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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Cruise From Heaven, to Hell, To Utopia!

The Cruise from Heaven, to Hell, to Utopia!!!

The offer came in last year to play on a cruise. How could we turn that down? On top of that, when we were offered the deal, the ship was still being built! The Norwegian Escape was under construction in north-western Germany and would be going into sea trials in November. So, on top of everything else, it would be a brand new ship!


The event we were hired for was to be called “The Trop Rock Music Festival At Sea” and would be showcasing a good assortment of Trop Rock music acts. In addition, along with Dani Hoy, my wonderful girlfriend and musical partner in The Shanty Hounds, as well as our two podcasts, “The Key West Music Show – Conch Rockin’ In The Keys” and “Key West Beer Tales - The Sum Of All Beers”, would not only be playing, but also we would be doing a beer podcast on the ship as well!
We drove to Miami, taking an overnight stop in Key Largo. We usually stay in one of two places there, either Sunset Cove, or The Pelican, which are right next door to each other. In addition, we always stop at The Caribbean Club for a libation or two while in Key Largo. This trip was no exception!



In the morning we headed to Miami. Good ride, no delays at all. We got on the ship and boy, was it impressive! Considerably larger than the Titanic, completely state of the art, this ship made a great impression! We got to our room, got settled, and then went up on deck where we hooked up with members of our tour group.
On deck of Norwegian Escape at Port of Miami, looking up Government Cut to Miami Beach and the Atlantic Ocean

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Steve Tolliver of the Trop Rock Junkies

After a beer or two, I went back to our cabin. The ship had not left port as of yet and I thought I’d take a short nap before it did. When I awoke we not only had left port, but we also were well clear of Government Cut, the channel that ships take leaving Miami out to sea. Miami was in the distance.

That evening Steve Tolliver and The Trop Rock Junkies were to play outside on the stern of the ship. Weather being weather, it started to rain and that put a regretful end to that. The end result was a jam at the first Margaritaville that evening. For all I know, as The Norwegian Escape is a brand new ship, this could have been the first jam held there.The Highway 1 Band was well represented there, as was Tim Charron!

We, The Shanty Hounds (Dani Hoy and myself), got to play a few songs too! Thanks to Donny Brewer for letting me borrow his guitar too! Afterwards, we had all sorts of people giving us fantastic complements and saying they couldn’t wait to see our show on Thursday!

The ship also had a host of restaurants and bars. We first went to the Irish restaurant, then on later we hit La Bistro, a fantastic French restaurant, Le Bistro, with a fantastic staff and French MaĆ®tre d’ named Adrian, who was always smiling and just as active as the rest of the staff. Everything on Norwegian was very, very professional!

On Sunday there was a group event at the 5 O’Clock Somewhere bar on the ship. Donny Brewer played, as did A.J. Angelo, Reggie Starrett, and a host of others sitting in. Fun afternoon indeed!

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Reggie Starrett

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A.J. Angelo performing with his brother Carmen on percussion

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Donny Brewer at the 5 O’Clock Somewhere lounge aboard Norwegian Escape

Tea Wallace, Donny Brewer, and Carmen Angelo

On Monday afternoon, Dani and I did our beer podcast, Key West Beer Tales – The Sum Of All Beers,  from the first craft bar on a cruise ship, The District Brew House! We had actually stopped there on our first day on the ship and were duly impressed! 24 beers on tap and over sixty in cans and bottles. The Wynwood Brewery out of Miami is the signature brewery featured on the ship. Their beers were the beers that we focused on for our podcast. The three we had were their Pop’s Porter, La Rubia, and Wynwood IPA. All three of these beers were outstanding examples of their styles, and Norwegian must be recognized for making such excellent choices, as much as Wynwood should be acknowledged for the brewing talents.

Norwegian Escape was also kind enough to offer their top bartender, Wade, as well as two officers from the ship, Martin and Jose, for us to interview for the show. It was a lot of fun and a pleasure interviewing them. We also had a great crowd from our group there as well, which we are always very grateful for! Thanks everyone! What a great time and we understand this was the first radio podcast made on Norwegian Escape as well. Fun and good times all around!

We also videotaped the show! When the audio is done, I’ll post the link here, as well as on iTunes.

At around 4am on Tuesday morning I woke up with a lot of chest pressure. I’ve been down this road before, albeit not on the high seas. We called the ship’s emergency and they picked me up. We were on the same level as their infirmary, so it was a quick ride over. My blood pressure was through the ceiling. Their staff was fantastic and had me down to normal levels within a half hour, maybe less. However, we would be docking in St. Thomas in a few hours and they wanted me to get checked out at the hospital there.

I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I knew they were most likely correct. Besides, what if this happened again when we were a few days out of port?

It must be mentioned that before I was taken off the ship, the organizer of the group on the cruise I was with, Deanna McElwee, came to see me. Deanna was great right from the conception of the cruise, which started late last summer. We had a cruise event that I hosted during MOTM in Key West in November and we’ve been in touch from the inception. Deanna was great from the get go and here I was on a stretcher about to be taken off the ship and she was right there with me. Thanks for everything Deanna!
At the ER in St. Thomas’ Schneider Regional I had a Dr. Lauck reviewing my situation. Dr. Lauk was an easy going guy and I felt comfortable with him from the start. My hope was that he would review my situation and I’d be back on the ship before 5, when it headed for its next port of call, Tortola.

Dr. Lauck came back a bit later with the news. I was in a situation that was too unpredictable and was at risk for a heart attack. In other words, I wasn’t going anywhere. Dr. Lauck wanted me to see the cardiologist. The cardiologist was on one of the other Virgin Islands, St. Croix, and would be here Thursday. It was now Tuesday.

I pleaded with Dani to rejoin the ship and continue the cruise. She needed a vacation, not this. However no matter what I’d say, she wasn’t leaving me. It says mountains about her. I’m a very lucky guy.
So basically I was in the hospital for two days waiting on the doctor. The ship left of course, so there were lingering questions that remained at hand as well. While the ship was in St. Thomas, there was an event at a dockside bar named Latitude 18 and most of the musicians in our group attended.

Latitude 18. Now here was a curiosity. Before we ever left on the trip, our friend Jerry Theese, who plays bass with us, suggested we seek out Latitude 18. He knows finding an out of the way local bar on a marina was up our alley. Our friend Jeff Lange, who lives in St. Thomas, had set up the jam there for the cruise. Dani went to the jam with everyone else while I was still on the ship. Then she learned I was being sent to the hospital and got a ride back. The owner of the bar, Rick, heard of our plight and was kind enough to offer Dani the use of their band room to stay in while we were marooned on St. Thomas! Wow! He didn’t even know her, or myself! Proof that there are good people in the world! Thank you Rick!!!
It was on Thursday evening that I met Dr. Griffith, the cardiologist from St. Croix. What a pleasant man with an easy laugh. It was funny because he went to school in Miami and we actually has some mutual acquaintances. I think it was around 11 PM That I was wheeled into the ER and Dr. Griffith performed his magic. Thank you Dr. Griffith!

On Friday Dr. Rohloff, the head of the hospital, released me. I can’t tell you how good it feels to step out into fresh air, having been holed up for a few days! Big thanks to Schneider Regional Hospital. Everyone there was great!

What a place to walk out to! I had never been to the Caribbean. This was much different than the little island of Key West that I lived on. These islands were volcanic way back when. Lots and lots of hills!

It was at this point that I met Rick. He picked us up and drove us back to Latitude 18. It was Friday morning and Dani had been staying here since Tuesday. 

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Beach off of Latitude 18

Some of you may have my book “Bar Stories” and perhaps some may know that I’m also working on a new book, “The Absolute Best Bars in The Florida Keys”. Well, Latitude 18 is the type of bar that would be in my book, if it were in the Keys. My type of place!

For starters, it’s on the water. Big plus! Second, it has a dock. Third, it’s hard to find! As a matter of fact, when the previous owner set up its GPS location, she did it from her house and mistakenly used her house coordinates, so the GPS is wrong!



Now some may shake their head at that, but myself, I think it’s fantastic!

Latitude 18 fit us like a glove. On top of that, not only did Rick put us up, but get this, he gave us a gig on Saturday! Here we are, stranded and marooned on a Caribbean Island and we end up with a gig! How amazing is that? The Shanty Hounds play St. Thomas, USVI!!!



The gig went great and in addition to that, I got to meet my Facebook friend Jeff Howard and his wife Micki. It was additionally funny as my other friend in St. Thomas, Jeff Lange had never met Jeff Howard, but they did that night.

We had a great gig and ran it live on Facebook’s new live video streaming ap for the world to watch. We called it “The I’m Not Dead Yet Gig”, a takeoff on the Monty Python skit from “The Holy Grail” movie. What a blast that was! Plus, all told we had nearly 700 views, so that’s a great success in my book as well.

Here’s the link to the gig: 

By this point the cruise we were on had been over since 8 am that day and here we were gigging in St. Thomas! 

We jokingly said we were thrown off the ship and marooned castaways in St. Thomas. Although it was tongue in cheek, it was actually true!

The reality of it all was that everyone on Norwegian Caribbean Line and in St. Thomas were fantastic! Top notch all the way and they all did what was needed to keep me above ground.

However, the fact remained that our pals on the cruise were back in Miami and we were still in the Caribbean running on overtime!

On Sunday we thought it would be fun to check out St. John! The ferry was only $7.00 and the ride was around 15 minutes, or less.

We LOVED St. John! What a beautiful island! 


Key West is not the only Mile Zero!!!!

Then Dani spotted it. It wasn’t quite noon yet and a Sunday to boot, there was a sign that read “Tap Room” up on the second level. 

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We just had to go. We walked in around noon on the nose and the woman behind the bar, Tori, was just fantastic! The beer was a craft brew from St. John named “St. John Brewers” and their beers were excellent! We told her about our Key West Beer Tales - The Sum of All Beers podcast and we did a live broadcast from there, as well as live video! The chef was Jeremy and we had both he and Tori on the video!

Jeremy suggested we check out the beaches there. It wasn’t on our list actually, however as it was a high recommendation from a local, we took it to heart and caught what they call a Safari Taxi to the beach, about 5 or 6 miles (9 Km) away.

We ended up on Trunk Beach, a national park… then back into town!
 Pictures say it best!








Dani Hoy, St. John

St. John Harbor

On Monday we flew back home. It certainly was an adventure, if ever there was an adventure!
We landed at Miami International Airport and my friend George Cornejo met us and drove us to port of Miami where the car was. Thanks George!

It was a wild and crazy trip, there’s no doubt about that! What amazing people we met. It’s funny, you end up seeing so much bad things in the world, but here we ran into so many good people! From the entire group we left with, to the crew on Norwegian Escape, to their medical crew, to the medical staff of St. Thomas, to Rick, his staff, musicians, customers at Latitude 18 in St. Thomas, to Tori and Jeremy at St. John Brewing and their customer Guy…. It was just plain remarkable! 

Meeting so many great people in various places, ... such beautiful places at that, was truly Utopia!!!

A situation that could have been a tragic experience, turned into an extremely rewarding one! Again, thanks to all!

Big thanks to our friends Loretta, Jerry, and Steve for watching the hounds while we were gone, especially the extra days! THANKS GUYS!!!

While we look forward to our next trip to wherever it may be, we sure are glad to be home with the family!



 Thanks for reading the blog!  All The Best From Key West!

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Thank you everyone!!

Key West Chris Rehm