The Soul Train Cruise gets down and boogies in the Caribbean.
READY TO BOOGIE, GET FUNKY, AND feel the groove with soul music royalty? Then take “the hippest trip at sea” via the Soul Train Cruise. The 7-day Caribbean voyage produced by StarVista LIVE on Holland America Line departs from Orlando, Florida, and offers a mix of music, nostalgia, television history, and culture. Those aboard MS Nieuw Amsterdam in 2018 enjoyed rousing shows by The O’Jays’ Eddie Levert, LTD’s Jeffrey Osborne, Car
Wash soundtrack band Rose Royce, Grammy winners The Pointer Sisters, and more.
Roots of the Cruise
Soul Train was a weekly must-see TV show that started in Chicago, then exploded nationwide when it moved to Hollywood. Created, produced, and hosted by the late Don Cornelius, the show ran in syndication from 1971 to 2006 and remains a beloved symbol of not just classic R& B but popular music around the globe. In addition to the likes of the Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Marvin Gaye, the ‘ 70s archive of Soul Train shows includes appearances by David Bowie and Elton John. Appreciation for Soul Train’s colorfully hip showcase of top-charting acts and funky dance moves is what makes the cruise a distinct joy.
In structure and ambience, this star-studded voyage is welcoming to soul music fans of every race, religion, age, ability, and country of origin. On the 2018 sailing, we personally met fellow cruise guests from Canada, England, Sweden, the Caribbean, Germany, and all corners of the U. S. “We have people from all over the world on our cruise,” confirms cruise host and Soul Train executive producer Tony Cornelius, son of originator Don Cornelius. “From the very beginning, my father coined the phrase ‘Love, Peace, & Soul.’ The meaning of these three very powerful words in combination continues to encourage all people of all diverse backgrounds to come and experience soul music.”
Alan Rubens, Executive Producer of the Soul Train Cruise and StarVista LIVE Senior Vice President of Entertainment, agrees that the inclusive spirit makes the concept click. “The Soul Train Cruise brings together fans of great soul music from the Soul Train era from all corners of the globe and all walks of life to immerse themselves in the spirit and the music of the iconic show,” he says. “They get to spend every day and night hanging with the stars and seeing intimate concerts by the great soul legends.”
United by Music
Naturally, the concerts are the biggest draw. Fans of doo-wop, soul ballads, funk jams, pop fare, disco movers, and even gospel can find a show to their taste daily. Headliners wove musical magic nightly in the two-story Mainstage Theater, where we forgot we weren’t in a Broadway or Vegas venue until one night of rough seas had performers clinging to their mike stands! In addition to the acts mentioned above, we savored the smooth sounds of the Spinners (“It’s A Shame”), Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. (of the Fifth Dimension), the Whispers, Gerald Alston (lead voice of The Manhattans), and Jeffrey Osborne, and bopped along to the Trammps (of “Disco Inferno” fame), Howard Hewett (formerly of ‘80s group Shalamar), Charlie Wilson (formerly of funk kings, The Gap Band), and the Motown-era New Miracles — and even a Barry White tribute band. Other acts entertained in the party-hearty poolside area, where we danced, dipped our feet in the water, sipped cocktails, and sang along.
Every show easily turned into a love-in as audiences relived treasured memories and showed their appreciation for artists, most of whom have been making music for more than three decades. That reaction – and the spirit of family reunion – makes the cruise as big a draw for headliners and hosts as for guests.
“Our visibility and access to our guests are some of the many reasons people love being
on the cruise,” says Cornelius, who personally greeted and spoke to fans. “Our guests get a chance to not only visit, converse, and take pictures with me but they get a chance to get up-close and personal with the artists.”
These personal exchanges are essential to the Soul Train Cruise experience. On the 2018 sailing, for example, Cornelius hosted intimate Q& A sessions with featured performers that were also streamed on the ship’s closed-circuit cable channels for cabin viewing. Singer Jeffrey Osborne, who began his career as a drummer, gathered musicians from the ship’s many bands for a fascinating drum skills demonstration, while Caribbean superstar Maxi Priest hosted a mixology class, stirring up tasty original cocktails behind the bar of an upscale lounge. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., married almost 50 years, answered questions about marriage and relationships. Warner Music exec Chuck Gamble shared inside stories about classic Philadelphia International label recordings made by The O’Jays, MFSB, and Patti LaBelle, while SiriusXM personality Angela Stribling hosted small, themed chats for attendees.
Better Each and Every Day
When we weren’t clapping and snapping at the shows, we enjoyed the ship’s luxurious accommodations and activities that included wine tastings and art auctions, standup comedy and game shows, and guest talent compe- titions and acoustic performances by up-andcoming artists. In addition to sampling all the food stations at the Lido Buffet, we enjoyed fine-dining options at the ship’s Pinnacle Grill and Asian-influenced Tamarind Restaurant. After hours, we headed to the Crow’s Nest lounge to boogie down with a live DJ. Here at the club, as at the many dance classes, guests formed the “Soul Train Line,” a time-honored tradition where everyone gets to showcase their best party moves.
For 2019, the Soul Train Cruise boasts a thrilling lineup, with Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, George Clinton, Stephanie Mills, the Ohio Players, Morris Day & The Time, the Chi-Lites, and Bloodstone. Billy Brown of Ray, Goodman & Brown (“Must Be A Special Lady”), which evolved from The Moments, is celebrating The Moments’ 40th anniversary aboard the 2019 cruise. This is just one of many special events guests can look forward to, and points to the legacy of Soul Train as a place where both artists and fans celebrate milestones. Many guests signed up for 2019 before the 2018 cruise had wrapped.
“The reason the Soul Train Cruise is so special and unique is because, like the long-running TV series, our audience feels like it’s part of who they are, it feels as if it belongs to them,” Cornelius concludes. “It’s unique in the sense that there’s nothing on the sea that extends the way.”• legacy of Soul Train in this
HERE AT THE CLUB, AS AT THE MANY DANCE CLASSES, GUESTS FORMED THE “SOUL TRAIN LINE,” A TIME-HONORED TRADITION.
Maxi Priest’s poolside performance
Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo
Guests at poolside T-shirt party
Above: Disco Funk Night; Maxi Priest interview hosted by Tony Cornelius and Angela Stribling.