Blusin’ and Boozin’ On The High Seas

Mike and I have waited a long time to get on board with the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Our first look at the pricing for LRBC in 2006 produced a state of sticker shock. Life changes got in the way in 2010 (buying a liquor store) and again in 2017 (selling a house and building a new one). But finally in 2020, with enough time and money at our disposal, the decks were cleared, so to speak, and we booked our first LRBC cruise. And then there was COVID.

Finally, in October 2022, sailing on the long-awaited Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise on Holland America became a reality. We were welcomed into the LRBC family even before the cruise started by our new friends Carmen and Nancy. They’ve been sailing the Blues Cruise since before it was called “Legendary” and graciously gave us a preview of the talent and quality of music on the ship as well as introducing us to many of the musicians. Some of the best musical artists in the blues genre perform during this one-week cruise with an average of 40 headline acts playing a total of over 100 shows on six stages.

Music icons Booker T and Taj Majal each performed three shows for a standing-room-only crowd. I had read Booker’s memoir Time Is Tight and brought the hard-cover book for him to sign. Waiting on line, I had a fascinating conversation with his wife, Nan, who told me some behind the scenes information about how Booker mined his memories for stories and how the music (notated at the end of the book) fit with the audiobook. Booker signed my book with charm, grace, and a big smile while I prattled on nervously about how much I enjoyed his music and writing.

The artist roster also included Shemika Copeland who, in addition to being an accomplished singer and songwriter, has her own radio show on SiriusXM’s Bluesville. Singer and bassist Danielle Nicole who we saw in a band called Trampled Underfoot years ago at our local Anglesea Blues Festival in Wildwood, NJ has become a grammy-nominated frontwoman. Great artists who’ve been around yet played under the radar such as the prolific songwriter Rick Estrin and his talented band, the Nightcats, featuring gifted guitarist Kid Anderson wowed the audience on the pool deck on a perfect sunny late afternoon. We first heard of bluesman Colin James on the LRBC lineup, even though he’s been making records and touring in Canada since the 1980s. Though much of the US audience was unfamiliar with his work, he attracted lots of new fans, including Mike and me. And did I mention the Fabulous Thunderbirds?!

Although the Blues Cruise is a charter, Holland America maintains its accommodations, food, drinks, and service as it normally does. We opted to buy the Signature Drink Package (of course!) which includes up to 15 drinks per day priced at $11 and under. Fifteen drinks may seem an absurdly high number but don’t forget that most cruise ships charge for soda and specialty coffee, and these are included in the package as well. Even the irresistible chocolate milk shake I ordered at the Dive In hot dog and hamburger restaurant (normally $4.50) was included in the package!

The Signature Drink package at time of writing (Nov. 2022) costs $55 + 18% gratuity per person per day. However, if you call to order in advance the price is $45 + 18% gratuity, totaling just over $53. If you drink three or four cocktails, a couple of sodas or canned water, and a specialty coffee each day you’re coming out ahead with the package.


The bartenders in general took great care in creating well-crafted cocktails. Each of the bars on HAL has a specialty cocktail menu that lists specific brand-name spirits used in the cocktail. I made sure to ask for the brand as advertised after one of my Mai Tais was made with Bacardi Gold instead of Appleton and it wasn’t nearly as good. A few days into the voyage we realized that we could order a double of a particular spirit (counting as two drinks) proving advantageous when ordering Bailey’s which they doled out by the jigger.

Here’s a list of cocktails we enjoyed:

From B.B. King’s – I’ve Got The Blues Rita (margarita with Grand Marnier)

From Billboard Onboard – Café Maguey (Don Julio tequila and espresso) and Flor de Jerez (Appleton rum with apricot liqueur)

From Tamarind Bar – Wasabi (sake concoction with a wasabi marinated lychee)

From the Ocean Bar – Mai Tai (Appleton rum), Rotterdam Martinez (Old Duff Genever – see below), Smoked Cherry Old Fashioned (Wild Turkey 101 was MIA so Woodford Reserve was substituted), Side Car (not on the menu but one of our usual drinks at home)

From various Pool Bars – any drink of the day or blender drink such as Mudslide or Pina Colada.

Note: Old Duff Genever is classified as Dutch gin because of its use of juniper but it’s not made with a neutral spirit base as with most gin. The mash bill contains a malted rye and barley mixture called maltwine, that is blended with juniper and hops. The Rotterdam Martinez is Holland America’s Dutch take on the classic Martinez made with gin and sweet vermouth.

Drinks made to order were very good, but I suggest avoiding pre-made drinks. I ordered a Bahama Mama at the pool bar that was poured from a container, and it was undrinkable. But with 15 drinks per day, I just tossed it and ordered something better.


Most of the wines that are available with the Signature Drink Package can be found on the “Popular Wines By The Glass” section of the wine list. Remember to select wines costing $11 and below to stay within the package. With a few exceptions they are of the “happy hour” level, but with some trial and error we found a few favorites.

Types and styles of wine are diversified: white, red, rose, sparkling, lightly sweet, and varietals such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir. Wines from California, Italy, France, and South America are well-represented. A few gems that we found are the Domaine Chandon Brut sparkling wine, Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, and Sextant Zinfandel. The advantage of the drink plan was being able to try one and if I didn’t care for it, I ordered something else. The main dining room and Lido buffet seemed to have the freshest wines as I occasionally got an oxidized red (open too long) at a couple of the music venue bars.


The selection of beer covers the basics, Bud, Coors, Corona, Heineken, Miller, Michelob, and Guiness with a few “craft” brews such as Sam Adams, Lagunitas IPA, and Blue Moon. (I use parentheses on craft since beer drinkers I know might tend to disagree.) I enjoy a Sam Adams or Corona when day-drinking by the pool and Mike likes his foamy Guiness Irish Dry Stout as a nice change from cocktails and wine. Beers cost about $7 to $8 so if that’s your only alcoholic beverage of choice, you’d need to drink about six or seven of them to make the Signature Drink Package worthwhile.

Update: We loved the entire LRBC experience and took our second cruise in February, 2023. Headliner Keb Mo’s shows were outstanding. We also enjoyed Ruthie Foster, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Victor Wainwright and The Train, Dumpstafunk, and Kenny Neal.

The drink package had an important change. In October we had to stay within the $11 limit or pay the full amount for a drink costing more. Holland America has changed this policy to just paying the difference which encouraged us to try a few more cocktails, paying only the upcharge. I find this new policy much fairer.

Saying Farewell to Cabo, Mexico!

Published by J Reilly

Boozy Lifestyle: Elevate The Everyday With Booze As Your Muse by Julia Stacey Reilly is available on Follow J Reilly @boozy_lifestyle on Twitter and Instagram.

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