BACK ON BOARD
Captain Stubing and The Love Boat crew launch Regal Princess
THE Love Boat ... exciting and new, come aboard, we’re expecting you. It is nigh impossible not to hum the theme tune to the decade-long television series of the 70s and 80s, over and over but, wait, now we can sing along with the catchy song’s original crooner. Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Jones is in the house.
Or, more specifically, he is on a stage by the Fountain Pool on Deck 16 of Regal Princess belting out the familiar words. He is a sprightly, suntanned 77-year-old with teeth that glow white as ice against the glittery Fort Lauderdale sunset.
It is November last year and the 3560-passenger liner Regal Princess is being launched in grand style by the six main stars of The Love Boat, a hit show that introduced a generation to the idea of cruising and nurtured the notion of romance on the high seas. In attendance, in roles of collective “godparents” to the ship, are Gavin MacLeod (Captain Stubing), Fred Grandy (chief purser Gopher), Ted Lange (bartender Isaac), Bernie Kopell (ship medico Doc Bricker), Lauren Tewes (cruise director Julie) and Jill Whelan (Stubing’s daughter Vicki). Amid riotous applause, they pull a lever that sends 50 bottles of champagne smashing against the hull. The number is significant as Miami-based Princess Cruises celebrates five decades of cruising this year; to top it off, a 15-litre Nebuchadnezzar, the size of a cannon, is added to the splash. The ship’s horn toots out The Love Boat theme, no one is without a flute of fizz to toast the occasion.
Gold diggers, wealthy widows, dapper widowers, stowaways, scammers and fashionably dressed idlers came and went from 1977 to 1986 across almost 250 episodes filmed aboard Pacific Princess and Island Princess. Many of the actors were big stars who apparently lobbied for guest roles and some are here to join in the celebrations. One regular was Florence Henderson; today, with elastic-tight complexion and unmoveable hair, she’s doing the naming ceremony introductions on the gold carpet. Jamie Farr can be spied mixing with the guests (but not dressed in drag as per his best-known role, as Klinger in MASH) and look, there’s Frank Sinatra jnr, Diane Ladd, Joan Van Ark, Rich Little and Dick Van Patten. A group of passengers breaks into an impromptu rendition of Hooray for Hollywood … “That screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood.”
Popular guest star on The Love Boat across nine years, Spanish-born flamenco guitarist Charo is leaping about in a remarkable ensemble. Earlier today I watched her playing April Lopez, a stowaway, on my cabin’s television (episodes of The Love Boat are on rotation); she had hidden in a laundry basket and, on being discovered, flirted outrageously with Gopher and Doc. Forty-five years later, she looks an hour older. “Cuchi, cuchi!” she cries. “Cuchi, cuchi!” we chorus. No one doubts she will still be partying when the 1970s-themed Love Boat disco and fireworks party goes off at 10.30pm.
Uniformed in spic-and-span nautical whites and in- stantly recognisable is Captain Stubing. MacLeod is still a dashing silver fox, routinely beaming fit to burst, always ready with a wink and an airkiss, and even on hand later in this three-day Caribbean “shakedown” cruise to bless a marriage ceremony between two “cruise journalists”, Fran and David. Regal Princess’s “real” commander, Captain Edward Perrin, is on hand to officiate the nuptials, but some passengers may well think it’s Stubing who is on the bridge of this 330m-long sleek and lovely liner urging it to a top speed of 23 knots.
We assembled guests have been asked to don “Love Boat nautical attire”. It sounds corny but I’d decided not to be the only person to turn up without a striped matelot jersey and a captain’s cap so dress up I do, clutching a DVD set of The Love Boat series and MacLeod’s autobiography (titled, naturally, This
is Your Captain Speaking), in case of autograph opportunities. This cast is not new to the promotional circuit. They also acted as “godparents” to Dawn Princess, launched in 1997, which marked their first reunion in the decade since the show’s final episode.
Princess Cruises operates 18 ships and carries 1.7 million passengers a year on voyages ranging from three days to more than three months. When the pilot episode of The Love Boat was shot in 1977, the ship used was Sun Princess, which carried 730 passengers; Pacific Princess had capacity for just 680 on board and apparently Regal Princess can go faster sideways (thanks to 15,000kw of thruster power) than that little sibling could travel forward. Surely the stars of The Love Boat and those circulat-
ing celebrities playing their occasional roles in furs, pearls and brass-buttoned nautical jackets couldn’t have imagined the size and facilities of the new breed of ocean liner. “Regal Princess is longer than the height of the Eiffel Tower,” says Perrin, rather proudly.
Certainly on earlier liners there were no “serenity stewards” attending the adults-only pools, or spa salons offering teeth-whitening and customised facials.
Regal Princess, sister to Royal Princess, launched by the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013, is a big, bright and lovely ship with extravagant, swirly décor. How much fun would it be to decorate a cruise liner? Clearly, restraint and minimalism are never an option but somehow all the gilding, swirly-patterned soft furnishings and razzmatazz work together. It feels both elegant and laid-back in a way that will surely appeal to Australian passengers. The only negative is that bartender Isaac is not aboard all Regal Princess voyages. I spy Lange one night, in his famous character’s familiar cropped red jacket and black bowtie, posing for fan photos and threatening he might just take over one of the bars, elbow aside the mixologists shaking up those highly coloured West Indies Yellow Bird cocktails, and mix some retro White Russians. “Any takers?” he laughs. Is he kidding? The cry is deafening. “Cuchi cuchi!”
Some passengers may well think it’s Stubing who is on the bridge of this 330m-long sleek and lovely liner urging it to a top speed of 23 knots
The Royal Princess pool terrace
The Love Boat cast, above; the adults-only Sanctuary haven, below
Regal Princess launch celebrations, above left; the piazza, top; balcony stateroom, above; cantilevered SeaWalk on Deck 16, below