Every fan we talked to on the '90s-Themed Ship-Hop Cruise had the same praises to sing about the experience: There was a special sense of camaraderie among everyone onboard, and all the artists were friendly, humble and always willing to stop and chat with fans or take selfies.
The inaugural Ship-Hop cruise kicked off in January 2018 onboard Carnival Sensation. For four nights, fans got to kick it with more than 15 old school hip-hop icons, including Vanilla Ice, Salt-N-Pepa, Sisqo, Coolio, Naughty by Nature and Kid 'n Play. Nostalgic concerts took over the main theater and pool deck every day, while totally fly theme parties, competitions, meet-and-greets, professional photo-opportunities and other themed activities turned the entire ship into one big '90s block party. Even better: All the extras were included in the cruise fare.
We caught up with Vanilla Ice onboard the first sailing to get a behind-the-scenes perspective of how it all went down. While a second Ship-Hop Cruise is not yet on the books, Vanilla Ice and the others hinted one is in the works. Here's an inside look at some of the highlights from our experience, with thoughts from Ice Ice Baby himself.
Photos: Christina Janansky/Cruise Critic
The Sail-away Party
Anyone who's been on a theme cruise before knows that the sail-away party sets the tone for the days ahead. On our cruise, we couldn't think of a better artist than Vanilla Ice -- with his raging party-throwing skills (more on that later) -- to kick off the celebrations.
The Lido Deck was packed with fans, the bass kicked in and the fingers were pumpin' (sorry, we had to) -- from the stage, Ice's posse threw beach balls into the crowd and cooled off fans in the front by spraying them with water guns. Then came the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, just in time for "Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go."
"When we first started the whole thing -- oh my God. How magical was that? There was a sea of people," said Vanilla Ice. "I looked all the way to the back at all the different levels of where [the fans] were -- everybody was dancing."
Imagine hearing songs that once lived on your homemade mixtape performed by the artists, live onstage. Concerts are held throughout the day and every night, on the pool deck and in the ship's main theater. A handful of lucky fans even got a chance to dance onstage. Each artist was scheduled to perform more than once, too -- so if you couldn't make it the first time, you could always catch them at the second show.
From what we heard, most fans attended all the concerts put on by their favorites. And while most artists performed the same songs each time, the vibe was always different. You never knew when Coolio might crash Vanilla Ice's show, or when Salt-N-Pepa might feel compelled to call a few lucky guys from the audience onstage for "Whatta Man."
Each night boasted a different theme, ranging from '90s prom to a "Rollin' with the Jammies" slumber party. Fans were encouraged to dress up -- and took full advantage. (Kudos to the "Dumb and Dumber" duo in blue and orange tuxedos.)
Vanilla Ice's Surprise Beach Party
When Vanilla Ice gets on the ship's loudspeaker and invites everyone to a beach party, you clear your schedule, make sure you're there early and prepare your liver.
It all went down at Paradise Beach in Cozumel, Mexico. A couple of hundred or so lucky fans (we heard security began turning away people who arrived after the party had already started) showed up at the resort, where Vanilla Ice propped up two old school boom boxes on a small stage and performed while his crew made sure fans were hydrated -- pouring tequila into empty cups and open mouths. Countless concerts, dance-offs, surprise appearances by some of the other artists and 16 bottles of Don Julio later -- and we felt like we'd just witnessed the ultimate '90s block party.
Vanilla Ice told us what inspired him to do something crazy and spontaneous for his fans: "That's what we used to do back in the '90s. We would just jump in our car, head out the door -- we knew an area we would go to, but we didn't really know what was happening. So, I figured, look, we're on the '90s cruise, let's go back. Let's act like teenagers and just kind of create a rogue party on the beach!"
Win a Date with Salt
Salt-N-Pepa's Salt is single and ready to mingle, and on the Ship-Hop Cruise, her thoughtful bandmates Pepa and DJ Spinderella wanted to hook her up on a hot date -- with one of her fans. Of course, Salt got to choose. Eligible bachelors faced off in a competition, where they were asked stereotypical "dating game" questions, and Salt (with her back turned away from them) would narrow down the contestants based on her favorite answers. The last man standing was treated to dinner and drinks with Salt on the last night of the cruise. We're still waiting for an update on how that date went.
Cooking with Coolio
The rapper best known for "Gangsta's Paradise" is a man of many talents -- including cooking. On the Ship-Hop Cruise, fans were treated to a live demo, inspired by his web video series, "Cooking with Coolio." He even called up fans to try the finished product. We heard a lot of "Mmms," "Yums" and "Dang, this is good!"
The Up-Close-and-Personal Experience
By the end of day two -- after getting some facetime with the artists around the ship or at one of the organized activities -- fans began to feel like they were developing personal connections with the cruise's stars. That's because the artists took the time to get to know their fans, and hear their stories. It wasn't uncommon to see Naughty by Nature's Vin Rock sitting with fans at the buffet, or Vanilla Ice buying a round of shots for his fans at the bar. Many of the artists told us that they didn't even feel like they were working.
"All the people and the fans, here, they get this up close and personal kind of experience with us," said Vanilla Ice. "I had some vanilla ice cream in my hand [and was] taking selfies [with them]!"
No '90s ensemble was complete without a Gangsta's Berry Paradise cocktail in hand. All the bars onboard served a themed drink of the day, including the Funky Cold Margarita, the Rump Shaker and the Ship-Hop Hooray. Passengers could still order drinks off the regular menus, like the Cucumber Sunrise -- a perennial Carnival favorite -- found at the Alchemy Bar.
The Chance to Unwind
While themed activities are available around the clock, the list of daily activities isn't designed to be a regimented schedule. Fans can come and go as they please, and still have the ability to enjoy some of the ship's regular offerings -- from trivia to spa treatments. The ports, too, offer the chance to get out and hit the beach, do a little shopping around town or explore on an organized shore excursion.
On a cruise ship with nearly 2,000 other passengers who all love the same music and everything '90s, you're bound to make a few friends. We even heard stories from fans who plan to keep in touch and reunite on the next Ship-Hop Cruise.
Vanilla Ice can attest: "You know how you know [the cruise] is a success? By looking at how many people are smiling all around the ship, and everywhere I go, everywhere I look, people are laughing and enjoying the moments.
"It don't matter what kind of ship it is -- how new, how old, how big -- it doesn't matter. ... If it was all empty, you wouldn't even want to be on it. The people make it."
Cruise ship sun decks offer all the convenience of loungers, hot tubs and beverage service -- and all the headaches of screaming children, rock concerts on poolside screens and live bands playing "Hot Hot Hot" for the 20th time. Adults-only sun decks offer all the former in a much more serene environment. We have nothing against kids, but even on the most family-friendly cruise ships, an area explicitly excluding children gives parents a valuable hour or two of "me time," while maintaining the sanity of fellow cruisers who came on vacation for peace, quiet and minimal crying. Adults-only sun decks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many have amenities not available in the main deck areas and nicer loungers or sun beds; some also require an entry fee. We have not included adults-only solariums that are strictly covered pools. If the only "whining" you want comes with dining, then consider the following six sun decks that maintain a strict adults-only ambiance.