From February 22 through March 1, The Oak Ridge Boys are at sea with about 400 fans, family, and friends aboard the Celebrity Reflection. I will try to somewhat chronicle the event on the following pages if I can stop eating long enough to type! (JSB)
The Celebrity Reflection is quite the boat. The ancient mariners could have never envisioned such a ship moving across the sea through the night with 3000 passengers eating and drinking and dancing and vacationing, while a crew of what must easily be another 1000 looks after and protects each one of us.
THIS is The Oak Ridge Boys’ second Rally-at-Sea cruise. A weeklong trip that will take us to San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, USVI; and the incredible island of St. Martin, before returning to Miami.
The Boys will sing, fellowship, take pictures, and do our best to reward these folks who have spent a good deal of money to be here with us for a great Oak Ridge Boys experience. They will see sides of us rarely ever seen, and fun will abound… That is the plan, and we are up for it big time, as this wonderful cruise is a great respite for us, as well, from our grueling touring schedule.
But tonight I reflect a bit upon this first day. The checking in process and getting our bags and so forth are all behind us now and, after a welcome to the folks and a great dinner, I find myself a bit exhausted and in my cabin, gazing out upon the passing sea.
Tomorrow is a day “at sea,” and we will perform a Gospel music flavored show in the early afternoon. But again… tonight? A good night’s sleep and a bit of Reflection… no pun intended.
I am alone on this trip. My daughters, Jennifer and Sabrina, were with me last year and this time around my wife, Mary, was in the plan. But as we got closer she bailed on me. She is home tonight with the cats as I cruise across the Atlantic, and I must admit I am a bit lonely here sitting outside as the ocean passes beneath me.
But I am good!
I am very happy to be breathing in the tropical air after such a hard winter. I am happy to be a part of this great event, and right now I am happy to be sitting here on my private deck and staring out into the abyss as I write.
A ship passes in the night… The only experience that is even close to a ship passing in the night upon the dark sea is another ship passing in the night upon the dark sea. The experience produces a fair amount of wonder. Who is that? What are they doing? Is there a banjo playing, writing, singing dude over there who is looking over at us and wondering the same thing? Odd thought. It’s like a parallel universe theory or a rip in the time-space continuum. Anyhow… surreal and a bit weird to even go there. However I AM a bit weird, so be it!
I will sit here for a bit, and I will enjoy these precious and surreal moments that have been given to me, and I will say a prayer of appreciation to God for all of these blessings. To HIM be ALL of the GLORY.
I am not sure how long I will sit in this spot or how long I might dwell upon the passing moments, but I am quite certain it will be several hours. Then I will go to bed and sleep deep in the arms of the “Mother Ocean” that Jimmy Buffet sings about. I will quote my wife Mary. One night, years ago, as we cruised through the night on the Caribbean on the four-mast schooner WINDSTAR, I said, “Man, that’s a lot of water out there.
Her reply. “And THAT’S just the TOP!”
I miss her!!
v As a side note. Those same stars shining down above my moving ship are the same stars that shine down upon me when I am at my farm. How BIG is GOD? How SMALL am I?
The funny thing is that, to me, the feeling sitting here alone on my private little deck on this cruise ship gazing at the dark passing sea is just the same as when I am sitting on my front porch at the farm gazing out towards the fields and woods and listening to the coyotes and owls. Same stars… same moon… ☺
I am very blessed and, rest assured, if God were to take me on home not ONE moment is EVER taken for granted!
Goodnight, friends, wherever you are.
From a navigational standpoint this is considered a DAY AT SEA… Our only job today is to perform what has been advertised as a ‘Gospel leaning show,’ which is not hard for us to do. As long as we have Ronnie and his piano we could perform at the Bonifay Sun-down to Sun-up All Night Singing Convention, if indeed that still exists.
I slept great last night in my fancy little cabin, except for about two hours when I was wide awake around 4 a.m. watching Ashton Kutcher portray Steve Jobs in a biopic which was actually quite good. One wonders though if the depiction of the early days of Apple and Macintosh are entirely accurate. But it was entertaining nevertheless.
I have now had a massive breakfast at the amazing buffet here. I then spent an hour in the sunshine, which is more than enough on a first day of experiencing island heat. Mary and I learned that long ago when we were a young island-hopping couple who lived for the sunshine. Times change. I rarely EVER just sit in the sun anymore. Even on my tractor I tend to wear long sleeves and a Barbara Bush style floppy hat.
I assure you that one can easily screw-up an entire vacation by over baking yourself on the first day. The trade wind breezes are deceiving, so beware. That sun is HOT and will fry you like a piece of bacon.
So, yesterday afternoon the Reflection headed straight for and around the Bahamas. I watched Freeport go by last night from my private deck. We then turned south towards the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and we will drop anchor (so to speak) in San Juan, Puerto Rico by tomorrow afternoon around 3 p.m. In the meantime there is nothing but ocean on either side of the boat. Just water for as far as one can see, and it IS a clear and beautiful day. The sea is quite calm. I love every minute of this!
I have just been told that because of my status (whatever THAT means) I am entitled to a free meal in a specialty restaurant. So now I have a decision to make. Eat with the BOYS tonight in our regular designated place, or sit in a corner of THE TUSCAN and dine upon a great Italian meal paid for by CELEBRITY CRUISES! I am leaning towards the veal piccata. My stomach is packed with omelet, sausage, bacon, bagels, and too much coffee, and here I am thinking about dinner. I may weigh over 200 pounds by the time I get back home to Mary and the cats! I should take a long hike in Puerto Rico tomorrow. YEAH! I think I will…
I will write more later. First I have to sing some Gospel songs for our dear friends and fans that have gathered here, and then… gaze out upon the sea some more… and EAT!
We turned our clocks an hour ahead this morning as we continue to sail (I use the term figuratively as we are NOT under sail) towards Puerto Rico. I awoke at 8 a.m. with the Dominican Republic far off to the starboard side of the ship. It is in fact SO far off to the starboard side that it is not visible. There is still nothing but Atlantic Ocean as far as my eyes can see and that works for me. By the time we dock in San Juan we will have been on the move at sea for almost forty-eight straight hours. It’s kind of like riding the tour bus from Nashville to San Francisco, except different.
I will admit to being a little queasy from time to time. Last year we left Miami and went to Key West, so we sort of eased into it all. This time we start out with two straight days of Atlantic. Neither I NOR my stomach is in the NAVY!
Anyhow, in just two hours we take pictures with all those cruising with us and then we have OAKS UNIVERSITY, where we answer questions and laugh a lot. I have talked to so many fine folks on the ship and just love our group. It is always interesting to me to find out where they are from and just how they heard about and decided to cruise with us. It would seem that most heard about it from our website, oakridgeboys.com, which is very cool!
And BTW, I DID opt for the Tuscan Restaurant last night. The food and service, and even the wine, were absolutely first class. I dined by the window on the 5th deck aft overlooking the prop wash. As a former boat enthusiast before I bought my farm sixteen years ago, I couldn’t help thinking about the size of those propellers. I was thinking Titanic, but I quickly deleted THAT thought… Oh well, time for some coffee and perhaps a bagel this morning. We arrive in PR at 3 p.m.
On the lighter side, our Captain is named Apostolos Bouzakis. Not sure how to pronounce Bouzakis, but I have been saying Bazook-as!! HAHA! Captain BAZOOOKAS! I am so off center…
Puerto Rico… My heart’s devotion… Let it sink back in the ocean… Always the hurricanes blowing… and the population growing… And the money OWE-IIIINNNNG… ~ West Side Story
That was from when I used to dream about playing Tony in West Side Story and run through the streets singing MARIA… Boy, has THAT ship sailed.
It’s nice to be on terra firma! I walked around old San Juan, and I even visited a massive old fort, which was pretty cool. But thankfully I did what I really needed to do… WALK!
Ol’ Ban-Joey is now back onboard the Reflection, which just towers over this little town. Time for a shower and DINNER! HAHA! One will never starve to death on a cruise ship.
v Highlight: I fed and petted a Puerto Rican kitty! He was so skinny and hungry. I went into a market and bought him some meat… meow! I named him JOHN!
Funny: I was laughing at people getting off the ship and heading right into a Starbucks. Then I looked and our whole band and crew were in there. Oh well, at least they bypassed the Dominoes Pizza. At least I THINK they did.
Tomorrow: We will awaken in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and tomorrow night we will SING to these fine people!
The port city of Charlotte Amalie rests on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island of St. Thomas, USVI, and we arrived here today around 7 a.m., about an hour ahead of schedule. To the east is the town of Red Hook, where one can take ferries or water taxis across the Saint Francis Drake Channel to the paradise island of St. John, and that is just what some in our bunch did today. Our professional “photog” boys, William Lee Golden, Ron Fairchild, and Chris Demonbreun should have a ton of great pictures to post once we return to WiFi, and I am anxious to see them.
Most of the guys toured all around the city and the island. Some even snorkeled, if that is a word. Some guys went clear to the top of the mountain where the whole of the Virgin Islands, both U.S. and British, were clearly visible all laid out like so many diamonds cast upon the blue waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.
St. John is a very special place to Mary and me. We spent a lot of time there in our younger island-hopping years. We always stayed at Caneel Bay. I have always considered this wonderful place to rest just this side of Heaven itself.
I did not go there today. Not without my Mary… I just couldn’t do it. So old Ban-Joey stayed aboard the ship today perfectly content to just gaze out at the sails on the bay and enjoy some time alone in the sunshine.
We will set sail in just a few hours for the Dutch/French Island of Sint Maarten or St. Martin. Tomorrow I will again venture out and enjoy the beauty. I have been there one time before when Mary and I sailed upon the Windstar many moons ago, and as I recall this island is also just beautiful. It should be a highlight for everyone on the cruise.
I love the fact that all of the fine folks who have come with us are happy and having a great time. All of the BOYS, BAND, and CREW have taken a lot of time to visit with our friends during the cruise and these folks have been just wonderful to us. Tonight after dinner, as we make our way south to St. Martin, we will put on a big show for these folks again. It will be relaxed and fun.
So with a whole evening ahead of more food (ha-ha), songs, and cruising, I am not sure what could be any better. I end this part, #4, with the lyrics to a song I once wrote called Destination Love Island. Nobody has ever HEARD this song. ☺
DESTINATION… LOVE ISLAND
Sunshine a clear blue sky
Optimism is running high
Storm is over… a brand new day
Hoist the sails… let’s be on our way
Destination Love Island
A little south of Saint Martin
Follow the song of the dolphin
Sweet paradise of the sea
We have a good wind behind us
A million stars there to guide us
Love Island… my baby and me
Promised my woman a long time ago
Someday the ocean would be our HOME
All of our friends thought we’d lost our mind
Maybe we’ll see them again sometime
White sandy beaches and the Mango tree
Palms are swaying in the salty breeze
Let’s drop the anchor and stay forever
I don’t believe life can get any better
© Joe Bonsall for B’s In The Trees Music
Until tomorrow… sail with God!!!
Before I elaborate on the beauty of this wonderful jewel of the Caribbean, I want to reflect back to last night’s show aboard the Reflection. Our friends packed the showroom for this private show, and we sure tried hard not to let them down. We put our hearts right out there in every song and to say these people are amazing would be an understatement. The more we chat with these folks the more we find that so many of them have followed us for many years and this cruise is very special to them. Well, I want them to know that it is all very special to us as well!!
As a side note, I came back to my room last night, opened the laptop and studied our song list. It is amazing how many songs we have left to sing. On Sunday we sang for 75 minutes, and last night we did an hour and forty. Tomorrow we will do another 75-90, and it entirely possible that we will NOT repeat one song. That’s pretty amazing.
Now the Dutch and French co-owned island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is only 39 square miles in size and every square mile is just beautiful. To awaken on this great ship and gaze out at this beautiful place is a blessing from God above and not taken for granted. There are no “Oak Ridge Boys” activities scheduled for today. Our job today is to simply enjoy Paradise, and I believe we are up to it!!
Our tour director, Steve, has arranged four Jeeps for us today so for those of us who decide to go… a fun day waits. I am thinking about going. But for now, typing, sipping a great cup of coffee, and gazing out at the Dutch Island town of Philipsburg is just wonderful.
Side notes: Our destination islands have not really been that far apart, so through the night the ship is only cruising at about eight knots, which is different from the 20 plus knots on the long trips at sea. When we depart St. Martin tonight at 5 p.m. we will deadhead for Miami, which is 1028 nautical miles from here, which equals three more nights, ALL at sea, arriving at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. I have to ask SIRI what a KNOT and a NAUTICAL MILE really means. I think I know but I would hate to answer it on Jeopardy!
Enough with the writing… I am off to see the island, MON!
I hoofed it around St. Martin alone today. I am more of a loner than most people would think, so I skipped the Jeep excursion, which might have been a good move because in the middle of the day it poured rain! I spent the day walking, gazing, and I hate to admit it… EATING!
I stopped at a great place for several hours and just overlooked the bay, tweeted (they had WiFi… yay!), drank tea, and ate different pieces of fresh fish, starting with grouper and moving on to red snapper and mahi mahi! Pure enjoyment. You know, at almost 66 years of age, one never knows how long God will allow us to be here, so one should never take a breath for granted, and I do NOT and never have.
We all just lost a dear friend to a heart attack at age 63. I thought of Herb Kinman today and wondered about the Paradise that HE is seeing. Herb was a born again Christian so I know just where he is! Celebrate Life, I always say. It is God’s greatest gift aside from the promise of eternal life and forgiveness of sin through the blood of HIS Son, Jesus Christ. So today I also stopped at a beautiful little Methodist Church, went inside and prayed. It felt good. I felt His presence there on this little Island and quite frankly those quiet moments in prayer may have been the highlight of the cruise for me.
So, as everyone re-boards the Reflection for our three nights at sea, there is so much to be thankful for. Family, friends, songs… the list is a big one for certain.
Ah, but back to humor. There was a beach today where they were renting Segways to people, so alas there were tourists everywhere zipping by and wearing little white helmets. Well… I saw a woman Segway right into a palm tree, and I will admit to laughing SO hard I spit hot orange spiced tea right through my nose, which should really help my singing tomorrow. The funny thing is… her thighs were seemingly strapped into the goofy thing so when it hit the tree and went backwards she stayed right on it laying on her back, sand in her helmet, and a SegWay on top of her with the wheels still spinning. At that moment it looked like the funniest thing I had ever seen. Had I filmed it and put it on YouTube it would have received more hits then G.I. Joe and Lillie and the piano-playing cat combined.
Again, I must say that I can’t wait to see pictures from our pros… William Lee Golden, Ron Fairchild, and Chris Demonbreun. When I get this article turned in next week I hope to have pictures embedded.
So I am back onboard… showered… safe and sound… typing and listening to music. We set sail at 5 p.m., so now my biggest decision is where to eat dinner??? HAHA!
It amazes me how on this great cruise ship with so many people aboard one can still find alone spots. I ate sushi rolls this evening and took my plate and my hot tea to the very back of the boat and dined outside on an aft deck. NOBODY was there! Then I retired to the very top forward section of the boat and gazed over the railing for two hours. I saw a few people walk by but VERY few.
Tomorrow we sing at 1:30 p.m. for the folks, and tomorrow night our band puts on a show. This show is open to the entire ship so we will sing a few songs as well. The Mighty Oaks Band set was a highlight on the cruise last year and should really be fun. Tonight I plan to go see my friend Steve “Mudflap” McGrew in the Comedy Club IF I can stay awake that long. Good night!
We have a big day at sea today as we continue to cruise on towards Miami. Watching the Navigation Channel on my TV (ALL NAVIGATION, ALL THE TIME) it seemed like we headed due west out of St. Martin, took a jag north by northwest just before reaching the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and as I awake this morning there is nothing but Atlantic Ocean outside my window. Tomorrow morning it will still be the same. Somewhere out there on the port side of the ship is again the Dominican Republic and again I cannot see it, but it IS there. Like Heaven! We can’t see it right now… but it IS there! Hashtag FAITH!
I stayed up later than usual last night because, along with many of our bunch, I went to The Comedy Theater to hear our good, longtime friend and comic Steve “Mudflap” McGrew. It’s an amazing coincidence that he is performing on this same cruise, and it’s been fun to have him around. His stand-up routine is one of the best in the business, and last night he was spot-on big time. Not for the squeamish perhaps, but the guy IS hilarious! I so appreciate his talent and even more… his friendship!
So it is now time for some breakfast… some sea gazing… and some sunshine before a nice shower and a 1:30 p.m. show for the folks. Captain Bazookis is now speaking on the loudspeaker, but I have no idea what he just said. Reminds me of the movie mash. “Attention personnel… Attention personnel… That is ALL!”
There is also a Green Bay Packer fan appreciation cruise onboard the Reflection, which is now steaming towards the Bahamas. It is kind of funny to see OAKS fans in their distinctive blue cruise tee shirts, as well as the WE LOVE OUR PACKERS distinctive green and yellow shirts, mingling at breakfast. Those real big guys built like tug boats? THEY would be actual GREEN BAY PACKERS!
So I made the mistake of sitting next to some 50-something couple who knew everything this morning. They have been on every cruise ship, and they have been everywhere, and they blah blah blah blah. I had to put up with their expert opinions of the universe over my coconut French toast, toasted bagels, and blueberry cheese blintzes! They were saved by the fact that the only weapon in my possession was a dull butter knife.
Our third show is now history, and it was really fun. We never repeated one song on this entire trip and that is a credit to our history, as well as to our great MIGHTY OAKS BAND, including our new drummer, David Northrup, who has worked very hard since he has been here to learn all of our songs and learn them well.
Tonight our band will perform, and we have saved up three songs to add to their show. Beautiful You, Ramblin’ Man, and, of course, the song that has ended more parties than ANY other… ELVIRA!!!
So a little rest… some more food (of course), a late night show with our band, and then another great night of sleep as we cruise the Atlantic towards Miami upon the Celebrity Reflection.
Last night the band show went as scheduled. I was so proud of the guys. They worked to learn around a kazillion ORB songs with our new drummer, David Northrup. I am not sure where they found the time to get this done, but they DID! Donnie Carr did the Monkees. Scotty Simpson sang a few GREAT songs. And brother Rex Wiseman took the OPRY stage, as a cross between himself and John Conlee, which drew a standing O. Ronnie Fairchild was his usual flawless self.
The event was open to the entire ship, so our showroom was packed. The Green Bay Packer backfield was there as well! Seriously! Loved meeting DuJuan Harris and his LOVELY wife! GO PACKERS! The Oak Ridge Boys took the stage one last time and performed another six songs. I went back to my cabin around midnight and for the first time on this trip had a hard time sleeping at sea. My mind would NOT shut down. But it didn’t matter! I just stared out at the passing ocean.
We have all day today to relax. We have one more Rally event and that takes place around 4:30 this afternoon when we will gather with all of our wonderful friends and fans and say farewell for now and thank them for joining us. No more singing! My voice is fried!
I had breakfast alone on my deck this morning, and the only to-do list I have ahead of me today is to begin to pack my stuff, look at the ocean, perhaps catch a few rays, shop for a nice gift for Mary, and perhaps a REFLECTION tee shirt for myself.
OH… and try to decide where to have dinner! This IS a running theme for certain. One will never starve to death on a cruise ship.
Tidbit: Last night Steve McGrew and I ate almost all the sushi on this boat. We sat up on the aft deck of the ship and laughed and solved the world’s problems with a pair of chopsticks moving the entire time. So if you awakened today and found the world a better place it’s because, somewhere in the Atlantic, a stand-up comic and a banjo player worked it all out for you over some raw tuna!
Another tidbit: We have been racing towards Miami with the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, which is the biggest cruise ship I have ever seen. There are 5000 guests on this monstrosity. It was docked right next to us in Sint Maarten. I talked to some people who were on this ship, and they said things like, “We even have a huge merry-go-round on board!”
Gosh, we don’t have one of those on our ship.
I guess it is kind of like having a roller coaster in the MALL… Why? WHY??? Oh well… later!
Last entry… After a very relaxing day watching the Atlantic roll by, we had a farewell event around 4:30 p.m. with all of our cruisers. Basically, a goodbye and a huge thank you for sailing with us. I think everyone was very happy with the cruise and the shows and the fun. That was our goal and I believe the mission was accomplished.
Like last year we will study this and decide if we will do it again, and I really hope that in one form or another we WILL do it again. Stay with oakridgeboys.com for more info on any future events, including our full show schedule for The Boys Night Out Tour in 2014 and beyond.
A special thank you to Steve and Tami from Entertainment & Travel Alternatives for covering every base every day and making this trip an easy experience for ALL of us. Thanks as always to Darrick Kinslow for also making sure that we did all we could do to make these fine folks happy.
Tonight Ban-Joey will eat a nice meal and sip on a good cabernet and celebrate life. We will arrive in Miami at 7 a.m. and head right for the airport and back to San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Dorado Ritz Carlton for a few more days of paradise and a private corporate show there. Then fly home… get back on the buses and head onto the Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Florida, and on and on.
I hope you have enjoyed my little Cruise Muse. I really tried to take you with us even if you are butt deep in snow and ice somewhere!
After I turn this in for a Kathy Harris edit, I am sure Jon Mir will get a link up as soon as possible. I end with another Joey island song lyric from a song you have never heard.
God bless and thank you… Let’s SING!
Joseph S. Bonsall / Oak Ridge Boys
My Love For You
Like the deep blue ocean ever rolling
My love for you
Like the cool trade winds ever blowing
My love for you
Like the sweet serenade of tropical rain
The magic of sails on the bay
Like the songs of the islands never ending
My love for you
Like the stars that shine like tiny diamonds
My love for you
As the moon ignites the tides
My love for you
Like a gentle river ever flowing
To softly kiss the sea
Like the island legend ever growing
My love for you
Like the call of the sea to the ancient sailors
My love for you
Like a pirates need for buried treasure
My love for you
Like the beat of my heart ever yearning
For all dreams to come true
Like the island sun ever burning
My love for you
Like the island sun ever burning
My love for you
© Joe Bonsall for B’s In The Trees Music