The Meister has recently returned from his third annual voyage aboard the Monsters of Rock Cruise. The cruise sets sail from Miami and stops at Nassau Bahamas and Half Moon Cay before returning to Miami 4 days later. This is not your normal cruise, the destinations are less important than the entertainment. This luxurious cruise ship is populated by approximately 30 heavy metal bands from the 80’s era. The Monsters of Rock Cruise has made three voyages to date, one about the same time each year and Rich “The Meister” Dillon has been fortunate enough to have been a part of them all.
The cruise sails on the MSC Cruise line is run and presented by Larry Morand and On The Blue, which also captains the “Moody Blues Cruise” and “Cruise to the Edge” all departing in succession. The first two years of Monsters of Rock or MORC featured a sold out crowd and so for this third excursion we jumped ship (so to speak) on the MSC Poesia and sailed on the larger capacity vessel, the MSC Divina. MORC was once again able to achieve the sell-out feat even with the approximately 1000 passenger larger ship.
Although I personally had no issues with the food on the first two voyages (I did however absolutely and totally avoid the disgustingly gross pizza at all costs), some cruisers were unhappy with the food selections and quality. Once again I’m not there for the destinations, nor the food basically only requiring it to soak up the mass quantities of alcohol consumed, but I must say that MORC and MSC did an excellent job of listening to the cruiser concerns and the menu for 2014 was a vast improvement.
As for the venues aboard ship, I personally much preferred the layout of the Poesia to that of the Divina. While our new home, The MSC Divina, is a high class luxury vessel and fairly new only being in service about six months, I found the upper pool deck stage seemed much smaller and more convoluted, with many more obstacles (planters and decorative fare) restricting one’s vision and although just a perception it seemed to me that there were more places to see live performances on the old ship. The theatre venue had more floor space in the past, this time only the center seats had been removed, creating awkward obstacles at both side of the floor area. The smaller “club” area stages were very similar to those aboard the Poesia, and while I prefer these settings (provided I was early enough to be right up front), the stages sit a mere foot raised off the floor and so vision can be problematic for those like myself of shorter stature.
With this new vessel came a new port of departure, moving from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. In general I also preferred Fort Lauderdale as everything (hotels, bars, shopping, beach, pre-party) were all along the strip of Fort Lauderdale beach, where as Miami seems more “all over the place” at least to me anyway. The venues for the two pre-parties, both at Magic City Casino were larger and less intimate with the second one being a horrible venue, making me feel like I was just at a big stadium concert back home.
Pre-purchasing the drink packages offered as a MOR Cruiser is the way to go in all aspects. It’s easier, faster, generally more convenient aboard ship and offers a significant savings over the “cash & carry” (or room key charge) system aboard ship. The packages can be split and shared with other parties if you’re a moderate consumer.
Cash is not accepted aboard ship and everything is swiped to your room key which is linked to your credit card at embarkation. The only area that you will need cash for is the merchandise booth as it’s not operated by MSC cruises and only takes cash (debit/credit only while in ports and hard to get even then).
There are many activities and special events aboard a MOR Cruise aside from the concerts such as “Pretty in Pink Prom Night”, “Cooking With Rockstars”, “Tattoo Competition”, “Luc Carl’s Drunk Diet Workouts”, “Karaoke”, “KISS jam”, “So you Think You Can Shred”, “Naughty Nightie Party” and more.
There’s also meet & greets with the bands, but the line-ups are horrendously long for these. There are usually about five bands grouped into one meet & greet session and you are herded through fairly quickly with just enough time for a photo and maybe a hello. I much prefer the impromptu meet & greets that happen throughout the vessel as your rock heroes are circulating the ship and mingling with fans as well.
The bands each play two sets on the excursion and often there will be two to three shows occurring at the same time, so you have to pick and choose what you’d like to see. Do NOT try to do everything as it’s impossible and you’ll go mental in the attempt. Don’t worry about what you’re missing; just enjoy what you’re experiencing. I did not see a bad show aboard ship and without getting too detailed and in no particular order, here are my thoughts on all the bands that I was able to grab at least a partial set from aboard, with “my top five” performances saved until the end.
Tesla : A cruise staple, always performing the sail-away show as we head out to sea, Tesla’s live set sounds near identical to the recordings. I caught some of the show but it was too crowded this year (less room for viewing on the pool stage) and I could not get a good vantage point so only stayed for a couple of songs one of which was a new song, “Ricochet”, off the soon-to-be released album. Their second set was an acoustic gig, which I skipped.
Great White : While I did enjoy their set on the pool deck a couple of days into the voyage, I prefer Jack Russell’s Great White to this keyboard laden and too commercial for my taste Terry Illous fronted version. Terry did come out sporting a red Canada shirt for their pool stage set, which prompted me to ask him about it during a chance run in later in the day. The other Great White set was an acoustic on the beaches of Half Moon Cay Island.
Loudness : Rumours of Loudness’ attendance were rampant after their cancellation of a North American tour and talk of visa issues, but “Land of the Rising Sun” was indeed represented aboard. One of the heavier acts, Loudness played two face melting shows led by guitarist Akira Takasaki’s shredding mastery. Like Tesla, they debuted some awesome songs from a forthcoming release, which I look forward to adding to my collection. "Crazy Nights" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
Dangerous Toys : This was my first full band set aboard the ship. During the set the stage flood lights were burning full on and guitarist Scott Dallover was sweating so profusely that I was actually afraid that he would short circuit his guitar! At one point he plucked the sunglasses from their perch on top of my head and borrowed them for a song or two so that he could see what he was doing! A show filled with energy and venom. "Teas'n, Pleas'n" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
Charm City Devils : A great newer band, I had become familiar with their two album catalogue prior to cruising and took in most the Black & White lounge event. Thanks MORC for turning me onto Charm City Devils. "Devil Is a Woman" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
John Corabi : Considered “The Mayor” of the cruise, John has been aboard every voyage, sometimes acoustic and sometimes electric. This time electric in the theatre, his son was sitting behind the kit in their second ever gig together and together with the band they rolled through a set encompassing John’s career even drowning out the “life jacket drill” PA announcements!
Firehouse : Catching only a small part of their pre-party set and the same of their shipboard performance, I had not previously been a fan, knowing only the radio ballady hits. I realised that there was more there than meets the ear and will be investigating their catalogue a little more closely. "Don't Treat Me Bad" by Randy Gill MORC Pre-party 2014
KIX : In keeping with some sort of trend KIX also showcased some new material and Steve Whiteman is an extremely charismatic front man, regaling the audience with funny stories. I unfortunately missed the first half of their sail away from Half Moon Cay set when the sun and booze took its toll on me and I was embarrassingly forced into a two hour nap! "Love Me With Your Top Down" by Randy Gill MORC Preparty 2014
Y&T : Although I missed them aboard this year I have no doubt that they delighted the audience by melting their faces on stage based on previous experience. I knew that they would be stopping in Toronto for two back to back shows on my birthday the week after the cruise so I chose to see someone else over Y&T. I did however separately run into both John Nyman (guitar) and Brad Lang (bass) aboard, very fan friendly gentleman and they promised me a top notch show for my birthday….which they always deliver anyway.
Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel : Fellow Canuck, Darren James Smith (Harem Scarem) fronts Jake E. Lee’s return to the musical landscape after a self imposed exile. Joining Jake and Darren were bassist Ron Mancuso and Canuck drummer Jonas Fairley completing the Red Dragon Cartel lineup. Two great sets thrilled the cruisers with Jake’s return and quelled all the bad press resulting from the very first performance of the group. "Ultimate Sin" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
London Quireboys : I listened and watched a little of their acoustic beach set while mingling and chatting with cruise friends and artists. Not being a huge Quireboys fan I did not catch the full concert, but they did sound quite good from what I did hear. "Sex Party" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
Quiet Riot : Jizzy Pearl is currently handling vocal duties for Quiet Riot and handling them extremely well. A hush fell over the theatre when drummer Frankie Banali requested a moment of silence for Randy Rhoads and Kevin DuBrow before “Thunderbird”. With bass maestro Chuck Wright and guitarist Alex Grossi rounding out the band they rocked the house and had us all “banging our heads”!
L.A. Guns : Last year guitarist Michael Grant had forgotten his passport and not been allowed to board so their set was a little flat sounding. This year he was fully prepared and on board as L.A. Guns pounded through two great sets. "Never Enough" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
Winger : Breaking out my circa 1990 Winger tour tee shirt, which still fit, for the occasion, their first set was a 25 th Anniversary of the debut recording for which Paul Taylor joined them in playing the full debut album. The second event showcased music from the entire discography, but I only caught half of the set due to the aforementioned nap! "Seventeen" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
Faster Pussycat : A cruise staple and fan favourite, I was only able to partake in one Faster Pussycat show and that was from the very back of the crowd near the bar, which I was making very frequent use of. That night was a great party in the Black & White Lounge and I raise a glass in cheers to all my party goer friends from that evening’s show.
Tuff : Tuff was a pleasant surprise for me after being coerced there by a young female friend. I only caught three songs, but those songs along with Stevie Rachelle’s witty and humorous story of the rhythm section misplacing their drink tickets, have incited me to investigate more of their music.
Iron Maidens : The world’s only all female Iron Maiden tribute delivered some obscure Maiden classics during both of their late night shows, for which I was already very drunk and sleepy but was able to push through even though “Two Minutes to Midnight” had long passed.
Ted Poley : Another cruise fixture and a charismatic performer delivering a fun set laden with Danger Danger classics. The cruise has made me a Ted Poley fan! "I Still Think About You" by Randy Gill MORC Pre-party 2014
Vixen : Having had the chance to meet them about the ship, these ladies are very fan friendly and a joy to talk to as well. Their set was actually moved on the first night from the pool deck due to a huge thunder and lightning rainstorm and re-scheduled for the following morning at noon. The ladies didn’t hold back and still rocked the stage just like it was a night time performance. "Edge of a Broken Heart" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
Ron Keel : In something that only happens on MORC, one random evening Ron did some impromptu sets as I happened upon him with an acoustic in one of the elevator lobbies taking requests. I was able to get a photo with Ron as he points to my Keel tattoo right after he finished “Because the Night”. During his first acoustic show he called up two friends of mine, Zack and Kyle, to help him out with “3 Chord Drinkin’ Song”. "3 Chord Drinkin' Song" (with Zack & Kyle) by Randy Gill MORC 2014
….and now….drum roll please! Here’s my personal “Top Five Shows of the Ship” for 2014’s Monsters of Rock Cruise…….
#5-Doro : The German Metal Queen and her band delivered two absolutely incredible sets on the ship. After whipping the crowd into shape on the pool stage in her first set, the theatre served as the venue for the second which saw Craig Goldy (Dio/Dio Disciples) guest on guitar for a cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” and Ann Boelyn (Hellion) join on vocals for “East Meets West”. Doro was the one above all others that I had hoped to meet on board and it took lining up like cattle for a meet & greet to do it, but the 30 seconds to say “thanks for the music that helped shape my life” was well worth it. "East Meets West" (with Ann Boelyn) by Randy Gill MORC 2014
#4-Killer Dwarfs : My fellow countrymen actually had three shows, two electric and one acoustic. Out of all the acoustic sets I saw portions of, theirs was hands down the most packed and I felt pride at this show of support for my fellow Torontonians. For the two electric sets they supplied a show filled with great rock and the antics of front man Russ “DWaRf” Graham including but not limited to crawling on all fours, dropping to the stage suddenly as if someone had sliced his marionette strings, spinning in circles, crowd surfing, thrusting the mike into the faces of as many of the crowd as he could reach inciting them to sing along and headstands! There’s nothing quite like a KiLLeR DWaRf show, the only thing absent was the tricycle!
#3-Femme Fatale : Femme Fatale unleashed two great party sets led by original member and vocalist Lorraine Lewis, still looking and sounding incredible. During their final concert of the cruise while playing a cover version of KISS’ “Lick It Up”, keyboardist Katt Scarlett beckoned me up on stage to sing with the band. Little did she know that I was tone deaf, but none the less I found myself up there belting out one of my favourite 80’s KISS tunes. What an absolutely awesome experience for a fan such as myself, hats off to Femme Fatale for making my cruise that much more special! "Waiting For the Big One" by Randy Gill MORC 2014
#2-Autograph : With the Sign In Please album, featuring “Turn Up the Radio”, being one of the first ever to join my collection I had been waiting a very long time to hear Autograph tunes in a live setting. Steve Lynch (guitar) and Randy Rand (bass) are the sole original members and are joined by Marc Weiland (drums) and Simon Daniels (vocals). Daniels did a great job filling Steve Plunkett’s shoes and also plays guitar so that addition really thickens up the sound. Here’s hoping that we will be able to “Turn up the I-pod” on some new Autograph tunes in the future. "Turn Up the Radio" by Randy Gill MORC Pre-party 2014
….and the absolute best show of the 2014 voyage award goes to……
#1-Tyketto : This band has something about them live that is absolutely magical, one of the tightest, most cohesive playing units I’ve ever seen with Danny Vaughan’s vocals leading the way. I was not overly excited to see Tyketto, not being very familiar or particularly enjoying their music and was only able to catch the full set on the first day as I couldn’t get a good vantage point at Tesla! I’m so glad that I did and will now make sure to never miss a Tyketto show from now on! After that first set they became the “buzz” of the cruise, possibly the most talked about resulting in drawing an even bigger crowd for their second show including several other cruise artists also wanting to catch this phenomenon after hearing the rumours. How these guys were not bigger names I’ll never know or understand, but since the cruise I’m almost having Tyketto withdrawals and I’m trying to satisfy them with watching the DVD (webcast section) that I purchased on board immediately after the first set. Absolute hands down the best show on the boat, I called that on the first day when it was only the third show I’d seen and hold to it even now!
Many thanks to Brian Ronald for the use of his photography and the friendship we have developed as a result of The Monsters of Rock Cruises. If you’re interested in seeing some of these performances, a quick “You-Tube” search should net more results than you know what to do with. I know that my good friend Randy Gill (posting as “80'smetalrules”) has many videos up as do others. I was also a guest on The Decibel Geek Podcast as the hosts interviewed me about my adventures on the ship, which you can listen to here: ("Decibel Geek Podcast Episode #132-MORC Memories 2014"). Just click the “play” arrow in the graphic at the top to listen and don’t laugh at my voice being all scratchy from screaming on the cruise!
All in all this ship reminds me of the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day where his character continuously wakes up living the same day over and over again. Every day aboard the cruise is the same for me, I wake up, get breakfast, get a beer, go to the first place that I can see live music and from there it’s drinkin’, rockin’ and making new friends for the rest of the day. Don’t get me wrong here, it never gets old and if I was able I would surely live out the rest of my natural born days in this manner. I will never stop going on the Monsters of Rock Cruise for as long as I’m able, thank you Larry Morand and team for giving me this truly wonderful experience.
Cheers, The Meister (MORC’er for life!)
*****Photos by my friend Brian Ronald and used by kind permission*****