Traci and I would normally head back to our cabin around 5:30 PM to get changed for the evening. It was also around this time that one of the comedians onboard would take over the ship's PA and give his/her comedic take on the evening concerts and the theme night attire announcements.
The theme nights for this year were:
These were the same as last year except Nubian Night replaced Toga Night. Traci participated in all the theme nights. I did all of them except Nubian Night and Pajama Night.
Around midnight each night, there was a parade on the Promenade Deck in which passengers could show off their costumes. People really go all out on this cruise. We normally watched from the window of our cabin.
Soul Train Night
My favorite night continues to be Mardi Gras Night. Traci and I were dressed as a colonial couple. Some called us George and Martha Washington. Some of the crew members thought I looked like a judge in the British judicial system and would yell, "I'm innocent!". I liked the passenger that called us Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. It was all good. We received many compliments and posed for several pictures.
We participated in the Midnight Mardi Gras Parade. It did not start until almost 1 AM apparently because the main stage concert ran a little long and the TJMS crew still had to get into their costumes. While we waited in the uncomfortably warm dining room with the rest of the participants, we had fun taking pictures of some of the creative costumes people were wearing. There was one lady who caught everyone's attention for lack of costume - Body Shot Girl. Her costume was panties and Dixie cups sparsely pasted all over her body - that was it!
There was so much excitement when the parade finally did start. We entered the crowded Promenade Deck while strutting to New Orleans music. Cameras were flashing. People were pointing and waving. Videographers were filming. Confetti was falling. The parade evolved into a big party in which the TJMS crew was tossing beads from one of the balconies over the Promenade Deck. It was the best night of the cruise.
Traci and me as the colonial couple
Tom Joyner as Shrek
From 9 PM until the wee hours of the next morning, the ship transforms into a grand R&B music festival. All of the performances we saw this year were very good. Some of the outstanding ones for me were the Return of Ron Isley, the Back in Black Remix old school hip hop concert, the '70s Funk Show, and Charlie Wilson. We were happy to see the Gospel Concert was brought back this year. It was held the first night on the main stage and featured Byron Cage, David & Tamela Mann (from Meet the Browns), and Dr. Bobby Jones.
The main stage concerts took place in the Platinum Theater where there is seating for approximately 1,300 passengers. The shows normally featured at least two artists and ran from 9 PM until approximately midnight. Several of these artists performed two nights. This was a great help in planning our concert viewing schedule. The concerts were also shown on the large screens over the Promenade Deck. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly is always a major draw on this cruise. To accommodate everyone, his show was shown on monitors in every lounge and on the TV in every cabin in addition to the screen over the Promenade Deck.
In the Sphinx Lounge, Chuck Brown performed D.C. go-go music from 11 PM to 2 AM Sunday through Friday. The 300-person seating in this lounge is almost irrelevant since the whole place turns into a dance party when the band hits the stage. Despite this, there is an occupancy limit. We tried to see Chuck after one of the main stage concerts but the lounge was already full. We never made it back on the other nights.
The Viking Crown Lounge is one of the smallest venues and has more of an intimate jazz club feel - although the genre of the shows are not always jazz. The performances here were from 11 PM to 1 AM. There is very limited seating (134) and some of the seats have an obstructed view or no view at all. Sometimes it was better to stand in the back for the shows in this room. We were lucky enough to get a non-obstructed seat one night for the Leela James performance but Leela doesn't like for her audience to sit down. She wants everyone up partying with her. It was a fun show.
Then there is Studio B. On other cruises, this is where the ice skating shows take place; however, for the Tom Joyner cruise, the ice rink is converted to a large dance floor. There is seating for 760 surrounding the dance floor. A stage is added to the front of the room. It is on this stage that the 2 AM concerts took place. They would end between 3:30 and 5 AM! Some passengers who are real night owls would go to the Catacombs night club after the concerts to continue partying until 6:30 AM!
It was typically a challenge for Traci and me to stay up long enough to even make it to the Studio B shows but we always made a good effort. We would sometimes nap from 1:15 to 1:45 AM and rely on a wake-up call. Later in the week, our strategy shifted to not napping in the cabin. We would go to the Windjammer Buffet on Deck 11 or to Sorrentos on the Promenade Deck for a late night snack. The Windjammer was serving pizza, burgers, fries, desserts, etc.. Some nights they offered ribs, collard greens, and jerk chicken in addition to their normal menu. Sorrentos normally offers pizza, finger sandwiches, and desserts throughout the day. Some nights, after midnight, they added a buffet serving ribs and chicken.
If Traci and I could stay up long enough to make it to Studio B, we would always stand on the floor in front of the stage. This had two advantages. First, at those late hours, we knew that we would be fighting sleep if we were sitting instead of standing - no matter how good the concert was. Second, standing at the stage makes the performance more interactive. We even got a high-five from Charlie Wilson as he performed.
Minister Louis Farrakhan closing hip-hop show with a speech
Traci surprised me this year because not only did she stay to see the entire House Party Reunion concert that ended at 5 AM, but she also managed to attend Dr. Bobby Jones' Morning Devotion at 8 AM and then work out afterwards. I was too worn out to attend Morning Devotion and I definitely was not working out on vacation so I told Traci to wake me up when she was ready to go to breakfast. We each hit our breaking point during the week. Traci's was Tuesday when she to chose to sleep instead of attending the 2 AM '70s Funk Show with me. My breaking point was Wednesday when I chose to sleep instead of attending the Force Meets the Forces concert and Soul Train party with Traci.
Traci and I knew there was no way we were going to be able to see every performance that week. To maximize the number of shows we saw, we had to plan our evenings carefully. Fortunately, many of the artists we wanted to see performed more than one night. We would sometimes leave one concert early to catch part of another and then return the next night to catch the portion we missed. Using this strategy meant we normally had to stand in the back since all the seats were occupied when we arrived after a show had started.
There was only one concert on the last night of the cruise - the All-Star Comedy Show. It took place on the main stage and featured the comedians that had been opening for the musical concerts all week. Although most of the comedians were hilarious, I don't think the profanity that some of them used was necessary.
Here is a list of this year's performers:
Here is a list of the comedians that performed on the cruise this year:
Comedian Damon Williams