Music cruises cover smooth jazz to hard rock

Most music theme cruises sail in the early winter months -- January through March -- and 2013 is no exception.  So now is the time to consider cruises for a wide variety of musical styles including jazz, blues, Motown, British Invasion, dance, pop, and every decade from the ‘40s to today.

On these full-ship music charter cruises, the musical acts take over the vessel, offering passenger aficionados a full immersion in the musical experience. Besides live performances, the musical groups give interviews and pose for photo ops. Passengers can also attend clinics and see replays of nighttime shows on their stateroom TVs during the day. The daily live concerts start as early as 1:00 p.m. and continue into the wee, wee hours.

The most popular of these cruises have essentially become annual music festivals at sea. Many are such big hits that they sell out a year in advance -- often with the last available staterooms for the following year booked aboard the current cruise, when excitement is at its peak. They are in such demand that about 60 percent of their passengers come back every year.

So which music cruise is for you? Naturally it is a matter of personal taste, but there is something for everyone. Even though the most popular cruises sell out quickly, they do maintain wait lists, so keep an open mind and be flexible. For example, I am not a big fan of smooth jazz, but I certainly enjoyed that cruise. The coming 2013 Smooth Jazz Cruises are two back-to-back seven-day cruises sailing January 13 and January 20. The second one still has some rooms available.

Let’s get to the details.

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Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise

The 2013 Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise (LRBC)  is already wait-listed, but the company always has one or two additional cruises scheduled. Most sail out of Florida, but there are occasional West Coast cruises. The company is in its 22nd year, with LRBC #20 sailing January 20 out of Fort Lauderdale. Groups appearing on the cruise include Taj Mahal, Elvin Bishop, Big Head Todd and the Monsters plus literally dozens of added blues stars. There are two more LRBCs on the schedule right now -- Oct 18, 2013 and January 26, 2014 – both sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale.

The Smooth Jazz Cruise

The organizer of Smooth Jazz Cruise LLC has seven different music theme cruises currently scheduled. The yearly favorite is the easy-on-the-ears “Smooth Jazz Cruise,” where middle-aged professionals abound. The 2013 Smooth Jazz Cruises out of Fort Lauderdale feature cream-of-the-crop artists like George Benson, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Brian Culbertson, Jonathan Butler and many more.

But this is not a one-note company. Their “straight-ahead” jazz cruise sailing January 27 gets down with players for jazz purists like Gary Burton, Randy Brecker, Arturo Sandoval, Karyn Allison, Kurt Elling and dozens more.

And the company does more than just jazz. On November 3, 2013, it offers the “Malt Shop Memories Cruise” featuring Neil Sedaka, Petula Clark, Bill Medley, Lesley Gore and Gary Lewis. Next Halloween  brings on the first “Ship of Fear” cruise, with Alice Cooper and the actors who played Chucky and Leatherface in horror films. The “Soul Train Cruise” features Earth, Wind and Fire; Gladys Knight; Ohio Players; A Taste of Honey and more.

Sixthman Productions

One of the most successful music cruise producers, Atlanta-based Sixthman Productions, was quietly acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line last year. Sixthman has five music cruises scheduled to sail between January 13 and March 6, 2013.

First out is Cayamo (January 13), a songwriters showcase featuring Lyle Lovitt, Richard Thompson, Keb’ Mo’ and about 20 more artists. The cruise is sold out but has a wait list. Next up is a new theme for Sixthman -- Mountain Songs at Sea (February 1), featuring bluegrass, folk and acoustic artists. Cabins are still available.

One of Sixthman’s older and more popular music cruises, The Rock Boat XIII, sails February 24 with host band Sister Hazel joining Alternate Routes, Bronze Radio Return, Amy Gerhartz and more bands. Cabins are still available.

On March 1, Sixthman presents the third 311 Caribbean Cruise featuring hit band 311. The wait listed cruise will feature three different concerts by 311 along with dance parties, photo ops and special guests. March 6 brings Kid Rock’s “Chillin’ the Most” cruise (also wait-listed) where the Kid plays two shows.

On January 21, Sixthman presents the Turner Classic Movie cruise, with TCM host Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, on the Celebrity Constellation. Special guests include Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Arlene Dahl and other classic stars of the silver screen (this one is also wait-listed).

More music and other theme cruises are scheduled for later in 2013; most of the Sixthman music cruises sail on Norwegian Pearl, one of the line's mid-size ships, introduced in 2006.

The Rock Legends Cruise

One of the most popular annual music sailings is the Simple Man Cruise, which for five years has featured the very popular Lynyrd Skynyrd and other rock favorites like the Doobie Brothers, The Outlaws and some 20 additional bands. The 2013 cruise is not yet scheduled, but the 2012 version just sailed over last Halloween.

But Simple Man faces stiff competition from a surprising upstart – my personal pick for the best rock cruise at sea in 2013:  the Rock Legends Cruise, which will hold its second charter January 10 out of Fort Lauderdale.

The Rock Legends Cruise was started in 2011 by novice producer Pam Myers, with the help of pro cruise planners Landry & Kling. Together they chartered the largest ship ever for a music cruise and booked an exceptional lineup of classic rock bands - all in the name of charity for the Native American Heritage Association. It featured ZZ Top, George Thorogood, Johnny and Edgar Winters, Dickie Betts and more. Though it was originally intended to be a one-time event, it was so successful that the second cruise was almost a certainty before the first one was over.

So on January 10, 2013, Rock Legends Cruise 2 will charter Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas again for a four-night lineup that includes Mega-platinum band Foreigner (Cold as Ice, Feels like the First Time, Waiting for a Girl Like You); superstar vocalist Paul Rodgers from the bands Free and Bad Company (All Right Now, Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Ready for Love); Creedence Clearwater Revisited; Kansas; Bachman Turner; ‘38 Special (Hold on Loosely); Marshall Tucker Band; Blue Oyster Cult; Foghat; Molly Hatchet; Bobby Keys (sax player for the Rolling Stones); Atlanta Rhythm Section and a dozen more bands.

Since this is only the second year for this amazing cruise event there is still some availability, but I highly recommend booking soon. The state-of-the-art Liberty of the Seas will feature three full-time stages with music playing simultaneously. You will have a chance to see everyone, or to watch your favorite bands three or more times. This is a once-in-a-lifetime cruise for fans of classic rock.