A special bonus of taking The Boat is the after-dinner show. There are shows in the main salon every night after dinner. Two shows a night, in fact, since there are two sittings of dinner. This is the "cruisiest" event on the cruise a special treat for passengers who do the one-day itinerary and don't get to sample Havana night life. And they are really nice shows. Nobody would mistake the salon for a night club. Waitresses bring drinks, but there are no tables. The rows of chairs, low ceiling, and lack of scenario might remind you more of a recital or high school talent show. There's nothing Las Vegas or Copacabana about it, either. It's all done right in your lap and you can see people sweat. There's a conviviality and intimacy about the performance...BUT, it's totally professional. There are no flies on the talent of this troupe, singers or dancers.
The first night's show was a Cuban Rumba review: mambo, merinque, salsa, and a soupcon of caramba samba bamba. Don't get me started on the dancers. Again..."Cubana" says it all. Tall slim and just plain gorgeous, with wide-open smiles and latte complexions, these girls are all about movement and burlesque sex appeal. Tricked out in minuscule tops, electrifying bottoms, and towering headdresses that would give Chiquita Banana pause, the four girls created a standing wave of flurryblur, girlyswirl, and shimmysimmer. The troupe is led by "Angel", a short, muscular bundle of fluid kinetics wearing mostly big puffy mambo sleeves and a sheen of sweat on the chiseled anthracite of his chest. His fevered energy and smooth control keeps him from being upstaged by the girls, and it's his choreographic talent that optimizes the impact of the small troupe in the tight time and space constraints. It might seem surprising that The Boat can front such talent, but Cuban economics make the stable ship gig a plum job and the dancers are pure cream--years of formal dance study and heavy journeyman experience in the glitzy clubs at Varadero beach.
And behind them a band of stone cold pros coming on with the licks they grew up with. This is one red hot house band...they're Cubans. They can play anything, but really mob up on mambo and other "Cuban jazz". One interesting innovation came from the brass guy. Everybody talks about the drums and percussion and strange guitars and such, but the best part of this kind of music is the trumpet, which takes it all out of the class of "afro-latino percussion" and gives it that wild, jazzy, international, premeditated, ART sound. In the ship's band, the horn man replaced it with a trombone. So he had a whole different range of portmanteau and slur available, along with bigger blast and general muzzle velocity...but could still get intricate due to sheer chops. There are two keyboard players, one playing "piano" the way you're used to thinking of it, and the other doing the Latino thing, where a row of keys is a percussion instrument.
Four different singers are featured, slipping in and out and combining under cover of the dancers. A tall, black-haired alto likes to go all fey and flamencoesque, dripping black lace and sequins. It you needed somebody to sing your elegy after you were killed in a bullfight, this would be your girl. The contrasting contralto, even taller and wreathed in blond frizzies, goes with blazing colors, a winning smile, and green eyes that look backlit, somehow making even a sad love song seem sunny and fuzzy. Their male counterparts are also a mixed pair, the darkly Latin macho doing Banderas in tux delux relieved by a short, slick tenor in suit and tie, all sophistication and humor.
The second night was a mixture of Mexican, from old-timey rancheros to current pop, and American standards--"My Way" and "New York, New York" with accented vocals, but pure Broadway Boogiewoogie from the boys in the back. The singers shifted effortlessly from Cuban hotties to serape-draped chinaca or Liza Minelli. The many Mexican travelers liked it, and lots of foreigners seemed to enjoy hearing English lyrics for a change. Both shows included a magic act and ended with audience participation numbers; hand-picked suckers acting out scenarios the first night, and a general passenger dance-fest the next. There are two shows each night, following each sitting of the evening meal, but even after two shows, the dancers always looked ready to keep it up all night. Photography, even flash permitted and encouraged.
Not all of the cruiseship accouterments work out as well as the floor shows. The disco goes virtually unvisited, possibly because it looks like a prom set designed by Wayne's World. Most people take one look at the black walls with dayglow planets and start giggling. It's hard to say if the disco is not popular because it's tacky, or if they just let it get tacky because nobody goes there. Same way with the tiny gym. There are a few broken rowing machines, but the only way to work out would be free weights and (maybe) a treadmill. But again, it's unlikely that the paucity of the facility keeps people away: it's more likely that it's been neglected because not even the looniest gym rats feel it necessary to go for a rip on an overnight tropical ocean cruise. But if you really feel your biceps atrophying away, you can duck in and pump up.
There is also a small, but efficient casino, with tables for roulette, poker, and blackjack. Since gambling is illegal in both Mexico and Cuba, the casino only opens in international waters, but didn't seem to make a big hit, at least on my voyage. There was more action on the dozens of slots and video poker machines--a lot of it by children who probably thought they were playing weird, expensive forms of Mario Brothers. Nobody was troubled by these aspects of cruising writ small...in fact most seemed to like being able to ditch the kids at the slots for an hour or so.