70000 Tons of Metal Diary, Day 1 2017
I had been a long year. When I first signed up for my virgin 70000 Tons of Metal cruise in 2016, I had no idea what an incredible and addicting experience the cruise was going to be. I came home last year on an incredible high, remembering the great music, the great experiences, and the good friends (new and old) that I had spent time with. The high was soon followed by the inevitable crash as the realization hit me of just how many long months it was going to be before the next cruise. The withdrawal was mitigated to some degree when I booked my room for 2017, and the slow trickle of band announcements brought back some of the excitement as anticipation for the next sailing grew…. But the weeks and months continued to drag as February slowly crept closer and closer…
But the day of the cruise finally did arrive, and like the previous year, I headed to Port Everglades early to avoid the longer lines that would have inevitably occurred later in the day. I arrived at the port around 10 am to find about 50 or so people had arrived before me. As I exited the cab, a porter offered to take my larger luggage items. I was a bit surprised at this, as no one had offered to take my luggage last year and I had taken everything through security with me. The porter assured me that my luggage would be fine and would be waiting in my room for me once I boarded the ship. So, I reluctantly allowed him to take my bags…. Which was a huge mistake, as I’ll discuss later…
By the time the doors to security opened around 11 am, the sea of black T-shirts and tattoos had grown to a few hundred. Most of the passengers departing the Independence of the Seas from the previous cruise gave us all a wide birth and a wary eye as they skirted around us on their way to their cabs. Although a few did stop to talk to us and ask us about our upcoming cruise experience as they were obviously informed by the ship’s crew what kind of cruise we were going on. As we passed through security, things seemed to move efficiently, with occasional holdups due to bag searches for people suspected of trying to smuggle alcohol on board. As I got my room key, the Royal Caribbean staff again assured me that I’d have my luggage no later than midafternoon….
After checking in, we all got our photos taken, individually, or in groups to potentially purchase later as a souvenir of the cruise experience. We were then all directed to a large waiting area where we could sit and socialize until it was time to board the ship. If memory serves me correctly… and at my age it doesn’t always… they let us begin boarding the ship at noon last year, even though we couldn’t access our rooms until 1 pm. This year, we had to wait until 1 pm before boarding began. As usual, we were all greeted as we boarded the ship by the cruise ambassadors… the 70000 Tons of Metal pool girls, who gave us all big smiles. handed us our programs, and happily answered any questions that we might have had.
After a quick trip to my room, I headed to the Windjammer café for a buffet lunch and to finalize my plans for making the most of this year’s cruise experience. In my mind, I had made several mistakes last year…. I didn’t see enough bands; I didn’t get enough sleep; and, although a made it to the Windjammer for every breakfast and about half of the lunches, I never made it to the dining halls for a single dinner; subsisting mostly on pizza from the all-night pizzeria on Deck 5. Surely, I’d do better this year as I was an experienced cruiser now… right?
After lunch, a took a quick trip around the ship to refamiliarize myself with the location of the bars and concert venues to avoid getting lost later. I even got to show a few virgin cruisers around. One of the unique things about this cruise, is that there is no separation between the cruisers and the bands, and I immediately began running into band members, several of which recognized me from previous shows and events. There was time to exchange some brief pleasantries and I even got a friendly hug or two, which was a great way to start the trip! This was overshadowed a bit by the fact that my luggage had still not shown up to my room by late afternoon and I began to fear my luggage didn’t make it onto the ship. The cabin steward kept assuring me it would arrive soon….
After a quick obligatory safety muster drill, the Independence of the Seas departed Port Everglades and it was time for the shows to begin. There were 61 bands on board this year, playing at four different venues throughout the ship. Each band was scheduled to play two shows on different days… so, with the inclusion of the All-Star Jam, there were 123 shows scheduled! On the first night, only three of the four stages are operational. The large outdoor Pool Deck stage is always under construction on the first night and is not operational until the following morning. The Alhambra Theater is the largest indoor venue. The theater is two stories and mostly seated with the first several rows of seats removed to allow for a pit area in front of the stage. The theater has good acoustics and all the seats have a good view of the stage. The next smallest theater, although still of decent size, was Studio B. Studio B is actually an Ice rink with a stage set up at one end. The ice rink itself (sans ice) serves as the pit area, with arena style seats on three sides. The Pyramid Lounge is the smallest indoor venue. It is truly a lounge that has been converted into a concert hall. The ceiling is low so the stage is almost at floor level. Although the sound is decent, it is difficult to see the bands unless you are right up front or off to the sides. If you are further back then the first few rows, you only see the performers heads.
The shows began at 5:15 pm with Scar Symmetry in Studio B and Trauma in the Pyramid lounge. I showed up for the Scar Symmetry show along with what seemed to be the majority of the cruise attendees. As this was comparatively a smaller venue and as there was not a show at the Alhambra yet, the show was extremely crowed and it was hard to even get in the door. Not wanting to fight the crowd, I left after a couple of songs and headed for the first show in the Alhambra which was scheduled for 6pm. The Swedish pop metal band Amaranthe was the first band to take the stage at the Alhambra. Like last year there were some sound issues with the earlier sets and two of Amaranthe’s three microphones did not seem to be working initially. This was corrected after a few songs in the band ultimately gave us a great show. Next I was heading off to Studio B to catch American thrash metal titans, Death Angel. This was another fantastic high energy set and for me the cruise was off to a good start.
Next, I decided to head back to the Alhambra to catch Grave Digger… but that was not meant to be. The Alhambra still seemed to be having sound issues, and Grave Digger’s sound check did not appear to be going well. Thirty minutes into Grave Diggers allotted set time, the band had not started yet… so I gave it up and headed for the Pyramid Lounge to catch Nightmare instead. One of the best things about 70000 Tons, is the chance to “discover” new bands that you might not have heard of before… or might have heard of, but had never had the chance to see. For me, Nightmare was one of those bands. Nightmare is a French band that has been around in one form or another for over 30 years, yet for some reason, I’d never heard of them before. I’m definitely glad I took the time to check them out, because they put on a really great show, despite the small size of the Pyramid stage!
I wanted to catch Testament’s set next, but concern for my missing luggage led me back to my room instead… where I discovered (at 9pm) that my luggage was still missing and my stress level was rising. I really began to fear my luggage was still setting on the docks back in Port Everglades, and I started wondering how I was going to get through the cruise without it. At this point I also realized that I had, yet again, forgotten to go to one of the dining halls for dinner. I ended up at my old stand-by… the all-night pizza place near the Alhambra, which was the sole source of my evening nutrition on last year’s cruise. After feeding my missing luggage stress with cheese and peperoni, I finally headed to the Testament show in the Alhambra. I arrived late, which was a bad move, because the Alhambra was packed. Even the aisles were full and I there was no way I could make it down to the photo pit to photograph the band’s set. I watched several songs from the back, but ended up leaving early to see Serenity back up at the Pyramid.
Serenity put on a high-energy show at the Pyramid. The sound was a bit off unfortunately, but the band powered through it and gave us a great set. The bands vocalist spent quite a lot of time up on the barrier interacting with the audience to the crowd’s delight. Serenity’s set ended about 10:30 and I set about on one final search for my luggage. It was at this point that the cabin steward on my deck informed me that I would have to go all the way down to deck one in the bowels of the ship to claim my bags. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t bring them up… but once I got down there it was clear what the holdup had been. The Royal Caribbean baggage handlers had X-rayed my bags and thought they had discovered contraband…. They had mistaken my bottles of shampoo and conditioner for bottles of alcohol, so I had to stand there and watch them hand search my luggage until they were convinced I had no prohibited substances. This ordeal caused me to miss DevilDriver’s set… but I was finally relieved to know I wouldn’t be wearing the same set of clothes for the next 4 days!!
With my stress level greatly reduced, I headed back to the Alhambra to catch Arch Enemy. I was disappointed that Ghost Ship Octavius’ set was at the same time… but one of the hard things about this cruise is having to make choices. You just can’t see and do everything! Arch Enemy put on a crushing 75-minute set playing to a huge crowd. I stayed at the Alhambra for Kalmah’s set next. Kalmah is a Finnish melodic death metal band that I’ve followed in the past, but never had a chance to see live. Like most of the band’s I saw on the first night, they played an awesome set. Next up were two more bands that I’d looked forward to seeing, Edenbridge and Pain…. unfortunately, both playing at the same time. I didn’t want to miss either one… so I made the choice to split the sets. I caught the first half of Edenbridge’s set at the Pyramid, then ran across the ship to catch the second half of Pain’s set in Studio B. Both bands were entertaining and I’m glad I got to catch both. Choices, choices…
At this point it was 3 am which, for me, is an incredibly late night. Although there were still 4 bands left to play, I made the choice to go to bed. Last year I had trouble sleeping due to the excitement of it all, but I was hoping that, because I was now a seasoned sailor, the excitement would wane a bit, and I’d sleep long enough to get in 5-6 hours before the shows started at 10 am on Day 2. I did fall asleep right away, so that was a good start….
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