On the first day of the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cruise, passengers boarded Disney Magic much like any other sailing. But on this full ship charter sailing from Port Canaveral and probably unlike most Disney Cruise Line experiences, this one was full of movie fans. Avid movie fans. They were here for the classic films, lectures, question and answer sessions with stars of the films and games. But they were also here to meet up with other like-minded cruise travelers, in a family reunion sort of way.
For readers who may have stumbled on the phrase “full ship charter”, know that this is one option for booking a huge group of people on a cruise ship. A large “Group” or “Partial Charter” are other ways to do that with smaller numbers of cruise travelers. With those, normal onboard programming continues as always. Unique to full charter sailings, the host can do just about anything they want to with the ship.
Slide Over Mickey, TCM Is At The Helm
Part of that “doing anything they want to” with the ship started with an interesting absence of Disney characters on deck for sailaway, a signature event on a Disney Cruise Line sailing. Rather than Mickey, Minnie, Donald and the gang stirring up the crowd on hand for the fabulous cruise vacation that awaits them, TCM’s Robert Osbourne introduced the lineup of movie stars and performers along for the ride.
Host and anchor of Turner Classic Movies since its launch in 1994, Osbourne first introduced Ben Mankiewicz, the other host of Turner Classic Movies along with Diane Baker, a 50-year film veteran; Ann Blyth, one of the prized stars of the great MGM musicals, Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Mr. Holland’s Opus, duh); Tab Hunter, with 40 films to his credit; Shirley Jones (The Music Man and TV’s the Partridge Family) and character actor James Karen (China Syndrome, All The Presidents Men).
Also on hand for the TCM Classic Movie Cruise, Ileana Douglas, the grand daughter of two-time Academy Award-winning actor Melvyn Douglas; Rory Flynn, daughter of actors Errol Flynn and Nora Eddington; Bruce Goldstein from New York’s Film Forum; Randy Haberkamp from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Eddie Muller, the world’s foremost authority on film noir and a personal favorite, the 31-year host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek.
All will have a part in the programming planned for the TCM Classic Movie Cruise. Fans of a particular fan can get up close and personal with them in hour-long A Conversation With ______ events throughout the sailing, classic films are shown nearly non stop on Disney Magic’s top deck big screen, dance lessons in multiple sessions, covering Jazz, Ballroom and other styles; mixology classes that teach passengers how to make the drinks featured in films; Bingo with Ben hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and much more that we will explore this week.
Gathering on the same stage that Disney characters and peppy cast members use to get every voyage off to a rousing start, all of the above stars posed for photos and connected with those in attendance.
Another unique event, only possible on a full charter sailing is flying the sponsor’s flag from the ship’s mast. During the sail away event, Disney Cruise Line representatives presented the TCM flag to Osbourne, to fly above Disney Magic for the duration of the event.
Around the ship is evidence that Turner Classic Movies has taken over Disney Magic. From banners and posters bearing TCM-related text and photos to dry erase boards for each cabin door, just to get the conversation started. But nowhere is it more apparent that this is a ship full of film fans than in the hallways, elevators and in dining venues where they gather. We did not need a sail away party to get that ball rolling; half those on board had been on a TCM Classic Movie cruise in the past.
Like a family reunion of sorts, stars and passengers alike felt comfortable with one another, all sharing the same love of film, in their own way. I’ve seen a half-dozen passengers sporting “Jaws” t-shirts, many dressed in period costume to match their favorite film era and a whole lot more that are semi-experts on some aspect if not the entire volume of classic films. At the same time, I see fans of cruise travel, taking advantage of a Disney ship with no kids on it, something we rarely see.
This is the part of a full charter we already knew about, reporting in the past on other themed cruises ranging from concert-like events like Kid Rock’s annual sailing to a ship full of nudists on a romp through the Caribbean. Having the stars, films and related programming of the TCM Classic Movie Cruise on board adds an extra element of anticipation that goes beyond the ports of call, normal onboard activities. Still, there are numerous features on board Disney Magic to fill any gaps in time, even if it’s just a walk on deck.
Don’t get me wrong, the magical Disney element is still very much present, beginning with check-in when “Ginny” from Massachusetts made embarkation a breeze. Happy cast members fully engaged in their individual roles made finding seats at the first of two standing room only trivia games hosted by Alex Trebek a pleasant experience. On deck, a cast member asks if I would like something to drink and is eager to get me a soft drink, normally a self-service item on Disney ships.
While a full charter, past guests of Disney Cruise Line retained their status, received their welcome back gift, had the red carpet rolled out for them as well and yes: charter sailings do count toward past-guest status.
Much like Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival LIVE concert series, when rock legends Styx performed one night, there is much to look forward to on this voyage. It’s nice that we’ll be experiencing this with our new ‘family’ of film friends.