken down for the next performer within 15 minutes; setting a stage for a rock band takes longer. Then again, Las Vegas has an abundance of concert professionals, he said. "It's a very high level of efficiency and proficiency," he said.
On its Facebook fan page, 80s cruisers had mixed reactions to a land option. First, there are already popular resort-based 80s concerts, such as 80s In The Sand, which is held at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. According to their website, 80s in the Sand is still scheduled for October 25 to 30, 2020.
Second, the pricing for the Jazz events does not include alcohol, which makes the experience less cost-effective than a cruise.
Vegas As A Cruise Alternative
Still, Las Vegas with its attractions, hotels and anything-goes attitude, is picking up steam with cruisers who are looking for pandemic-era vacation choices. While COVID-19 virus spikes have occurred -- to the point where the governor has closed down bars off the Strip -- casinos and hotels, along with their restaurants and bars, are still open.
In a Cruise Critic thread where members mentioned what kind of vacations they would be taking this year if cruising remains under suspension, Vegas came up as a popular alternative.
"With no cruising, we'd probably go back to spending a week in Las Vegas every year," said Lady Chew.
Several cruisers mentioned the value of all-inclusive resorts, and noted that paying a la carte isn't cost-effective as either an AI or a cruise. "We could do Vegas but you don't get the value for money that you get from a cruise and all inclusives," said SherriZ366.