The sun set, and the first notes of music floated on warm South Atlantic air.
Jam Cruise had begun.
I was among the throng of cruisers that first week of 2011 who flitted happily around each other like glowing orbits of fireflies over the backyards of forgotten youth. The cruise ship hadn't even chugged its way from its south Florida berth as music festival participants began jamming, dressed as zebras, bananas, unicorns, clowns and other alter egos. People didn't simply want to meet and greet each other, they wanted to reacquaint themselves with the unfettered ways of childhood dreams and friendships.
Jam Cruise is a week-long music festival set on a 14-story cruise ship. For the 2,000-plus participants, the annual event is a frenzy of experience that's part "Alice in Wonderland" and part "Peter Pan," set to a continuous live music sound track. Samaria Airamas of Plattsburgh was a first-time passenger aboard Jam Cruise this year, and she marveled in disbelief at the "moving oasis of happy, sharing people.
"Halloween is my favorite holiday," she told me, "and the festival was Halloween for a week." Airamas was particularly impressed with a number of costumed passengers walking on stilts. For my part, I have been known for several years photographing festivals around the country in sequin Santa suit. I was ready share in the holiday spirit of the trip.
While the cruise ship festival may have felt like a journey to Never Never Land, there were two real ports of call: one in Roatan, Honduras, for six hours, and a layover of eight hours in Costa Maya, Mexico.
There was little time to soak in sights and sounds there, but most of us found our way into various excursions. Some snorkeled, went sightseeing, shopping. And they helped with a community service project in both locations sponsored by festival organizers. I joined a group of friends who spent the day on a small beach near the port. Local children played in the surf with cruise passengers, and we all were treated to a solo vocal/folk guitar performance by the cruise ship musician.