Although we’ve been on cruises and although the team at Floating Festivals promised us an amazing Musical Theatre festival at sea I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when everyone arrived into Southampton on Monday morning. Indeed as we moved through the terminal past the usual photo opportunities and into the security area it felt much like any other cruise.

While waiting in the queue it changed as a shiny souvenir brochure of our cruise was handed to us. Nice touch we thought as we flicked through the artist biographies, some pictures…much like you’d expect at a concert.. but then we came to the pages towards the back that went through the schedule and as I quickly glance around the room it became clear that everyone was thinking the same thing….how will we fit it all in??

That was perhaps the biggest problem with Stages (and what a positive problem it was), there was just so much to do and that’s without even stopping to reflect on what the extraordinary Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas had for us to enjoy! There were 1 or 2 problems that the team at Floating Festivals had to contend with but to be fair given that this was the inaugural Stages cruise it was to be expected that there would be some teething issues!

What they may have underestimated was how hungry the passengers were for all things musical theatre and it quickly became apparent they wanted to experience EVERY thing EVERY where! While they passengers may have arrived for the headliners such as the wonderful Michael Ball & tour de force Beverley Knight, the ‘supporting cast’ made equally huge impressions leaving passengers wanting more… Les Mis & Phantom star John Owen Jones was in equal measures astounding musically and hysterically funny, Kerry Ellis was so popular that they had to move 1 show into the theatre such was the demand. Perry Grant had the Schooner Bar (including the staff) involved in his routines and the packed crowd in stitches. Ferris & Milnes and Christina Bianco own unique styles and impersonations were completely memorable and became must see..

Every passenger was guaranteed to see the headline shows in the theatre every day (took place twice a day) and be seated in the main dining room for dinner through their coloured key card (blue for one performance / seating, silver for the other) but passengers didn’t strictly adhere to this on the 1st night leading to some upset! However Floating Festivals went to great lengths to ensure this was resolved for the remaining nights and are to be commended for same.

When it came to other shows it was first come first serve but recognising the demand (and to their credit) Floating Festivals did move acts & switch venues on some occasions but the communication of same didn’t match the intention and this led to some confusion once or twice as passengers turned up to venues only to find things had changed. By time they got to new venues it was standing room only or in 1 case no room at all! But over the course of 4 days packed full these were small moments.

So ok, we may have expected great performances but what we didn’t expect so much is just how immersed in the festivities the stars themselves would be. This was not just a turn up, knock out a few tunes and go again affair! A lot of the joy was you didn’t know who you’d bump into at any point. One minute you’d find yourself standing next to the wonderfully down to earth Lee Mead in the buffet, enjoying a drink in the bar next to Bobby Davro hearing some tales before heading in to play some blackjack in the casino only to be dealt cards by one of the boys from Collabro! Then there was the pianoman who'd randonly perch up in the lift with full piano prompting a singalong as you went up to deck 13...Oh and what about joining the passengers choir which ended up on stage on the final night singing with Collabro! It very much felt like everyone was on board together enjoying and sharing in a mutual love of musical theatre and of cruising…it makes it an experience you will not find anywhere else!

There were Q&A’s with the likes of Arlene Philips and Lee Mead here…unplugged acoustic performances from John Owen Jones and Collabro there….even Bonkers Bingo with Bobby Davro which descended into absolute chaos on Thursday as Bobby tried to explain how to win the next game…”so it’s any 2 lines anywhere, any box, any card, orange card…what do you mean red card…it’s orange…so it’s the same as the last game….what do you mean it isn’t…is it not 2 lines??” LOL! Cue endless banter, confusion and general chaos….we even played some bingo with some very suspect number descriptions…some of which can’t be repeated here!!!! In truth everyone enjoyed the chaos really and 2 people even won free staterooms on next years cruise….

Yes NEXT YEAR’S CRUISE! When we boarded we learned that Stages 2019 will take place onboard Royal Caribbean’s newly revitalised Explorer of the Seas with Alfie Boe & Sheridan Smith already lined up as headliners leading to a steady queue at the Next Cruise desk throughout the week….then once Collabro were announced as returning, given the impact they had made on everyone on board, this steady queue turned into a stampede (not literally) with people signing up for another year. By the time the Next Cruise desk closed on Thursday night over half of next years cruise was already sold to those on the existing cruise – a resounding approval if you needed one!

On Friday morning it was that last trip to the buffet and thoughts of all the things we should have done but didn’t get time to do… should have gone on Flowrider…we’d have loved a return to the spa…missed the ice show….We thought how much we’re dreading having to prepare our own food again and how we’ll missed the piped music from all the shows over the PR system throughout the ship… oh well, there’s always next year…

When Michael Ball took to the stage for his umpteenth encore and sang Elvis hit ‘The Wonder of You’ to a packed theatre on their feet and belting it back at him like a game of musical tennis….we couldn’t help looking and thinking…this right here is The wonder of Stages, The wonder of cruise…

Ps, to all the acts we didn’t mention we’re so sorry…there was just so many of you - all incredibly talented!! Apologies!!

#Stages #RoyalCaribbean #NavigatoroftheSeas #Collabro #MichaelBall #BeverlyKnight #JohnOwenJones #AlfieBoe #SheridanSmith #PerryGrant #Flowrider #BobbyDavro #LeeMead #ChristinaBianco #KerryEllis #MichaelDavies

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