McBride Helps Royal Caribbean Come to New Orleans

For years, my wife and I have wondered if we’re cruise people or not. Could we relax into the rhythm of a few days with nothing that had to be done and nothing we especially wanted to do, or would we drive ourselves crazy? Saturday, we visited the Voyager of the Sea – the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that is now based in New Orleans, from which it sails on a seven-day cruise to Falmouth, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico. Based on our time on board, we came away thinking, “Maybe.”

Our first stop was the fifth floor, which was distressingly mall-like. Like the better malls, there’s something impressive about its ability to be a whole new environment, but like the stores in Las Vegas hotels, it’s hard to see them as anything but mercenary attempts to separate you from your money. As time passed, the Vegas reference has felt more and more accurate as the interior design is opulent, but in an ersatz way – an environment that not only takes you out of your world but any recognizable world, instead merging styles with an eye on glam with a hint of steampunk. Still, it was hard to deny the appeal of the upper decks where the pools and tracks left you under the sky with the Mississippi River stretched out to one side. (Incidentally, the Mississippi doesn’t seem as impressive when you’re standing in a 15-story-tall ocean liner.) I could imagine myself spending hours with beer and books that way. Or maybe just beer. We saw that the Voyager of the Sea had a two-story library and thought that boded well until we got to it and saw that it had maybe 350 books – certainly far more space for books than books. Note to self: bring your own books.

Part of Royal Caribbean’s efforts to draw attention to the Voyager of the Sea’s new association with New Orleans was a concert with country singer Martina McBride, and I felt for her because it was a thankless gig. The theater was impressive, and another reminder of just how big these liners are. The stage was comparable to the one at Harrah’s, and it likely seats approximately 500 people with two balconies. For this gig, though, only the front rows had diehard McBride fans. The rest of the audience that I could see were VIPs, media, a group of travel agents, and other people who were there for some reason other than that they’re crazy for Martina. That doesn’t mean the audience was dead or unappreciative. People in the front row and first balcony felt free to try to talk to her during the show about where they’re from and what she was doing later – things she handled with good humor. It was a little telling, though, that the song that was the emotional heart of the performance was “I’m Going to Love You Through It,” a song about a couple dealing with breast cancer.

A video at Royal Caribbean’s online press center has footage of McBride on stage, and her talking about how she and her teenage daughters would enjoy a cruise. If she can stay away from the people with boundary issues, she might. For my wife and I, the high point was the discovery of shuffleboard courts. After years of hearing the announcement of “shuffleboard on the Lido Deck” on The Love Boat, we had to play. I’ve spent hours in bars playing shuffleboard and figure I could do the same sailing the Gulf. Probably.