It was down to the wire for me and my buddy to work everything out to be able to go on the eighth annual Monsters of Rock cruise. We literally booked ten days before departure and got lucky by snagging a mid-ship, mid-deck cabin location (prime location for multiple reasons) from someone who had just recently had to cancel their reservation.
It was an early morning as we left St. Petersburg at 6:45 AM for the drive down to Miami. Thankfully no highway or vehicle obstacles prevented us from making it to the port in plenty of time to get checked in and actually had to wait a few minutes until the staff began the actual boarding procedure – once we set foot on board the rock adventure began. The entire experience is based on and around fan interaction with the band members as you never know who is going to be getting on the elevator with you or sitting at the table next to you in the dining room. Within the first 30 minutes being on board as we were exploring the ship we shared an elevator with Todd La Torre of Queensrÿche, the next ride with Rick Allen of Def Leppard, and I offered an open seat next to us and actor, comedian and fellow metal head Jim Florentine sat down with us and had dinner the first night. And speaking of the whole 80’s immersion experience it was pretty awesome that whoever puts the cruise together also had the forethought to play classic 80’s movies and TV shows on a non-stop loop for extra added entertainment value with the minimal time spent in the cabin before passing out from exhaustion each night.
And exhausted each night I was – my final count was seeing 44 bands and 2 comedy sets in 5 days, sometimes having to leave one show before it was over in order to catch the next band on the schedule that I wanted to see. In the days just before the cruise departed the show schedule had been released and as with any sort of event where there are so many bands playing in a condensed period there is going to be some set time overlap so you might not be able to see everyone that you want to. It mostly comes down to which band(s) do you want to see the most, learn the layout of the ship and the fastest way between the different venues and plan accordingly from there. There was at least one instance for me where I had to decide between three different bands all starting within fifteen minutes of one another at literal opposite ends of the ship. Had I not needed to stop for nourishment in order to sustain basic human functionality I would have been able to see a couple of more shows but overall I was very pleased with all of the performances that I did get to see, the meet and greet pictures I got with the bands and I 100% would like to go on next year’s cruise.
I was a teenager in the mid 80’s and I grew up listening to the majority of the bands on board and had even seen a few of them before, including the first band I ever saw live back in 1984 when Autograph opened for Van Halen, so watching Autograph play certainly took me back in time. When I first looked into this cruise and saw the lineup was filled with bands that I liked I would have said my excitement culminated with The Iron Maidens being onboard (an all-female tribute band to the mighty Iron Maiden and a band I had always wanted to see since I had discovered them a couple of years ago). I can say with certainty after the cruise while The Iron Maidens were most certainly a musical highlight I was most blown away by a band that I had never even heard of before or even really noticed in the lineup. I just happened to catch the Beasto Blanco set and I was totally blown away – this band freaking rocks, their stage show is beyond wild and since I have gotten back I have yet to listen to anything other than their tunes.
Day one started off as mentioned learning where all the different venues were, running into a great majority of the artists on board and just as the boat sailed off from the dock the tunes started on the pool deck stage with the Jared James Nichols band. Throughout the evening I saw Kix, Kickin Valentina, John Corabi, Pretty Maids, Autograph and for me the highlight of the day was the set by Lynch Mob, featuring guitar god George Lynch of Dokken fame. He had always been a favorite musician of mine from back in the day with his blistering speed I had always considered his solo in Dokken’s “In My Dreams” as the quintessential kick ass solo of the 1980’s and seeing him just absolutely shred right there in front of me was an unreal moment.
Day two had us at the island of Coco Cay in the Bahamas and after a tour around the island we ended up sitting a picnic table away from Steve Harris of Iron Maiden & British Lion as we feasted on Lunch. There was a stage set up on the island and we checked out most of the set by Budderside with a perfect tropical setting of palm trees and turquoise water behind them – it was rock paradise. The rest of the day was one continual highlight as I got to see sets by Winger, an acoustical performance by Tesla, Lita Ford kicking ass, Doro Pesch of Warlock fame with her tremendous vocal abilities, Queensrÿche played a flawless set, Y&T was a band I had always wanted to see but the highlight of them all was finally getting to see The Iron Maidens play. After what had been a whirlwind day, their set did not even start until Midnight and any bit of tiredness I had instantly went away as they jammed into their set. Musically if you were to close your eyes and just listen to them you would swear you were at an Iron Maiden concert they are that spot on exact to the real thing.
Day three we were at sea with 50 free spins for the day and I had a whole slew of kick ass shows ahead. Again there were so many highlights. I saw Kix, Winger, Doro Pesch and Tesla a second time, with this time Tesla playing an electric set. LA Guns played a blistering set as well as the Firehouse and Great White sets were ones that again took me back in time with their timeless anthemic tunes. Comedy sets by Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine resulted in many laughs. British Lion was incredible – I was not familiar with their music going in other than knowing that Steve Harris was in the band and I came away from this set a definite fan and was looking forward to their second show later in the cruise. A second show seeing The Iron Maidens was again the musical highlight of the day for me with them digging deeper into the Iron Maiden catalog than the night before for some true classics. This was the evening where the scheduling conflict forced me to sacrifice one of the three bands that I wanted to see but were all playing at once. It totally was a ‘first world’ problem to have.
Day four we were in Labadee, Haiti, again with a stage set up on the island where we jammed to the tunes of Heavy Mello after exploring the island. One highlight of this stop was a picture opportunity with the aforementioned guitar god George Lynch whose Lynch Mob show was the first one up once we got back on the boat. Once again Mr. Lynch dazzled with his wizard like fingers on the guitar neck, this time Lynch Mob even went into the Dokken discography for a couple of songs and that was pure bliss for me. This day I saw both LA Guns and Great White for second time and sets by Vixen, Tyketto, Madam X, and Lies, Deceit & Treachery. The musical highlight of the day and the entire cruise was checking out the Beasto Blanco set. The band started off with their self-titled song and I was instantly blown away by how heavy they were compared to the 80’s rock them of the cruise – being a Chief Metal Officer and lifelong metalhead there was no issue with me with some heavy metal. The band features Alice Cooper’s daughter Calico as a co-vocalist and I must say she puts on one hell of a wild stage show (as one would expect with her ‘creepy’ upbringing), ripping the limbs off of mannequins on stage with a sultry evil demeanor. Their entire set totally kicked ass to the point where I want to see them again and have had their YouTube videos on constant replay since I got home from the trip.
The fifth and last day was again at sea and another full day of shows ahead. This day I saw Keel, Dangerous Toys, Rough Cutt, Lillian Axe, Rhino Bucket, Pink Cream 69, Junkyard, the Atomic Punks, and a second set with Pretty Maids. I also saw the second British Lion show and again marveled at the legend Steve Harris playing right in front of me and this set solidified the band earning me as a fan. The musical highlight for me was seeing Lita Ford’s second show. Another musical legend just wailing on her guitar and with her lungs and by the time I walked out of the last show of the day I was thoroughly worn out from a most amazing five days and nights of literal nonstop rocking.
Mixed in throughout the various shows and spread out over each day were the meet and greet and picture opportunities with each band. The lines got to be quite long for these and this is where it is definitely worth the extra expense to book into one of the ‘Silver’ or ‘Gold’ VIP room packages. The VIP perks included can and will make a rather large difference in your cruise experience when it comes to early access to the various seats in the different venues and being first in line for the band photos (there was at least a three hour line to have your picture with Steve Harris and his band British Lion). Of course as long as you are polite about it and not interrupt an artist when they were eating then it was easy to acquire a picture, an autograph or at the very least converse with the various artists on board as you roamed the ship.
The entire trip was a blast, I saw some great performances by some amazing musicians. I got to rock out to tons of great music that took me back in time and got some incredible pictures to remember the memories with. The fun did not stop once I got off the ship as I had previously purchased a ticket for The Iron Maidens concert in St. Petersburg not knowing I was going on the cruise so it was a total added bonus to have a sixth straight night of killer tunes. It was also concert history for me as it was the first time I have ever seen one band three times in a span of just five days. \m/
Monsters of Rock Cruise (Feb 11-16, 2018) /