Brigid Delaney discovers what happens when the likes of the Village People, Marcia Hines and Leo Sayer are all at sea.
For musicians performing on a cruise ship, the joy, or quite possibly the terror, of the experience is that you cannot escape your audience.
I know, for example, that if you sail on the Cruise N Groove and are up at 3am, there will be at least one Village person in the Viking Crown lounge nightclub. I also know that about 5pm, Marcia Hines can be found sitting on the lounge in the Atrium with some friends, and is very friendly and gracious if you approach her.
If you are in love with Leo Sayer, as many women on the cruise seem to be, you can climb up on the stage, try to kiss him, and no one will stop you. I, too, succumb to the charms of Sayer, when I see him on an upper-deck stairwell at 11pm, and fling an arm around him for a selfie.
We are sailing on a music-themed cruised on the Rhapsody of the Seas, a luxury liner departing from Sydney Harbour for seven nights, stopping at the Isle of Pines and Vanuatu.
While the islands are lovely, the main attraction is the music. It's like being at a week-long music festival for the 60-plus age group. There are younger people too, but the older demographic dominate.
The many activities on the ship are overwhelmingly musically based. There are line-dancing lessons, a lunchtime performance of The Rocky Horror Show and a chance to meet the stars.
Even at dinner, the waiters break into song and diners jump from their chairs waving their linen napkins high above their heads like helicopter blades.
There is music throughout the ship. It's like being inside a gigantic ghetto blaster and, as you move around, you tune into different tunes. By the pool, you might hear Jamaican reggae band One Love. In the Atrium, you can groove to Boogie Fever. In one of the lounges, passengers line up for karaoke.
There's The Australian Kylie Show and a duo who belt out Italian opera favourites such as Nessun Dorma, and late at night in the bar they croon Danny Boy.
Programs slipped under our cabin door the night before provide a list of musical activities that run from early in the morning to 3am. While I use the program as a guide, there is a fair bit of serendipity at work, taking a chance on a band you may not know or hearing a snatch of a melody as you take a walk along the ship's deck and following it into a bar.
However, the main concerts with headline acts are carefully managed. Passengers are allocated either an early or a late ticket that gives you entry to the show at 6.30pm or 8.30pm. I had an early ticket, with a dinner seating in the formal dining room at 8.30pm.
The main entertainment drawcards, including John Paul Young, Village People and the clumsily titled Former Ladies of the Supremes, play in the Broadway Lounge, a comfortable theatre where waiters come by and take your drink orders, as you sit back and listen to energetic live music sets from '70s performers who boast many fans in the audience.
A mild-looking retired accountant I was sitting with in the Marcia Hines concert started screaming when she came on stage: "I LOVE you Marcia! I LOVE YOU!"
The disco-era-themed cruise, aptly called Cruise N Groove, is just one of several music-themed departures each year run by Cruiseco. The day after we dock in Sydney, The Rhapsody of the Seas sailed again, this time catering for country and western music lovers with the Cruisin' Country cruise.
Next year, as well as the disco and country and western cruises, Cruiseco is offering Bravo, "a cruise of the performing arts", featuring popular stage singers Elaine Page, Marina Prior and David Hobson, and the very popular Rock the Boat, a rock'n'roll-themed cruise with music from the Countdown era, where guests include Daryl Braithwaite, The Angels, Mental as Anything, Richard Clapton and Jon English.
Cruiseco started music-themed cruises in 2010, with Blue Suede. The success of that cruise led to further musical cruises in 2011, including Cruisin' Country, Rock the Boat and King Tribute.
Audience participation is built into the 2014 Bravo cruise, with guests becoming part of a choir and performing on the final night.
I ask my tablemates, all veteran cruisers, what the attraction is to a music-themed cruise.
"It's just so much fun," says a retired businesswoman from Brisbane. "The music is from our era. I remember all these performers from when I used to go to discos. The quality of the live performances is amazing, and the love of disco music brings everyone together."
There is also the attraction of being able to see your favourite performers off stage. The YMCA guys, who have been touring for 37 years, tell us during their performance, "We don't normally get to spend time with our audience, but it's been great spending so much time with you guys. I'd like to thank my breakfast crew!" A big cheer came up from the audience. "See you for eggs tomorrow!"
The writer was a guest of Cruiseco.
Cruisin' Country 4: Departs from Sydney on October 5 for seven nights, visiting Noumea and the Isle of Pines. Fares start from $2019 a person, twin share in an interior stateroom cabin and is all-inclusive except for drinks.
Rock the Boat 4: Departs from Sydney on October 12 for seven nights, visiting Noumea, Lifou, Mystery Island and The Isle of Pines. Fares start from $2670 a person, twin share in an interior stateroom cabin and is all-inclusive except for drinks.
Bravo: Departs from Sydney on November 22 visiting Noumea and The Isle of Pines. Fares start from $2219 a person, twin share in an interior stateroom cabin and is all-inclusive except for drinks.
To book your cruise, visit the Cruiseco website or phone 02 9492 8520.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME
FOUR OTHER THEME CRUISE ACTIVITIES
The Isle of Pines is breathtaking - a tiny island fringed with Norfolk pines around inviting bays and inlets. For $20 rent some snorkels and follow your fellow cruisers to the beach.
The Rhapsody of the Seas has a great library where you can leave old books and sign out new ones, with a coffee stand nearby making great lattes (not included in cruise price).
The excellent gym on Rhapsody of the Seas means there's no excuse not to work off some of the nightly three-course dinners. Yoga, pilates, personal training and stretch classes are also on offer.
Two activities - the "World's Sexiest Man" and the "World's Biggest Belly Flop" - were must-sees on the cruise ship (by the end of the latter there seemed more water on the deck than in the pool).