This was my third consecutive time sailing on the Monsters of Rock cruise! Once the non-stop rock ‘n roll adventure ship returned for the third year in a row, I said to my friend and fellow cruisers how it was the funnest week ever once again. Each year just seems to keep topping itself to the point that once I hit my tenth consecutive cruise, I will ascertain both critical mass and heavy metal nirvana.
This year I achieved nearly total exhaustion as the minutes ticked down on the final (and personal record breaking) performance I saw onboard. I attempted to take in literally every show that I possibly could and with forty-nine bands aboard and most of them playing two shows, this year I saw an astonishing SIXTY-ONE performance sets and loved every single head-banging moment!
My cabin mates and I once again opted to make the drive down to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise departure to eliminate any sort of travel delay that might prevent us from sailing. Once again, my brother in law, John was along for the adventure and this year he brought his friend Barry. Barry heard John’s tales of how much fun we had aboard the 2019 Monsters of Rock Cruise and was eager to join in and experience the fun for himself.
We booked the moment the alumni early booking became available which gave us a very patient eight-month wait from the time we committed to the time the ship left the dock. Finally the day of arrives and we make our way to the port. Embarkation could not have been any smoother; we were through the security lines quickly, got checked in and had our feet on the deck in a matter of about fifteen minutes. A quick find of our cabin to drop off luggage and we head out to find lunch and explore the ship. For this year’s cruise, again we were on a Royal Caribbean Freedom Class ship so the layout was almost exactly the same as the past two years. Already at the very start of this adventure, I know the layout of the ship and the quickest ways to and between the different venues, as once again with so many bands onboard there were schedule conflicts of multiple bands playing at the same time at different ends of the ship.
For this year, John and I were on the photo experience team where we would be part of the group of photographers who took the cruiser/band meet and greet photos. Every cruiser has the chance to get a photo with (almost) all of the bands at various scheduled times and this photo team opportunity added a completely new dimension to my cruise experience. It gave me an extended amount of time to hang with the band(s) I was doing the photo shoot for, as well as to interact with literally every single person who came through my line. It was awesome.
MoRC 2020 Photo team – photo credit Neil A. Lim Sang
After the mandatory pre-sail muster station drill we had a photography team meeting, mainly so we all knew exactly what was expected of us pre, during and post shoot, and it gave us all the chance to put names to faces after being in a Facebook chat group for the prior several weeks. This year there was a delay in completing the pool stage build and since I was slotted for the first photo experience soon after we sailed sadly I did to get to enjoy any live music until later in the night. As nervous going in as I was, my photo shoot with Paradise Kitty went really well I thought – the Kittens were super fun and friendly, laughing, joking, and enjoying their interaction with each and every cruiser who posed for a photo with them.
The entire cruise is designed as a total immersive rock ‘n roll experience with like-minded brothers and sisters from all across the globe. You have access to hang with the artists and their entourage, some of whom really make it a point to hang with the fans and bring it down to a person-to-person level—which to me really solidifies the camaraderie of how music brings people together and how we are all there to celebrate all things rock ‘n roll. Often I would see members of one band in the crowd taking in the performance of another band.
This whole event could never take place without the hard work of all the people behind the scenes, so I would like to take a moment here and express my gratitude for all of their efforts. It is a total team effort to figure out the logistics of having 49 bands play across four different locations aboard a cruise ship and make it seem like an effortless event to those of us attending. Job well done! One of my work friends had much more interest in how the behind-the-scenes part worked than who was doing the rocking. And once again a special shout-out to the venue security team members as I have gotten to know several of them these past three years in the downtime we have waiting either for the doors to the venue to open or the band to go on.
This year I saw literally so many shows that there is just not enough room to write about each one. Instead, I will share my highlights of each day and at the end of this story include a chronological day-by-day list of the performances I attended onboard. The overall highlight for me is seeing my friends again that I have made from prior cruises as well as meeting new peeps.
Besides reconnecting with my friends, seeing the awe of how killer of a time we were already having in Barry’s eyes, photographing Paradise Kitty’s photo experience, the first day’s musical highlight most definitely was seeing Lync Mob again and one of my all time favorite guitarists, George Lynch, simply just shred right before my eyes.
George Lynch of Lynch Mob
As much as I have been in awe of this man’s musical talents since my teenage years back in the 1980s, I was floored at some of the things Mr. Lynch shared at his guitar clinic a few days later. He has several solos back from his days in Dokken that I hold in the absolute highest regards. Released back in 1985, his solo in Dokken’s “In My Dreams” to me is the quintessential 80’s metal sound. In addition, this day I got to see the very first band I ever saw live back in 1984 when Autograph was the opener for Van Halen. Even though it was just a fleeting moment, seeing Autograph made me feel like I was a kid again.
Each subsequent morning started with breakfast with my cabin mates as we discussed events of the prior night (if we had been apart at different shows) as well as the schedule for the day ahead and who was going to which show. We would try and map out a plan to figure out when there would be time for dinner instead of a hot dog or hamburger on the run. Our second day aboard was jam packed for me seeing a total of fourteen shows but the one that stands out for me above all else was the Lizzy Borden show.
From each of the kick ass legendary artists and bands I got to see this day, the discussion the next morning at breakfast (both John and Barry tapped out before Lizzy Borden started) was me gushing over what I had witnessed the prior night. Only because of Faster Pussycat playing their infamous annual pool stage party did I miss the beginning of the Lizzy Borden show (there is one of those too many things to do at once conflicts – a total first world problem to have) but from the spectacle I did see, wow what a freaking stage presence, like leave me speechless awesome!
The set was a theatrical masterpiece with multiple mask and costume changes, crazy wild lighting effects and an on stage ‘sacrifice’ of a scantily clad young lady. I guess I was either watching or photographing the guitarists before I realized the ‘blood’ was gushing out of her neck and Lizzy was catching some of it in this little silver bucket. After the ‘sacrifice’ was dragged off stage Lizzy cheerfully distributed trickles of droplets of said collected ‘blood’ all over the heads and shoulders of those in the first couple of rows. Not many concert related events leave me speechless but this one for sure did!
The best part of this story is how after this show ended and the masses headed for a late night snack we saw several crew members gasp and rush up to those covered in ‘blood’ asking how they got hurt and calling over their radios for immediate medical assistance. I know it is a crazy thing to find humor in something like that but once word spread to the late night crew that it was part of the show and not a mass medical emergency, I saw several crew posing for photos with horn throwing cruisers proudly showing off their sacrificial anointment. Interesting note for Lizzy’s second show, the first five rows of seats in the theater were covered in plastic.
“Do you need medical attention?!?!”
Our third day arrives and oh my gosh could anything top what I had witnessed just a few short hours ago?? Multiple highlights from today including getting to see the band I was most excited about seeing once the lineup was revealed; discovering an absolutely jamming new band I had never heard of and having the photo pit to myself for all three songs of Doro Pesch’s pool stage set.
On both of my prior sailing on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, I discovered a kick ass band that I never knew existed before seeing them play onboard and this year was no different. Seeing as how I was trying to take in every show I possible could photograph, I ventured to see the band H.E.A.T and as we were waiting one of my photographer mates (he is from the UK) was astonished that I had never even heard of this band. He told me to prepare myself and I was “…about to be rocked the f*ck out!” From the first note I was totally blown away by the raw energy this band exudes on the stage, the lead singer just a non-stop ball of fire prowling back and forth across the stage, stepping out onto the row of speakers separating the band from us photographers and the crowd just behind me. Some real solid down to earth rock in roll out of Sweden with this band and their second show was now squarely in my sights as one not to miss.
As motioned before about having to make choices of who to see with multiple bands playing at the same time, somehow for Doro Pesch’s second show all of the photographers were off somewhere else. I had the entire pool stage photo pit to myself for those first three songs that always seem to be over with before you know it. It was a fun experience as I had each of the band members and especially Doro’s direct interaction with my lens. I know I absolutely nailed several shots of the “Queen of Heavy Metal” with her Horns Raised in the air! Absolutely kick ass!
Once the full cruise lineup was announced Mac Sabbath was the band I was most excited about seeing. The self-appointed founders of “drive thru metal’ band don McDonald’s character costumes and switch up the lyrics of Black Sabbath songs to center around fast food. As silly as the combination sounds they really pull it off brilliantly to where even the “Prince of Darkness” Ozzy Osbourne himself mentioned he was ‘…mainly impressed by “the clownery” but called the spoof “fun” and “funny as fuck”…’. [i] Having no idea who is actually under those costumes, anytime I would see someone with an “Artist” badge onboard who I did not recognize I wondered if they were part of the awesome spoof. Their show was everything I could have hoped for (except for better lighting n that venue), it was funny, the band straight out rocks, and everyone in there seemed to be enjoying the performance as much as I was.
Earlier I made mention of my mental flooring while attending George Lynch’s guitar clinic. Weeks later as I write this (and still when you read this), I was and am astounded to find out that the man I hold in such high regard as one of the greatest axe men on the planet is currently taking guitar lessons. Mr. Lynch shared with us that he can not play his own music the same way twice in a row so literally every time any of us had seen him live, his playing was different from other performances. Also shared was how he can not play Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (my understanding is that is a song for newbie guitar players to try and master), and he proceeded to butcher the first few notes of said classic, laughed and said “No more of that” and took other questions from the audience. I attended this with my photog friend Allyson and she could see the surprise on my face and told me she already knew this but wanted it to be a surprise to me. Just like with the Lizzy Borden show the prior night, I was speechless and am now even more of a George Lynch fan after the fact.
By the start of our fourth day my feet, shoulders and neck were already beyond sore from all of the walking, standing, headbanging, and photographing. However, I am a die-hard trooper and forged ahead with another plethora of shows this day and my second photo experience shoot with the band Cold Sweat. My photo shoot with Cold Sweat was another fun experience. Extended time hanging with the guys in the band and listening to them discuss additions/subtractions to the setlist for their upcoming show was quite fascinating. I figured details like this are set well in advance and here they are saying “…we need to get this sh*t figured out….”.
Besides all of the killer rock I got to witness, believe it or not, the highlight of the day for me was putting my camera away for a short while and taking a seat with my Canadian peeps Allyson and Ben, sitting back, watching and enjoying Tesla’s second and final show for the cruise. This was my tenth time seeing Tesla over the years and they still sound as kick ass today as they did when I first saw them in 1989. There was also the second performance of Mac Sabbath and after seeing the clownery the day before I was even more excited to see them again. As expected hilarity ensued and I was hooked as a fan of theirs even more. One funny note here, just prior to our photo experience team assignments being set, we were asked if we had any requests as to which band each of us would like to photo and Mac Sabbath was at the top of my list. Sadly, they did not do a photo experience but I was still able to get a photo with guitarist Slayer MacCheeze.
Our last day stated with a surprise, Barry had gone down to the guest services desk to pay off his room bill and discovered that we each had been given a $50 room credit! Since I was still suffering the effects of my age on my feet and other body parts I mentioned from the day before, I immediately arranged to use my room credit on a much-needed massage. I knew this was the only way I would be able to bring this cruise home with every show I can possibly manage to take in on our last day. I felt like a completely new person after my hour massage and ready for another day’s adventure.
Once again, this day held so many musical highlights it is hard to touch on them all. I have the uncanny ability to be in just the right spot in the photo pit when Extreme plays on the pool deck (two years in a row now) and axe man extraordinaire Nuno Bettencourt works his magic right in front of me. This year I got a thirty shot burst of Nuno shredding where literally every shot in in the sequence could be a rock magazine centerfold.
Once again, the Lizzy Borden show did not disappoint for its theatricality – I am so fascinated with this band that I would love to see them again where I could see their entire set. I remember from my teenage years a friend who was really into this band and constantly played one of their cassettes when we hung out. Beyond that, they never really got on my musical radar until I saw them on this cruise. Now I will never miss one of their shows when they tour my area. A second show with Lynch Mob, a second show with British Lion and legendary bassist Steve Harris of Iron Maiden fame, a second H.E.A.T show, a second Vixen show, an second Paradise Kitty show and the list of highlights just goes on and on.
Probably the biggest highlight of the day occurred in the waning minutes of the last band that I got to see. Wanting to capture the moment and friendship I share with a few special photographer peeps, we set up a meeting spot to get a group photo of a few of us together before we had to part ways once again.
Late night shenanigans with my photog peeps: Allyson, Diana & Will
Feels like there was so much jam packed fun on the cruise I could have written about it for days. The only way to truly experience how immersive and fun this cruise is would be to go on it for yourself. For three years in a row now, my friends and I have had so many stories to share with each other as we made the drive home (my cabin mates and I were not always together at the same show). Three years in a row I have booked for the next year’s cruise the moment the alumni booking opened up. I highly recommend anyone who is a rock ‘n roll fan to experience this at least once, as I am certain they will be hooked just as I was and become a regular face in the Monsters of Rock Cruise crowd.
Tickets for Monsters of Rock Cruise 2021 are available here.
Monsters Of Rock Cruise 2020 Live Review + Photos by Randy Cook /// @horns_raised
Chronological list of the bands I saw onboard the 2020 Monsters of Rock Cruise:
February 8, 2020:
Tokyo Motor Fist
February 9, 2020:
February 10, 2020:
Black n Blue
February 11, 2020:
February 12, 2020:
MONSTERS OF ROCK CRUISE 2020
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