You may have noticed that during the months of January and February, Gospel music cruises sail out of Florida almost every week. While there is only one full charter where the bars and casinos are closed, the “split ship” options are numerous. This year, we were on board the Crystal Caribbean Cruise with Abraham Productions the last week of January for their six day adventure to the Eastern Caribbean on the Carnival Conquest.
Sunday – Embarkation
The port at Fort Lauderdale was bustling with cars as we pulled in on Sunday morning. One glance at how many ships were in port, and I could guess that there were literally thousands of people in the vicinity. How we managed to find a parking place on Level 2 of the parking garage? A miracle for sure! But we did, and before we knew it, we were walking through security and onto the Conquest. The moment we stepped on the ship, a volunteer stood with a sign that said “Abraham Productions Check-In.” Just around the corner in a small room, a table was set up where you checked in to get your packet that included a pass for the concerts and a few other things. After checking in, we had to wait a half hour before the cabins were opened and since we had our carry-on luggage, we decided to wait down on our floor and drop our things before heading to the Lido Deck for a quick bite to eat.
When we went up to the Lido Deck for lunch, I was delighted by the options available on the ship. A burger place on one side of the deck, a taco/burrito stand on the other, plus a sandwich deli and the buffet. For my first meal on board, I chose a rice stir-fry with shrimp, herbs and veggies with some Asian beef. Then I walked by the dessert and saw a slice of peanut butter cake… (Bet you can guess how that ended! lol!) The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring the upper decks, going to the safety drill and then watching Fort Lauderdale disappear in the distance as we sailed out of port at four o’clock.
After dinner, the first session was in the Toulouse Lounge at the front of the ship. This session was a laid back meet and greet where the President of Abraham Productions, Ray Flynn, brought the artists up to the stage one by one and let them say a few things to the folks about the week ahead. Most of the artists had small gifts for the folks who cruised with them, and they gave them out afterwards. Though there was no singing on the first night, the session was a lot of fun and a relaxing way for the people to connect with their host groups.
Monday – Nassau
I was up early for our first day of the cruise. This morning, Bible Study was held in the Toulouse Lounge at 7:45 AM and even though it was early, I didn’t want to miss a moment. The program began with worshipful music by Ivan Parker, Whisnants and the Talleys. Songs like “Til The Shackles Fall Off” by Ivan, “We Are So Blessed” by the Whisnants and the Talleys “Death Was Arrested” are only a few of the wonderful songs we heard Monday morning. After the music, Dr. Herb Reavis came and preached a soul searching message and the session closed around nine o’clock.
On the Lido Deck, my crew grabbed a quick lunch and then we were off to walk around the streets of Nassau. My Mom was with us and being that it was her first time to the island, we just had to make a customary stop at the Straw Market! After walking around a little bit, we caught a taxi across the bridge to visit Atlantis and then came back to the ship for the afternoon concert at 1:30 PM.
Soon we headed back to the ship, (which I’ll pause here to say, they squeezed 11 people plus the driver in that van!…) We met back in the Toulouse Lounge and I walked in just in time to hear Carolina finish up a patriotic ballad that had the crowd on their feet. Brian Free & Assurance followed and the highlight of their set had to be right after they finished a song that featured Bill. Brian joked that they ate so much food for lunch they could barely breathe. The next song was “Somebody’s Miracle,” which is also a song Bill sings. When Bill heard the intro play he exclaimed, “Really? Me again!” Everyone chuckled. Tribute Quartet was next and sang a number of songs you’d recognize from their repertoire and I enjoyed hearing Gus, their new tenor, featured on “Who Am I?” Yet, just like the week prior when I saw them on Templeton Tour’s cruise, the song of the hour was “His Tomb Is Empty Now,” sung by Gary Casto. The hope in the lyrics just gripped the singers and the crowd, resulting in Gary coming off the stage to sing closer to the audience and several folks standing with their hands in the air, praising God. It was a moving moment. The Hoppers closed out the afternoon with their signature songs, testimonies of God’s faithfulness and fun humor. My favorite part of their set was Karlye’s song, “My Wounds,” featuring Karlye, Kim and Connie in an all lady trio. They closed the afternoon with, “Something’s Happening,” one of their power ballads I can’t get enough of!
The concert ended at four o’clock and according to our schedule, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Even better, we still had time to head to the top deck and watch the sunset as we sailed out of port. It was beautiful! After dinner, there was an opportunity to buy CD’s and visit with the artists in one of the night club rooms – which was sectioned off just for our cruisers – and most folks came in and out, taking pictures with their favorite singers and enjoying a time of fellowship.
Tuesday – Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay is a favorite stop for long time cruisers, and one step on the islands creamy sand will explain it all! Knowing that folks would be anxious to be on the beach, API scheduled one evening concert for the day, leaving us a whole day on the island. We had a beautiful day on Half Moon Cay! The sun was out, the water was cool and the sand felt lovely. The last tender back to the Conquest was at 3:30 PM and we headed back to the ship at three o’clock, just in time to grab a snack on the Lido Deck.
After dinner, we headed to the Degas Lounge at the back of the ship for the evening concert. This was a special encore performance of the Gospel Through Girls and Guitar Tour, a concert series that Abraham Productions had headed up in 2017 and 2018. Ray introduced the program from stage and then Emily Ann Roberts, Karen Peck & New River, High Road and the Talleys kicked off the evening with a song called “We Believe.” Following, each artist sang a short set, beginning with High Road. This all girl band sang a fun song about “worry,” “He Is Love” and a few others before closing with “Christ My Hope My Glory.” That song always brings such a strong presence of the Lord to a room! Emily Ann Roberts had the High Road ladies play behind her as she sang songs like, “Bless This Mess,” “No Pressure No Diamonds” and “Praise The Name.” Continuing on, a few highlights from the Talleys portion had to be “Mountain Mover” and Lauren’s solo, “You Have Plans For Me.” (Such a great song!) At this point in the evening, Ray came back on stage and preached the message and then, even though the Hoppers weren’t on the original Gospel Through Girls and Guitars Tour, they brought up the ladies on stage for a song. Kim, Karlye and Connie sang “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Karen Peck & New River closed out the night with songs like “The Reason,” “Four Days Late” and several other faith building songs.
Wednesday – Grand Turk
The next morning, we gathered in the Degas Lounge again for the morning Bible Study with Brian Free & Assurance, Karen Peck & New River, Ivan Parker, The Hoppers and a brief devotion from Pastor Neal Jackson. Brian Free & Assurance were the first on stage and sang songs like “When We All Get To Heaven,” “Never Walk Alone,” “Say Amen” and a few others. Right away, you could feel a sweet spirit in the room, especially during “Say Amen.” When Karen Peck & New River came on stage, it just escalated through songs like “Hope For All Nations,” “Victory Is Mine” and “Pray Now.” As they were singing, “Pray Now,” God moved in such a way that Karen called for an encore, walk off the stage and halfway to the back of the room and almost got to preaching. (And walking into the audience was no small feat ‘cause we had the people packed in that lounge like sardines!) After KPNR’s set, Ray introduced Pastor Neal Jackson of Beulah Baptist Church (Bennett, North Carolina) who brought the message. I thoroughly enjoyed his style of preaching and how he incorporated the story behind how KFC got started in his Gospel presentation. (If you haven’t heard that story before, it’s pretty interesting! Google it!) When it was Ivan’s turn on stage, he sang “Don’t Hang Your Head And Cry” and then asked Josh to play a special request on his guitar. Though Josh recorded this song on his solo CD, he rarely plays it in concert, but Ivan felt that this morning should be one of those times. It was “Amazing Grace.” Towards the end of Ivan’s set, he asked Dean and Kim Hopper to help him out on “When I Get Carried Away.” The Hoppers closed out the morning and I gotta say, when a group like this takes the stage, you’re bound to hear some hits. Though they sang some great songs that morning, my all time favorite was Connie’s solo, “That’s Him.” You bet there wasn’t a person still in their seat when it was through. As the morning came to a close, Ray stepped on stage and said that we were pulling into Grand Turk. One look out the window, and I was ready to go explore the island!
If you watched the movie “Hidden Heros,” you’d be interested to know that Grand Turk was the actual landing place of John Glenn and Mercury 7 in 1962. There’s a monument just to the left of the cruise port that’s really neat; if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll want to stop and see it! Also, if you’re at the Splashdown and keep walking along the sidewalk, you’ll see a sign that says “whale that way.” Down on the beach, there’s a huge whale statue you can take your picture with, or, get a great picture of it with the ship in the background. Finally, Grand Turk has a great beach and lots of shops where you can hunt down that perfect souvenir.
Back on the ship, there was another opportunity to buy music and visit with the artists in Henri’s Night Club (that feels so weird writing that!) from seven to nine o’clock. Afterwards, I snagged a small bowl of the strawberry frozen yogurt before calling it a night.
Thursday – Amber Cove
On Thursday, the schedule printed on the back of our badges said “NO CONCERTS TODAY ENJOY AMBER COVE.” Amber Cove is the newest and most popular port in the Caribbean right now, and everyone was excited to see how beautiful the area was. It was also the first day on the cruise that we had an excursion booked – Mega Zipline, here we come!
The instructions on our tickets said to meet your tour guide at the end of the pier. We actually had to walk through the building at the end of the dock and then found all the excursion guides in the center of the courtyard area between the shops and pool. When we found our guide, he was holding the sign that announced which tour we were upside down. LOL! There were 12-14 people on the excursion and we rode on an zebra painted truck that took us to the zipline adventure park. It was a good ride that took us through some small towns and along the way, we saw some great scenery. At the zipline park, the guides helped us with our gear and after a short wait, ushered our group up the first platform. There were seven platforms in all and the last one was 1,600 feet. About half way through the zipline, the guides started to prank the folks as they unhooked them by suddenly looking at the like and shouting, “Watch out!” We all laughed as every person fell for the same joke and ran to “get out of the way.” It was very funny! After the zipline, we were given a tour of some plants and crops they grow on the island behind the bathroom and restaurant. It was very interesting to see the different fruits and trees they had down there. Before we left, they gave everyone free samples of pineapple, mango and papaya. Then they took us back to the cruise port, where we could spend about three more hours before the ship left.
We used this time to reconnect with my Mom, who was enjoying her time at the pool, and then looked in a few of the shops. The Dominican Republic was also where Jurassic Park was filmed and just before you enter the pool area, there’s a little garden with a display of amber and information about the movie being filmed there. Back on the ship, we went up and grabbed a bite to eat and then watched as we sailed out of port. Y’all, Amber Cove is a beautiful place! And here’s something super fun… The Conquest showed the latest Jurassic Park movie on the pool deck’s big screen later that night. How cool is that?
Friday – Sea Day
Friday morning we met back in the Degas Lounge for Bible Study and a concert with Dr. Herb Reavis, Whisnants, Brian Free & Assurance, Carolina, Hoppers and the Talleys. The Whisnants kicked off the morning with songs like “He’s Never Moved,” “Live For You Today,” “I’ll Lean On You, Lord” and “I’m Trusting The Lord.” Up next, Brian Free & Assurance started their set with the upbeat “Anything Is Possible” and then went into Mike’s solo, “Prayer Unheard.” BFA also sang “One Lord,” a ballad I haven’t heard them do in a while, but inspired a great sense of worship in the crowd. Though it was still early in the program, Dr. Herb Reavis came on and preached the morning devotional. Following, Carolina took the stage, adding a little bit of country to the morning. They sang an upbeat tune about, “Old Dirt Road I Grew Up On.” After a few more songs, they closed with “On The Other Side Of The Cross” backed up with just the keyboard. The Hoppers and Talleys sang towards the end of the morning, performing beautiful songs like “Holy Ghost Wind” and “Yahweh” (Hoppers), “Naaman,” “Thinking About Home” “His Life For Mine” and finally, “Testify” (Talleys). In closing, Ray came on stage and encouraged everyone to invite fellow passengers to the evening concert and join them in prayer that God would work among those who would attend.
Since the concert ended at noon, it was the perfect time to head up to the Dining Room for lunch. Every cruise we go on, we try to at least have lunch in the Dining Room once – and Friday was our day! The Dining Room serves a “Seaday Brunch” with a variety of breakfast and light lunch options. There was so much to choose from, I wasn’t sure what to order! In the end, the mac n’ cheese with steak and the caramelized cheesecake got my vote. Both were delicious!
We had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy being onboard. The ship had activities to attend throughout the day and one we went to was the ice carving on the pool deck. I always enjoy seeing one of the chef’s taking what looks to us, common looking tools, to a block of ice and creating something beautiful out of it. This time, it was a seahorse! The remaining part of the day we spent on deck relaxing, until it was time to get ready for dinner. I had to have the melting cake one more time! LOL!
The evening concert began at nine o’clock and ended at 11:45 PM. Since it was the last concert of the cruise, all the artists performed and Ray gave a Gospel presentation half way through the night. It was the perfect ending to the cruise! Most importantly, 12 people gave their lives to Christ over the six days at sea. Abraham Productions always makes the Gospel a priority at their events and seeing that in action on a cruise where we were constantly in contact with other people who needed hope was a real blessing. All in all, we had a wonderful trip!
Conclusion: The Crystal Caribbean Cruise by Abraham Productions had a great year and I’m happy that I got to experience those moments on the Conquest. The weather was perfect, the ports gorgeous and the singing spirit filled and enriching. I also loved the ship! To date, it’s the largest cruise ship I’ve been on and must say, large vessels agree with me! Thank you, Abraham Productions, for a wonderful cruise to the Eastern Caribbean!