Senior Vice President of Live Entertainment
The travel industry talks quite a bit about “Experiential Travel” and I got to thinking about what it is we do and what, if any parallels there are.
On our first Malt Shop Memories Cruise in 2010, after a concert with Frankie Avalon, we were approached by a full figured passenger who grabbed my Executive Producer Alan Rubens and said “I may be aging, overweight and every joint in my body hurts but today you made me feel sixteen again. Thank you”. The guest used way more colorful language but we took the point nonetheless.
Looking back 8 years and 36,000 guests later, it is clear that from the beginning we faithfully tried to create the StarVista LIVE version of Experiential Travel, carefully selecting the artists, creating an environment that those artists felt comfortable in and then programming performances and artist interactive events hoping to let the music and nostalgia blend together in a magic stew. Only now, looking back, do we realize see that our guests did most of the work and created that special stew. They embraced the time period, relentlessly suggested changes we should make, renewed or made deep friendships with the music as a backdrop and gave the artists unconditional love and support.
How did our guests see the future and more importantly know how to create it? I think seeing it was pretty easy for them, they lived it the first time and now looking back they get to enjoy it with a pure heart, lots of life-learning and without any teenage angst. From the first day, we noticed that they dressed the part with leather jackets and poodle skirts, they decorated their doors with ‘50s memorabilia, they dug up their original prom dresses and suits for formal night and they sang and danced to the Malt Shop music until all hours. While this was a great start, many of our guests went a lot further. They suggested artists, demanded music on port days (the ‘50s doesn’t stop just because we are in St. Maarten!), and they urged us to make the week more guest-focused and more dedicated to the spirit, which we tried to do. Even now, there are probably 30 or 40 guests that grab me, lecture me for an hour on what changes I have to make if I know what’s good for me and then announce of course they booked for next year.
Thinking back the memories flood my mind. Dion talking about being on tour with Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly, choosing not to get on the plane with them to the next gig and missing the crash that killed them all, The Day The Music Died. Hearing how that event changed his life gave our guests a chance to reflect on rock history and undoubtedly look back on their own lives and experiences. Bobby Rydell joining us for a song or two shortly after open heart surgery without missing a beat, he never does miss a beat. Laughs with Darlene Love, non-stop patter from famed DJ Jerry Blavat, and The Beach Boys joining us at the last minute.
Beyond the music based memories, something else very special was going on. One year, I had a waiting list for Inside Cabins and I offered a number of our already booked guests in those cabins free upgrades to more expensive cabins and every one said no. I couldn’t understand it until one of the explained that they were staying next to friends they met and cruised with for the last 5 years and wouldn’t dream of leaving the “neighborhood” and their friends even for a better one.
I am not sure reliving your youth and enjoying great music technically qualifies as “Experiential Travel” but for our guests the experience is profound, life-affirming and special in every sense. Going back 5 or 6 decades in time is pretty experiential in my book.