(NOTE: If you are only interested in my evaluation of the Donny & Marie events and the cruise line, skip down to HERE) INTRODUCTION
My girlfriend Jane approached me last September about the Donny & Marie Cruise. She’s always wanted to see them in Vegas and we hadn’t had the chance yet (even though we go to Vegas everytime we go out to Utah to visit my parents). So she thought this was a great opportunity. We booked the cruise and our airfare not knowing exactly what to expect (the itinerary didn’t really clue you in).
I’m not a huge Donny & Marie fan. They’re a little bit country and rock n‘ roll... I’m a little bit head banger (KISS, Motely Crue, etc.). Also I grew up in Orem, Utah... the sister city to Provo where the Osmonds grew up and so to us they were just the local celebrities. When I was older and bought my first house it was just 2 blocks south of Osmond Lane (Dover Drive) in Provo. I always wondered if any Osmonds still lived on the lane? There’s also Redford drive right next to it, but I don’t think Robert lives there. At any rate I had seen Donny & Marie perform at various 4th of July events in the BYU football stadium (wonder if Donny remembers being suspended in the helicopter when Bob Hope MC’d?) and seeing Marie at softball games (not sure if that was husband #2?).
But I knew Jane really wanted to do this and I personally love cruising (mostly for the days at sea where I can curl up with a book on the top deck). It was also my birthday week, so we were excited.
DAY 0 - FT. LAUDERDALE (photos)
As with any cruise, it’s a good idea to fly out the day before. So we decided to spend the night in Ft. Lauderdale at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six just minutes away from Port Everglades where the cruise ship was to leave the next day.
When Jane booked the room we just thought we were booking a normal hotel room. Wow... were we surprised when we walked into a suite with a lobby... yes a lobby... a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, huge bedroom, and 2 bathrooms! Unbelievable. And as we talked to other people we found out we got this suite for 25% less than they paid for 1 room. Nice!
We went to a fantastic birthday dinner at the Pier 66 Grill and Jane surprised me with a birthday cake. We then went walking along the pier and came across Steven Speilberg’s Yacht worth $220 million. We learned you could rent it for $1.6 million a week.
DAY 1 - BOARDING THE SHIP (photos)
The next morning we swam in the beautiful pool and waited until we could head over to the port and start boarding the ship.
Once at the port, things got a little bit confusing -- and I’ve been on 4 other cruises. I’ll say this up front. MSC is by far the worst cruise line I’ve sailed on, with NCL (Norwegian) being the best. I’ll comment more later on what went wrong with MSC (which had very little to do with Donny and Marie).
We managed to get boarded, go to our room, find registration for the Donny and Marie events. They gave a lanyard with a pass that said either GUEST, VIP, or STAFF. On the reverse side they all seemed identical. This becomes very important later when I discuss one of the main problems with the way the D&M events were handled.
We then explored the ship and accidentally stumbled into the theatre where Marie was rehearsing (and quickly got kicked out). Pretty soon it was time for the lifeboat drill that everyone must attend before leaving dock. This was utter chaos is all I can say. We showed up at the scheduled time of 5:15p with our life vests and sat for an entire half hour waiting. When they did show up they proceeded to do the drill in 5 different languages which basically multiplied the time by 5. By the time we finished we had 5 minutes to get back and get ready for dinner. I have never experienced this chaos on any other cruise line.
MSC dinner’s were a disappointment. The presentation was non-existent and it also was becoming clear that no one spoke english very well (it’s an Italian cruise line with Indonesian employees). Lots of mistakes made and the food really wasn’t up to the caliber I’ve had on other cruise lines.
That night was a Q&A session with Donny and Marie. Our first event. Donny came down the isle right next to where we were seated. Pretty cool. Then Marie came on stage. They then proceeded to answer questions from the audience. The only problem with this is right before the cruise they had asked us all to email questions to them. None of those questions were used. Instead we got crazed fanatics who told Donny that they owed them this or that he promised them that. It was really embarrassing. I walked away from the event somewhat disheartened.
By the way... here are my two questions I submitted and still would love to hear the answers to:
- Hi Donny. I use to live in Provo, Utah just 2 blocks south of Osmond Lane. I heard you once lived just north of there in the house on the hill. I got to walk through it once when it was up for sale. What was with all the jacuzzis and the bar? Definitely seemed like a bachelor pad. LOL!
- Hi Donny. I know you are an electronics tinkerer. I heard that you are the one that actually invented the wireless microphone? I think I remember being one of the first people to use one on the Donny & Marie show. Is that true?
That night we got back to the room and realized we had 1.5 pillows (one was a baby pillow). We called 99 (the reception desk) and immediately it would say push 5 to get a callback. We did this and would get a callback with no one on the other end. This continued several times. Finally we got through to someone and asked for 3 REAL pillows. An hour passed and nothing. We called again. Same sequence... 99... 5... wait... no one on the other end... repeat... repeat... finally someone. “Can we get our pillows?”. “They’ll be right there!”. Another hour later... we did the same thing. Finally at 1AM I went down to reception and informed them I was going to stand right there until I got our pillows. I sat there for 15 minutes and finally she said they were headed up to our room. 15 minutes later he arrived with 3 of the worst excuses for pillows, but they were sufficient. Another MSC fail.
DAY 2 - NASSAU (photos)
I had been to Nassau 20 years ago. It had been with my first wife and all she liked to do was shop. So I wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of going there again. Especially since we hadn’t booked any excursion because the D&M people hadn’t bothered to give us an itinerary up front. We only knew what we were doing when they left the program in our room each night for the next day. So we didn’t have anything planned for Nassau.
However... while staying in Ft. Lauderdale we talked to a couple at the pool who had just come back from Nassau. They told us we should rent a scooter and drive half the length of the island down the Jaws Beach (where the movie was filmed as well as the Flipper TV show). I had a little trepidation about doing this as I don’t think I had been on a scooter since my brother’s mo-ped in our teens. But we did it. Once we got out of the city and got the hang of driving on the left side of the road it was a blast. After only one wrong turn the entire time we arrived at Jaws Beach. Check out the photos to see how beautiful it was. There were Manta Rays in the water and it was so blue.
Unfortunately Jane had an accident here. One of the pier planks had broken and she tripped on it and landed on her knee and elbow. It proved to hinder some of her activity the rest of the trip. And when we got back to the boat and called for ice, 3 hours later nothing still had arrived so Jane used various items from the mini bar to keep it iced. Friggin’ MSC.
So Nassau was AWESOME and we got to do something we hadn’t done before... scootering. We also had a great lunch down by the Fish Fry restaurant and had a fish stew consisting of Snapper, Grouper, and Conch. Yum! Plus they had a Calypso band playing. Lots of fun. It was just unfortunate Jane got hurt.
When we got back to the ship Jane went to Marie’s talk while I took the opportunity to take a dip in the pool. When Jane came back she went on and on about her new admiration for Marie. She said it was a very emotional talk and she related to so many of the things Marie talked about. So thanks Marie for helping so many women.
That night Jane was really excited. It was the sock hop. Well, that’s what the paperwork said. It really turned out to be a 70s TV themed costume contest. So the poodle skirt Jane had gone out to buy, thinking this was a good ole’ fashioned sock hop where we would be dancing, suddenly had to become a Laverne and Shirley Poodle Skirt as Marie would later put it (same for the other 6 or 7 women who showed up in the same thing, thinking that’s what a sock hop meant). So now that it was a costume contest and there wasn’t really any dancing (whew... I was relieved) Jane decided to go up on stage and have her costume judged. I cheered for her... even though no one else did. But she got to meet Marie and be up on stage with Donny, even if it was just for a moment. Pretty cool! I think the kid in the young Donny costume was the winner. Marie and her husband dressed up as Farrah and Lee Major while Donny and his bandmates dressed up as the Village People and did YMCA.
When we go back to our room we watch a NCL ship come in drop someone off and take back off. We assumed a heart attack or something. Shortly after that another NCL ship came in with party horns blaring. A little more exciting than the viewing of “Inception” taking place up on our pool deck!
The days at sea are my favorite. I took my copy of “Walk In The Woods” paperback by Bill Bryson and headed up to the top deck. Jane wasn’t feeling well, but decided to go to the gym and work out (she’s way better about this than I am). Plus she had picked up on a comment Donny had made earlier about being in the gym on Thursday to train some women who had won a workout with Donny. So she wondered if he might show.
As she was finishing her routine Donny came in with the women. I was thumbing through my paperback when Jane came running up ecstatic. “Where’s the camera? I don’t have my camera and Donny is in the gym!”. I handed her the camera from my pack. She asked me to go, but I was really enjoying the sun and the good book and I really wanted her to experience this. So I encouraged her to go back and see if she could get a picture. So she did, and Donny was gracious enough to take a photo with her.
One comment here... Donny and Marie made themselves pretty accessible to the public, though they always had body guards around them. I personally never spotted them on the ship or islands, but Jane saw them various times. Probably because I was always looking for places to be away from the crowds and Jane was always out doing something. Donny and Marie were unconditionally polite, even if the fans sometimes weren’t very courteous... for example the guy who squeezed Marie’s butt when he hugged her. I don’t quite understand this ENTITLEMENT that fans (or fanatics as Jane eloquently put it) feel. One women showed up at every event in the first row and continually took up time to ask Donny some crazy question. Again, a little disheartening... but I commend Donny and Marie for handling it so graciously. They are really sweet people and don’t act like “hollywood” type stars.
That night was the concert we had all waited for. This was definitely the highlight of the cruise. They performed a lot of classics and their broadway stuff. I have to say... Donny’s vocals were spot on. And the band was fantastic. The keyboardist was really really good. After that event we felt pretty good about the experience and were glad we had made the trip, even if some things up to that point had not gone completely smooth.
Before heading over to CocoCay we went to the donny.com event. This was mainly a venue for Donny’s Make A Difference Foundation, but he intermixed it with some musical numbers. He did YoYo (not something I was familiar with -- not being a Donny fan) and danced unbelievably. This guy is fit! We left that event early, knowing that all the tenders (little boats over to the island) would get crowded once it was over. We heard later that Donny came over on the public tender along with everyone else. That tells you how accessible he made himself. I don’t think many stars would do that.
CocoCay was just beautiful. Again... we found a nice secluded cabana and I whipped out my book while Jane went exploring. She again saw Donny over in the lunch area. She came back and encouraged me to take a walk a ways down the beach to the nature trail. It was really beautiful. Jane almost stepped on a string ray. It was within 5 feet of her when we noticed it. Yikes!
For that evening’s dinner Jane again surprised me and had the waiters sing Happy Birthday and brought out a cake for our dinner. That was really sweet. Thanks Jane!
It was then time for our final event. The talent show where Donny and Marie were like American Idol judges. It was a really good event. I’m assuming Donny and Marie did not intend for it to end like it did. I won’t go into any more detail than that. Let’s just say Donny and Marie were both on the floor laughing when the event was over and the curtain had to come down. I imagine they wanted to do more as far as let us know where we could leave feedback about the cruise, etc. Kind of a strange ending, but it just went to show how human they are and how comfortable they felt around all there fans. It was like we were one big family just joking with each other. I suspect from Donny’s comments about the video montage that he wasn’t impressed with MSC and that they had been questioning the MSC choice as well. I hope so.
You might get the impression from all my complaining that this cruise was unenjoyable. Quite the contrary. We had a fantastic time. My purpose for doing this lengthy prose is to hopefully help Donny and Marie out with next year’s cruise. I am by no means alone here. I heard these sentiments from many others. So here’s my opinion of things that could be fixed to make the cruise more enjoyable next year. I’m splitting out the MSC comments from the DONNY AND MARIE ones because the MSC failures had nothing to do with them.
DONNY AND MARIE
As I said above. Donny and Marie are true professionals and the most gracious stars I have ever seen. Even when the fans were inconsiderate they were sweet and brushed them off nicely (although the guy who squeezed Marie’s butt should have been banned from all future events -- and possibly dumped overboard). When the woman needed help getting through her Make A Difference speech because her hands were shaking so bad, Donny came over and held her papers for her. How sweet. Both Jane and I have a new admiration for both of them.
Here’s a few suggestions for next years cruise:
- Ditch MSC. Worst cruise line I have ever been on. I heard others say this as well. Take a look at NCL. Their staff is well trained, speak english, and are considerate.
- Take over the entire cruise. This split cruise was both disruptive to the non D&M’ers as well as the fans. It was almost like 2 cruises were going on at the same time. If you took over the entire ship and scaled back some of the activities I think people would be happy with 2 shows to choose from per night. It would also prevent the problem of non pass holders trying to get into events they shouldn’t have been at. I felt bad for the “other” entertainers on board who only got half an audience.
- Fix your badges. I heard stories of people misusing the badges. Either slipping into the VIP line or sending a pass back out with someone to get a non-pass holder back in. Maybe a bar code and scanner. If you go with taking over the entire cruise then allow each person to attend only once per night.
- Itinerary MUST be available at the time of registration. I had no idea what we were buying and was unable to schedule any excursions because we didn’t know until the night before what was going on. FIX THIS PLEASE. And don’t taunt us with the fact that you have the entire schedule but don’t want to share it. That’s just mean Greg.
- Make the itinerary clearer. A good example is the sock hop. Do you know why there were so many poodle skirts? Because I think people thought this was a sock hop. No where did I see any information that this was a 70s TV themed costume contest. (UPDATE: someone sent me a link that showed that this was specified as a 70s themed event -- but I still contend the description did not match what actually occurred)
MSC CRUISE LINE
- As I said... MSC is the worst cruise line I have ever been on.
- The tips are included in price so there is no reason to give good service. Literally no one was friendly or considerate. I waited 45 minutes for something to drink one night. Another waitress said something to the effect of “LET ME FINISH” when someone at the buffet asked her something.
- Huge language barrier. Even asking for a P-L-A-T-E became a chore.
- Life boat drill was a joke. Started 30 minutes late and went right up until our 6p dinner seating. Doing it in 5 different languages was completely ridiculous.
- We never did know who our cabin steward was. I’ve never had this happen before. On NCL our steward always showed up when we returned and asked how dinner or our excursion was. I never saw ours on this trip.
- They washed the side of boat while we are sitting on tenders. I don’t think that was just water coming down.
- Calling the reception desk was a process in insanity. Those who hit 99 then 5 and then waited know what I’m talking about. Worst customer service ever.
Thanks to Donny and Marie for a wonderful cruise. Yes, there were hitches, but that’s to be expected on the first outing. Please listen to your fans and fix this for the next time. Jane wants to go again. I told her if it’s on MSC I will not go. Now... if it’s the KISS cruise... well... I’ll overlook that! :)