DIANA ROSS TO HEADLINE CARIBBEAN CRUISE IN APRIL

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Carnival Breeze at Grand Turk

The legendary Diana Ross will lead an astonishing line up of musical talent on an eight day Carnival cruise to the Caribbean from Miami next April.

Also on the bill will be Patti Labelle, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, and a host of other stars on what amounts to a soul music festival at sea.

Other headline acts include Charlie Wilson, New Edition, and the Bar-Kays.

The cruise is being run as part of the Tom Joyner Foundation Fantastic Voyage, which raises funds to support students attending what are described as ‘historically Black colleges and universities.’

The eight night cruise sails from Miami on April 23rd, calling at St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Grand Turk, before returning to Miami on May 1st.

The 135,000 ton Carnival Breeze will also be hosting a series of empowerment seminars during the cruise, as well as daytime parties and various theme nights.

While all of this amounts to a massive party on the ocean-one with a  charitable slant as well- there is no doubting that the centre spotlight will belong to Diana Ross.

As a recording artist, she found fame with the Supremes in the mid 1960’s before going solo. Since then, she has also recorded duets with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias, among many others.

In all, she has scored some nineteen number one hit singles to date; twelve as lead singer of the Supremes, and seven solo smashes.

Fares for the cruise are currently listed from $2,860 for an inside cabin, to around $4,000 for an outside.

 

TEN PERFECT SOUNDS OF SUMMER- AN ESSENTIAL HOLIDAY SOUNDTRACK

Mister Buble somehow always manages to strike just the right note...

Mister Buble somehow always manages to strike just the right note…

Wherever you go on holiday or business, the leisure time that we can score away from our normal routine is the most precious jewel of any trip, summer or winter alike.

And nothing enhances a mood, or captures it so perfectly, as hearing a certain song at exactly the right moment.

Few things are more deeply impactful than when a half forgotten melody creeps up on you and mugs you, just as you’re savouring a spectacular sunset and some wonderfully chilled wine. When it comes out of left field like that, the result can be a moment that sears itself into your memory just as surely as if you’ve been branded. Music as balm for the senses.

You don’t have to be Kojak- or even Clouseau- to figure out that music and chilling out go hand in hand as the perfect summer pairing. And, with that in mind, here- in no particular order- are some of the songs that will be prolonging the sound of summer for me this year on my travels. Grab a drink, find a hammock, and just go with the flow….

The Monkees: Daydream Believer- The true, authentic sound of summer. Ironically, it was released over the winter of 67-68.  That small, perfect little piano at the start, and Davy Jones’ wispy, effortless vocals float over this like a butterfly in a meadow.

Isley Brothers: Summer Breeze- Chris Jasper’s guitar takes you off on a fantastic voyage all it’s own, while Ronnie Isley’s vocals are as deep and rich as warm chocolate. You can almost hear the crickets chirping…

The Young Rascals: Groovin’- It’s got the most languid and seductive harmonica pieces ever. Huckleberry Finn down by the creek stuff. Like floating down a lazy river…

'Do you remember back in old L.A, where everybody drove a Chevrolet.....'

‘Do you remember back in old L.A, where everybody drove a Chevrolet…..’

Martha and The Vandellas: Heat Wave- Simply a joyous, colossal belter. A romping combo of vintage Motown with some samba stirred in, and Martha’s vocals could make a wooden dog jump. Just magical and uplifting.

Haircut 100: Love Plus One- From the first guitar riff to the sultry, lilting, swinging clarinets, it’s as refreshing as Zinfandel at dusk, and just as satisfying. Feels lush and rich even three decades later.

The Lovin’ Spoonful/John Sebastian: Daydream/Welcome Back- Two songs, one singer. Welcome Back always sounded- deliberately- like the second part of Daydream, recorded a decade later. Both are light as air hymns to the languid indolence of lazy summer days; side stepping the nine-to-five to go sit with our feet in the lake. And, even if we won’t actually do that, it feels good to think of how much fun it would be if we did. Equally timeless, and both graced with easy, devil may care, harmonica fuelled goodness.

Michael Buble ft. Nelly Furtado: Quando, Quando, Quando- So finely balanced and wispy; a perfect ‘twilight on the terrace’ song. Just add a finely crafted Martini of your choice for pure, platinum chip pleasure. Buble’s warm, effortless voice is as smooth as cashmere. Languid, lovely and graceful.

Stevie Wonder: My Cherie Amour- Summer without Stevie is like Paris without patissieres; utterly unthinkable. My Cherie Amour is as wistful as late autumn sun falling on a beachside promenade. The backing track alone is a languid, love lorn banquet. Just beautiful.

The First Class: Beach Baby- Starts as it means to go on; a class ten roller of thumping drums, a racing baseline and a brass section  blowing up a summer storm. It’s the LA beach scene in a five minute homage. Lost youth dressed up in an exuberant vibe of endless summer. Magnificent, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face whenever you hear it.

'What a day for a daydream. Custom made for a day dreaming boy....'

‘What a day for a daydream. Custom made for a day dreaming boy….’

The Supremes: You Can’t Hurry Love- Only the Beatles outsold the Supremes in the 1960’s worldwide, and here’s why. The base intro alone is one of the most copied in musical history, the background vocals are razor sharp and strident, and Miss Ross is at her absolute best here, threading her way through a preppy, infectious pop staple like a surfer riding waves. Arguably the best of their twelve American number ones.

So, there you have it. Ten of the best. Each of these songs is like an emotional lightning rod, re-connecting you to a whole host of memories, even as they form a timeless backdrop to a whole series of fresh holiday fun times.

So, what are the songs that make YOUR summer holiday run as perfectly as a Rolls-Royce? Tell you what- I’d love to know…..

CRUISING ON CARNIVAL

Anyone with more the three brain cells will be aware that there are many cruise passengers that would rather commit hara kiri than board a Carnival ship. The idea of being afloat with thousands of people in an environment sometimes compared to a floating frat house is anathema to them.

And that, of course, is fair enough. Because the true beauty of cruising lies in the fact that there are types and sizes of ships out there to suit every taste, from the raucous to the reserved.

But it is also a sad fact that many of those who sneer at Carnival have never set foot on a Carnival ship in their lives. My first Carnival cruise was back in 2000 and, for sure, I went with very mixed feelings. But I was also prepared to keep an open mind.

And the truth is that I had a great time. I met some absolutely wonderful people- a recurring theme from all of my dozen or so Carnival voyages to date. Yes, sometimes lines for getting on and off are maddening, as are the buffet lines. But you do not have to be Hercule Poirot to realise that these are the inevitable consequences of putting to sea on what is, in essence, a small town with propellers/azipods.

Sure, there are elements I find unappetising. The on deck games can be banal. So I don’t watch them. The ships have enough space and options to allow you to find your own personal happy space. Don’t like Country and Western? OK, go listen to some Jazz. Not a jazz fan? Fine- go check out some live rock. I’ll stop there because you undoubtedly get the gist.

Food not quite gourmet quality? Think about it in terms of what you pay for your trip. The value is certainly there. It might not be six star, but you’re not paying those kind of prices, either. Carnival’s food in general is pretty damned good, and occasionally outstanding. The dining rooms are as much entertainment venues as any bar or club on the ship, so you’re not going to enjoy the kind of  hushed, hallowed repast as on, say, Seabourn or Silversea. is that really a deal breaker for you?

So, what is it actually like on board? The Carnival ships are stunning, swaggering slices of Vegas-On-Sea, with casinos the size of zeppelin hangars, and all the round the clock fun and frivolity you could ever shake a cocktail stick at. The upper decks are liberally sprinkled with pools, hot tubs and chaises, plus thousands of bodies draped across them. There is live music everywhere.

Too much? Sometimes, yes. But Carnival have clocked on to this, and each ship now has a dedicated, adults-only Serenity area with padded loungers and umbrellas, and sometimes a couple of hot tubs. On my last Carnival cruise, I eschewed the bubonic joys of a day ashore in Ensenada and just hung out here all day instead. Sheer, copper bottomed bliss it was, too.

I’m not mad on their on board discos, but this is more down to the music policy than anything else. And it is understandable that the young and young at heart want to hear the current stuff. Having grown up listening to the Temptations and the Supremes, it’s pretty obvious that the ‘sound’ of One Direction and Girls Aloud is not going to be honey to my ears. But again, it’s a generational thing. I have a theory that the first Caribbean line to have the odd, Motown/Philly/Soul themed cruise would clean up quite nicely at the bank. Food for thought. Soul food. Hold that thought!

But again, there are other options. Each Carnival ship has a bar dedicated solely to good, live jazz, and I love chilling out in them. The young can keep their hip hop and their Budweisers if I can get some cool jazz and a decent martini. And thankfully, Carnival serves up both with some aplomb.

Some shudder at the bright, neon fuelled decorative excess that typifies Carnival interiors. They are mainly the work of the brilliant Joe Farcus, Carnival’s very own Andy Warhol. These actually work perfectly for the famously monickered ‘fun ships’, and contribute immensely to the brash, breezy vibe that permeates those Carnival colossi. Fun is seldom subtle, and Farcus even less. But his ships are always beguiling, in an Alice through the looking glass way. Each is as distinctive as a fingerprint; and they are never, ever boring.

Cabins are fine and roomy, though the suites are not generally as expansive as the competition.The newer, bigger builds flaunt avenues of balconies atop their snow white hulls. Those balconies are not big, but definitely big enough for two. And it also gives you another options to escape the hugger mugger on the noisy upper decks.

Yes, there is a hard sell for extras such as bingo, shore excursions and the rest. The photographers can be annoying, but the truth is that it is no more prevalent on Carnival than on any of its rivals these days. You’ll find a blizzard of flyers for shop sales, both on board and ashore. if this annoys you, that’s what the waste bin is for.

Truth be told, all of these things are options on the whole smorgasbord that is the experience of a Carnival cruise. As with any buffet, you pick the stuff you like, and disregard the rest. This is not rocket science, but it’s amazing- and a bit dispiriting- to realise how many people don’t get that.

And of course, you’ll always find career, professional moaners on any cruise. The sort of people that would probably have more fun at a hanging than a wedding. Nothing will ever be good enough for them but- again- the size of the ships means you can neatly sidestep these miseries intent on raining on your parade.

Like anything else, a smile and a decent attitude will generally sugar your coffee. Just go with the flow, as it were and, chances are good that you’ll have a great time. I have had some of my best times on Carnival ships- the people that I have met, both passengers and crew, have often been a delight- and I fully intend to go again.

Wherever and whenever you go, have fun. It’s a party, not a punishment. See you out there somewhere!

  Carnival’s distinctive funnels are their trademark

This piece was originally written prior to the incidents with the Carnival Triumph and Elation, both of which I have sailed on. I have very happy memories of both ships.

Does anything that has happened change my opinion on cruising Carnival? No. Things go wrong on any ship from time to time. That said, Carnival’s PR department has it’s work cut out for it in reassuring the travelling public that all is well with their ships.

There’s been a very vocal, ill informed barrage of media feeding on what they see as a prime target. That does not mean that there are not issues that need to be resolved- and permanently- in the public eye. Stupidity on one side does not excuse laxity or lack of clarity required from the other one if it is to get back on track.

The great bulk of these breakdowns seem to be happening to the bigger, Italian built hulls. By contrast, the eight ships of the earlier Fantasy class- all built by MASA in Finland- seem to lead largely charmed lives.

All of these now tend to sail on shorter, three to five day circuits and are, in truth, never too far from land anyway. But they are not the problem.

With Carnival upping it’s presence in both Scandinavia and the Mediterranean this summer, the company really needs to get it’s act together if it is going to compete effectively in those arenas with longer, better established rivals such as Norwegian and Royal.