10th annual Capital Jazz SuperCruise

The 10th annual Capital Jazz SuperCruise sailed from Miami, FL, it took place October 23-30, 2016 and was supposed to sail to San Juan, St. Kitts and Great Stirrup Cay. Due to the damage done by hurricane Matthews, Great Stirrups Cay was replaced with Nassau, Bahamas, but since we were here for the music, this was no big deal for me.

As opposed to earlier reviews of this cruise, this time I went for a diary approach and listed my personal activities and impressions of the proceedings. There were tons of other shows going on, mostly comedy and neo-soul, which I more or less ignored and didn't cover below. To get a general idea what a Capital Jazz Cruise offers, check out last year's review.

For this anniversary cruise which was supposed to top everything that preceded it, the SuperCruise sailed on a bigger ship, the newly built Norwegian Getaway which accommodates almost 4000 passengers, a step up from the smaller Carnival ships that had been used before. Unfortunately, this was not without problems. The biggest one was the fact that the size of the venues available on the ship didn't match the number of attendees, so we had to make reservations to control the flow of people. After having embarked the ship, long lines of SuperCruisers were building up in front of the screens where one had to reserve their favourite shows - a thing considered by many to be a nuisance and not serving the party spirit. People showed up well prepared with lists of artists they wanted to see, only to find out after having stood in line for hours that many shows were already completely booked and therefore unavailable to them. In addition, the reservation system did seem to have a few glitches. In the end, many people only could get tickets to 1-2 major shows, which caused a lot of anger and frustration. Many wanted to speak to a representative, so the lines in front of the box office desk were long, and the noise from all the chatter in the room was almost deafening. I saw lots of unhappy cruisers around me!

With the new ship and the unfamiliar layout, you could see several lost souls wandering around trying to find some trace of a party. Pop and country music was playing on the ship's sound system. Not a lot was happening the first night, except the shows accessible for a minority of lucky cruisers. Many people were already regretting to be on the boat, one woman was screaming "I hate this boat!". I felt similarly. There was no information on how those being turned away would be entertained in some other way, we were left on our own. One guy stated: "This takes the Capital Jazz Cruise off the map". Still, although I was pretty pissed, I decided to withheld my conclusion until the end of the cruise.

Despite the fact that I had to do without my favourite band Incognito, the evening was not a total failure. We spent some time at the restaurant discussing our options, then tried to get into the second Incognito set, but there were so many people standing in line hoping to get access that this seemed pointless. So we went over to the José James show, where we were able to get seats of people who left early, and caught the last few songs of his set. The same was true for the Ken Ford show, we were allowed to stand in the back and caught the last part of his concert. Then it was time for Frank McComb who plays each night at the "living room" with various guests, before we finished the night with the Urban Guerrilla Orchestra, a great funk and jazz cover band who brought the house down in the "Atrium".

Day 2 was a shore day in Nassau, Bahamas where shows by comedian/actor Wanda Sykes and neo-soul singer Jill Scott were scheduled. They had set up a stage on the premises of the Atlantis Resort, a huge casino and hotel complex that is one of the landmarks of Nassau. I was walking there from the cruise terminal, allowing me to check out the Atlantis Resort from the inside, which was truly memorable. Then we were sweating in the plain sun to hear Wanda Sykes who did a one hour comedy show, followed by Jill Scott and band performing her well known songs. As the night before, the vibe was a bit low, people were still unhappy with how things were handled by Capital Jazz, in addition, many were upset that they were charged for food and drinks. Back with the shuttle service to the boat. I bumped into several people I had met on previous cruises and made some new friends as well. Later I listened to some of the "Sounds Of Brazil" DJ Set by Scott Adams which provided a nice and different vibe.

In the afternoon, the management responded with a letter to all customers, offering additional seating to accommodate more people, additional shows if possible and standby seating to allow the use of all available seats. Shows were broadcast to big screens and on the stateroom TVs for those still unable to attend. So at least the problems were acknowledged and some kind of solutions presented, although this meant more standing in line and extra hassles to hopefully see the show you wanted. In the end, only the comedians put on extra shows, no extra concerts were added. Anyway, things started to loosen up a bit.

I was eventually able to reserve a seat for the show of Diane Schuur which took place in the nice "Headliners Lounge", she appeared in a trio setting plus sax and provided a good show. Next were Kindred The Family Soul, I had to stand by in a long line and eventually was let in, which was cool. Unfortunately, the venue ("Tropicana Room") was a big dining hall that seated a lot of people, but only allowed a minority an unobstructed view to the stage, most of the people either sat too far away or had big posts in front of them, so this place didn't provide a good concert experience, apart from the fact that waiters were constantly moving around you. After that show, I went to see Four80East in the "Atrium", another venue that worked well. They did one of the best shows of the whole cruise, and the monster bass of David Dyson and the sax and flute of Marcus Anderson took their music to the next level.

Day 3 was a sea day that featured all the familiar events people love on the Capital Jazz Cruise: A Gospel brunch, several dancing classes, various DJ sets, Q&A sessions and a "legends of hip-hop" discussion panel among other things, keeping people entertained during the day. Most notably, the traditional bass boot camp by Gerald Veasley and other teaching classes, plus popular fun director Audrey Watson were absent, marking a step backwards.

I got my cup of coffee, worked on some images on my computer, spent some time again with Scott Adams' "Sounds Of Brazil" DJ set, grabbed some food, then checked out the Jonnie Steele Band, a slow jams cover band on the pool deck. Still, things were rather subdued, people were going through the motions, but I didn't spot a lot of genuine fun and enjoyment. I got myself a spa appointment (!), and later tried to do my best on the "Name That Tune" game which is always popular, the first couple of seconds of a song were played and then you had to name title and artist, here I felt again the SuperCruise vibe with people singing and dancing to their favourite songs. Since nothing of interest happened after that, I took a nap at my stateroom, before I got ready for the evening entertainment.

The first major show I wanted to attend was Jazz Funk Soul (featuring Everette Harp, Jeff Lorber and Chuck Loeb) at the Tropicana Room. Since I didn't manage to get a reservation, I intended to wait in the standby line, but when I arrived 30 minutes prior to the show, they had already let in people with reservations and - violating their own rules - the standby line as well, filling up the venue completely, all we were offered was standing room only. So we formed another line, which allowed me to witness what was happening. A woman with a reservation who showed up in time was turned away because they had let in standby people too early. A guy that had been inside left the room in a state of fury, I guess he ran into some new troubles and reached the boiling point, being ready to leave right now, the only problem was that he was stuck on a boat. Then they let us in, despite the fact that we stated that we wanted to stand in the back, they forced us on a table. Things were a mess, there seemed to be no leadership. Nevertheless, the band came on stage and played beautifully, we stood in the back of the room overseeing the stage and had an acceptable live experience.

After that show, I went to the "Get Down Club" which is my favourite spot on the ship. Trumpet player Joey Sommerville hosts this event which took place three times during the cruise, having two guests each night playing two identical sets. This night it was keyboard player James Lloyd (one of the founding members of Pieces Of A Dream) and sax and guitar player Vincent Ingala who both delivered great shows, everything went smoothly, everybody got a seat, one could see the stage, the vibe was right. After that I got some food and coffee, quickly checked out The Rebirth, a neo-soul band from London that performed in the Atrium, and left after a while to see what Frank McComb was doing in the "living room" and which guests would join him tonight (it was Farnell Newton on trumpet).

Day 4 was another shore day, visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico, a familiar port to many SuperCruisers. I made it short, went to my favourite bar (Nono's) had a sandwich and a few beers, went back to the ship and had my nap, before the festivities continued.

Nick Colionne was scheduled at the Tropicana Room, since I didn't have a reservation, I went there 20 minutes prior to the show to join the standby line. When I arrived, there was none, I was just let inside and even got a seat right in front of the stage, so I was pretty happy how easily things were going. Nick Colionne did a great, energetic show as usual. After that, I quickly checked out neo-soul singer Algebra Blesset, before I went over to the Gateway Theatre where Patti Austin and BWB were going to do their second show. Since their show was a major one, they were scheduled 4 times totally, I had made reservations for the next day, but tried to see them that night, because this fit better into my plans. I had to wait a little while in the standby line, was let in, and easily found a decent seat close to the stage, allowing me to enjoy this great show to the fullest. Patti Austin was joking and telling stories in between songs and sang a string of her greatest hits, while BWB drew from their vast catalog and blew us away. After the show I got some food, then spent some time again in Frank McComb's "living room" where he had his band with him and really stretched out.

Day 5 was the last shore day, we visited St. Kitts, a small Caribbean island with a nice town and lots of shopping opportunities, where I was checking out the town and had some food and drinks. Back to the ship to get some rest, before the evening continued.

As usual, I warmed up with Scott Adams' "Sounds Of Brazil" DJ set, before I went to see Lee Ritenour at the Tropicana Room. Again, despite not having a reservation, I was easily admitted and even got a nice seat in front of the stage, where they had set up a small seating section. It was a great show by a consummate player doing lots of familiar songs which was well received. On the way back I listened to the concert of neo-soul singer Dwele for a short while, before I stood in line at the "Get Down Club". There I got easy access as well, host Joey Sommerville kicked off the night, before his guests Marcus Johnson on keyboards and Deon Yates on saxophone took over, delivering another energetic show. I got a cup of coffee and briefly checked out Soul Understated at the Atrium, before I went to the theatre to attend the "Late Night Jam" hosted by Jeff Bradshaw. This show was off the hook, tons of players contributed - among them James Lloyd, Nick Colionne and Ken Ford - having the audience on their feet. This was a great night of music with the SuperCruise having become totally enjoyable again. Back to bed past 3am.

Day 6 was a sea day full of activities. After my usual cup of coffee, I opted to attend a few Q&A sessions. I went to see the Q&A session of Joey Sommerville, it was totally enlightening, and the fact that Frank McComb who was in the audience shared some information as well made it even more rewarding. After that I tried to get into the second brunch show of Howard Hewett, but the endless standby lines indicated that this would be impossible, which was very frustrating - not only for me, but for many others who were standing in line for a long time and were ultimately turned away, which again caused some unrest. So I spent my time with food and drinks and another nap, there was nothing else of interest music wise for me going on during the afternoon. I tried to get in without a reservation at the first show of Ledisi and The O'Jays, waited in the standby line, was admitted, but the theatre was already packed with no empty seat available, so I left again and tried my luck with the Regina Belle show at the Tropicana Room, where I was luckier and got a seat at a table rather close to the stage. The lady still has got it and delivered a powerful show. After that I got some food, and went back to the second set at the theatre, where I at least got to stand in the back to catch Ledisi. I left for a cup of coffee, and back for the set of The O'Jays, who delivered a string of classics, it was a great experience to witness those music royalties with their flawless performance. After that, it was time for the "Soul Session" hosted by Eric Roberson, featuring several great singers in a loose setting. When this was over, I wasn't ready for my bed, so I stayed for the rest of "Soul Vibes" with DJ Francis Jaye, before I hit the sack. That is what the Capital Jazz Cruise is all about!

Day 7, the last day of the cruise was another sea day, I went straight to the Tropicana Room where I caught the early brunch show of Walter Beasley, as usual without a reservation, I got in with no waiting and even got the opportunity to sit right in front of the stage, which provided a perfect concert experience, even James Lloyd sat in on one song. After a short coffee break, I went to see the "jazz artists panel" with James Lloyd, Tres Gilbert, Vincent Ingala and Deon Yates, providing interesting insights into the careers of those artists. I just love those Q&A sessions, they give you the opportunity to ask those people questions and hear about their view of things. Next was the afternoon show of the Dance Theatre Of Harlem, which was simply stunning. Those classical dancers brought a different element to the cruise. Then on to my favourite "name that tune" game where I tried to do my best to guess artist and title of the songs, before I took some rest before the final festivities of the evening continued.

As usual, the "Get Down Club" hosted by Joey Sommerville was the place to be on the ship, on their third and last night, bass player Tres Gilbert who just released his first solo album and legendary trumpet player Tom Browne were the featured players. Their show was off the hook, the place was packed and so was the stage with many guests players, like Jeff Bradshaw, they had people off their seats at the end of this funky show. Next was my good friend Frank McComb who did his own show with a full band, featuring his great singing and rhodes playing. I shortly checked out the salsa party featuring Latin Express, the "open mic" night hosted by Eric Roberson and the closing party hosted by DJ Kid Capri, before I hit the sack. We had to get up early the next morning to disembark the ship in time.

Summing up this year's 10th annual Capital Jazz SuperCruise, it was another memorable week with lots of great music experiences, but unfortunately several shortcomings caused a lot of anger and frustration and took away from the overall fun of it, especially tedious was the uncertainty in getting seats, the long hours we were forced to stand in line, and the limited capacity of certain venues. In addition, due to the larger ship, the party atmosphere of earlier years was not omnipresent, it only popped up locally and temporarily, which was sad. It took a while to overcome the subdued feelings of the first few days, find the good stuff and get into the party mood. There were many people on this cruise for the first time, so they had no previous experience to compare to, but I am sure that many were so pissed off and disappointed that they won't come back. I think the Capital Jazz people have to go back to the drawing board to work out the kinks and find ways to bring back the old party spirit. I have made a few suggestions after this review and hope that the right people will read them. Nevertheless, I will be back next year and will give them one more chance, expecting them to eventually "rock the boat" the way only Capital Jazz can!

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My suggestions for next year's and future SuperCruises in general:

  • Let's go back to a smaller boat. Despite all the shortcomings with the Carnival ship, it served our needs a lot better. On this big Norwegian ship, things were too spread out to allow for a party atmosphere to unwind, even the main area of the ship was spread across three levels! On the Carnival ship there was one single level to circulate from aft to forward, so things concentrated there, which allowed to meet friends and artist much easier, and spontaneous party action could spring up there easily. If you have to, run the cruise twice in succession to satisfy the demand.
  • Should we be stuck with this ship, then it needs even more entertainment. In too many areas of the ship there should have been a DJ or an additional show available, especially to accommodate the "overflow crowd" that couldn't get seats. It has to be the biggest party on the sea for the real music lover, this year it seemed in parts like a regular cruise with people just hanging around and looking bored. Don't rely on movies and sports projections in major spots of the ship, give us the real thing.
  • In addition, there was no big Lido deck for a big party or concerts, so another core element was missing. The Lido level on the Norwegian Getaway was an area that was more dividing than uniting. Never did I stay so much inside a boat like on this one, it didn't invite people to outdoor activities.
  • Some of the concert venues were definitely lacking, especially the "Tropicana Room" with its big posts and spread out layout didn't provide a good concert experience. And the "Getaway Theatre" was nice, but I was not sure if it held enough people. Half of the boat should be able to attend any show. The other smaller venues worked well, maybe with the exception of the "living room" which did not provide the right setting to make the concept work.
  • Abolish the dreadful reservation system. Go back to early and late seating and that's it. Apart from the fact that the system didn't work satisfactorily, it was a nuisance to begin with to have to make reservations and not be free, float around the ship and do whatever you felt like doing. We are on holidays after all! In case some kind of reservations are inevitable, then have us make those before the cruise, and spare us the long waiting lines on board.
  • Book me as a DJ to spin Jazz and Jazz-Funk, this genre has been under represented.