PARTY BOAT THAT ROCKS THE 80s
HELEN BARNES sails back in time on a cruise like no other
As published on Reach Plc, Jan 1, 2020
‘COME on, I’m going to need your help with this,” Nathan Moore announces, scanning the sea of neon in the packed-out Star Lounge. “I need you ALL up on your feet…” It’s 10 pm. We’re onboard Explorer of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager-class cruise ship, for Throwback’s second 80s Floating Festival. The sea is calm, but this ship is rocking!
Being a HUGE 80s music fan, spending three nights away – in luxurious accommodation, with a bunch of legendary 80s artists and 3,000 like-minded partygoers … Well, quite frankly, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Throwback is a crazy mix of nostalgia and fun; some might say complete madness.
Where were we going? We’d set sail from Southampton and were en route to Le Havre. To be honest, the destination didn’t matter. Most had no intention of disembarking; there was way too much fun onboard. Apart from the amazing line-up of artists with back-to-back shows, there were hot tubs, pools, a beauty salon, shops, a climbing wall, an impressive gym, a casino, a nightclub, a running track, a spectacular surf simulator (more about that later) and numerous bars and restaurants.
The cabins were spacious and impeccably clean. Ours had a balcony and walk-in wardrobe and resembled more a five-star hotel suite than what you might imagine on a ship. So, what’s with the fancy dress? Literally everyone was dressed up, some fully embracing it from breakfast onwards – and why not?
With a 10-foot Hulk, Subbuteo players, Smurfs, retro tracksuits, 80s icons, Barbie dolls, and so on, it was an impressive sight. “I’m really knocked out with all the effort on the costumes,” Jay Aston – she of The Fizz (formerly Bucks Fizz) fame – told me. “They’re going to totally outshine ours!”
Attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed. Every available space was emblazoned with 80s branding. There were inflatable Rubik’s cubes and spacehoppers hanging over the dance floors, awesome Ghostbusters flashmobs bursting out of bars, cocktails of the day – the ‘Hadley Gold’ was a tart and bubbly refresher of vodka, lemonade and a splash of Sprite! – and even chance to sit in a DeLorean time machine.
And then there was food, glorious food. It’s easy to see how you could return several kilos heavier – food was plentiful, delicious and virtually 24/7. We dined in several restaurants and received fantastic service throughout. Most guests purchased drinks packages – a sensible option. The unlimited alcoholic or soft drinks (one might assume the former could lead to chaos, but that wasn’t the case) were the order of the day. But it was all surprisingly civilised. Everybody was just out to party day and night, and really live the magic of Throwback but in the friendliest of atmospheres.
There’s plenty to do on the ship other than eat and drink, including FlowRider. On the top deck, this wet and slightly bonkers activity was honestly one of the most exciting and thrilling I have ever tried. Riders need bucketloads of determination and resilience to crack it, but it’s so worth a go. Although the instructors were amazing, quickly teaching the basics to empower the first-timer to stand up on the board, be prepared for some epic wipeouts. I had a few!
Designed with the latest technology, the ride surface absorbs impact brilliantly, so can be likened to falling on a huge sofa! Although, having numerous falls on a huge sofa – at speed – expect to ache a little the following day. That said, I can’t wait to try it again.
But it really is all about the music – and it’s very different from the usual festival. It’s the artists who make it so special.
The choice of stars that director Jonathan Blackburn selected was perfect, not only for their quality and entertainment value, but also for their willingness to literally throw themselves in with ‘us’ fans. It’s unique for them too. As Nathan Moore of Brother Beyond explained to me: “You’re constantly meeting the people you perform for – out in the restaurants or bars – so receiving feedback all the time.”
Clearly enjoying being around his fans, I did question whether potentially alcohol-fuelled female fans might become a little ‘dangerous’ at times? “Well,” replied the frontman, “I’ve no problem with having pictures taken. It’s when the hands grab your body parts that it gets a bit too much! And that does happen quite frequently!”
Nathan’s shows were a big hit, many guests going to every single performance. Having the talent to literally transform a room of over 40s, quietly sipping their prosecco, to a party that has everyone on their feet in a matter of minutes – nobody does it better. Dancing on the sofas, balancing precariously on spinning chairs, sharing the stage with fans, he smashed it every time.
DJ Pat Sharp was just as popular. We saw him run a very witty Q+A with The Fizz earlier in the day, then popped up to the top deck to see him and his mate Gary Davies mixing their stuff outdoors, after lunch – a spectacular sight with such an unbelievably big crowd. It was hard to believe it was just mid-afternoon!
Cooler and more handsome than ever, Pat posed for endless selfies during the mixes, with everyone – women and men – queuing tirelessly to meet him. “OK, put one hand in the air,” he requested. “Now join hands with someone you don’t know….” The crowds were captivated, and it was easy to see why.
Probably the biggest crowd favourite was The Fizz, who brought a real sparkle to the party. Polished, looking incredible, sounding fabulous and clearly enjoying it, they genuinely seemed quite taken aback by the love for them in the room when they performed. Rightly deserved, they were fantastic – so good, in fact, that we went to both their shows too!
But it was the mighty Tony Hadley headlining the next night – and everyone was looking forward to that. He had literally been mobbed wherever he’d gone on this ship but had always obliged for selfies, taking time to chat to each and every fan who stopped him. What a great guy!
It ‘s not just about the headliners, mind. Massaoke, debuting on the ship in their outlandish costumes (their costume designer works for Burberry), came away with a whole new fanbase, myself included.
Singer Mark Nilsson told me: “The energy in the room was brilliant – a real festival atmosphere, euphoric! “We’ve been to see most of the other artists ourselves. Sister Sledge was tremendous fun and super slick. “And Tony, well, it was quite surreal, as he was dealing me hands of blackjack in the casino last night!” Back in the Star Lounge, a very sweaty Nathan was nearing the end of his energetic set. The room was buzzing.
For us, the next stop was Club Tropicana, to see Pat do what he does best, with yet another DJ set. Many would-be returning from one of Bobby Davro’s live shows – a clever addition to the mostly musical line-up, and a masterclass in comedy.
Best. Weekend. Ever.