Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What to Expect: AJs Blackjack Tournament

This past cruise was the first year that AJ hosted a blackjack tournament and I went into that event totally lost and unsure on what to expect. So I wanted to let you know how it works as best I can in case he decides to do this event again. Keep in mind I am not a blackjack expert in any way shape or form.

Overview from Rose Tours
Ever dream of playing blackjack on the High Seas? Ever dream of playing blackjack on the high seas with one Mr. AJ McLean?

Well, here is your chance.

On Sunday, Oct. 27th, AJ is hosting his first ever Backstreet Boys Cruise - Blackjack Tournament.

For just $25 dollars (payable to the casino host on-board), you can have a chance to play in the grand finale with AJ. The top six chip winners from the qualifying rounds (starting in the casino at 10am) will test their skills against AJ himself.

The three players with the most chips will win cash prizes. The player with the highest amount of chips will also win a very special BSB Cruise prize! 

Submit your name, email address and dining time below. We will randomly select among all entries. You will receive a schedule with your table time in advance.
Commemorative Poker Chip

Should You Play?
In my opinion there were fans of all different levels of playing experience. Some girls had never played blackjack before, but just wanted to chance to play with AJ. And others who clearly know their way around a blackjack table. But  just because you don't know how to play or don't think you're good enough, I still think you should try it if you'd like. Just don't let the fact that you're less experienced stop you, because I guarantee other fans are just as new to it as you are. Blackjack is pretty easy to learn and a quick youtube video can help teach you. I personally consider myself somewhere in the middle. Going into it, I knew the basics, but I needed a refresher on when to split, double down, etc. 

Signing Up
Once you decide if you want to play, you need to sign up to participate. They first announced the event in the itinerary, which was released about 2 weeks before the cruise. In that email, there was a link to sign up for the tournament. So if this is something you'd like to participate in, keep your eyes peeled for that email from Rose Tours and make sure to sign up.

I was notified via email from Michelle at Rose Tours about 4 days before the cruise. From what I can tell, I think everyone who entered got picked. Lets face it- its easy money for them so I don't know why they'd turn anyone down. In this email, there was a schedule on what time you would be playing and what table you'd be at. 198 girls were selected to play. They had games being played from 10am-1:55pm on the last day of the cruise.

Checking In
When its time for you to play, make your way to the casino. You'll need to visit the cashier in the casino to check-in and pay for the tournament, which will go on your sail and sign card. It costs $25 to participate. At that point find your assigned table and grab a seat!

Even the tables were BSB themed!

Tournament Rules
Everyone will play 7 hands of blackjack and everyone starts with $1500 in chips. You do not compete with just the girls at your table, you're competing with everyone- so all 198 people who signed up and theoretically might play. Granted at my table only 2 of the 7 people showed up. I think a lot of people last minute changed their mind or were preoccupied because the tournament overlapped with the meet & greet. But don't stress, the dealer will go over all of the tournament rules beforehand. I found our dealer very understanding and patient with less experienced players. With 7 hands and only 2 girls at my table- the whole game couldn't have lasted much more than 5-10 minutes.  

In order to win a spot to play with AJ later in the day, you need to have the most money in chips at the end of those 7 hands. There was a board up front near the cashier that kept track of the top players throughout the day. Just so you have a sense, here were the final scores from the 2013 cruise.

1. $14,000
2. $10,200
3. $8,400
4. $6,900
5. $6,600
6. $6,200
7. AJ :)

The top 6 contestants got to play with AJ in the finals. The first place prize was $500 and the second place prize won $250. Though I personally think playing blackjack with AJ would be a prize enough!

Commemorative Poker Chip

Unfortunately I don't have any insight on how the finals that were played with AJ went. That event overlapped with Kevin's cover story and unfortunately I couldn't be in 2 places at once. If any past cruisers have an additional info they'd like to share, please post below. I'm curious too :)

I am no blackjack expert, so I'm not going to even go down that path. But I will say that's its important to look at the winning amounts from last year. And definitely take a look at that board before you sit down. You need to know how aggressively to play. You only get 7 hands and $1500 in chips. If you only bet $100 a hand, you can do the math and quickly realize even if you got blackjack all 7 hands, there's no way you could compete. My personal MO was "go big or go home." But that's just me. Clearly it didn't pay off like I was hoping.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Who's Cruising in 2014? I am!

Well I can breath a sigh of relief because I'm officially booked for the 2014 BSB cruise and I couldn't be more excited!! This year I'll be cruising with 2 new gals. Quite bittersweet for me as I'll miss my old roommates dearly, but I'm super excited to room with 2 of my other great friends. I'll be on deck 6, cabin U299 and I'm doing late dining. Come say hi!

For anyone curious, my reservation number is 83340, which in some miraculous turn of events is actually the lowest number I've seen so far. Though I'm sure there are better numbers, just haven't come across any.

So now that the booking is done, time for the fun part. Getting excited for the cruise!! That means planning pre and post-cruise trips, door decorations, theme nights and more. I'm so excited!! 

Can't wait to see everyone on board and good look those those booking tomorrow during the public sale.

So who else was able to book and what's your cabin number?!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Thanks BSB!

I was soooo excited when I saw the Backstreet Boys tweet about my blog earlier today. So thank you Backstreet Boys and Jen for the shout out!! Those boys always know how to put a smile on my face :)

I also want to take this chance and welcome any new readers to my blog. Hopefully you'll find some helpful tips if you're a first time cruiser or be able to relive some fun memories if you're a repeat cruiser. As always, please email me if you ever want to chat or have any questions.

Good luck to everyone booking their cabin next week!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chrissy's Best of BSB Cruising

I'm happy to feature another one of my favorite gals as a guest blogger- my roommate, Chrissy! She's currently living in Indiana and to say she is the biggest Brian fan I know would be a huge understatement. Seriously, if you want to talk anything about Brian, she's your gal. You can find her on twitter @BRokKentuckyGrl or check out some of her other Backstreet adventures on her blog- From The First Day. Chrissy has been on all 3 BSB cruises and in this post she's taking a look back at all of them and sharing her favorite parts of each one.

When I first started writing this guest blog post, I was set on sharing my top moments of BSB Cruise 2013 with you.  I had written about one third of it when I decided that I wanted to go a different route.  I decided that since I have been on all three cruises thus far, I would bring you a post in which I gave you the “Best Of” for each portion of the cruise.  To me, if each of these different parts were taken from each of the cruises, it would make the perfect BSB cruise for me.

Pre-Cruise Event
The “Bigger” Acoustic Show from the 2010 cruise wins this category by far!  Who doesn’t want to see BSB singing???  Plus, this was the first time I got to see them do an entire acoustic set in person.  Our VIP photo afterwards was probably one of the most disorganized photos I have been a part of when it came to the Backstreet Boys (I believe two of the girls weren’t even standing next to a Boy and Howie’s face was hidden), but it was also my first time meeting AJ, Howie, and Nick.  The 2011 Pre-Cruise Party at the Cameo Nightclub brought a much better VIP photo, however.  Unfortunately, the 2011 pre-cruise event brought us very little Brian viewing and not much Backstreet singing.  And as many of us know, there was no pre-cruise event for the 2013 cruise.  Hopefully, they bring this back for 2014.

Sail-Away Party
The 2011 Sail Away Party wins this for me.  Don’t get me wrong, the Captain’s uniforms for the 2013 cruise were absolutely amazing!!!  However, my friends and I had the front row for the 2011 Sail Away party and I feel like we got much more interaction because of this.  In 2011, all four of the guys were present and “performed” for the audience the entire time.  They were requesting songs, dancing, singing, and just having a great time.  I feel like this wasn’t as much the case for 2013.  Kevin disappeared for a really long time and Brian didn’t seem to be as present either.  I also feel like they just weren’t having as great of a time with the music…there wasn’t nearly the same amount of singing and dancing as in 2011.  Now, we were a little further from the stage in 2013 so that could have a large part in this.  And of course, there was no sail away party in 2010 because of the half chartered ship.

Game Show
“In it to Win It” in 2011 wins in this category.  While the guys are still hilarious with trivia like games, watching them try to accomplish tasks and competing with one another, rather than as a team against fans, is much more fun.  We were able to add words to the Backstreet Dictionary when Brian commented that his team had played “betterly” than the other.  We saw the guys get up close and personal during Coconut Smoochie.  Brian sang to a Christmas tree.  Howie was a Flippy Cup master.  Brian rode a children’s tricycle way better than any adult should.  And in true Backstreet fashion, there was usually one member that was confused and wasn’t following the rules of the game.  2013, however, did allow more fans to participate because they brought several different groups of girls up and randomly picked girls from an envelope to make participation a little fairer.

Because of the nature of the 2010 cruise, dinners were much more eventful than the 2011 and 2013 cruises.  The half charter of this cruise allowed for the guys to actually eat dinner at the same time and in the same dining room as all of the Backstreet cruisers.  Because of this, we got AJ and Nick getting “Low” and AJ dancing with a fan (who just happens to be a friend of mine that I had met that night when her mother and I sat at our table).  Just that little bit of extra Backstreet when you didn’t expect it was a nice touch.  Now with full charters, this just won’t happen again.  The guys might have events for the other group when your group is eating, cruisers are now split between the two dining rooms which also means that your group might be split up, or one of the Boys might be in your dining room but they are eating before they have to rush off to an event and that is it.

Beach Party
I think some will disagree with me on this one but I think I actually liked the 2011 Beach Party the best of the three.  First of all, seeing Kevin with the guys after him being gone was just exciting.  Sure, he was back with the guys in 2013 but the novelty of having him back for that one day before he officially announced his return was a thrill.  I wasn’t anywhere near the stage for this Beach Party but I loved that fact that I was able to catch up on some much needed sleep on the beach as I awaited the arrival of the guys.  I had not relaxed at all during the 2010 Beach Party because I hadn’t known what to expect and was on constant look out for the guys. 

I very much enjoyed the introduction of Musical Chairs and the fact AJ had no idea how to play at the time.  We got some a cappella from the guys.  And probably my favorite part of the 2011 Beach Party was the volleyball.  I had missed the volleyball in 2010 because I had made my way back to the ship like I was supposed to and there was no volleyball in 2013.  And, well, I love volleyball.  We were right against the back serving line so Brian was right up next to us several times when he went to serve.  Oh, and how can I forget the fact that I caught some beads from Brian.  Some of my friends got some photos with some of the guys; I had not because I had just been chilling and enjoying the beach.

The 2010 Q & A session wins this category for me.  I enjoyed the questions more during that Q&A and I thought all of the guys were equal in answering.  For this past 2013 cruise, Brian was unbelievably quieter than I am used to him being.  Anyway back to the 2010 Q&A….there were so many good quotes taken from that Q&A.  Brian and Nick recreated scenes from Titanic.  Brian did Kevin impersonations.  It was really confirmed that AJ was not the greatest with geography.  I also loved the fact that the Q&A was in the lounge so that we could sit and relax while we just found out more about the guys.  My feet hurt so much during the 2013 cruise that some of my friends and I went upstairs to sit during the session and I wasn’t able to see all of the guys then.  I know that having the Q&A on the Lido deck is probably the best way to have it now with the full charter so that they don’t have to break it up into two sessions.  I was glad that they brought back the Q&A after its absence in 2011.

First of all, I was very happy that there was no karaoke this year.  It was great during the 2010 cruise but I did not find it enjoyable on the 2011 cruise because it was just old by that point.  So, as you can tell from that, 2010 wins this category.  The guys seemed much more involved in 2010 because they were constantly singing along with the fans and dancing.  There was not as much of that in 2011.  Of course, the best part of the 2010 was the “Baby Got Back” performance.  It was completely unexpected and that particular fan was just fun to watch.  However, it was brought back again in 2011 and just wasn’t as exciting because we had already seen it.  It was also a much better venue when it was in the lounge, rather than on the Lido Deck.

2011’s Cruise Concert wins this category for me because it was different.  We got the This Is Us show on the 2010 cruise and the In A World Like This show in 2013.  Don’t get me wrong, both of those were excellent shows and it was great getting to see them multiple times between the actual tour and the cruise.  However, the set list for the 2011 cruise was set by voting from the fans.  We were in control of which songs the guys would and would not be singing….well, for the most part.  I still think the guys snuck some of their hits in there that maybe hadn’t been voted on (like “I Want It That Way” which I think many fans could possibly go without hearing).  Because of this control, we got songs like “If You Want It to Be Good Girl,” “Don’t Want You Back,” and “Siberia.”  I also LOVED the fact that we also got solos from each of the guys.  You can probably guess that my favorite was Brian’s solo but the fact that he was in tears from singing “Mary Did You Know” and got the audience tearing up, as well, was such a special, touching moment.

Solo Events
Since the 2013 cruise is the only cruise that has occurred with solo events, it is obviously the winner.  The fact that they added these solo events made this year’s cruise extra special and much different than the past sailings.  Each of the guys got to shine in their own right and we got a great variety.  My favorite solo event had to be Kevin’s, followed shortly by Howie’s.  Kevin’s event was so intimate and emotional and I loved seeing that side of him, even though I think we see that side in him more often than we see it from the other guys.  One of my favorite moments of this past cruise was also when Kevin was doing his sound check and playing “Incomplete” on the piano while the fans in the atrium sang the song.  It was just a cool moment.  Howie’s event was the opposite, as it was just a fun party time.  We got to hear all of Howie’s little corny jokes as he gave us a mini-concert of his songs.  It really made me want a Howie solo tour more than I already did. 

I was actually in Brian’s solo event as one of the Wylee models but I was one of the last to go so I was stuck behind the stage for the largest majority of the fashion show and did not get to really see much of it as a spectator.  This solo event did get me a photo with Brian and a hug, but not really much interaction with him like some of the others got.  As a matter of fact, when I walked to the side of the stage where he had been messing around with one of the other fan’s Wylee products, he went back to the front of the stage.  He did eventually come back to give me a hug though.  I completely missed Nick’s event because I was out at the deck party and it’s not like I haven’t seen him DJ before.  I did not enter the Blackjack tourney and didn’t see the final round of the tournament so I wasn’t able to see this AJ event, plus his belly flop competition got cancelled due to the weather.

Group Photo
Whoever decided to have smaller groups for the 2013 cruise needs a raise.  Whoever decided to have the guys wear their Captain’s uniforms, needs an even bigger raise.  This year’s group photo wins without a doubt in this category!

Length of the Cruise
2010 was a four day cruise.  The other two have been three days.  And while the 2010 was only a half charter, that extra day with the Backstreet Boys makes a huge difference and makes it the winner in this category.  There have may have been more down time but I actually really liked the fact that we got that day in Key West to do non-Backstreet stuff and just explore like tourists.

Cruise Ship
I think I prefer the Imagination over the Destiny.  I found I got lost much less on the Imagination and by having the two “stages” on the Imagination, you get the guys coming out into the crowd to get from one area to the other.  The negative with that is that you don’t know which area they will be coming out at the beginning of the deck party.  This was a bummer when Laura had gotten us VIP bracelets on this last cruise but the guys came out on the center stage and then we missed the first part with the guys because we were back in the crowd in the VIP section because we had been waiting for them to come out on the top balcony.

Deck Parties
I’m doing this category last because I am having a really hard time deciding the winning cruise for it.  There are bits and pieces of the deck parties that I liked for each year.  Overall, I think I enjoyed myself the most for the 2010 cruise.  Now, I know MANY people disagree with me on this one so let me explain why I enjoyed myself the most at the deck parties on this cruise.  I liked these deck parties because the guys were pretty much present at all times “performing.”  The guys were above us on the balcony singing, dancing, and just talking.  One didn’t disappear to go take photos for long periods of time.  They were always just there.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that the guys are braver and are now trying to go out and get as many photos with fans as possible during deck parties.  However, this leads to one of two things.  One is that fans who want photos are waiting in line to get a photo with that one member and is then missing out on what the others guys might be doing.  The other thing that is happening is that if you are content without a photo, you are now watching only some of the guys while some of the others have disappeared to take photos.  Either way, you are missing out on something.  In 2010, the guys were there at all times to watch and you weren’t missing out on anything.  They would sing their own songs when the DJ would play them, they would dance to their own and other’s music, they premiered “Don’t Turn Out the Lights,” AJ sang two of his solo songs and got some additional help from some of the others guys.  Now, the deck parties didn’t last as long in 2010 but I just feel like we saw more of them.  While I enjoyed the 2010 deck parties, overall, I feel like I should mention a few more things. 

The best deck party between all of the cruises was the PDA Pajama Jam during the 2011 cruise.  Everything about this deck party was amazing and I think having it in the Atrium due to the weather made it much greater than it would have been if it had been out on the Lido deck.  Many people were able to get a great view of the events because of the many levels in the Atrium.  But, what made this deck party so great were the things that the guys were doing…crowd surfing, doing the worm across the bar, pillow fights, pretending to make love to a pillow, spanking fans….  It was a side of BSB that fans had NEVER seen before.  It showed that the guys were finally not afraid to loosen up in front of us and show us a different side of them. 

Deck Party (Outfits)
The best theme nights as far as the guys outfits occurred during this last 2013 cruise.  The fact that the guys coordinated for both the Halloween night and Bachelorette night made it super fun.  The fact that the outfits that they coordinated in were AMAZING made it even better.  I mean the Backstreet Boys as the Village People and as the Chippendale Dancers…who wouldn’t LOVE that???

My favorite themes from a fan’s outfit perspective were from the 2011 cruise.  I enjoyed planning all of my theme outfits for that year, unlike this last year when I had no excitement at all about what I would do for the Bachelorette night.  While I didn’t hate any of the 2010 themes, I had no idea what to expect for these deck parties and would have probably changed some things if I knew then what I know now.  However, my favorite outfit overall was from this last cruise when I dressed as a University of Kentucky cheerleader for Halloween night.

So, as I have demonstrated, I don’t know that I have an overall winner from my perspective for the deck parties.  I know other fans have a clear winner but I just couldn’t come up with one no matter how hard I debated the issues in my head.

So, there you have it….my “Best Of” list.  Please remember that different fans may have completely different experiences.  These were just how I would compare each of the three cruises.  I know many who have been on the last three sailings have said that the 2013 cruise was the best by far.  I did enjoy myself immensely.  However, by looking at my list I guess you could tell that the 2013 cruise doesn’t win in a lot of the categories.  I think I just have different preferences when it comes to some events and to me that is perfectly fine!    All three cruises have been special for one reason or another and that’s what makes going on these cruises amazing in my eyes

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Top 13 of 2013

Happy New Year everyone! In honor of wrapping up 2013, I thought I'd recap my 13 favorite memories from this past cruise.

13. Door Decoration- I really enjoyed seeing our door decoration come together. I think it came out better than I ever could've envisioned, mostly thanks to Chrissy's hard work on it! It was also very rewarding to have other fans stop by and give compliments on the door.

500 Reasons BSB is Larger than Life

12. Pranking friends in Miami- So we got to Miami a few days early to enjoy the beach and get settled. However with a lot of rain in the forecast, we didn't get as much beach time as we had hoped. Instead we largely stayed at the hotel. We also happened to have access our other friends' room before they arrived. So we took some of our leftover door decoration pictures and placed them throughout their hotel room. We even included funny notes. Oh Backstreet humor!

11. Seeing AJ in the Hallway- I love my unexpected random moments and running into AJ one night chatting to a small group of fans was awesome, even though it was brief. He chatted about the upcoming Bachelorette night and Friends. I always love those moments that only a small group of fans get to experience, it makes it that much more special.

10. Sail Away- I loved the guys coming out in their sailor suits and just kicking off the cruise with a bang.

9. Reuniting with old friends- I always say one of my favorite parts of the cruise is sharing the experience with friends. I'm fortunate to see some of gals who live closer to me throughout the year, but others I don't get to see anywhere but on the cruise. Either way- its so nice to catch up with everyone and that's just what we did.

8. Rum DMC- What can I say, I loved the fact that Howie got his time to shine. The event totally suited him and it makes my top 13 list because Howie never went on tour in the US with his CD so this was really the first time I got to see him really perform some of his solo material.

7. Being recognized- I had a bunch of you all come up to me at various points and ask me if I was the "girl from the blog." You all seriously made me so happy!! I got a teeny tiny dose of what the Backstreet Boys must feel like. In all honestly, it makes me feel so good to know that not only are there people out there who read my humble little blog, but also enough so that you actually recognize me. So thanks me making me feel so special!

6. Relaxing in Fort Lauderdale- After 3 exhausting days at sea, it was so nice to actually lay out by the ocean and float down a lazy river. They even had a pool-side waiter so we didn't have to get up. It was delightful. 

5. Answering my question during the Q&A- Both of the questions I asked got picked during the Q&A to be answered and that was super exciting!   

4. Meeting New Friends- Since the last cruise I've met so many wonderful girls through this blog and the fanclub. It's just so nice to finally meet you all in person after months of getting to know you over email. Just a few of you who I managed to get pictures with....

3. Incomplete with Kevin- There was a moment before Kevin's official cover story where he came out and played Incomplete on the piano while the entire atrium full of people quietly sang along. It sounds odd, but it was such a pretty moment. And of course Kevin's cover story was equally as enjoyable. I just liked seeing Kevin have his moment to shine and really open up and get personal with us through the songs he chose to sing.

2. Brian Encounter- Any interaction with a Backstreet Boy is fun, but what made this one neat was the fact that it was very unexpected and the fact that Brian initiated it. I was turning the corner when he yelled over to my friends and I. When else does something like this happen but on a Backstreet cruise? It doesn't!

1. Halloween Picture with AJ- I really had no expectations for the cruise, but the only thing I was really hoping for was for AJ to just see my costume, as I figured he'd appreciate the Friends reference. That's it. I didn't need a picture or anything fancy. But in the end not only did he see my costume but he liked it and I did in fact get a picture with him. *Squeeeeeeal*

I'm actually quite proud of myself for the fact that a lot of my top moments aren't BSB interactions. In fact, some didn't even make my list. Wow- I must be kinda sorta growing up!