It's not every day you get to hang out with classic country icons like the Oak Ridge Boys, Lorrie Morgan and Alabama -- unless you're on the Country Music Cruise.
Gearing up for its fifth anniversary February 2018, on Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam, the themed sailing is more than a concert-filled whirlwind of boot scootin' and beer-drinking under the Caribbean sun. An extensive lineup of musicians serve as its hosts, treating fans to everything from dress-up nights and intimate jam sessions to a Red, White and Blue Barbecue and Southern cooking demos.
Alabama, Lorrie Morgan, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, and Jeannie Seely are among the artists who will be on the upcoming cruise.
We caught up with Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys -- who are experienced Country Music Cruise headliners, having appeared on the past three sailings -- to get the scoop on what fans can expect. The cruise's organizer, StarVista Live, also let us in on some of artist-exclusive events in store for fans.
If you're a country music fan, here are three fun facts about the cruise that might inspire you to add it to your vacation routine.
Note: The Country Music Cruise is sold out, but fans still have a chance to get onboard by joining the waitlist.
1. The stars themselves host a handful of themed activities.
Unlike many music theme cruises, where the acts remain pretty hands-off outside autograph sessions and meet-and-greets, Country Music Cruise stars host a handful of the activities, including cooking demonstrations and tribute nights. They even lead vow renewal ceremonies for couples who want to celebrate their marriage in a unique way.
"We have several partners and artists that work with us to provide incentives to their fans, including cocktail receptions, special merchandise, coffee with an artist and more," said a spokesperson for StarVista Live. "You'd be surprised how truly excited artists get to put together a package just for their fans.
"One partner in particular, The Grand Ole Opry provides their fans with a special cocktail reception, where you may see a few surprise guests pop up."
2. You can still enjoy a normal cruise outside the themed events.
A common stereotype that might deter people from booking a theme cruise is the idea that they're all endlessly buzzing booze cruises with hardly any down time. While some of them certainly can feel that way (and there are people who love that), Bonsall assures fans they can still enjoy a normal, relaxing vacation on the Country Music Cruise -- with as many or as few themed activities as they'd like.
"You've got a first-class cruise ship. You've got a week in the Caribbean. You've got great food, great ports of call, great stuff to do -- and you would have all of that, without the music," assured Bonsall. "But if you add in wall-to-wall, 'morning to late night' concerts everywhere on the ship -- including big major acts in a nice show room -- and on every little corner of that ship, somebody is playing, that's country music heaven."
3. You're bound to casually bump into stars throughout the ship.
Go on another music theme cruise, and you'll be hard-pressed to cross paths with any of the acts, unless they're on their way to an event. On the Country Music Cruise, there's a certain level of respect -- which can be partially attributed to the bands' slightly more mature demographics -- that allows the stars to roam the ship freely, mingling with people along the way, as they would if they were on vacation.
"This isn't something we do normally, let's face it," said Bonsall. "We get into town on a big private bus, we don't really see anybody, we wave and have a good time and give them a big show … get back on the bus and go to the next place.
"But on a cruise ship, you're with the same people for a week or three or four days. That's kind of a unique experience, not only for the fans, but even for the acts themselves."
--By Gina Kramer, Editor