For many, the Monsters of Rock Cruise (MORC) is more than an annual festival. I for one would best describe it as a family reunion. This year’s reunion was on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, which set sail out of Port Canaveral on Saturday, April 29, 2023 in search of sun and sand in the Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and the private Island of Labadee, Haiti with nearly 40 hard rock bands and their biggest fans.
While the line-up rotates annually, there are some bands you can plan to catch every year, new bands you never knew your’d love, old bands you’ve been hoping to catch your entire life, and others who have return from time to time over the past 11 years that you truly miss when they aren’t on the boat. And, of course, there are fans from around the globe, who become your closest friends after years of sharing music, meals, and vacations together.
We’ve had the pleasuring of cruising on MORC since 2015, and officially covering the festival for a few years now. It is honestly one of the happiest weeks of my year, and I am seriously counting down the days until we set sail again out of Miami on March 2, 2024.
One of the things that I love about the cruise is that the MORC family atmosphere allows for fans to have a voice. A great example was how fans spoke up regarding the scheduling of glam rockers Vain from San Francisco in the dreaded Star Lounge venue (infamous for its for bad sightlines and it’s small stage set-up, but a necessary evil to allow for the number of performances the cruise hosts daily).
In response to fan requests in The Official Monsters of Rock Cruise Facebook group, the band was offered the first show on the boat in Studio B where frontman Davy Vain could be seen leaping barefoot across the stage and interacting with a lively crowd who’d made their way onto the ship early to catch the show. And, as an added bonus the now Nashville-based guitarist Dylana Scott brought her friend Paul Taylor (Winger) along for a jam.
Sadly, the opening day wasn’t without complications as the band fell victims to sound issues mid-set, and the scheduled sail-away band, Lynch Mob, found their performance delayed until the following night due to weather complications. In fact, weather from the late April sailing closed the pool stage while in route to the Dominican Republic, causing some disruption to the schedule the first couple of days.
Overlapping Vain’s performance, were the guys from Rhino Bucket, who could be found performing in the Royal Theater. It was the first show with bassist Greg Smith, who fans would see on stage several more times as he was also handling low-end duties for Joel Hoekstra and Tyketto.
The duo of Jeff Scott Soto and Jason Bieler could be found in the Star Lounge, where extra seating was added to keep guests comfy for the acoustic comedy show (as visuals of their cross faces and eye rolls truly are necessary to fully experience this show). This year the two were joined by SOTO band drummer Edu Cominato on percussion, and an audience of singers who Jason guided through some a cappella “Bohemian Rhapsody” like the puppet master that he is.
One of the biggest challenges with covering the cruise is ensuring that you get to a show on time if you are working under the three-song limit in the photo pit, which unfortunately became a guessing game given the scheduling issues on day one. One of the other challenges is deciding where to go when two great bands are scheduled to start just minutes apart.
Having caught Wig Wam the Monday prior, I opted to instead catch some Queensryche on the first day. A decision based upon the amazing set the band tore through at Pittsburgh’s Roxian a few weeks prior, but a challenging one nonetheless given how amazing Wig Wam is live (and that this was the first time they were on tour here in the United States). For more on Wig Wam, check out our interview with frontman ‘Glam’.
Luckily, in most cases bands will perform twice on the cruise, and a tentative schedule is published in advance of sailing for planners like myself (who often end up tossing their plans out the window when fun spontaneously happens).
But, I suppose having two great options is much better than struggling to find something to do. Part of the reason why I stopped going on “normal” cruises, and also why after cruising for years on the Mariner (and sister ships), I had no clue until this year that there was even a pool table on the boat (for the record there are also water slides, a gym and spa, a casino, upscale dining, and a solarium pool)!
I was also working my way around another challenge (which most will find ridiculous given we were on a cruise ship): finding time to eat! After walking to each restaurant on the boat, I discovered the hard way that there is nothing to eat mid-afternoon until 6pm…except pizza! And, with Vandenberg, Tyketto, and Rose Tattoo still on my itinerary for the rest of the day/early morning, this girl needed some fuel!
It is no secret that Vandenberg tops my list, having been a fan of everything from the early albums, Whitesnake, and Vandenberg’s Moonkings. So, it was amazing to see the band return this year with two Royal Theater performances in anticipation of the follow-up to their 2020 reboot, Sin, which will feature current frontman Mats Leven on lead vocals (the latter featured Ronnie Romero who could also be found on the boat fronting Michael Schenker Group.) For more on Vandenberg, check out our 2022 interview and cruise recap.
Tyketto will most definitely go down as one of the best performances on the boat, which is why we made it a point to catch both shows in Studio B and from the looks of their crowds, we weren’t the only ones with that plan.
Somehow I got my second wind, and made it over to the Royal Theater for a very late night (early morning) performance from Rose Tattoo to catch the fast-handed action of Ronnie Simmons (Richie Ramone, Faster Pussycat) before saying goodnight to friends at the Royal Crown karaoke bar and getting some sleep given that I was ‘on duty’ for the photo experience late the next morning.
Lots happening this past month as well as upcoming captures, recaps, news, and interviews from of local and regional concerts and festivals including Jackyl, Faster Pussycat, Chris Jericho’s Kuarantine, and more this summer so check back often.
Recap and Live Photos by Editor and founder Kara Marie Uhrlen for The Pure Rock Shop. Posted on 6/1/2023.