One of the most enjoyable parts of my recent cruise on the vast Carnival Breeze were the late evenings and early mornings spent in the Red Frog pub on board. As these bars are relatively new to Carnival, I thought I’d go and check it out. Purely in the interests of research, you understand….
It’s not quite your typical English boozer, but more the pub concept, re-imagined for the Caribbean. With it’s own label, popular beer on tap and a cracking roster of engaging Jamaican bar staff, it was one of the best live venues on the ship.
Nights featured a few live, mainly acoustic sets from a trio of very talented guys. That- and the weapons grade Dark and Stormies- drew me back night after night. The place has a simply cracking atmosphere and, just like in any good pub anywhere, a regular clientele soon formed, and became fast friends.
The large, uncluttered room opened out onto the open decks on both sides, one side smoke free. Under the balmy Caribbean nights, we would lounge outside as the guys inside ran through their various, different routines. And, while they were all class acts, it was mainly JJ that we went to listen to.
To give him his full due, JJ Paolino is an engaging, affable son of Newport, Rhode Island, currently busking his way around the much warmer waters of the Caribbean, one gig at a time. With a voice that alternated between pure honey and raw gravel, JJ wielded his acoustic guitar like a light sabre.
With a repertoire ranging from Neil Diamond to Oasis, via the Eagles, the Moody Blues and even the Monkees, JJ ran the gamut of just about every musical taste, and his banter and sense of humour went a long way to winning over what was, initially, a very diverse crowd. Housewives from Colorado and a gang of friends from Mexico City; snowbirds from Detroit and film makers from LA; all of them came to hear and, ultimately, sing along with JJ. Requests? Never a problem. Just shout ’em out.
Under the subtle influences of rum, reggae and rock and roll, our nights on board the Carnival Breeze morphed into one long, smiley blur. Barriers and inhibitions fell backwards from bar stools as JJ and his compatriots rocked the Red Frog on a nightly basis, through until the early morning hours.
With a canopy of stars and a sound track of a softly strumming guitar, our nights were as long and sweet as those exquisite Dark and Stormies, served up with a smile. And, in the immortal words of the great Mister Diamond, as channelled by JJ, good times really never did seem so good.
Best of times, best of company. Encores all round, methinks.