2014 Caribbean – Cruise To The Edge

Rocking from Miami to Cozomel and back…

Once upon a lifetime there is an event going on that cannot be missed… That certainly was the case for me with the 2014 edition from Cruise to the Edge. A line-up to die for: Marillion, Yes, Steve Hackett, UK, Tangerine Dream, Saga, Sound of Contact and many others were enough to tempt me to attend this cruise from Miami to Mexico and Honduras but when I saw Renaissance, who were on my wish list to see live for many many years but who seem to have forgotten about Europe, was added to the line-up there were no questions asked, I just knew I had to go.

After some chats on a dedicated Facebook group I found thee like minded people so Ulrich, Volker, Jack and myself decided to share a cabin and join the adventure together…

So on the 6th of April Ulrich, Volker and myself boarded a plane towards Miami (As Jack was flying from Chicago he would join us the next day in Miami) and after a short plane swap in Atlanta we arrived, tired but excited for our musical adventure.

We took a taxi to our lovely art deco hotel and after we checked in took a stroll over Miami south Beach. Almost immediately I knew this place was not my thing and I was happy Miami Beach was not the main reason I had made this journey. For me it all was a thing of see and be seen and there was an almost monstrous show of going on of one tasteless car after the other, although I must admit I was heavily pleased when I saw a Jaguar F-Type, just like my own, it appeared there still was hope…

The next morning we met Jack and after a cup of coffee at one of the terraces we headed towards the harbor to embark the MSC Divina. Our interior quad cabin was much spacier than we expected and once settled it was time to explore the ship.

I’m sure a lot of effort had been put into the decoration but as I had already expected going on a holiday on a 18 deck high cruise ship was not on my bucket list. On several occasions Paul and I had already discussed going on a cruise and had decided against it, and there I was. But this was not an ordinary cruise, it was the Cruise To The Edge with the creme the la creme of progressive bands performing over the next 5 days. I knew I was in for a treat!

In the afternoon we gathered in the casino for a mandatory safety briefing and evacuation drill. I know this was a serious event but still we managed to have a lot of fun.

After the briefing there was time enough for a cocktail or two and then headed towards the pool deck where a bit later John Kirkman, the host of the cruise announced the sail away show Saga. At the moment the ships horns sounded and we could feel the ship moving Saga started their one hour show, a great trip to memory lane. I must admit goosebumps were  running over my spine as I knew the next 5 days were going to be extremely special.

Whilst at one of the bars in order to get a drink  I met Steve Hogarth from Marillion, an unexpected and pleasant encounter. Seems he had found his way to the bar to as Marillion was only to perform on a later day.

The passengers were divided into two groups, a pink and blue group and all the bigger names of bands who joined the cruise each gave two performances each in the magnificent Pantheon Theater on the 6th and 7th deck, which could seat approximately 2000 people. Although the 4 of us were in the pink group I was not willing to let the chance go to see Steve Hackett performing for the blue group. The Gigs on CTTE were part of the Genesis revisited shows I had already seen twice and were amongst the bet shows i had ever witnessed. And yes I got in, and yes I got goosebumps and yes my singing along was totally out of tune but what a show it was!!!

After the Steve Hackett Gig there were so many things going on simultaneously it was difficult to make a choice. I was able to see part of the Story Teller session from Lifesigns at the pool deck, as how that I really enjoyed.

Shortly before the Lifesigns show ended I headed back towards the Pantheon theater for a concert of the Italian band PMF. Obviously there were a lot of fans in the audience but somehow I could not get the hang of it and left early.

Unfortunately it had started raining outside and the wind was blowing heavily so the poolside concert of Sound of Contact was cancelled that evening. A real shame as I had tremendously been looking forward to that but I would still have the chance to see them life the next couple of days. Tired but very happy I skipped the after hour jam sessions and returned to the cabin for a good nap.

The next morning fresh and revived a sumptuous breakfast was enjoyed before heading to the Golden Jazz Bar at Deck 7. There I saw a presentation of the new Armando Gallo app based on his famous Genesis book I know what I like. It all looked extremely well made and was very enjoyable, best however is that after the presentation I spontaneously bumped into Steve Rothery from Marillion, a nice unexpected meet & greet.

Like yesterday so many events were going on simultaneously and instead of trying to get a glimpse of all bands performing I decided to focus on the bands I really wanted to see and for the rest wander around the ship and enjoy the atmosphere.

I did not have a lot of time for an extended lunch as I had to queue up early at the Pantheon Theater. That afternoon at 2:15 was the first Renaissance concert and with open seating I wanted to ensure to get a good seat. Renaissance for sure was the main reason for me to join this cruise and I had been waiting far to long…

The concert, although only 5 quarters long was magic from the moment the band came on stage I had goosebumps rolling all over me, and that was not the only thing rolling as the ship was moving very noticeably, something that was definitely noticed by the band as Annie Haslam mentioned a couple of times.

The gig was over far to early for my liking but what a performance it was. That was clearly noticed by the audience as well as there was more than one standing ovation.

Whilst still in heaven from the last performance I wandered around the MSC Divina and ended up in the Black and White Lounge where Patrick Moraz was playing. I did not pay much attention during that concert as I spontaneously met David Keys, the bass player from Renaissance and we got engaged in a long and very personal conversation.

After we said goodbye I headed towards the Golden Jazz Bar where my attention was caught by a performance of the Three Friends (Former Gentle Giant). It sounded great but once again I got distracted. This time I enjoyed a drink at the bar with Nad Sylvan, the lead singer in the Steve Hackett Band.

Next on the program was a story teller session with Sound of Contact, The band from Phil Collins‘ son. There was a nice mixture of story telling and music and this the first time I had the opportunity to hear some songs of the fabulous Dimensionaut album live.

Later on in the evening I went back to see the story teller session with Renaissance and I was lucky enough to get a spot close to the stage. Some songs or part of them were played but the interviews and stories told were very funny and informative indeed.

Whilst wondering around the ship awaiting the next performance I saw Jason Hart, keyboard player of Renaissance and also with him I had some real nice and very personal conversations. It was not the last time I met him during the cruise, what a wonderful guy he is!

It might be clear by now that this cruise was turning into a true prog extravaganza. Not only the abundance of gigs but also the artists and people I met made it a very special experience.

At 10:30 that evening the first performance of Yes. Although I had seen them several times before and every single time they managed to impress me this time it certainly was not the case. Maybe I was missing John Anderson whose place was taken by John Davison, maybe I was suffering from an overdose of prog (although I seriously doubt there is something like an overdose of prog), or maybe it was all part of my serious illness, something I was fortunately not aware of yet during the cruise. I managed to doze away a couple of times during the gig and decided to call it a day. There was still the Karaoke Prog and the After Hours Prog Jam to go to but I was exhausted and was more than happy to go to bed and close my eyes.

Day 3 of the cruise, I woke up totally refreshed again. As usual we found the progrm of the day on our doorstep and also this day promised to be really exciting. The first concert I was really excited about was Sound of Contact at the pool deck. I made sure to show up early so I secured a good place Ulrich and myself. Still I had not get used to sit on an outside deck at a large cruise ship and witness one fabulous gig after the other. Definitely an out of this world experience and I was extremely happy to be part of this.

The sound of contact gig was absolutely amazing and I cannot believe how Simon Collins sounds exactly as his father at times. Let’s hope he does not follow the same commercial path as his father and ruin something beautiful.

As by now we had arrived in Cozomel and the ship had anchored in the harbor. There was no time to go on land though as one of the next highlights was already scheduled and I was not going to miss this for anything in the world. Being amongst the first 300 guests who had booked through a special Marillion link all four of us were invited to a Marillion reception in one of the bars overlooking the pool area. It was a small and intimate event and whilst zipping some cocktails I was extremely happy to meet both Mark and Pete who I had not met earlier on the ship/. Unfortunately Ian was not present as he was in hospital for minor surgery and could not attend the cruise.

Later on in the afternoon I went to see UK. Although I have some of their albums it never came to my mind to see them live and sometimes the unexpected is the most beautiful. Their show absolutely blew me away. Unfortunately there a strict ban on photography so this one I can not share this experience over here.

After the UK gig I wondered around the ship, enjoyed an a la cart dinner with lobster and fish and returned to the pool deck for a Tangerine Dream Concert. TD was maybe a strange selection as they’re not really prog but I was not complaining especially as they played some long term favorites of mine. The show was amazing, inclusive Laser projections high in the sky and once again I felt special witnessing a concert like this whilst moored at the coast of Cozumel in Mexico.

Especially performances of Logos and Cloudburst Flight brought me in seventh heaven and in spite of rumors that Edgar Froese had not played a note live I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

The next performance at the pool deck was from The Pineapple Thief and although not very familiar with their music I decided to hang around and chat with some fellow passengers whilst waiting for their performance.

Although pretty good halfway during the gig I left the pool deck and headed towards the Pantheon Theater for the second Yes gig on that cruise. In spite on having the wrong color on my laminate I was granted access and found myself a ice place for the remainder of the gig that had already started.

Like during the first gig Yes not really managed to grab my attention and once again I dozed away on more than one occasion. I started to question myself whether I was getting to old for the rock ‘n roll lifestyle but answers to that question came hardly a month after my return from Cruise to the edge and I had to undergo major surgery. Anyway, that was something I did not know yet and having had enough for the day I returned to the cabin, leaving Yes and the after hours prog jam for what they were. It had been a brilliant day!

On the fourth morning of our cruise it was announced we would not sail to Honduras as the weather was very bad over there but we would remain in Cozomel instead. I was not under the impression anyone was bothered as all on board were here for the music only and the rest was a bonus.

As during the daytime not a lot of gigs were scheduled anyway that I wanted to see I went off board and got a glimpse of Mexico instead.  Of course I could not leave without drinking a tequila and whilst sitting on a terrace I used the complimentary WIFI in order to call my father and congratulate him on his birthday.

Back on board I visited an exhibition of the artwork of Roger Dean who is responsible for most of the artwork on the Yes albums and it was really nice to see some of his work full scale instead of on the limited space that is offered by a CD cover.

And then it was time again to immerse in the concerts. The first one in a row was Steve Hackett in the Pantheon Theater and this time, unlike his first gig we were lucky to have some special guests during the gig, John Wetton from UK, Chris Squire from Yes and Simon Collins from Sound of Contact. Having Wetton, Squire and Hackett together on one stage must be something most prog fans can only dream about.

I hardly had time for a quick dinner as I wanted to secure good a good place for the Renaissance concert at the Pool deck. I happened to sit behind the wives of Dave Keyes (The bassist) and Frank Pagano (The drummer). Dave’s wife recognized me from the conversation I had with the both of them earlier on the cruise and we spend the time waiting for the concert chatting to each other.

As we had left Cozomel and were on the sea again it was extremely windy and the whole band had problems keeping their equipment together from flying away. Maybe it was not your typical Renaissance concert but they made the best of it and it certainly was one to remember, if only for the unusual setting.

After the Renaissance gig I had a drink at the bar but then it was time to move towards the Pantheon Theatre again for the first Marillion gig of the cruise. As it was a “pink” show I did not have to rush as I had a fixed seat anyway.

And of course Marillion did not disappoint. In spite of having a stand-in drummer for Ian and Steve Rothery sitting most of the gig due to some back pain it was a brilliant show. As they started with The Invisible Men things could not go wrong for me anyway…

It was the last major gig of the day and maybe because of the adrenaline rush of the Marillion performance I was fit enough to attend some of the after hours prog jam. It was amazing to see how good amateurs who never met each other before their performance played together and for me it was a worthy finish of yet another day.

Time was flying by so quickly and I had already seen so many mind blowing performances I could hardly believe it was the fifth and final day of the cruise. There were some meet and greets planned with amongst others Steve Hackett and Renaissance but as there was a what seemed endless queue is skipped on that opportunity. There was some time to swim and soak in one of the jacuzzis as the story teller session with Marillion was not scheduled until 11:00 AM.

It was still very windy at the pool deck and because of that it was difficult for the band members to hear the questions. h. and Mark solved that issue by coming to the front of the stage and that was only one of hilarious events during the Q & A.

As I was not impressed by both performances of Yes I decided to skip their storytellers session at the pool deck and went for lunch instead. In the dining hall I met Frank Pagana’s (drummer of Renaissance) wife and so the three of us sat together for lunch.

After lunch I headed to the Pantheon Theater for a full blown Sound of Contact Concert. As the daytime gig at the pool deck still had a bit of a festival atmosphere this was more like it. A brilliant gig indeed which became even more special when Steve Hackett was invited on stage for a couple of songs. Was it real or was I dreaming?

Hardly was the Sound Of Contact gig finished or the next event was already scheduled, the second performance of Saga. It seemed to me they were much better in shape than during the first gig and it looked like they were having a lot of more fun as well.

After the gig I bumped into Gary O’Tool from the Steve Hackett band and he was friendly enough to have his picture taken with me as well. This is one of the special things of going on a cruise like this. You have the opportunity to meet a lot of artists and most of them are open for a little chat and willing to be on a picture. Absolutely fabulous.

Having met one of his band members reminded me of going to see the man himself during a storyteller session in the Black & White Lounge. There I saw Jack sitting front row and he called me over so I was in a perfect position for this very intimate Q&A and acoustic gig.

Later on in the evening I went to see Tangerine Dream in the Pantheon Theater. I must admit that this set could not grab me as much as their gig at the pool deck. It still was a nice show but for me it was missing the magic of the first night.

As the prog Jam started early today I was able to go and see some amateurs at work in the La Luna Piano Bar and like the first time I was extremely impressed by their efforts. It cannot be easy to play some of the most complex complex tracks with a group of other people you meet for the first time on stage… My compliments!! The Prog Jam even attracted some professional artist as I noticed Chris Squire from Yes sitting in the audience enjoying himself. This was one of the special things of the cruise to see artist off the stage and have the opportunity to have a brief chat with them.

And then it was time again to try and get a seat for the Marillion gig for the Blue Laminates… As the boat was not completely sold out (Thanks for that as it would have been far to crowded in that case anyway) I did manage to get in even before the concert started.The setlist was totally different from the first gig, which was fantastic for the people like myself who attended both gigs. As soon as the first notes of Gaza filled the air I knew I was in for yet another Marillion treat. For me the perfect way to finish of a5 days of true prog extravaganza.

With the Marillion Concert also came an end to Cruise To The Edge 2014. I was completely happy and satisfied about the whole trip but also exhausted. Immediately after the gig I returned to the cabin and fell into a deep and happy sleep.

Next morning was time to say goodbye to Jack who was already flying home. Ulrich, Volker and myself still had some time to enjoy Miami South Beach and later in the afternoon I could not resist ordering a small cocktail. I must admit I was able to limit myself to one drink only…

It had been an extraordinary and mind-blowing event. Not only having seen some of my top bands in just a couple of days, but also spending time on a floating festival, sailing the Caribbean from Miami to Mexico and back with thousands of like minded people on board. Meeting some of the artists, many wonderful people and having had the possibility to share this very special week with Ulrich, Volker and Jack is something I will not forget easy. It was magic!

Thanks Ulrich, Volker and Jack for sharing this experience with me!