Livin’ On A Prayer: cruising the Med with Jon Bon Jovi


AS you join the queue at check-in you spot a sign that all is not run of the mill. “Whoa, you’re halfway there!” a notice exclaims.

Somewhere in the back of your mind, something stirs, shakes off cobwebs and takes up residence.

Before you know it, you’re livin’ on a prayer. And didn’t Tommy used to work on the docks?

But then this is the line for the boat that rocks, the Runaway To Paradise, all at sea with rock royalty.

We’re setting sail from Barcelona for a rock festival, quite literally, on the Med with Jon Bon Jovi and pals.

For the best part of five days, we’ll eat, drink, live and breathe the brand.

Everyone is high-fived as they step onboard. It sounds tacky but it isn’t in the slightest, such is the friendliness of the staff.

Jon’s big brother Matt welcomes fans onboard

NCL cruise ship Norwegian Pearl, already noted for its entertainment, enters a different league altogether and is suitably transformed.

Billed as an “immersive” experience, it’s chance for 2,300 fans to get up, close and personal with one of the world’s most recognisable rock and roll stars.

The Bon Jovi brand is everywhere, from the giant pictures in the atrium right down to the logos on the poker chips and buffet paper napkins; there’s priceless memorabilia at every turn, from iconic stage outfits to platinum discs.

Stage outfits on display in the atrium

Bon Jovi hits play in the background; Jon’s Soul Food Kitchen raises cash for charity; famous gigs roll on TV screens in public rooms.

Even in your stateroom, there’s a Bon Jovi channel on the TV, playing live concert films and videos. If you’re not a fan, you’re on the wrong ship.

And d’you know, whatever your tastes, you slip into the musical mainstream within minutes. You’re humming that song in your head; you’re completing choruses; you’re strutting to the beat.

Grace Potter opens the festival

More than that, you’re making friends. On most cruises it takes a while to break the ice but here’s it’s like you’re one big family, united by a passion for music.

Conversations break out; back catalogues are compared; people help each other out; confidences are shared – “I bought this cruise as an anniversary gift for my wife,” New Yorker Tony tells me.

“But she ran off with another guy so I thought ‘Hell, I might as well come along anyway….” Well, it is the Runaway cruise, I venture.

All shipshape and rock’n’roll fashion

It’s a global family, too. On this voyage to Palma and back, no fewer than 59 nationalities are listed, a veritable United Nations of rock. If only the rest of the world could get on like this.

At the end of the day, pun excused, we’re all in the same boat.

At the heart of the matter, of course, is the Bon Jovi family. 

Jon joins us at Palma, where we’ve had the day to explore its magnificent – and startlingly creepy in places – cathedral.

Ready to board there ship that rocks

Big brother Matt is on hand to make sure it’s all plain sailing, Jon’s son Jesse is leading tastings of the family’s Hampton Water Rosé, produced in France and flowing freely on the Pearl.

They’ve done ‘Runaway’ events before but they were always on land in hotels and resorts before Jon set to sea earlier this year in the Caribbean and loved it so much that he’s back for more. 

Whisper it quietly but, if it can be slotted alongside Bon Jovi tour dates, there may yet be a third helping.

Joining Jon onboard is Johnny Rzeznik from Goo Goo Dolls, the unstoppable Grace Potter, Brit rockers Collateral, blues blaster Kris Barras, and Spanish chart star Antonio Rivas.

The Kris Barras Band onboard

There’s indie darlings Hannah Wicklund and Steppin’ Stones; London singer-songwriter Stewart Mac; pop chanteuse Betsie Gold and The Kings of Suburbia.

The Kings, who play both under their own name and as Jon’s band, are a stellar collection of New Jersey’s finest session musicians (they get so busy they had to say no to Springsteen), including violin virtuoso Lorenza Ponce, a regular and remarkable part of the full Bon Jovi tour band.

Lorenza with the Kings of Suburbia

You may have seen them backing Jon during the Joe Biden inauguration celebration.

Oh, and did I mention Bon Jovi tribute band Slippery When Wet? You can’t get too much Bon Jovi for this crowd, believe me. Besides, they have Jon’s own stamp of approval.

Slippery When Wet up on deck

The line-up is completed by silent disco Shut Up And Dance and rock and roll DJ Dave, with an inexhaustible collection of 1980s rock hits. 

Between gigs, Bon Jovi producer Obie O’Brien, tour photographer David Bergman and movie director Phil Griffin take part in revealing Q&A sessions, and Jon’s movies play.

It’s enough to make you turn to a Have A Nice Day Daquiri at the Sky High Bar.

The main stage on the pool deck at night

There are as many as six gigs a day – a handy phone app helps you navigate the bill and build your own schedule – with each band playing a number of times, changing up the setlists so each is fresh.

A stunning acoustic set by Kings Of Suburbia, with immaculate three-part harmonies on CSNY, Tom Petty and Beatles classics, will linger long in the memory.

But it’s Jon Bon Jovi that we’re here for.

Jon plays semi-plugged in the Stardust

A thunderstorm and torrential rain move his first show indoors, and into the Stardust Theatre where he performs in semi-plugged storyteller mood, taking questions from the fans between songs and offering a first preview of the Bon Jovi ‘2020’ album.

Band hits are stripped back and given laidback new keys and rhythms, including a gorgeous version of It’s My Life and a cover of George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun. 

Afterwards, we meet Jon, who graciously poses for a photo and hints that the new album will have a lot to say about Trump.

One is a blogger, the other ….

Next night, however, he’s in full Jersey Shore mode, out on the pool deck stage and backed by the 11-piece Kings, including a punchy horn section.

“This is a rock and roll jukebox,” he tells the faithful. “These are songs I love to play.” The setlist boasts not just Bon Jovi staples, but also covers including Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.

He pulls fans from the crowd to duet on It’s My Life and Livin’ On A Prayer, and wades out into the audience – to the apparent surprise of his security and musicians – to embrace a disabled youngster.

It’s a great night, a rare chance to see the whites of a global rock star’s eyes amid one of the smallest audiences of his career.

You know that 7ft tall guy who always stands in front of you at gigs? Well, there’s enough space out here on deck that even if he does turn up, you can still see the band.

Sixthman, the Atlanta company that puts together music cruises, and celebrating its 20th anniversary next month, is big on small details. Eighteen months planning goes into each five-day cruise. They want everybody to have a good time and sightlines are carefully managed to ensure that everyone gets a good view.

Little wonder they have a 60% rebooking rate and have so far carried more than 300,000 rock and roll cruisers.

Staterooms, restaurants, bars, gym and spa on the Pearl, meanwhile, are all to NCL’s usual high standards. You return home having enjoyed a good cruise, and perhaps a day off the ship looking round Palma.

But make no mistake: it’s the music, specifically Bon Jovi music, that floats this boat.

  • I was a guest of Sixthman, who are setting sail again with a full programme of rock and roll cruises on both sides of the Atlantic. For a full list of their sailings, see www.sixthman.net.
  • For more on Norwegian Cruise Line holidays see www.ncl.com.
  • A version of this feature appeared in national and regional UK press in 2019. I’m revisiting it to celebrate the return of Sixthman’s rock and roll cruises after the pandemic lockdown.

WHAT JON SANG

First acoustic set

You Give Love A Bad Name

Livin’ On A Prayer

Drive You Home

It’s My Life

Lost Highway

Amen

Living In Sin

Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night

Diamond Ring

Thank You For Loving Me

Joey Who Says

Hallelujah

Second acoustic set

You Give Love A Bad Name

Livin’ On A Prayer

Color Me

It’s My Life

Wanted Dead Or Alive

Whole Lot Of Leavin’

(Snatch of new song from forthcoming 2020 album)

(You Want To) Make A Memory

Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night

Here Comes The Sun

Thank You For Loving Me

When We Were Beautiful

Who Says

I Put A Spell On You

Full band set

Lost Highway

Summertime

Everyday People

Old Time Rock & Roll

You Give Love A Bad Name

We Weren’t Born To Follow

Honky Tonk Women

I’m Your Man

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

It’s My Life

Born To Be My Baby

Superstition

Treat Her Right

Oh Pretty Woman

Bad Medicine

We Got It Goin’ On

When Love Comes To Town

Livin’ On A Prayer

Categories:Cruises, Europe, Film & TVTags: , , , , , ,

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