2014 Update: Carnival Punchliner Comedy Club

Punchliner Comedy Club - Carnival Cruise Lines

In 2011 we wrote about Carnival’s new Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez, saying it was a great idea with faulty execution. Having recently sailed on the Carnival Magic over the 4th of July, we’re excited to report that Carnival has improved the experience of this popular evening choice.

Instead of having one show a night, Carnival now has 4-5 shows every night. That’s not to say that they don’t fill up, but hundreds weren’t being turned away from their entertainment of choice like they were a few years ago. They typically would have 2 ‘family friendly’ comedy shows and then 2 ‘adults only’ comedy shows split between two comedians. Halfway through the cruise, two new comedians come on board to keep the talent fresh.

To avoid seat-squatters and savers from staying back to back shows, the lounge is emptied, and those wishing to attend the next show get in a line that winds through the increasingly depressing piano bar. (Side note: This has less to do with uninterested cruisers than it does the grumpy pianist)

We were able to see three of the four comedians perform and overall they were quite good – you should definitely check out the comedy shows on your next Carnival Cruise.

Comedy Review:

John Caponera (Grade: N/A) – We didn’t catch John’s act, but he does have a link to a “printable 8×10″ under his head shot on his homepage, so he must be hilarious.

James Johann (Grade: C+) We caught James’s ‘adults only’ act. If you think dropping the f-bomb is inherently funny, you’ll think James his hysterical. Many people did, in fact. We didn’t.

James Sibley (Grade: B+) We thought this James was following the path of first-half-of-the-cruise-James, but a couple minutes in his style grew on us. Stand-up comedy sittin’ down with some genuine country-boy story-telling. We liked second-half-of-the-cruise-James a lot better.

Tommy Drake (Grade: A) The only reason we didn’t give Tommy an A+ is because we wouldn’t want it to go to his head. We don’t want that, because we really liked him just the way he was. The Carnival Magic is a large ship, but while in Cozumel we were docked near the mega Royal Caribbean ship, Allure of the Seas. “I thought Magic was a big ship until we parked in the shadow of the Allure…when you see a ship like that you start to wonder about all the amazing things on board – their comedians are probably famous.”

Carnival Punchliner Comedy Comedy Club: Great Idea, Faulty Execution

A little over a year ago, Carnival Cruise Lines saw how popular its comedy shows were and decided to repurpose lounges so that each ship would have a dedicated “Punchliner Comedy Club.” On the surface, this sounds like a great idea – if something is really popular – why not have a spot dedicated to it on the ship? The problem arises when you take a popular program out of a 1400 seat theater and put it in a 400 seat theater.

In general, Carnival has activities and programs in venues that make sense. Trivia isn’t that popular (maybe 20 people out of 3700 will show up) so it’s held in a small seating area adjacent to the faux-Starbucks on the promenade. However, we attempted several times to attend the comedy shows in the new dedicated lounge, but were unable to find a seat – even with arriving 10 minutes early.

Now, we could have gotten there 30 minutes early and gotten great seats – but that still doesn’t help the next 300 people who wanted to see the show but couldn’t find a seat. Not everyone turned around and left, though – there were probably 60 people standing along the walls and another 25 standing OUTSIDE the venue. On the Conquest, the Degas lounge (AKA Punchliner Comedy Club) has a wall of windows into the lobby where many just stood and tried to listen through the open door.

The comedy shows often coincide with the main entertainment in the large lounge which holds about three and a half times that of the comedy club, but there were times when nothing was happening in the 1400-person theater at the same time.

Carnival knows that its comedy shows are extremely popular – and in some cases – even more popular than the shows being performed in the main-lounge at the same time.
If the comedy shows are so popular that many people are turned away and 100 are willing to stand in the back and outside – why would they be moved to a theater a fraction of the size of where they were held just over a year ago?

Royal Caribbean Already Updating Oasis, Allure of the Seas with 3D

AllureoftheSeas3D

Even though Royal Caribbean only debuted its Oasis Class Ships in the last couple years, it’s still keeping current with the latest technology by introducing 3D theaters on board several of its ships, including Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the seas.

There were several considerations that make adding a 3d theater on a ship more complicated – including the close quarters, proximity to other venues, and that maintenance would need to be performed by on-board staff.

“We called upon FUNA and their team to come up with creative technical design solutions in a number of areas including physical placement, additional cooling and power and integration with the existing audio system, and the result is a 3D movie experience as good as or better than any land-based theater” said Christopher Vlassopulos, Entertainment Technology and Technical Direction for Royal Caribbean International.

The first ship to get the 3D upgrade is RCL’s newest ship, Allure of the seas, followed by Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas.

Entertainment on Allure of the Seas Rivaling Norwegian Epic

RoyalCaribbeanChicagoMusicalBack in June we asked if the Norwegian Epic entertainment model would go industry wide, and among the newest mega-ships, that seems to be the case. The Tony award winning musical Chicago recently made its seven-seas debut aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

The question more and more cruise execs are asking themselves is if they’d be willing to pay to see their shows if it wasn’t the only option within a couple hundred miles (…by boat). They’re looking for shows that have a history of doing well on land, and adapting them to a cruise ship stage.

I’m glad that there is high-quality adult entertainment on board the Allure – since most of the attention seems to be going to the Dreamworks deal that made Shrek and Donkey residents on the ship. This is great for families, but not everyone’s cup of tea, so it’s good to see the high-quality entertainment options rounded out.

So now that the original question has been party answered, the new question is whether the quality will trickle down to the ‘average’ ships. Carnival has stuck with their mix of musical review shows with one or two featured vocalists – but hasn’t yet pulled off a big, well-known production aside from some musical-themed cruises with big name artists. Carnival would likely say that affordability is a big part of their line’s mission, and that such shows come with costly royalties and expenses. Maybe they’ll debut something big with their newest Dream Class ship Magic? We’ll see.

In the meantime, below is a video from the opening of Chicago on board Allure during a preview cruise. Enjoy!

Will Norwegian Epic Entertainment Model Go Industry Wide?

BlueManGroupNCLEpicNorwegian Cruise Line describes their newest entertainment lineup as “revolutionary,” a surprisingly true statement. We’re surprised that it’s taken anyone in the industry this long to ask themselves “could our entertainment stack up against acts in New York City and Vegas?” NCL asked that question, and booked headlining act Blue Man Group not just for one or two theme cruises or the inaugural run, but for their headlining entertainment this season aboard their newest ship, Epic.

If anyone has come close to doing something similar, it would be Royal Caribbean. RCL’s Oasis of the Seas has a running production of Hairspray that casted in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. While I can appreciate a good musical, if I was cruising with my entire family and the two venues were put to a vote, it would likely come to a 5-1 majority favoring Blue Man Group on Epic.

RCL’s Allure of the Seas debuting later this year, inked a deal with DreamWorks to bring characters like Shrek on board, and even though you can make the case that the movies and characters can have appeal to an older audience, there are lots of folks who may prefer to have breakfast without the possibility of being approached by an 8 foot tall green ogre.

Some cruise lines like Carnival are still running musical revue shows with OK dancers with one or two featured performers. Sure it beats sitting in your room, but acts like this would never stand on their own if they were on land and in a city with hundreds of other options.

Acts like Blue Man Group do come at a higher cost to the cruise lines, though. Carnival would probably contend that for an extra few hundred bucks per passenger, they could book expensive entertainment as well – but providing an affordable experience for families is a higher priority.

As more mega-ships roll out, expect to see more recognizable names and acts on board for more than just a few inaugural sailings. Booking based on the on-board entertainment as it relates to your party, rather than just how big/new/shiny the ship is, will help guarantee everyone a good time.

Electric Guitar Rentals on Cruise Ships: Good or Bad?

Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship

Norwegian Cruise Line will soon debut its newest, and largest, vessel aptly named “Epic.” NCL is promising that the 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger ship will take cruise entertainment to the next level. However, some of the new programs, like electric guitar rentals, may scare off more customers than they attract.

The Norwegian Epic has some entertainment options we’re excited about such as Vegas acts like Blue Man Group. Legends in Concert may not be something I’d pay to see in Vegas, but I’d still definitely attend an inclusive evening show on the ship.

Electric guitar rentals on-board are another story. At 27, I’m not sure I fit the demographic that cruise lines consider their bread-and-butter clients, but even at my age, when I’m resting in my cabin after a long day of activities or even an afternoon catnap, the last thing I want to hear is my cabin-neighbor learning how to play the electric guitar. NCL is providing headphones to go along with the package that also includes the guitar and amplifier, though I can’t imagine they would stay plugged in for long. “Hey mom, listen to what I just learned how to play,” followed by the worst version of Smoke on the Water you’ve ever heard.

For me, cruising isn’t a time for single-person activities to perform in your cabin, it’s about the social experience and having fun. So, I have a better idea for those itching for a little musical release without bothering the neighbors: A Guitar Hero Tournament.

Many ships already have video games like this set up in the kids programs, but why not make it adult friendly? Hold a tournament with the finals to be played in the auditorium on the big screen backed by the theater’s sound system and invite other passengers. This would be far more entertaining for more people (kids AND adults) and be far less of an annoyance for everyone else on board who may not have the patience to deal with a Jimmy Hendrix wannabe next door.

Norwegian Cruise Line is on the right track, they just need to adjust their strategy so that their programs don’t make some passengers think twice about booking.

Shrek and Donkey Setting Sail with Royal Caribbean

RoyalCaribbeanDreamworks

Royal Caribbean and DreamWorks Animation have inked a deal that will bring characters like Shrek and Donkey to the high seas.

RCL, the world’s second largest cruise line, will debut the DreamWorks entertainment on their Allure of the Seas ship set to debut this December.

“Royal Caribbean and DreamWorks Animation share many of the same philosophies when it comes to high-quality family entertainment, so there is quite a lot of synergy going into this strategic alliance,” Royal Caribbean president and CEO Adam Goldstein told USA TODAY. “We are constantly striving to offer dynamic and engaging programming onboard our ships and couldn’t think of a better brand than DreamWorks Animation to help take it to the next level.”

In addition to the characters interacting with passengers, new 3-D movie theaters will be constructed and activities and events will revolve around movies like Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon.

The entertainment will be great for kids, but will its presence overwhelm the tranquility that many cruise-goers are after? Only time will tell!