It was down to the wire for my friend Mike and I to work everything out to be able to go on the eighth annual Monsters of Rock Cruise. We booked just days before departure and got lucky snagging a mid-ship, mid-deck cabin location (prime location) from someone who had just recently had to cancel their reservation.
The day we booked we also got notified of an itinerary change due to some civil unrest near one of our scheduled stops in Jamaica. Due to safety concerns for all onboard the cruise would no longer be going to Falmouth, Jamaica, opting instead for CocoCay in the Bahamas, as well as the already scheduled stop for the exotic paradise isle of Labadee in Haiti.
Once the day of departure arrived 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 with plenty of time to get checked in, and we actually had to wait a few minutes until the staff began the boarding procedure. Once we set foot onboard the ship, our 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 at any given stop or sitting at the table next to you in the dining room (and of course continual multiple concerts happening throughout each day). Within the first thirty minutes being on board as we were exploring the ship we shared an elevator with Todd La Torre of Queensrÿche, and the next ride was with Rick Allen of Def Leppard. I ended up losing track of who and how many times I ran into the various artists around the ship throughout the cruise.
Later in the day I offered an open seat next to us and actor, comedian and fellow metalhead Jim Florentine sat down with us for dinner the first night. 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 to the minimal time spent in the cabin before passing out from exhaustion each night.
As exhausted I was each night, 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, learning the layout of the ship and the fastest way between the different venues, then plan accordingly. 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 I was very pleased with all of the performances I did get to see, as well as the meet and greet pictures I got with the bands. I would most certainly 100% like to go on next year’s cruise.
I was a teenager in the mid ’80s 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 say my excitement culminated with The Iron Maidens being onboard. They are 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. While they were an epic highlight, I can now say with certainty that I was most blown away by a band I had never heard of before or even really noticed in the lineup. I just happened to catch the Beasto Blanco set. This band freaking rocks and their stage show is beyond wild, and since I got off the boat I have yet to listen to anything other than their tunes.
Day one started off learning where all the different venues were and running into a great majority of the artists on board. The moment the boat sailed off from the dock, the fun started on the pool deck stage with Jared James Nichols. Throughout the evening I saw Kix, Kickin Valentina, John Corabi, Pretty Maids, Autograph, and the highlight of the day… Lynch Mob, featuring guitar god George Lynch of Dokken fame. He has always been a favorite axe slinger 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 ’80s, 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 Budderside set with a perfect tropical setting of palm trees and turquoise water behind them — it was rock and roll 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, and Y&T was a band I had always wanted to see. The highlight of the day was finally getting to see The Iron Maidens play. Their set did not start until midnight and even after a whirlwind day, any bit of tiredness I had instantly went away as they came on stage and jammed the night away. Musically speaking, 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 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 each played a second time, this time Tesla playing an electric set. LA Guns played a blistering set, and the Firehouse and Great White sets took me back in time with their timeless anthemic tunes. Comedy sets by Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine resulted in hearty laughs. I was not too familiar with British Lion going in, and all I knew about them was that Steve Harris was in the band. I came away from their set a definite fan and certainly 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 for some true classics. This was the evening where the scheduling conflict forced me to almost sacrifice one of the bands that I wanted to see because three shows on my list were all playing at once. But thanks to one of the bands starting a bit late (it is rock & roll after all and that does tend to happen) I was able to catch the last few songs of what was a pretty exhausting 90-minute span in three different shows. 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. Mr. Lynch dazzled us with his wizard like fingers on the guitar strings and Lynch Mob even dug into the Dokken discography for a couple of songs … it 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 theme of the cruise. Me being a Chief Metal Officer and lifelong metalhead, I have no issue 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 getting off the boat.
The fifth and last day was at sea with another full day of shows ahead. I saw Keel, Dangerous Toys, Rough Cutt, Lillian Axe, Rhino Bucket, Pink Cream 69, Junkyard, Atomic Punks, and a second set with Pretty Maids. I also saw the second British Lion show and I 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. She’s another musical legend just wailing on her guitar with amazing vocals. By the time the last show was over, 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 in between shows were the meet and greet 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 did not interrupt an artist when they were eating, it was easy to acquire a picture, autograph, or at the very least converse with the various artists onboard as you roamed the ship.
The entire trip was a blast! I saw great performances by amazing musicians. I got to rock out to tons of great music that took me back in time. I got some incredible pictures to remember the memories. I even got to see some of the cruise ship workers rocking out when they had a moment to step in and check out a show … dudes with big chef hats headbanging more than I was at that given moment. We were all there for the camaraderie of how music brings people together. I got to enjoy a killer trip with a good friend who I have known for almost thirty years and he enjoyed the trip equally as I did. I would say he hit probably three out of every four shows that I did and we got to hang out a whole lot more than we have in quite a while.
The fun did not stop once we 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. I would like to jokingly think I had a hand in the band scheduling a date in the area, as when I saw they were on the cruise I reached out to the band and suggested they play a couple of shows on the days surrounding the cruise since they hadn’t played Florida in the past few years that I had known of the band’s existence. 😉 Whether I can take the credit or not, I will never know. Their show in St. Pete upon returning home was a two-hour extravaganza enthusiastically glorifying Iron Maiden with this very talented band. This show 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.
Monsters of Rock Cruise 2018 Live Review and Photos by Randy Cook.
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