By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
Don’t rock the boat, we were told, was the path to prosperity and longevity.
The Beach Boys Good Vibrations Cruise on the Norwegian ship Pearl provided resounding affirmation that just the opposite is true.
The Beach Boys, led by 81-year-old frontman Mike Love, and the Temptations, featuring founding member Otis Williams, 80, staged an inspiring battle of legendary bands through two boat-rocking performances apiece over three days at sea out of Miami, Florida, in March 2022.
Beach Boys back afloat in 2023: For those who missed the boat or didn’t get enough of the first cruise, a five-day Good Vibrations Cruise is set for March 3-8, 2023 from Miami to Harvest Caye, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico. Click here for details.
This was our first experience with music cruises, a driving force in the cruise industry that have amped up again following the industry’s COVID pandemic shutdown.
It won’t be our last. But it will be difficult to match the feel-good vibe of a floating Kokomo with two of the most iconic American bands, each celebrating their 60th anniversary. Plus Micky Dolenz, the last surviving member of the Monkees since the death of Michael Nesmith in December 2021.
Music cruises offer nonstop entertainment
A Friday happy hour doesn’t get any better than aboard a departing ship gliding past the high rises of Miami Beach while the Temptations have already begun harmonizing and spinning on the pool deck stage like it’s 1965.
What made it special to us, it wasn’t just a nostalgic gathering of aging flower children. The 1,400 passengers spanned a wide swath of generations.
“Friday night when we played there were some really young people in the front and they were singing along to almost every word, which is amazing,” Mike Love said during a Q&A session on the pool deck. “That’s a true blessing and it’s kind of unique because not every musical group appeals to multiple generations, but somehow our songs have transcended time and they’re appreciated by all ages, which is fantastic.”
It didn’t matter to those of us onboard that Love and 79-year-old sidekick Bruce Johnston are the only legacy members of the Beach Boys in this incarnation of the group. The expansive set list resonated true to the original recordings and came at a rapid-fire pace with barely a pause — the only break for Love was when Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath joined the Boys on stage and sang one of his group’s hits (“Every Morning” and “Fly.”).
“We sing in the same key as the original recordings,” Love said.
Newer members buoy Beach Boys
A big reason for that is the infusion of fresh energy in the group. Brian Eichenberger, long-time lead singer of the Four Freshmen, channeled the late Carl Wilson with ease on the high end of the harmonies that are so distinctive of the Beach Boys sound. Christian Love, Mike’s son, did uncle Carl proud with his solo of “God Only Knows.”
Mike Love’s nasal tenor still sounds the same driving the Beach Boys’ familiar hits. He attributed his staying power as a performer to daily meditation and exercise.
And the fact that, “I haven’t had a real job in 60 years. … It’s always been about the music.”
The Beach Boys were clearly inspired to keep pace with the remarkable Temptations, who blew the roof off the ship’s Stardust theater with their second performance of the cruise.
Dynamic new lead singer Tony Grant, who joined the group in 2021, had a lot to do with that. But the other four Temps, including 39-year veteran Ron Tyson and founder Williams, were right in step and on pitch, affirming why the group was one of Motown’s best. They had 37 top-40 hits, including their anthem, the Smokey Robinson-penned “My Girl,” which brought the crowd to its feet when the first notes rang out.
Beach Boys cruise promotes only good vibes
The Beach Boys were present in the theater and were as blown away as the rest of us, as Love acknowledged the following night when his band responded with a wall of music that rocked the Pearl for an hour and forty-five minutes.
Surf and soul — this was the American response to the British invasion in the ‘60s. But this cruise was about more than music nostalgia, it was a respite from the COVID crisis and cultural divide hanging over the past few years.
We all had to pass the COVID test before embarking. Political differences were left at the dock. One passenger’s T-shirt expressed the mandate aboard ship: “No Bad Vibes.”
Comments on The Beach Boys Cruisers Facebook page reflect that the feeling was pervasive, though too brief.
Deborah Quinn Hensel of Houston wrote, “I now feel like this brief Bahamian Beach Boys cruise we just took was some exceptionally good dream I had — vivid because I remember all the sounds and colors — but also intangible and ephemeral, as all dreams are.”
Keitha Kelley, from Tennessee, responded that post-cruise she felt “a little disconnected. It was a glorious trip. My first cruise … can the next one even compare?”
It can’t be duplicated. But there are more music cruises on the horizon. Many more. I had no idea how many there are, for every genre and musical taste imaginable.
Many variations of music cruises
Our cruise was followed immediately on the Pearl by the Salty Dog Cruise, headlined by the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly.
Norwegian Cruise Lines has refitted the Pearl as a floating music venue. It is home for The Rock Boat cruises — the 22nd, hosted by Sister Hazel in January 2023, is already sold out.
It is easy to understand why. There’s no easier way to experience multiple musical acts in an unhassled settling. No traffic and parking congestion to contend with. The next performance is a quick elevator ride away. You can grab food and a drink whenever you want.
The Garden Cafe buffet proved handy for a quick bite between shows, especially on the first full day at sea when we saw six different acts.
In addition to the Beach Boys, Temptations and Dolenz, the secondary acts included Yacht Rock Revue, Funky Roots Band (reggae), The Surfrajettes (all-women surf rock), Saturday Night Live alumnus Joe Piscopo, Emerson Hart and Hard Day’s Night (Beatles tribute band) each performing twice on the cruise.
Musical cruises offer close encounters with performers
Music cruises provide a rare opportunity to get close and interact with the artists at meet-and-greets, Q&A sessions and chance encounters around the ship.
Dolenz hosted a pool-side barbecue on the final afternoon and was cordial in posing for photo opps and signing autographs. Piscopo hosted a whiskey tasting. Brian Love, another of Mike’s sons, gave us a sample of a canned rum cocktail being test-marketed under the Club Kokomo label.
During Mike Love’s Q&A, my wife threw him a kiss and he smiled and returned it.
That was our experience on the Pearl. It is difficult to portray what it was like to be there but easy to recommend giving music cruises a try.
Tastes vary with the tunes. Whatever your preference, there is likely a music cruise for it: classic or prog rock, soul, country, reggae, punk, disco, metal — search and you’ll likely find it afloat.
NCL-owned Sixth Man, which organized the Beach Boys cruise and is best known for the The Rock Boat series, offers a wide array of themes, including Keeping Blues Alive, Emo’s Not Dead, Outlaw Country, Soulshine at Sea, (Melissa) Etheridge Island and The Kiss Kruise.
Other major cruise lines have their own variations. One of the most popular is the Flower Power Cruise which will sail again March 23-30, 2023 out of Miami on Celebrity Cruises’ Summit. Micky Dolenz is booked on that one along with about a dozen other rock remnants of the ‘60s Love Generation.
With the cruise industry rebounding from the pandemic, it is a good time to find your groove again at sea. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat.
Music themed cruises
Here are some links to help you get started:
Beach Boys Good Vibrations Cruise playlist