CATCHING RAVES: Head out to sea for the ultimate 80s festival
by ASHLEIGH RAINBIRD
It’s October, we are in the middle of the English Channel and it’s 16C tops. But when Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now blasts from the top deck of the Explorer of the Seas, nothing can stop a man in a red Morph suit from sprinting past me to dive headfirst into a swimming pool. Standing to unzip his head, Morph lets out a roar as revellers erupt into cheers.
It’s the second afternoon of Floating Festivals’ Throwback 80s cruise and the party has been in full swing since we boarded the ship. The fun started immediately. While we were still docked in Southampton, I saw a shivering hero in swimming trunks being pelted with rain as he collected drinks for his wife.
As we departed, Fun House host Pat Sharp (a deity onboard) introduced stars from Bucks Fizz and Brother Beyond to sing to fancy-dressed crowds in a vibrantly decorated promenade, accompanied by dancers wearing silver suits and disco ball heads.
It’s silly, infectious and brilliantly fun. I’m fully into the spirit by the time we sing Rod Stewart’s Sailing as we ease out of the dock. By day two, I didn’t even fancy disembarking at Le Havre. In my defence, when I asked where the ship stopped off, one staff member told me: “It doesn’t matter.” And I’d agree. Entertainment is everywhere in abundance. One night, dinner is interrupted by dancers dressed as Pac-Man, and Bobby Davro hosts a very popular bingo session (at $50pp extra).
And I’m impressed with the staff’s commitment to ensuring there are never any queues for drinks – pop-up bars even appear on the dance floor at the last night covers band’s party, to help us make use of the all-inclusive packages.
Films from the 80s, including Top Gun and The Breakfast Club, play back to back, so downtime in your cabin is also catered for. But the big draw for the event is the headliners, who perform two shows to ensure everyone can attend. Sister Sledge kicks off their set with Frankie and unleashes a solid hour of singalong soul classics.
UB40 raise eyebrows when they opt to play new material. But when they play Red Red Wine, a middle-aged Ghostbuster storms the stage and all is forgiven.
Unofficial master of ceremonies Pat Sharp graciously grants hundreds of requests for selfies, offering the odd wisecrack. “Had a drink, mate?” he asks one squiffy stage invader. He also comperes audience Q&As, including Sunday’s headliner Tony Hadley chuckling through an hour of fantastic anecdotes. At the end, he recounts some of the “pretty mental” sights he’s seen during the weekender. “I suppose for a lot of you, your kids have grown up and you’re just having a laugh,” he says, prompting a woman to shout from the back of the room: “We’re reliving our youth.”
For an audience from the era of Club 18-30 holidays, she sums up this cruise perfectly. It’s revelry for revellers who were there the first time around. Only this time, able to stumble off to bed from the headiest nightspots. “It’s amazing,” nods Tony, as a round of applause rises until the whole auditorium is celebrating how much fun they’re having. I’ll definitely go back in time again. Probably this year, in fact, for The Jacksons, Marc Almond and Jimmy Somerville.