The UK musical theatre scene is truly leading the pack at the moment. We have a thriving West End, wonderful UK tours, heightened interest in community and inclusive theatre, and now… a musical theatre cruise. Yes, you did hear that right.
Later this year, Floating Festivals are premiering two cruises onboard Royal Caribbean’s luxurious Navigator of the Seas – Throwback: a party-fuelled three-night cruise celebrating all things 80s, and Stages: a four-night immersive cruise experience with musical theatre appreciation at its’ core. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.
Throwback departs Southampton for three nights from Friday 12th October 2018 and includes a full day in Bruges. This fabulous and flamboyant cruise will feature a line-up of chart-topping legends from the decade including headliners The Human League, OMD and Erasure’s Andy Bell, along with Jason Donovan, Sonia and Imagination featuring Errol Kennedy, while Captain Sensible will be helping steer the ship back to the 80s.
For musical theatre fans, Stages departs from Southampton on Monday 15th October 2018 for a four-night voyage and promises a musical theatre adventure like no other: intimate shows, interactive stagey activities, themed nights, and a star-studded line up of performers. The wonderful Michael Ball will be headlining, as will Beverley Knight, Collabro, Christina Bianco and many more… including my ultimate fave, Showstopper: The Improvised Musical. Also incorporating a day in the scenic Amsterdam as the ship’s port of call, the voyage promises a satisfyingly immersive musical experience like no other.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that as well as being a mega musical theatre enthusiast myself, I also have the joy of living with a long-term illness. So for me, upon first hearing about Stages, my thoughts quickly flipped from “STOP EVERYTHING, LET ME GRAB MY PASSPORT AND FEATHER BOA” to “… but is this something that would even be do-able for me?”
Luckily for me, I recently had the opportunity to speak to Jonathan Blackburn, the mastermind behind Floating Festivals, about all things accessibility, as well as the Stages experience in general. We had a really good chat, and I couldn’t not share some of the things we discussed.
I suppose my initial concern with the concept of a cruise was the accessibility of the ship itself. However, as Stages is chartering Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas for the occasion, it was reassuring to discover that multiple accessibility measures were already being well implemented. The organisation is able to accommodate multiple needs, from providing accessible staterooms and specialist equipment, to assisting guests whilst boarding and departing, and they’re even ready to accommodate specialist dietary requirements. Jonathan recognises the unique challenges that disabled people can face, and explains that the ship was built whilst taking these issues into account. “It’s designed to look after everybody that has an interest in musical theatre. People shouldn’t have to ask for us to go that extra mile to ensure their needs are met”. You can also view Royal Caribbean’s accessibility information and point of contact online: this is a handy starting point for anybody with additional needs.
Whilst the cruise aims to encompass the festival vibe, it’s clear to all that four days on a luxury liner is naturally going to be more accessible that four days at an outdoor UK festival. Having everything you could possibly need on board reduces travel time, exertion and sensory overload- all factors that have to be taken into consideration when you have a chronic illness. As Jonathan says, “even though it’s a very big ship, you can get around it very easily. You can get from your cabin or from wherever you are, to the theatre, in a matter of minutes” – again, a Godsend for us horizontally challenged folk. Additionally, I’m sure you’ll agree that manoeuvring a wheelchair through spacious corridors and into convenient lifts holds much more appeal than trying valiantly to ram one through a muddy field in pursuit of a desolate outdoor toilet queue.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve created”, explains Jonathan, “this is a fairly new venture for us and for the UK market. It’s not just a case of people going to a venue to see somebody perform. That’s all great, but what we’re trying to create is a very immersive experience. There’ll be pop-up surprise things happening around the ship, Q and A’s with the stars, there’ll be people telling their life stories, book signing and CD signing opportunities, there’ll be game shows, quizzes, great music… it’s not so much a destination experience, but more of an experience in itself. Don’t be surprised if you’re sat having dinner and somebody pops up and starts singing… it’s going to be very interactive and very immersive”.
“We want to re-educate the expectations that people have of cruises”, he adds, “what we’re trying to create will have a structure, but also that surprise element- that feeling of stuff happening there and then. I think people underestimate just how great this is going to be.”
So, if somebody with a disability or chronic illness was considering booking this cruise, what would Jonathan say to them? “If you like musical theatre, it’s a no brainer”, he laughs, “the ships are designed to look after people, so I would say come along and have a great time!”
Before our conversation, I was unsure whether Stages would be just a single event: a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would be forever envied by all those who missed out. However, I was delighted to find out that plans for 2019’s festival are already being implemented… a line-up specially selected from the West End scene is being hand-picked as I type, and the save the date has been issued: 14th-19th October 2019. Get it in your diary, lads.
I’ve had a good feeling about Stages ever since the day it was first teased on social media, and after speaking to those involved and getting that additional confirmation that accessibility was being embraced wholeheartedly, I think I’m a little bit in love with this entire concept. Floating Festivals is something very new to the UK entertainment industry, but something I desperately hope to be a part of at least once in my life.
You can find out more about both Floating Festivals cruises by visiting their website at www.floatingfestivals.co.uk and checking out their Twitter feeds: @ThrowbckFest & @StagesFest. Would you be interested in a musical theatre cruise? Who would you like to see on board? Let me know in the comments below!