May 5, 2017
(2:25 p.m. EDT) -- Carnival Cruise Line's popular Carnival LIVE series keeps bringing in big names, adding an extra attraction to stops in been-there, done-that ports like Nassau and Cozumel.
We witnessed the draw Thursday during a six-night sailing on Carnival Vista, where a show by comedian Jay Leno, the former host of NBC's The Tonight Show and a member of the Television Hall of Fame, kept passengers entertained with constant laughter and applause.
Launched in 2014, Carnival LIVE cruises are built around performances by popular musicians and comedians; past entertainers have included Kathy Griffin, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood. The shows are held in the main theater, which is far more intimate than typical concert or comedy venues, giving the audience an up-close experience.
To reserve a ticket to the performance, people must book the cruise sailing first and then select a ticket to the show. Prices start at $30, with an option to buy a VIP ticket that comes with front-row seats and photo opportunities with the performers; those usually run between $100 to $250.
Leno's 90-minute show, his first as part of Carnival LIVE, took place in Carnival Vista's two-level Liquid Lounge with seats for 1,000. There's hardly a bad seat in the house, including those in the back rows, and servers worked the aisles before it began to dole out cocktail orders. The sold-out show followed another packed Leno stand-up act the night before that took place aboard the Carnival Victory, which had also docked in Cozumel.
Dressed in a suit and tie, the snow white-haired star hit the jokes in the first few seconds. While taking small jabs at Presidents Clinton, Obama and Trump and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, he steered clear of launching into deeper political material and seemed to earn laughs from all sides.
He regaled audiences with stories of his Scottish-born mother (in the perfect falsetto voice and accent), the Kardashians, and the always-reliable and funny quibbles between husband and wife. The 67-year old poked plenty of fun at himself, too, including one of the biggest laughs coming from a hemorrhoids joke.
Attendees were quick to commend Leno's balanced approach to jokes about politics and society at the cruise's "white party" following the show. Other accolades included an appreciation for avoiding too much foul language and a likeable stage presence.
Carnival typically announces the lineup of Carnival LIVE performers about six months in advance, and bookings on those particular sailings see a noticeable bump; cruises later this year that include a show with the band Little Big Town are already sold out. Leno is one of the few comedians to come aboard and will be followed later this year by Jeff Foxworthy.
--By Ramsey Qubein, Cruise Critic contributor