Spectacular song-and-dance numbers backed by soaring musical scores. Elaborate, encore-worthy set designs. Floors that shift, open and drop. Hundreds of costumes flouncing, floating, shimmering, shaking. Larger than life. Bigger than Broadway. If you're looking for showy, splashy theatre that rivals that of the Great White Way, cast your eyes to the horizon and be prepared to be mesmerized by theatre at sea.
PUT YOUR PAWS TOGETHER AND GIVE IT UP FOR THE MOUSE
Hands _ er paws _ down, Disney Cruise Line sets the bar for Broadway flash and dash on the world's waterways. Evil albeit comical villains. Beautiful princesses in sparkly gowns. Appearances by The Mouse who needs no introduction. Some sleight-of-hand set maneuverings, showplace staging, perhaps a little pixie dust _ Disney's shipboard productions are pure, jaw-dropping magic.
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"Disney has the highest production values and entertainment values at sea," said Gary E. Smith, owner of CruiseOne in Eugene, Ore. Smith grew up in New York City and readily admits that a love of Broadway and good theatre was instilled in him at a young age. "I make it a point to never miss a show on a cruise and I'm a bit more critical than others when it comes to the theater.
"With Disney, I have been truly impressed and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every production I attended."
In fact, in the recently released CruiseCritic Cruisers' Choice Awards, naming the best ships at sea in a variety of categories _ and based on the thousands of consumer reviews received by CruiseCritic.com over the past year _ Disney's Fantasy and Dream claimed the first and third spots on the list.
"Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story" is Disney's largest theatrical production ever aboard _ and that's saying something for a cruise line famous for lavish shows _ and includes a cast of no less than 21 high stepping performers. "Villains Tonight!" stars those ne'er do-wells everyone loves to hate: Ursula ("The Little Mermaid"), the Evil Queen ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), Captain Hook ("Peter Pan") and Scar ("The Lion King"). "Disney's Believe" puts more beloved Disney characters on stage than you can shake an enchanted sword at, including Merlin, Mary Poppins and Mickey Mouse, and also captivates with the work of a master illusionist.
The shows are breathtaking; the special effects astounding. And audience members get swept up into the magic faster than they can say "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo."
"I've worked for many different cruise lines and Disney is always consistently at the top of the list," said Wayne Hoffman, a professional mentalist and illusionist who performs his own show called "Mind Candy," an interactive gig that combines magic and mindreading. Hoffman has been working the cruise ship circuit since 2006 and has performed not only on Disney, but on Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean cruises. Last year, he was nominated by Princess Cruises for "Entertainer of the Year."
'YOU CAN'T STOP THE BEAT'
Smith also gives high marks to the shows staged on Royal Caribbean International's Oasis class ships.
"Each of these ships _ Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas _ runs a slightly scaled down version of an actual Broadway show," said Smith. "They are 'Hairspray' and 'Chicago' respectively, and they are wonderful."
But that's not all. Aboard the Liberty of the Seas, the smash musical, "Saturday Night Fever," boogies across the stage, replete with Bee Gees' music, groovy disco moves and questionable '70s attire.
Passengers who participated in CruiseCritic's 2013 Cruisers' Choice Awards agree. They voted Allure of the Seas into the No. 2 slot for best entertainment, specifically giving its Broadway production of "Chicago" a shout-out.
Besides Broadway shows, Royal Caribbean has an entertainment lineup that includes original productions and ice shows, like DreamWorks' "How To Train Your Dragon," and parades led by everybody's favorite ogre, Shrek, and his merry gang of followers from Far, Far Away.
'HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT'
When it makes its May debut from its homeport in New York City, Norwegian Cruise Lines' 4,028-passenger ship, Breakaway, will be raising the curtain on the musical, "Rock of Ages." Kevin Sheehan, the cruise line's chief executive officer and a lifelong New Yorker, wants guests to feel a solid connection to Breakaway as New York's true flagship. The way to accomplish this lofty goal? Bring elements of the Big Apple aboard.
"With 'Rock of Ages' and all the other entertainment offerings, we are truly bringing Broadway to the high seas and delivering the high caliber entertainment New Yorkers have come to expect," he said.
"Rock of Ages" is one of the longest running shows in Broadway history, a rousing five-time Tony Award-nominated musical that brings back the days of the big bands ¿¿¿ and equally big hair. Just about everybody will recognize (and most will know the words to) the feel-good songs in this classic rock love story: "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," "I Wanna Know What Love Is," "Here I Go Again" and "Don't Stop Believin'."
CRUISERS TAKE TO THE STAGE ON CUNARD
Ever dream of developing your acting chops a la Vivien Leigh, Anthony Hopkins or Ralph Fiennes? Your ship has come in.
"On Cunard Line you can take acting classes from members of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art _ the famed arts school in England," noted Erica Kritt, social media coordinator for The Cruise Web.
Arguably the most famous acting school in the English-speaking world, London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), founded in 1904, presents specially-edited versions of renowned plays and adaptations of great literary classics onboard Queen Mary 2 during the entire Transatlantic season.
During each Transatlantic Crossing, guests may take up to three RADA dramatic workshops _ and note: sign-up is on a first-come, first-served basis. RADA also performs abridged plays such as "The Merchant of Venice" and "The Canterbury Tales," hosts a "bedtime" story reading in the Grand Lobby and also offers poetry readings.
_ Cunard Line, http://www.Cunard.com
_ Disney Cruise Line, http://www.DisneyCruise.Disney.go.com
_ Norwegian Cruise Lines, http://www.NCL.com
_ Royal Caribbean International, http://www.RoyalCaribbean.com
Kathy Witt is a Kentucky-based author and travel and lifestyle writer whose columns include Bucket List Adventures, Cruise Trends & Trips and Travel Goods, Gadgets & Gear for McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. She can be reached at WittK@fuse.net.