BACK ON BOARD

Cap­tain Stub­ing and The Love Boat crew launch Re­gal Princess

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - SUSAN KURO­SAWA

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

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