The Boat That Rocked!

By Hilary Porter

IMAGINE taking a boat back to the eighties where you meet your idols, party with the stars - and relive your youth!

No make-belief was required when I joined the inaugural 80's themed Throwback Festival on board the Royal Caribbean's luxurious Navigator of the Seas.

I might easily have climbed in a DeLorean time machine from 80's movie Back to the Future for I was encased in a spangled, neon bubble of Lycra, Frankie Says T-shirts, mullets, memorabilia and magical 80's music from the moment I stepped on board this fantastical pleasure cruise.

Setting sail out of Southampton earlier this month this party-fuelled Floating Festival mini-cruise is a new concept in the UK, featuring all the best ingredients of a music festival whilst ditching the worst ...muddy fields, chemicals toilets and sodden tents - to name but three!

Floating Festivals is the brainchild of Jonathan Blackburn, supported by a unique partnership with Royal Caribbean and leading live music promoters Cuffe and Taylor.

Joined by my sister, we took the three-night round-trip which included a day stop in beautiful Bruges. A brilliant 80's bill, it included The Human League, OMD and Erasure’s Andy Bell, along with Jason Donovan, Chesney Hawkes, Sonia, Imagination and Captain Sensible. DJ Pat Sharp popped up in numerous roles as chief host and DJ whilst comedy legend Bobby Davro - star of this year's Mayflower pantomime, made us laugh until our cheeks and sides hurt!

It was one long packed programme of live entertainment and shows, with passengers invited to take part in a myriad of 80's themed experiences. From the Lunge in Lycra with Mr T to the 80's movies Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Blues Brothers and ET playing on your cabin's TV and on deck, and simply finding yourself among 3,000 people dressed in fashions or as characters of the era, time travel really did exist!

The dress code was something to behold! Friday was '80's characters night', Saturday was Lycra night and Sunday was Rocky Horror vs Pretty in Pink and virtually everyone embraced it in style!

So much was happening across the ship from the deck to the shopping mall, the piano bars to the theatres and dance halls, it took a little planning to fit in everything you wanted to do. Coloured cruise passes ensured everyone got the opportunity to see their favourite act as they performed several times over the three days.

The choice of restaurants was superb with fabulous cuisine throughout. The breakfast buffet was enormous, and the morning we opted for an American themed brunch in Johnny Rockets diner we found ourselves whooping, clapping and singing as our smiling waiters broke into choreographed dance routines.

From the It's A Knockout event on deck to the Bobby Davro bingo, karaoke, pop music quizzes and celebrity Q & As -it was certainly an action-packed, value for money trip with all of the ship's usual luxuries and facilities included too.

Huge fun and totally really was 'The Boat That Rocked'!

My top experiences were:

1/ Andy Bell from Erasure raising the roof with his soaring vocals on hits such as Victim of Love, Love to Hate You, Oh L'amour ...

2/OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) celebrating their 40th anniversary with 80's hits like Tesla Girls, Electricity and more recent Sailing on Seven Seas

3/Bobby Davro's outrageously funny adult stand-up show but the icing on the cake came shortly afterwards when he turned up at Schooner Bar changed into his casual cardigan, took to the piano and for two more hours took requests singing everything from Elton John to Madness songs! Finally, a woman with a Zimmer frame shuffled up to him, took his hand and started dancing with him, casting the Zimmer aside: a miraculous sight!

4/Pat Sharpe's Q& A with Chesney Hawkes. Entertaining, funny and the most embarrassing moment ever when Pat took questions from the audience and said: "Next question from the man dressed as a woman' to which said 'man' replied , "I'm not a man, I'm a woman!" Chesney- in fits of laughter, ribbed the famous DJ telling him, "I'm going to remind you of this moment every time I see you for the rest of your life!" To be fair, gender becomes confusing on a ship where men in suspenders is a common sight!

5/ A marriage proposal at a Jason Donovan show...Jason was singing his famous duet 'Especially for You' when there was a commotion at the front of the crowd. Someone shouted up to him that her friend had just got engaged. "Wow! Oh my god - to my song? It's all happening. ..I better not sing Too Many Broken Hearts next then!" he laughed, and promptly did! The happy couple, Jane Evans, 49, and Mark Smith, 51, from the West Midlands, have spent the last three years together watching countless 80's shows and concerts. Jane said: "I waited 9 months for this cruise and it was the best weekend of my life! I just turned to Mark at one point and he winked at me and my heart melted ! I just held his face in my hands, kissed him and said 'Will you marry me?' I didn't plan to say it. I was actually surprised that those words came out! But straight away he said 'yes'. "

The pair then bought a packet of Haribos and exchanged sweet rings!Now they plan to book next year's Throwback cruise and even possibly get married on board!

6/The Human League - better than ever with hits like Don't You Want me Baby, Mirror Man and Electric Dreams.

7/Drinking cocktails and singing and dancing to 80's anthems in Club Tropicana with The Wild Boys under a ceiling bedecked with neon inflatable 80's memorabilia such as a cassette tape, sherbet dip, space hopper, space invader and Rubix Cube.

8/The jolly pianist who played and sang 80's hits going up and down in the lift.

9/Dressing up in clothes I've wanted to wear since the '80's but didn't dare!

10/Rubbing shoulders with the stars.

11/A fabulous Swedish massage.

12/Eating chocolate after learning all about it from a chocolatier in the beautiful city of Bruges.

*As soon as we stepped off the ship the transformation began for the 4-night musical theatre-themes Stages Floating Festival

including a day in Amsterdam, featuring West End and Broadway stars including Michael Ball, Collabro, Beverley Knight, Lee Mead etc and West End production, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.It was a very different but equally successful themed cruise.

Throwback 2019 will depart Southampton for three nights from October 11 and includes a full day in the port city of Le Havre.

Prices start from £589. Confirmed headliners are Tony Hadley and UB40 along with DJ Pat Sharp and The Magnets plus more acts to be announced.

As well as being part of Floating Festivals passengers will be able to enjoy all the amazing features of the Explorer of the Seas including a miniature golf course, the unique FlowRider surf simulator, the signature Royal Caribbean Rock Wall, ground-breaking virtual balcony cabins, the Vegas style Casino Royale, luxurious Vitality Spa & Fitness Centre, three pools, six whirlpools, Outdoor Cinema and a selection of luxury Boutique Shopping experiences.

All Floating Festivals packages also include complimentary à la carte restaurant and buffet dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Speciality Restaurants are also available for an additional charge.

Floating Festivals is the brainchild of cruise entertainment expert Jonathan Blackburn who said: “We are absolutely delighted to be bringing Throwback back for 2019. The reaction to this year’s first ever Throwback cruise was phenomenal, and it is safe to say our passengers had an absolute blast.

“The ship was awash with passengers who were on a mission to go back in time to the 80s and celebrate the icons and music of the decade.

“Our maiden voyage was fantastic and 2019 will be even bigger!”

For more details go to