Monday, October 12, 2015

Hayley's 2014 Cruise Review

Hi loyal-readers. I know I've been slacking in the writing department as we're in between cruise excitement, but fortunately I have another wonderful guest blogger and friend of mine, Hayley who is sharing her 2014 cruise experience with ya'll. I personally love reading other reviews because even though we're all on the same ship, we all have different stories and moments to share. This one is no exception.

A little more about Hayley - she is a Nick girl from Texas and one of the sweetest girls I've met. She's super friendly and loves meeting other BSB fans, so feel free to say hi and friend her on Facebook. I know she'd love to chat with you.

Hi, I’m Hayley. I had the fortune to meet the wonderful Laura on the 2014 BSB cruise, and I was more than happy to share my experiences as a first-time cruiser on her blog, which I read religiously before embarking on this journey. I first heard about the cruise in May of 2011, and immediately got on my phone to call my sister and try to convince her to come with me on the one coming up in December. The dates didn’t work for her, and I was way too scared to go alone. **Side note: major props to anyone who has the guts to go on the cruise by themselves. Y’all rock and can I have some of that courage?**  Fast forward to August 2013, and my sister and I were standing in line at the merch booth at the IAWLT concert, and I made her pinky swear that we would go on the next BSB cruise. There were witnesses, so she could not renege on the almighty and legally binding pinky swear.  January came, reservations were made—BSB cruise 2014, here we come!

We flew into Miami the day before because my anxiety couldn’t stand for a day-of arrival flight.  We stayed at a hotel right on Biscayne Bay and it was really nice. We arrived after midnight, so all we really did was sleep. The next day, we hailed a cab and arrived at the Carnival terminal around ten and it was already PACKED. There were already fans, four rows deep, waiting around the cordoned off area where the guys were going to board. The goody bags were just what I expected from my “research” of Laura’s blog, but the scavenger hunt was a new activity. My sister and I looked over the clues, but we were confused on the how the hunt was actually going to work. We were doubtful that we would be on the ship early enough to have a chance, so we didn’t really form a plan to look for clues. Then, the screams of fans told us it was time. The boys started arriving. Oh my gosh, y’all—nothing could have prepared me for this moment. It was so thrilling to be that close to the boys. I have been to a bunch of concerts, but had never been THAT close before. And then in one moment, I was closer to the Backstreet Boys than I had ever been in my life! My cheeks hurt from smiling when they finally made their way out of the terminal and into the gangway.

My sister and I went into this cruise vowing to not have unrealistic expectations. If we got a picture with one of the guys outside of the scheduled meet-and-greet, we would be overjoyed. I’m a Nick girl and She’s a Brian girl, so we hoped for our favorites, but we knew not to be picky.  Spolier alert: We were not disappointed. So, if you are looking to go on a BSB cruise for the first time, I think it’s important to set realistic goals, because you don’t want to be crushed when things don’t work out exactly as you had planned.

When we finally boarded the ship, it was a little overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. So, naturally, we headed to the bar. We had to wait a while to be served, but as soon as we were at the counter, we were given recommendations for our drink order by some very nice fellow cruisers—a mom and her two teenage daughters.  Already, I was taken aback by how friendly the fellow passengers were. We took their recommendation and ordered a drink called “Kiss on the Lips” in the BSB cruise glass.  We then took the obligatory pictures with the large cardboard cutout of the guys. We wandered the ship a little trying to get our bearings, attended the super fun and super mandatory lifeboat training, and waited for the sail away party to begin. We were waiting outside on the Lido deck in the dreary weather trying to get as close to the stage as possible without being trampled when it was announced that the party was being moved to the atrium. Ultimate chaos. We rushed inside, but we weren’t quick enough to snag a spot on the railing.  We didn’t have the best experience at the party, because standing on our tippy toes and craning our necks to get a peek at the guys grew tiresome. Plus the boat began moving through very choppy waters in the middle of the party, so it was a challenge to stay steady (unfortunately, this was a common occurrence on the cruise). However, we met some very nice girls that stood at an angle so that we could see better and offered to send us photos of the event. Again, I was thankful for the kindness of strangers and I was hopeful that the evening would only get better.

As the party was dying down, I made my down the steps and came out on the landing by the atrium elevators. That’s when I saw Kevin. A crowd quickly formed and I was in the front row of the horde of fans. People were freaking out when Kevin passed by flanked by his bodyguard. By “freaking out,” I mean I saw one girl straight up slap another girl hard in the face because this girl claimed that the other had pushed her. The security guards did not see it happen, so the fan that assaulted the other was not led away in zip tie handcuffs like she should have been. This was my first time seeing fans getting more than a little crazy, and it was not my last. At that same event moments later my sister was waiting to try to snag a selfie with Kevin when another fan punched her hard in the arm. When my sister recoiled in confused terror, the fan pushed in front of her and screamed “KEVIN, I’M PREGNANT” before grabbing onto Kevin and taking a selfie. The overzealous, pregnant fan was gently removed by Keith (Kevin’s bodyguard) and Kevin dashed away to safety.

Next we had the game show: BSB loves the 90s. Laura already described it better than I could in her post and her pictures and quotes are spot-on. But, suffice it to say, that any moment where we can watch the boys just hang out and make fun of each other—on inflated furniture, no less—is a good time. It’s moments like these that allow fans to see just how much they are like brothers. Some of the highlights were Kevin’s near-constant Snoop Dogg impersonation, Nick’s cheating at, I mean playing, Mario Kart, and AJ’s less than stellar Skip-It skills. It was also at the game show that we were told by Jen that “We are not going to Half Moon Cay.” As you might guess, the reaction was not a positive one, but most people settled down when Jen explained that we were just switching days. The seas were so choppy that we were forced to re-route our course, making it impossible to make it to the beach the next day. While it ended up working out just fine, the planner in me was thrown by the sudden change of schedule.

After the game show, we took on the adventure of finding our assigned dining room, which was pretty tucked away. The host led me and my sister to our table where we discovered that our tablemates were the same girls who offered to share the railing at the sail away party! We also met a mother and daughter and a lone male cruiser (which pretty much made him a mini celeb in his own right, plus the fact that he is hilarious.) That dinner was one of my favorite moments on the cruise because it was the first time I had ever met so many people who had the same level of fandom as my sister and I and I loved the exchange of our favorite BSB-related memories and moments. It was this dinner that created a little BSB cruise family to share this crazy adventure with. We arranged a meeting place by the elevators for that night’s deck party.

We had heard that the Studio 54 deck party was being held in the atrium because of the weather, and based on our so-so experience at the sail away party, our hopes weren’t high. Deciding where to be at the start of a deck party is kind of like gambling. You don’t know where the guys are going to enter or where they’re going to go, so you just pick a spot and hope for the best. We settled on a spot two floors above the ground floor of the atrium, where the main stage and bar are located. It seemed like a long shot as it was relatively far-removed from the action. The boys finally arrived (Backstreet Time) and did their thing on the main stage. But then all hell broke loose when Nick and AJ hopped in the elevator and stopped at OUR floor. This spot of luck led to my sister and I getting selfies with Nick, Howie, and AJ all in the span of fifteen minutes.  

DISCLAIMER: Backstreet Amnesia is a real thing, y’all.

The brief moments spent with our esteemed gentlemen are quickly clouded over and exact word-for-word quotes go out the window. I remember that AJ said he liked my turban (it was leopard print) and that Nick looked just a little bit concerned with his daunting situation (the clamoring crowd of fans) when I asked for a picture. Anyway, needless to say, my steadfastly realistic expectations had just been blown out of the water. After the so-so Sail Away party, we could not get over our good fortune.

Switching the Day at Sea and the beach party threw us all for a loop, but it meant we were a day closer to our guaranteed moment with the boys.  We woke up really excited for the moment we had been waiting for—The Meet and Greet. We had a leisurely brunch and then got in line early for our photo session, which was already a couple hundred people deep. Because of the long wait, I had plenty of time to freak out about not having a group together for our photo. My sister and I kept our eyes open for any other singles or duos waiting in line. We were told in advance that if we didn’t have 4 or more in our group, we would be paired with someone, but it still made me nervous. I was also freaking out about picture position, and of course the little fact that I would soon be as close as I would probably ever be to the boys. As we waited, word spread about the positions of the guys and I really wanted to stand between AJ and Nick. My sister, who is much calmer and less prone to anxiety attacks, reminded me that everything at this point should be considered a bonus. The second before we got into the lounge for the photo, we met two girls who needed a group and it was fate—where they wanted to stand fit perfectly with what we wanted.

At that point, I was practically hyperventilating at the thought of hugging all five members of the group in the span of a minute. And let me tell you, when it happened, it was surreal. My biggest regret was that I rushed myself. I was very conscious that time was limited and didn’t want to get the “hurry up” warning. I had every intention to just hug each boy and say thank you. Well, I did that. I also managed to squeeze a few other things into that minute: almost tripped and fell into AJ, was mentally rushing Kevin when he was very sweetly greeting me in his Southern drawl (what is wrong with me?), broke away from Kevin when he pulled me into position for the picture (it was the wrong spot, but really, I repeat: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!), and had a one-sided conversation with Nick Carter after the picture was taken. (Read: total Nick girl) I say one-sided because after Nick called me “sweetie,” I had a complete synaptic collapse and was only capable of grinning like an idiot and nodding. After walking away in a daze, I ran back to give Brian a hug and then continued my mental breakdown in relative privacy. I cannot, on pain of death, remember ONE thing Mr. Carter said to me. Backstreet Amnesia was instantaneous. I just remember his friendly face and the kind way he spoke to me and it still makes me get all moony-face.

After collecting myself, my sister and I decided to go down to the pool for a bit. It was just what we needed after the stressful morning. At the pool we met more friends, drank beer, and went on the waterslides. Did I just describe the most perfect day so far? Why, yes. Yes, I did. It gets better. The next event was “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.” I expected something like The Singing Bee, and I was right. I really enjoyed this event and appreciated how much effort they took with involving the fans in everything. The Guys vs. the fans makes for pretty good entertainment. My favorite moments included Brian impersonating Justin Timberlake when forced to sing a few lines of an N’sync song—“I’m gonna be seasick, ladies!,” listening to Howie singing Enrique Iglesias—“You can take my breasts away…,” and then Nick enthusiastically said “Ok, raise your hand if you’re a virgin!” (the rest of the guys groan, protest, or chastise Nick) and then Nick saying “Why didn’t anyone raise their hand?!” Nick—you’re so pretty.

After “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” a bunch of us were hanging out at tables outside of the casino, waiting for dinner when we spotted Howie on his way into the casino. A couple of us, including my sister, rushed over to get a quick picture. I couldn’t get over the hype that you could run into a Backstreet Boy at any moment on this ship. My sister (the Brian girl), ran into Nick several times when he was almost completely alone. Understanding that he was trying to sneak away undetected, she just gave a quick wave or smile and went on her way. Keeping your cool is one of the most respectful things we can do as BSB fans and they obviously appreciate the heck out of that.

Dinner was a little more eventful as Kevin was tickling the ivories in the lounge right outside of the main dining room. He was preparing for his one-on-one time with the very lucky winners of the Scavenger Hunt. It was the moment for the Kevin girls of the group. They bailed out on most of dinner to get a moment with their guy and seeing their faces upon their return was another one of those “only on the cruise” moments. We had the concert next and then the Halloween deck party. We engaged in the debate of getting ready before the concert or after. We decided to live on the edge and attend the concert sans costume. It was fun to see the costumes of those who’d dressed early. Not everyone can say they’ve attended a Backstreet Boys concert with a mummy and the Bride of Frankenstein. 

The concert was amazing and it’s where some of us let our true fan freak flags fly. You truly jam out as hard as you want and you don’t care because everyone is doing it. Everyone is shouting the lyrics at the tops of their lungs and jumping up and down. My sister and I generally try to keep a low profile and avoid fan-girling, but when in Rome… Our friend, the solo male cruiser commented about our sudden shift, “Wow, I didn’t realize how big of a fan you were until I saw you guys at the concert.” If you’re going to go wild, the concert is the place to do it.

There’s nothing like a cruise concert. The guys are more relaxed and goof up tons of times to hilarious effect. I also really appreciated the cheesiness of the song intros—I hope they were winging it. The guys did a pretty great job with the choreography considering that the boat was rocking and roiling through the whole show. It was a sentimental and nostalgic show for me. Strong feelings and memories are attached to their songs and some new memories have joined the party. Now, I can’t hear “Straight through My Heart” and not think about how Kevin hates that song (it wasn’t on the set list initially, but Kevin accidentally promised it would be, so they had to accommodate) and Kevin doing the Carlton dance when making fun of the peppy chorus. “Hot Hot Hot” became a favorite after the concert thanks to the guys’ total synched choreography (HA). “Just to be Close” was such a special treat and when the idea of an a cappella concert was brought up, I shrieked like a five year old. WOULDN’T THAT BE AMAZING?! When the concert ended, we rushed down to our room to prepare for the Halloween deck party.

We got to the Lido deck with time to prepare ourselves for the general madness and mayhem of a deck party. The guys revealed their costumes (Wizard of Oz) and messed around a bit before dispersing for selfie hour. I found myself in a throng of girls surrounding Nick. Let me preface this by saying, I try my absolute best to follow rules, even the silly ones, and to avoid warnings. I absolutely hate the feeling of being reprimanded or getting in trouble for something like standing in the wrong place. I was really close to Nick and his bodyguard and the girls behind me started pushing forward, worried that Nick was going to walk past our cluster. I was literally being pushed into Nick’s bodyguard’s forearm, which he extended to protect them. Nick turns to take a picture with me and his bodyguard says to me “You need to stop pushing.” I said, “I’m not pushing, I promise. I’m being pushed into you.” Then he says, “Okay, but stop pushing.” I’m fully aware that Nick is watching this interaction. He’s not taking pictures with any of the waiting fans, but is silently watching. I was so embarrassed. It was fully a worst-case scenario for me. Nick very kindly takes my phone and snaps a picture of both of us.

I take my phone and leave and the bodyguard says “Thank you” to me. I’m not sure if he was thanking for me keeping cool and calmly leaving or what, but I spent the rest of the party in a funk. I felt like I looked like a crazy fan. This experience and the rain that eventually poured down on us (completing soaking my costume, which was still wet when I got back to Texas) really put a damper on the party for me. After the boys made their escape, we returned to our cabin to wring out our costumes and get some sleep before the Beach Party the following day.

My sister and I fully expected to be waiting around all day (or at least until noon) to be called to board a tender to Half Moon Cay for the beach party. We had blue wristbands, so we weren’t exactly VIP. So, we woke up expecting to have a leisurely breakfast and plenty of time to get ready. We’re up and about for no more than 3 minutes when they call blue wristbands to the deck to board. We threw on our swimsuits, grabbed some sunscreen, and ran to the boarding area. I looked a mess and totally had “just woke up” face. Not good. On the bright side, it was a beautiful day—the absolute opposite of the weather we left behind in Miami. My sister and I had never been to the Bahamas, so we were in awe of the beauty of the island. We found a spot near the stage but not too close and set our stuff down. We headed for the water and swam for about 30 minutes until the boat carrying the boys made a line for the shore. We were in the water when they arrived, but got out and made our way to stage shortly after.

The guys did their customary “just hanging out” stuff but with water guns and no shirts. They were plenty of beach games, which included the fans, and it was entertaining to see a Backstreet boy with literal egg on his face. After the water balloon toss, AJ tossed several of the extra balloons into the crowd. I turned my head to look out at the water, and I turn my direction back to stage to see AJ tossing a balloon and it was coming at me fast. It was such a direct hit to my chest, I was pulling shards of rubber balloon out of my swimsuit top. In summation, AJ threw a water balloon at my boobs. Only on the cruise. After the games were over, the vibe shifted to a deck party where each guy had a twenty-foot radius of fans waiting their turn. Before this happened, I literally walked into AJ when he was alone on the sand near the stage and he stopped for a photo. While, we’re trying to take the picture, some of the entourage started spraying water guns at us. AJ is holding me for a picture while we are being sprayed with water guns. AJ yells “Stop! We’re trying to take a picture, man!” and we get our photo. This moment is significant for me because it was pretty much the only time I got lucky enough to find one of the guys relatively alone.

I did wait in the water for a photo with Kevin. I actually enjoyed the wait because Kevin and his swoon-worthy bodyguard, Keith, are well versed in handling the crowds and keeping things calm. Kevin kept saying, “Be cool. I will rotate in a circle and I will take a photo with everyone.” Keith was keeping it entertaining by interacting with the fans. He actually smelled and fluffed a girl’s hair and finger wagged a girl for getting something signed and then requesting a photo.

My sister actually got lucky with one-on-one time with Kevin when she was swimming by herself. This is her story:
Hi, my name is Lauren and I’ve been a BSB fan since I was thirteen (I’m 31 now). Throughout my adolescence my walls were literally covered with Backstreet Boys posters and memorabilia. I even had a 7 foot promotional cut out that I stole from Sears (one of the sponsors from the Millennium tour). And while I met and hung out with member of BSB in my wildest dreams all the time, I never truly believed that I would have a one-on-one encounter with one of them in real life. As my sister mentioned earlier, we decided to be as realistic as possible, and since we had already gotten to meet AND hug the boys, I was pretty content with my cruise experience. This is probably why instead of combing the beach for potential BSB moments, I decided to spend our last hour or so in Half Moon Cay enjoying the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. 
I wanted a little peace, so I decided to go swimming as far out as I could (there was a rope cordoning us off so we couldn’t swim off and get lost). I was floating out there peacefully, when suddenly someone popped up right next to me. I assumed that my sister had decided to join me, so you can imagine my surprise when I turned my head and came face to face with Kevin Richardson. Anyone who has met Kevin can attest that time seems to just sloooow down. We chatted briefly, and I asked him if he was having a good time. He said that he was really enjoying today and commented that he didn’t get to swim or tan last year because the weather wasn’t as nice. Ever the gentleman, he then reciprocated and asked if I was having a good time. I said, “Of course!” He then asked what had been my favorite part of the cruise. I said that today was amazing, but I also loved the concert, even though I now would never be able to listen to “Straight though My Heart” without wanting to do the Carlton Dance. He laughed and said sorry. I said it was worth it.

At this point people on the shore had spotted Kevin and were beginning to wade out to us. I turned to Kevin and said, “You better go now.” He laughed and drawled “Yeah” before diving and swimming past the cordoned area. After he slipped under the rope, the girls all arrived. Several had cameras and items that they wanted signed. Considering that Kevin had been standing in the water signing and taking pictures for the better part of an hour, I figured he deserved some peace. I said, “Girls, I think he just wants some alone time.” The girls looked a bit deflated, but they understood and headed back to shore. I began floating again and had just started to relax, when someone else popped up beside me. Sadly, it wasn’t another Backstreet Boy, but it was the next best thing, Keith, Kevin’s hunky bodyguard. Our encounter was short, but funny. He immediately asked, “Where is he?” I laughed and said, “He went off the grid.” Keith grumbled good-naturedly, “Well, how am I supposed to do my job?” I smiled and shrugged, and he dived under the water to go protect Kevin.

It was definitely a surreal experience to have a casual, non-rushed conversation with a Backstreet Boy. It was also pretty cool to be floating out there in that gorgeous water knowing that several Backstreet Boys were actually just a few yards away—Howie eventually joined Kevin past the cordon and they were just floating and laughing about something. It was little stolen moments like these that made my cruise experience unforgettable. Okay, now back to Hayley’s review…

After my photo with Kevin, I went back to my towel on the sand and just sat, soaking it all in. I’m a planner, so I researched pretty extensively before coming on the cruise, and pretty much all my info on cruises in general and BSB cruises in particular was gleaned from reading Laura’s blog, this blog. If you asked my sister, she would say one of most used phrases on the cruise and in the months leading up to the cruise was “Laura says…” It was my BSB cruise Bible. So, when I was sitting on my towel on the beach, I saw Laura on the beach and called to her like we were already friends; I mean, I already felt like I knew her through her blog. We chatted for a bit and I got to hear some of the experiences of  “the luckiest girl on the 2014 BSB cruise.” It was great meeting Laura and seeing that a lot of the feelings that she had expressed in her posts about past cruises rang true for me on the 2014 cruise.

After getting our fill of the beach, we boarded and made our way back to the cruise ship. More pool time, beer, and waterslides. Then it was time for the “Show ‘Em What You’re Made of” Premiere and Q & A.  They showed us about 15 minutes of the documentary (tears were certainly shed), and then the guys fielded questions from the audience. They strategically showed us pieces that wouldn’t give away any surprises or plot points, so the questions we could ask were kind of limiting. After about three questions were asked, I couldn’t think of anything new to pose a question. It did get repetitive and was not what everything I was hoping for.

The Anything But Clothes deck party had a different vibe than the previous ones. I’m not sure if it was because it was our last chance to interact with the boys or because there was a lot more flesh on display (both from the boys—primarily Nick and AJ—and from some of the cruisers), or maybe because it was the only deck party that was actually on the deck the whole evening. Needless to say, it was quite an experience. When else would you ever have the opportunity to eat chocolate kisses off of Howie’s chest or popcorn from AJ’s crotchal region? The theme lent itself to a super fun ABC fashion show, so there was more entertainment provided at this party than all the others. Our male friend was picked as a finalist for his gladiator outfit so he got to catwalk it up and chat with Kevin, who was serving as the MC. One of fashion show participants tried to dirty dance with Kevin and when it got a little too suggestive, Kevin tried to tactfully push her off his front side but was really awkward in the process. It is little moments like that that I will always cherish. The night was a blur of running around and taking advantage of the last few moments with our favorite guys.

My sister even finally got to have her moment with Brian. She had been foiled several times by some over enthusiastic fans who were more than willing to get physical. She was able to catch Brian as he came down the stairs from the deck and asked for a quick picture. Brian nodded to his bodyguard and said, “OK, just this one,” before posing for my sister’s selfie and dashing away with his wife, Leighanne. Brian is the only Backstreet Boy I didn’t get a picture with, but I’m glad my sister was able to get one, since she has always been a total Brian girl. We both ended the evening exhausted, but with huge smiles on our faces.

All of the guys were so amazing, patient, and kind. They took plenty of time to reach out to fans and take pictures. Seeing their dedication and love for their fans has made me respect them so much more as just genuinely good human beings. I consider myself so lucky to have been on this adventure. It breaks my heart that can’t attend the 2016 European BSB cruise, but I’m looking forward to another cruise in the near future. A big thank you to my BSB cruise family and all the people who made the 2014 cruise such a blast!