We got off to an early start with a 1 hour drive to get to Coolangatta Airport for our 10am flight to LAX via Auckland – after AirNZ’s horrendous Rap version of the safety instructions we settled in for our 19 hour journey to LAX.
After arriving in LA at 10am we had a quick nap at our airport hotel before catching up with our friends from LA – we met these guys a few years ago at a garage punk festival in Memphis and have partied with them many times at that festival and elsewhere. Wheels (Kristen) picks us up in her chariot with our other friend Chris and takes us all for a 2 day guided tour of some of LA stranger sights including Watts Tower – an amazing structure cobbled together with chicken wire and cement and lots of bottles, tiles and the like and we also visit some funky markets for dinner followed by a great Korean BBQ meal where our other mate Fyfe joins us along with a few of their LA friends. We also visit a great retro bar complete with original lounge singers (with in the 80’s) still belting out great cocktail music.
We fly out of LA to Tampa, Florida – holy crap it’s cold when we get there – not what we were expecting – we pick up a rental car and shoot over to the coast for the day with a bit of Thrift Store shopping to buy some warmer clothes! Tampa’s “Gasparilla Pirate Festival” festival is in full swing with a big parade on the Saturday night lots of parade floats, bead throwing and copious amounts of student drinkers – it’s all pretty messy by 11pm so we head home for an early start on Sunday.
The shuttle leaves Tahitian Inn in Tampa full of eager cruise goers – connections made with people we will keep running into over the new few days of the Outlaw Country Cruise.
Imagine there was a music festival, held in a luxury hotel where you have a room, with unlimited food and booze, 40 (soon to be your favourite) bands who are all staying at the hotel too, oh yeah and there are only 2000 people there – that’s what the next 5 days is like. The ship Norwegian Pearl is rented by the company Sixthman for around 2 months and they run consecutive themed cruises – we are doing 2 of these over the next few weeks (more on the 2nd cruise later). The 14 story luxury cruise ship is transformed into one awesome concert venue with 7 places to see the bands including the Pool deck where they cover one of the pools and erect a big concert stage with full lighting rig and fantastic sound system. Other venues include the Stardust Lounge which comfortably seats around 1000 people, The Spinaker Lounge, a smaller more intimate venue + several other bars around the ship. There are temporary bars all over the ship and waiter service as well so drinks are never far away. It’s still bloody cold at night but the weather is generally clear during the day.
The music performances keep us really busy as they start around 11.00am and and go through to about 1.30am each day. With at least 3 venues running at the same time there is quite a bit of logistics to work out to see everyone we want to. We see many bands 2 or 3 times over the 5 days with standout performances by Drive By Truckers, Steve Earl, Lucinda does the entire Car Whees on a Gravel Road album, a 6 month pregnant Margo Price does few seriously rocking performances, Niki Lane is crazy good and some of the older echelon impress everyone with their gifted songwriting, wit and charm (Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Terry Allan, Bobby bare to name a few) Mornings consist or a great buffet breakfast with lots of great food including fresh, made to order omelettes, followed by a hour or so in the big hot tub of which there are 2 at the rear of the pool deck – you can actually sit in the hot tub and watch the performances! As you may know Americans are friendly folk at any time – but put them among a couple of 1000 like mined music fans they are something else! We meet stacks of people from all over the US and others, like us, who have travelled from abroad just for the cruise.
I’ll let the photos below and links to the videos at the bottom of the page tell more of a story about the musical treats we encountered.
After five day soaking up all that great music it’s time to leave the ship and head off on our 10 day road trip to Mobile Alabama and back. We pick up the hire car and get upgraded to a Cadillac CTS which has all the bells and whistles and it super smooth to drive. We leave Tampa about 11am and head for Gainesville where we have booked a AirBnB for the night – it’s a cruisy drive up via the Gulf Coast. We have a great meal in the funky college town and get our first nights sleep on solid ground for a while.
Next day we head off to Orange Beach, about a 5 hour drive, which is our longest stint. The freeway is pretty boring but easy to drive. We are amazed at the all the damage for the recent hurricane that swept thru the region – we avoided the worst hit coastal towns but even though we were 50 miles inland there were sections where whole forests of trees had been flattened – it must have been very scary when it hit.
We get to our beachfront hotel at Orange Beach and there is a small 2ft wave breaking out the front. I grab my boardshorts and rash vest and head off to check the water temp – bloody hell – it’s about 8 degrees celsius – I spot 2 surfers coming up the beach and ask if I could borrow one of their boards for a few quick waves, one guy says “is that all you are wearing?” anyhow I borrow board and hit the water, get 2 small waves before my head starts to pound with the cold and I drop the board back to the guys and head straight for the hotels hot tub. It takes about an hour to thaw out, but hey, I surfed the Gulf Coast!
We head to Mobile Alabama the next day. We have visited Mobile before and love the place – kinda like a low key New Orleans, in fact Mardi Gras actually started Mobile and the town is decorated up for the upcoming month or so of parades and celebrations – we are there a bit early and miss the first of the p
arades by a few days. Our AirBnB is beautiful 100 year old cottage with 2 bedrooms, dining room, great gourmet kitchen, 2 lounge rooms and a huge spa bath in the bedroom (I guess you get the gist by now that I like hot bubbly water!). Its only a shot walk to the centre of town which has some great shops and restaurants, a big boat show is happening so there are giant luxury speedboats parked randomly around the shoreline. We are here for 5 days have a couple of great meals and see some local music at a famous bar called “Callaghans” which is literally just around the corner. Mobile is very beautiful and has 5 historic districts where huge antebellum mansions sit amongst giant Live Oak tress covered with witches hair – really beautiful.
After (sadly) leaving Mobile we stop half way back to Tampa at Tallahassee, the Florida state capitol, we do some great thrift store shopping here as there seems to be a large concentration of bargain shops all in the one area. The weather has fined up but it still quite cold.
Back in Tampa and looking forward to our next cruise. It’s taken us 6 years to get a cabin on Cayamo, the cruise is so popular it sells out very quickly. You can tell why when you look at the quality of the lineup…….
People who have sailed previously get first dibs at the cabins and if there are any left it then goes public, but still via a waiting list that is randomised (so being on it 6 years makes no difference) we register Jennys email address this year as well to give us an extra chance and luckily she get an earliest booking time very close to the public release, we score a cabin and 15 mins it was sold out – so we very very lucky!
Having done the other cruise on the same ship 10 days ago means it’s like coming home – we are already familiar with the layout of the ship and where every thing is so once we board we head for the Buffet – the food on the ship is great – there are several restaurants you have to pay extra for but 2 restaurants + the buffet that are included in your cruise price. As with the Outlaw cruise the music schedule is really full on and we struggle to find a window to a sit down meal in the restaurant but manage a couple. The buffet is fantastic – so many different type of food to try, Mexican , Asian, vego, Indian as well as burgers, hot dogs, pizza and fries, scrumptious desserts and a great ice cream bar. The crew on the ship seem really happy & friendly – maybe because this cruise is a bit out of the ordinary with the music and all & the fact that the passengers are all getting along like a house on fire has something to do with it.
The full lineup is shown above and there are many, many standout performances over the 7 days. Tommy Emanuel is literally everywhere playing lots of surprise spots with many of the artists. As part of the cruise ticket you get a couple of tickets to seated shows in the large Stardust Lounge (the front half is ticketed and the rear open to anyone) and we score 2nd row centre seats for both Josh Ritter and Mary Gauthier who both put on great shows, Josh’ show it quite joyous whilst Mary’s in very moving.
There are SO MANY standout
performances overthe 7 days its impossible to pick a favourite. One of the great things about the cruise is the interaction of the artists with the passengers, we get to chat to the girls from Red Molly, Josh Ritter, Dead Horses and a few others – you can see that the artists love having a holiday with fans and their peers – just listen to the comments of some of the artists in this wrap up video from Sixthman.
All good things come to an end and we leave the ship with great memories and a very strong desire to come back again next year. We overnite in Tampa again and fly out to San Francisco the next day – with the time difference and the long flight we don’t get to out hotel till midnight – and it’s bloody freezing!! Off to the rental car office next day and score another upgrade to a Cadillac (same as the last one) for our 5 day drive down the west coast of California.
We head to Half Moon Bay, location of the famous big wave break of Mavericks, but sadly the swell is almost non-existent (not that I was going to take on Mavericks anyhow!) We stop for 2 nights in Santa Cruz and our beachside hotel overlooks Steamer Lane which is breaking at a nice clean 4 ft but the water is way to cold to surf without a wetsuit anyhow – its not called Steamer Lane for nothing. Great food in Santa Cruz with a Wednesday night Lobster Special – a whole lobster dinner for $16.95 each. We visit the giant redwood forests behind Santa Cruz – only 10 mins inland and these trees are HUGE! Then we cruise down the coast for a few hours to Carmel and do the “17 mile drive” along the way which is 17 miles of oceanside mansions dotted along the stunning coastline. Carmel is a pretty town and we catch a few bargains at Thrift stores and the markets.
Next day we travel to Cambria which takes us through Big Sur – the coastline here has to be seen to be believed. The vistas are so vast photos just don’t do it justice. The road all the way down the coast is pretty much right alongside the ocean the whole way – only veering thru a few forested areas now and then. We stop and check out the Elephant Seals at San Simeon and then head to our luxury accommodation complete with open fire and spa bath. It’s up to one of the areas most popular seafood restaurants Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill for dinner – they don’t take bookings so we have to wait 20 mins for a table but boy it was worth the wait!
Its getting close to the end of our trip as we head for a our last nights accomodation in Ventura, passing through Morro Bay, Pismo Beach & Santa Barbara – we stay in a beachside hotel that has free food and drinks from 5pm – 7pm each night – the food is just bar snacks but the free bar is a great bonus – pretty much drink what you want for 2 hours – we sink quite a few cocktails and then head to the restaurant for dinner. It’s a slow start the next day which is our last day in the US as our flight leaves 8pm that night so we’ve got a bit of time to drive thru LA traffic (wild!) to the Topanga Canyon Vintage Markets – some good stuff there but too big to take home. After the markets we grab some lunch over at Santa Monica and hang around there until we drive to the airport and drop off our rental car.
What an amazing 5 weeks! I’ll never forget the amazing feeling of being on that ship surrounds by all that amazing music._____________________
Here’s a link to all the band videos we shot on the cruises.