Onboard the Kiss Kruise 2015: Sights, Sounds & Stories (Photos)

Onboard the Kiss Kruise 2015: Sights, Sounds & Stories (Photos)

Not long ago, the idea of a cruise evoked scores of blue haired senior citizens crammed aboard a giant vessel spending their golden years sailing the high seas, playing games of bridge, bingo and shuffleboard, sipping mai-tais and taking lots of naps.

But in recent years, the grand concept behind cruises has changed dramatically. Geared toward baby boomers and beyond, music themes cruises spanning a myriad of genres from country to prog-rock, EDM to classic rock, southern rock to dance music, have proliferated and become a thriving business raking in millions of dollars each year. And those long naps have turned into all-nighters.

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Regarding those common misconceptions about the cruising experience, Alaidriale Derway, PR & Communications Manager for Sixthman opines, “I think attitudes about cruising are changing rapidly, but there is definitely still a little of the old ‘cruises are all shuffleboard, bingo, and 5 o’ clock dinners’ stigma. Having been on nearly 50 of our festivals at sea, I can very safely say this could not be further from what you’ll find on a Sixthman event, and specifically the KISS Kruise. What you are going to find is 2300 people from 28 countries around the world, rocking out to their favorite bands, and all interacting with each other in a way that you simply couldn’t on land – it’s a vacation, it’s a music festival, it’s a non-stop party – it’s everything the “typical cruise” isn’t.”

Of the cruise event companies, Sixthman have it down to a sweet science. In their 14th year, Sixthman was cited by INC magazine as America’s fastest Growing Travel Company. Boasting themed cruises with a diverse range of artists including Kid Rock, John Mayer and Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of the company’s hottest and most in-demand cruises is the KISS Kruise; its 2015 jaunt was an early sell out.

What makes a Sixthman KISS Kruise unmissable?  “Well, KISS of course!,” says Alaidriale Derway, PR & Communications Manager for Sixthman. “It seems like a silly answer, but there isn’t anywhere else, land or sea, where you’ll have the kind of experience you get on the Kruise. There are activities with members of KISS, shows in intimate venues–we’re talking less than 1000 people–a Q&A where the question askers are all kids! and a photo with the band – and that’s just the beginning. The KISS Kruise is a totally immersive experience in all things KISS – It’s rock & roll all night, and party every day! It’s a one-of–a-kind, once in a lifetime experience – even for the fan that has everything! And each year is new and different theme wise, so it’s always fresh. We’re all about the guest experience–that comes first in every way. Our goal is to break down the barriers between bands and their fans, as well as introduce our guests to emerging artists that often become favorites.

“We don’t do the whole VIP thing- we feel like everyone should have the same amazing experience and that everyone is entitled to the best. We encourage our artists to interact with the guests as much as possible, from hosting events, to late night DJ sessions, to just walking around the ship and enjoying the event. We set the expectation that guests and artists are one big family and should treat each other as such. We try to shy away from the standard format of autograph signing and meet and greets as much as possible, in favor of more organic and intimate experiences between artists and fans. Another thing that I think really sets Sixthman apart is that our events are built by the community for the community. When our artists have a vision they want brought to life, we will do anything we can to make that happen. We build upon surveys and guest feedback to really shape what our guests are looking for.”

Photo: Will Byington
Photo: Will Byington

For Greg Hounshell, 45, a realtor from Wytheville, Virginia, the KISS Kruise is a must-attend event and one he almost missed out on this year. “Until a few days ago, I didn’t think I was going to make it,” explains Hounshell. “Why? The cruise has gotten so popular it sold out over six months ago and I hadn’t reserved a spot. It keeps growing, drawing people in from all over the world-and this year it drew at least two too many. After going the past three years, I started to feel like I was going to be missing something. I’m not talking about the band or the destinations. The ship could park in the middle of a pond and you’d still want to be there. But, rather, I knew I would miss the friends I have made over the past three years. It’s hard to describe the sense of community that you find on the Norwegian Pearl. Once late September starting rolling around, I was feeling the pinch of time.

“I hopped on the waiting list but was told I was 60th. It wasn’t looking good. I reached out to friends that were going to let them know if a spot opened up, somehow, someway, to please let me know. Two weeks prior to sailing a good friend of mine rang me up and said there was a cabin available for us. We booked it and are headed out to sea for the third time. That encapsulates the cruise experience for me. You can form such a bond with people you only see once a year that you start looking out for each other. There aren’t many events in life that inspire such loyalty. To experience it is a fun, fun thing. Some of the best people you’ll ever meet attend the cruise. Having KISS there is icing on the cake.”

As for me, having embarked on last year’s KISS Kruise, I’m back aboard this huge vessel for KISS Kruise V ready to rock and roll all night and party every day with over 2300 hardcore KISS fanatics ages 1 to 60 + from over 30 countries around the world joining in on the fun. Not surprisingly, it’s the hardcore baby boomer fan base that accounts for the main demographic in the 40-54 range, skewing slightly heavier male. Male or female, young or old, looking at the beatific smiles on the faces of those climbing aboard, the majority dressed in KISS t-shirts with many elaborately inked with KISS tattoos, this yearly excursion offer passengers a chance to let loose, get wild and crazy, all in celebration of the hottest band in the world.

Photo: Will Byington
Photo: Will Byington

KISS ambassador Dean Snowden puts things into perspective: “This is an encompassing fun for everyone who attends. The camaraderie of the repeat fans from around the world makes this an unmissable event. These people have their own cliques they’ve cultivated from KISS Kruise to KISS

Kruise. This is where all the hardcore KISS fans choose to rendezvous.”

The theme of this year’s KISS Kruise honors the 40th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough 1975 album, Alive!, whose multi-platinum success thrusts a once struggling band of musical misfits into international superstardom. Setting off for the high seas from Miami, Florida, the dials are set for the ultimate destination: Ocho Rios, Jamaica, but that’s only half of the fun. A far cry from the AARP themed cruises of years ago where games of bingo and shuffleboard were the main attraction, there are activities galore on the ship, giving those onboard no time to be bored.

You can get your face painted like your favorite member of KISS, sing KISS Karaoke, learn pizza cooking tips from Paul Stanley, enter an “Almost Famous” contest judged by KISS drummer Eric Singer and even get inked with a brand new tattoo. Besides the over-the-top musical and visual bombast provided by KISS, other star attractions entertaining cruisers include ex-Runaways guitarist/solo star Lita Ford, Steel Panther, Fozzy (a band that features pro wrestler Chris Jericho on lead vocals), The Dead Daisies, which features former Motley Crue lead singer John Corabi, a magician, comedians and DJ Noize.

Beyond the band itself, the fans are truly the stars. As Derway explains, the power of the KISS Kruise bonding people together from all nations/nationalities over a common interest should not be understated: “KISS has been captivating the world for 40 years, and the sheer size of their fan base is immeasurable. It’s huge! The power of the Kruise is actually in its relatively small size, and the growing community of cruise alumni. Prior to the Kruise, the community has a Facebook group where they can talk to other Kruisers, get to know one another, and veteran Kruisers can share their experience with newbies. On board, Kruisers have so many points of interaction, from shows, to activities and theme nights, and everything in between, they often create lifelong friendships.

Up-close & personal with the band. Photo: Will Byington
Up-close & personal with the band. Photo: Will Byington

“This isn’t exclusive to The KISS Kruise by any means, but KISS fans are incredibly passionate, so conversations are easily sparked in this community. I think another factor that majorly influences bonding is the dynamic between the bands and fans. When you go see a typical show, even with friends, you spend the bulk of your time in one space, staring at a stage, then you go home. On a cruise, you are in the show 24/7. The event is a full 360 degrees – Sure, you still have bands on a stage facing a crowd, but you also have bands at your breakfast table, impromptu shows at 2:00am in an elevator, the guy you’d normally be hounding for an autograph judging you in a belly flop contest – and 2300 people, just like you, creating this thing that’s bigger than any band.”

Mark Raymond, 46, a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia agrees: “I think the cruise validates KISS fans.” By day, Raymond works as a general manager for a paramedic service but he moonlights as a member of Canadian KISS tribute band, Dressed 2 Kill Canada. “Since 1977 I have spent countless hours and countless dollars invested in that band. This is their opportunity to acknowledge their appreciation of us fans.” Raymond’s friend and fellow tribute band mate, Paul Stevens enthuses: “You know you’re a family member when you walk on the ship because you’re with the family you always wanted to be with.”

Beyond the camaraderie, common bond over all things KISS and friendships forged between attendees from different countries, the KISS Kruise is also a chance for the hard working baby boomer crowd to push the 24/7 rock and roll all night and party ethos as far as it can go.

Stix Zadinia, drummer for Steel Panther, nails it: “The KISS Kruise is an opportunity for people who have 9 to 5 jobs to come to a place where they can walk around with no shirt on, fly all their KISS tattoos and be a freak for five days with a smile.”

This year marks the 5th KISS Kruise and Sixthman is continually searching for ways to improve the experience. “We’ve listened to our guests,” remarked Derway. “This event would not and could not be what it is without them, and their input is incredibly valuable. We want to create a vacation that not only lives up to, but exceeds our guests expectations. They are the stars here. And when they talk, we listen. Simple as that.”

And as for those who’ve chosen not to take the plunge on a music themed cruise but are still sitting on the fence, what kind of case would one make to convince them to take part? “Get off the fence!” laughs Derway. “If you are passionate about music and want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience with your heroes, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Here’s the thing though, I often find myself trying to talk people out of our events. I feel I have a duty to warn people that experiencing a festival at sea will make it nearly impossible to take a regular cruise again! We hear it from guests time and time again – it’s probably the biggest complaint we get.” (laughs) Derway goes on to further explain: “I always ask: Have you ever been to a big music festival? Standing in line for bathrooms, huge crowds, mud, overpriced beer, and trying to get anywhere near the stage to see your favorite artist… it’s a huge test of patience! On a cruise, you have everything you need right there. You have your favorite band playing in an elevator–true story!–or standing next to you at breakfast, you have shows going on all the time, just like a big festival, but you can actually see the band, sometimes so close you need to back up! Plus, you’re on a ship with just a little over 2000 people who are into what you’re into- it’s an experience that can create friends for life. There’s luxury accommodations, food as far as the eye can see, and music almost 24/7.”

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Photo: Jay Gilbert
Photo: Jay Gilbert

KISS’s resident “God of Thunder”, Gene Simmons, fills us on five years of rockin’ the high seas.

This is the 5th KISS Kruise. I understand that the band or some of its members were initially reluctant to go on cruise, why? What were you apprehensions?

Gene Simmons: The reservations were that it was uncharted territory. The reservations were that everybody attending were KISS fans who expect to be treated a certain way. One of the things that we pride ourselves with and I don’t say this lightly, the fans are the most important thing. We know some of them by name; some of the fans we keep in touch with personally. We don’t advertise it but these are really important people in our lives. So once you get on the cruise you’ve got a few variables that are completely out of your control. You’ve got a ship full of personnel and they’re used to doing business a certain way. Since we didn’t know them and hadn’t worked with them in the past, we didn’t know how they were gonna treat people.

You can check into a hotel and hate the way people treat you and you can check into a hotel and find that the personnel are terrific; cordial and smiling and all of that. So you had two variables; you had Sixthman who was the promoter of it and their crew and then you’ve got the ship’s personnel. Then you’ve got food issues. We’ve all heard horror stories. You don’t want a ship full of people getting sick; none of which we control. So the reservations were not having the control. So we entered into it slowly and because of that you find the fans don’t just enjoy it but absolutely love going on the KISS Kruises. I’ve got to hand it to Sixthman who do an excellent job.

Beyond financial remuneration, it seems the band truly enjoys being on these cruises.

Gene Simmons:That’s right. Hey, I bring my family and my friends and we do things there that we don’t do anywhere else without security guards and barricades and all that kind of stuff, and really get up close and personal with the fans.

For the indoor makeup show, band has something very special planned.

photo by will byington

Gene Simmons: That’s right. This time we’re doing an Alive! show. From beginning to end note for note we’re playing every song that appeared on our Alive! album that was released 40 years ago. We’re also going to perform in the same outfits. We recreated them even though the old ones still exists. Let’s just say some of us are bigger now—I am–than we were 40 years ago. The other thing is leather can’t last 40 years. 40 years! Actually, we’re approaching our 42nd years as a band. Amazing.

You’re also being faithful to that time period and using the same kind of instruments you played for those shows.

Gene Simmons: Correct. I went out of my way to search and find original Gibson Grabber basses, the same kind I used back then. And of course, if the fans want to buy them they can do that unlike my experience when I was growing up with the Beatles and the Stones. If you like (Paul) McCartney’s Hofner bass you couldn’t dream of ever owning that or ever putting it up on your wall. We changed all that. Why can’t you get pieces of us if you want? It’s not cheap ‘cause they’re very very personal. It’s not a bake sale where you can come in for a buck. “Buy 5, get 2 for free.” For any fans wanted in getting any of these basses or any of my other bass lines, go to genesimmonsaxe.com.

What have been the highlights for you on the KISS Kruises?

Gene Simmons: It’s the young kids. You really appreciate fans who have been with you since the beginning and who have tattooed their bodies and name their kids after the songs; that’s always amazing. But when you see the lights go on a five-year-old’s mind and eyes is great. We point this out and we talk about it. Look, I wasn’t even born in America. When I first came to America I was one of those kids. The difference between you and anybody else, there’s no class at school that teaches you how to do that. You decided to roll up your sleeves and put in the time and the effort and the work to get where you are. That’s for me, too, and the pope and the president. When you look down at the kids and look in their eyes and they’re looking at Mom and Dad and then this five-year-old little putz steps in front of their parents, usually they’ll hide behind, and put their hand out and say, “Hi! I’m Jimmy, nice to meet you.” So you think, there you go, there’s that first big step, that kind of, ‘Mom and Dad gave me birth but the rest is up to me’ kind of thing.

So the best part of it is that the kids come on the cruise along with the grown up who can flirt and gamble and the kids have all the fun stuff, the pools and the games and all the other stuff.

Tell us about the Gene Simmons Master Class happening on the KISS Kruise.

Gene Simmons: It happened sort of naturally, I was invited to take part in one of those Rock & Roll Fantasy Camps. Basically, what it is is you get a chance to get up there and jam with, I don’t know, Chubby Checker and Ginger Baker or whoever is there. I saw some of the younger fans there and they were about 15 and had their own band. I think they were called Rebel. They wanted to jam up there and then use the Gene Simmons association and smartly spread it on social media.

But because they could already play a few riffs on guitars and drums, I said, “We’re gonna try an experiment. You’re gonna write a song in under an hour. It’s gonna be your song; you’re the writers and the publishers and all that and I’ll take you through all the steps. I’m not gonna put words in your mouth or chords; you’re gonna come up with them. You’re gonna come with the feel, the melody and the lyrics.”

Then it occurred to me that it is in point of fact very easy to learn to write your own songs. In the rap world you can certainly write your own rhymes. Anybody can do it. It doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be good; that has something to do with whether you have talent band whether you can recognize your own creation. There’s something called the 10,000 hour principle. If you really want to do this well, you’ve got to put in 10,000 hours because while practice might not make you perfect, it certainly makes you better. So for those who take my master class on the KISS Kruise, they’re gonna learn all kinds of stuff. This idea also reminded me that I did exactly the same thing when I did that English TV show seen around the world called Rock School.

What I did was show these troubled kids who had drugs and alcohol issues—the fathers weren’t at home and it was a small town and nobody cared about it so they were aimless and directionless and didn’t care about anything. These kids are truants and didn’t go into school. As a curiosity all of a sudden the attendance was close to full because this weird guy form this group called KISS was gonna be coming in with TV cameras so of course they came in. So I found out which in the bunch had a voice, which in the bunch had never played an instrument and literally assigned instruments to them. “You’re gonna play drums, you’re gonna play guitar…” See, everybody whether it’s McCartney or Hendrix started off not playing an instrument. We’re limiting the number of people that can take part in the master class because of the amount of time. I’m flying into Miami and I’m gonna spend a full day with the master class people before the cruise actually begins and additionally on the cruise itself we’ll spend more time. We may have 50 to 100 people taking part but even if you’re watching me show somebody how to come up with their own thing, it unlocks the thing in your mind.

So at any point you may have 10 bass players and 10 guitar players and I’m gonna show them that there’s not much difference between bass or guitar. The Queen song, Another One Bites the Dust, once you come up with that lick you can write the song. (imitates bass riff for Another One Bites the Dust)

You came up with some KISS songs originally on bass, right?

Gene Simmons: Yeah, that’s right, lots of them. Songs like Deuce and Watching You” all kinds of stuff. It doesn’t always have to do with riffs. You can just start pumping one note (imitates one note driving bass riff) and put a beat to it, and never mind about melody, just figure something about word meter. It’s like, (sings) “I’m walking down the street and I find someone to meet…” So you get some kind of proper meter for the words and then later you go back and come up with the right words and a better melody says Paul McCartney who started off with a song called Scrambled Eggs and literally wound up with Yesterday.

The band is performing an electric sailaway set for the first time, any surprises in stores?

Simmons signs for the fans. Photo: Will Byington
Simmons signs for the fans. Photo: Will Byington

Gene Simmons: Good Lord, I hope we’ll be set because the fans can yell out anything from All the Way to Mainline. It can be really obscure stuff and hopefully we’ll know how to play it. (laughs) That keeps us on our toes. Our blessing is also our curse. We’ve been around for so long and there have been so many songs recorded and granted not all of them are good. You can’t keep swinging the bat and hitting home runs every time. You do your best, that’s your intention but you’re just not gonna do it.

But it is really weird that KISS, which never really started out as anything, but this bizarre dream of four knuckleheads off the streets of New York just wanting to do one record. Four decades later, the RIAA crowned us as the number one gold record award winning group of all time in America. It’s amazing and especially since we’ve only had two hit singles, Beth and I Was Made For Loving You.

A bit of trivia…Who has more gold singles, the Beach Boys or KISS? It’s a trick question.

I’d say the Beach Boys as they’ve had many more hits than KISS.

Gene Simmons: No. You just know the songs. A gold single is a million singles sold so who has had more gold singles, the Beach Boys or KISS? It’s actually a tie. Astonishingly enough, the Beach Boys and KISS both have only had two gold singles. You know all the Beach Boys songs and those are called “turntable hits.” They were played so many times, songs like Help Me Rhonda where you think, Oh, of course that sold a million records. No it did not. The Beach Boys two biggest singles were Good Vibrations and Kokomo, one with Brian Wilson and one without. Our two biggest hits were neither a mainstay of who and what we are as a band identity-wise.

Is there one KISS song that you wrote which you’d like to perform live but haven’t as yet?

Gene Simmons: I’ve always had a personal tug for We Are One, which was a much later song and it really wasn’t written for KISS. It was just one of those songs that came out. When I get in the writing mode, it’s whatever comes out comes out and often it doesn’t have that guitar thing.  Some of the changes in We Are One are much more suited to keyboards so that’s always been a song I favor.

Speaking of the ethos of We Are One, can you talk about the sense of community among the fans, bringing 28 countries together?

Gene Simmons: There really is a unity on the cruise. You see all kinds of flags from different countries, all kinds of languages being spoken and stuff like that. The UN would probably do well to get on the cruise and study what happens there ‘cause there no fights. It’s not like soccer matches. People get along. There’s people of all ages, single people, married people. What’s remarkable is the fans stay in touch with those they befriend on the cruise from year to year. People make friends from around the world. Every once in a while there’s a bit of a human story related to KISS that reminds me that the idea is bigger than a song or band or anything. There’s a guy that drive a town car that picked me up to take me to the airport. He came from Kiev in the old Soviet Union. He was telling me about how much he likes the band with this very thick Russian accent. He told me he was 34 and was talking about many of our songs and this riff or that riff. He told me that KISS was forbidden in that country. You certainly couldn’t buy KISS records. We were considered decadent Western American propaganda. I said, “Yeah, I heard that.” He said, “Well, I was in jail for that.” He spent two years in jail because they heard he was playing KISS records and then they broke into his home and arrested his parents. This guy as a teenager went to jail. That’s something, isn’t it?

photo from litafordonlineSIDEBAR: Lita Ford Q&A

KISS Kruise V special guest Lita Ford took some time out from the ship rockin’ action onboard to speak to us.

For you, what was the appeal of coming on the KISS Kruise?

Lita Ford: Oh God, for me it’s an honor to be on the KISS Kruise because there’s only four bands playing and we got picked. I just felt very honored by it whereas on the other cruises there’s a lot more bands that play.

The people that go on the rock cruises are primarily the baby boomer audiences and they’re not going on to kick back but rather party hard.

Lita Ford: Oh yeah. Besides all the stuff that goes on on the ship itself, they go off the boat and they go on adventures to different places they’ve never been to before. Different drinks, different food—they go wild. People are pretty worn out by the end of the cruise. I’ve been on other music cruises before and it’s a similar thing with the KISS Kruise too. On the prior cruise I was on, on the last day I looked out at the crowd and I went, “You guys looks fried!” They were all totally sunburned with red faces, just really lifeless. (laughs) I asked then, “Are you guys burned out or what?” and they all nodded their heads yes.

Were you skeptical before being asked to go on a music cruise?

Lita Ford: Prior to the KISS Kruise, I also took part in another music cruise two times.  I know the waters. I lived on a deserted island for almost a decade and I know the Bahamas area, Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos islands. I know the waters is not very deep unless you go far out to sea and that made me feel better. (laughs) I was like, ‘Oh God, am I gonna get seasick? Are the waves gonna be huge?” All these things were going through my mind but when I realized where we were going I thought, we’re really not that far off the shoreline so we’re safe. I never was afraid to go on a cruise, it’s just different. You’re with a lot of people on a ship. They’re very careful about safety. They put you through what to do in the case of an emergency. You get the fire drill, so to speak. They make you put on a life jacket; they don’t care who you are, whether you’re Gene Simmons, whoever, you’re gonna have to put on a life jacket. So they make everybody do that and they go through the fire drill so to speak. Then you go about your business and have fin. You start looking around; there’s shops on the boat and there’s food, music. It’s just so much fun.

Are you having fun on the cruise thus far?

Lita Ford: Oh yeah. Being on a cruise is very different and different is fun. A lot to people fly in to get on the cruise, a lot of ex-patriots come into the United States; it’s really cool and everybody is having a blast!

For people on the fence about going on a cruise like the KISS Kruise, what would you tell them?

Lita Ford: Well, it’s kind of like staying at the Hard Rock Hotel. There’s hard rock music playing all the time and everywhere you go there’s rock and roll.  Like the Hard Rock Hotel, it’s not just Sting (laugh), it’s the Holiday Inn Express. (laughs)

You go back a long way with KISS.

Lita Ford: Yeah, I’ve known them since the ‘70s. They would be at functions where the Runaways would show up and we got to know KISS from going to different functions, mainly Paul and Gene. I became friends with gene and Paul first; they’re the two that used to go to the functions the most being the front men of the band. I always thought Paul was hot; he was such a handsome man.  Then later on down the road I ran into Ace and we became good friends. Recently, in the last five years I just met Peter Criss and his wife. A lovely man, what a great man. They’re good people all the way around. KISS get their bad raps; Gene is this and Paul is that but I was never one of those to bad rap or bad mouth the KISS Army. (laughs) It’s funny, when Jackie Fox, the Runaways bass player auditioned for the band, we played Strutter so that’s a bit of rock and roll trivia that I don’t even think KISS knows. (laughs)

You have an autobiography, Living Like a Runaway, slated for publication next year. Take us through the experience of working on the book.

Lita Ford: It was an adventure putting the book together; there were a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I wanted it to be correct; I wanted everything to be right so I had to really dig deep and bring stories back to life. Some of them were painful; some of them were like, ‘God, I need to get away from this computer and go for a drive’ but with some stories, there were tears streaming down my face because I laughed so hard. (laughs)

What was the greatest joy putting this book together?

Just reliving everything that I had done since I was a kid, reliving all the hurdles that I had to jump and still am because I’m a female. That really made me think, Wow, how did I do it?

SHIP ROCKED SNAPSHOTS

October 30, 12:25 PM, Spinnaker Lounge, Axe Petting Zoo

AXE Bass Display KK5

Enter the Axe Petting Zoo. This isn’t an enclosure for wild animals but a showcase for Gene Simmons’ personal bass line. Who else could pull off brandishing an axe-shaped guitar that would make Lizzy Borden proud than Gene Simmons? Other bass guitars in Gene’s deep arsenal sport exquisite design/handiwork teeming with gleaming studs, animal-like scales and even one emblazoned with the U.S. flag. Fans from Brazil, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Russia and Japan mingle and have the opportunity to try out these monster 4-string basses. “It’s like a history of Gene Simmons seeing his evolution through the various bass guitars he uses on and off the stage,” marvels David Latt, 54, owner of an automotive dealership from Houston, Texas.”

Christina Vitagliano, coordinator for Gene Simmons’ bass line fills us in on “The Demon’s” 4-string arsenal: “Because Gene and KISS have become so iconic, so have his basses. He has three standard basses, an acoustic Punisher, his standard Axe bass and his standard Punisher bass. But there are also tons of custom models like a Dragon scale Axe and Punisher bass. Ken Kelly, the artist who did the covers for Destroyer and Love Gun does hand painted Punisher and Axe basses for Gene as well. ” John Upshaw Downs, a 56-year-old resident of Charleston, South Carolina took his fascination with Gene’s basses all the way to a Washington, D.C. prestigious institution. “I have always loved Gene’s iconic Axe bass. I read an article on how Eddie Van Halen got his Frankinstrat put into the Smithsonian. I thought, why not put his iconic bass into the Smithsonian as well. I contacted the curator of the museum, Eric Jontz, and with his help the Gene Simmons Axe bass is now proudly part of the Smithsonian museum here fans from all generations came come and enjoy this unique one of a kind instrument.” For more info on Gene’s line of basses, check out www.genesimmonsaxe.com

October 30, 5:15PM, Pool Deck, KISS “Unmasked” electric set

Fans from over 30 countries gather together on the pool deck; hanging off the upper tier are a multitude of large banners from Germany, Spain, Australia, France, Brazil, Finland, England, Denmark, Canada and other countries proudly displaying the flag of their country. The band clambers onto the stage like conquering heroes and Paul Stanley exclaims: “We’ve always done the sailaway show acoustically; this is like we’re in a rehearsal with 3,000 people!” They kick off the set with Flaming Youth as the ship leaves port and begins its seaward jaunt to Jamaica. This rare airing of Flaming Youth, a fist-pumping anthem culled from the band’s 1976 album, Destroyer, indicates that this is no normal set but rather one, which finds the band dusting off lesser or never before performed gems in their vast catalog, many voted on by this year’s KISS kruisers. Other lesser and never played jewels plucked out of the KISS canon including Ladies Room and Mr. Speed from Rock ‘N Roll Over plus several deep cuts gleaned from the group’s second album, Hotter than Hell, Strange Ways, Mainline, Coming Home, and All the Way. “This is my 4th KISS Kruise,” raved Kjell Solberg, an office worker from Elverum, Norway. “I was so excited to hear all the real obscure deep cuts and celebrate with the entire KISS Navy!”

October 31, Halloween, 7:45 PM, Spinnaker Lounge, KISS meet and greet and photo op

paul stanley with KISS KRUISE V guitar and fans Ryan Barks and Angela Simmons

A long line of fans, an Army (or should that be Navy) of KISS t-shirts is the evening’s chosen attire by most; there are also some fans adorned in KISS makeup and some wearing elaborately designed costumes mimicking their musical heroes. Fans of all ages file through waiting in anticipation for the moment they can meet Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy and pose for a photo of the band in makeup and decked out in their Alive! costumes. Yumiko Nemoto, a 53-year-old office worker, from Tokyo, Japan is radiant and overcome with joy. “I can’t believe I just met these superheroes of rock! I first saw KISS play at the Budokan in Tokyo in 1977 and here I am, many decades later, meeting them in the flesh. Being able to meet the band and have my photo taken with them in full kabuki makeup is a dream come true!”

November 2, 1:15PM, The Stardust Theater, Paul Stanley pizza party

Photo: Will Byington
Photo: Will Byington

Not only a master showman and gifted painter, Paul Stanley also knows his way around the kitchen. A SRO crowd watches as Stanley lend tips on how to make meatballs and how to create the perfect pizza pie. Walking onstage to thunderous cheers, Stanley jokingly remarked, “Last night I was up onstage shakin’ my ass and now I’m throwing pizza dough.“ (laughs) Six lucky fans sat at an adjoining table partaking in Stanley’s meatballs and pizza of choice. Two-time KISS Kruise veteran Nick Lalli of Columbus, Ohio, said, “To see Paul Stanley in a non-rock star element and a more human moment made this a must-see plus I got turned onto a killer recipe for pizza.”

November 2nd, 11:30 AM, Spinnaker Lounge, Gene Simmons Master Class

Dozens of cases of bass guitars emblazoned with the visage of Gene Simmons, tongue unfurled, sit off to the side of the stage. Hardcore fans who purchased one of the basses from Gene’s bass line, were given the opportunity to take part in a special once in a lifetime Gene Simmons Master Class. Over 100 fans assembled inside the intimate venue to watch Gene share the secrets behind the science of songwriting. He explained, “Songwriting starts with the bare bones, which is the foundation and then you add the flesh.” Picking up a black Gibson Les Paul, Gene played various riffs stressing that simplicity serves as the bedrock of a great song; he used KISS’s Lick It Up, We Will Rock You by Queen, AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long and the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right as examples of popular songs sharing similar musical DNA. Each class was limited to 10 students, from beginner level to advanced. Gene ran each group through the fundamentals of songwriting, singing nonsensical lyrics hot wired to boogie guitar riffs to demonstrate how to construct a song from initial idea to final product. I took part in the second class alongside 9 other fans, each armed with a different Gene Simmons bass in our hands. With Gene driving the musical ship and firing off meaty guitar riffs and occasional lead guitar solos, we crafted a song titled T.K.O, which sounded like the bastard child of KISS’s Rock & Roll All Nite and Lick It Up. Gene sang along with me and another student with whom I shared a microphone, helping us hone in on the correct high harmony. By the time we had nailed the song—and make no mistake, we weren’t gonna make KISS or AC/DC lose any sleep–but with Gene’s patient guidance, we actually sounded half decent. Orwigsberg, Pa resident Joe Lagana purchased a Gene Simmons acoustic Punisher bass and gushed, “By day I’m an environmental safety manager so my job isn’t that exciting. So to be able to learn how to write a song from one of my biggest musical idols is mind blowing; the experience is priceless.”

November 2nd, 5:45 PM, Spinnaker Lounge, Paul Stanley exclusive private event

A small contingent of approximately 150 fans who purchased a Paul Stanley specially commissioned limited edition KISS Kruise guitar, smashed or intact, converge to bear witness to an intimate acoustic performance by “The Star Child,” mixing performance with compelling storytelling. For this special one-off performance, Stanley dusted off a bounty of never before heard jewels including Hold Me, Touch Me, a song Stanley explained that he hadn’t played in over 30 years, Nowhere to Run, (“one of my favorite songs and one that we’ve never played”), snippets of gems culled from Paul’s 1978 self-titled solo album—Ain’t Quite Right, Tonight You Belong to Me and Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the set was the first live performance of Mistake, a song the band laid down as a demo for a KISS album back circa ’74, ’75, which was ultimately never released. Paul regaled the faithful with stories behind the songs. Describing the origin of Shandi, Stanley revealed, “I heard a song called ‘Sandy’ by Bruce Springsteen and a friend said, ‘How about Shandi?’ I also heard another great song by Joe Walsh called ‘Tomorrow’ and took a little bit from each one to write that song. You always steal from the best; that’s what it’s all about.” One of the lucky members of the KISS Navy in attendance is Dr. Jamie Downs, a forensic pathologist from Savannah, Georgia. “I’ve been a KISS fan since 1977; KISS was my first concert ever—hooked! When Paul smashed his guitar, I just wanted my own so much! So at a Tonight Show filming with Jimmy Fallon, I was lucky enough to take Paul’s smashed guitar off the stage. I finally had one—for two minutes, until security took it for Fallon. So, what to do? Replace it with the real thing, a smashed guitar from KISS Kruise V concert. I finally got one and it all goes back to the beginning. I got him to inscribe “Fallon stole yours—take me!” laughs Downs. Luthi Didier from Switzerland is also the proud owner of a Paul Stanley KISS Kruise guitar. He explains, “I already had a Gene Simmons bass and needed to add a Paul Stanley guitar. Look at it; this guitar is magnificent and will be the centerpiece of my growing collection.” For more info on Paul’s guitar line visit www.paulstanleyguitars.com

November 3, 8:45AM, Port of Miami, Miami, Florida

Disembarking on dry land in Miami in the early morning, the exhausted but happy bleary throng of 2300 + passengers sleepily depart with grand stories and adventures to tell and heartfelt promises of returning next year. “This year’s KISS Kruise is the best one yet,” contends Frank Rademaker, 58 from Melbourne Australia.” Looking like he got up to more than his share of mischief on the cruise, he explains, “You’ve got sex, depravation, craziness and killer music. It’s all in good fun and I’ll definitely be back.” Five time cruise veteran, Scott Balkun, a communications specialist from Stamford, Connecticut, had the time of his life: “It’s the best vacation you could ever have. All the different events, the concerts to “Name that Tune” with Tommy Thayer to Paul cooking pizza to Eric Singer judging an “Almost Famous” competition, has made my KISS Kruise V experience so memorable and amazing. I count down the days to each KISS Kruise and I’m already starting to count down the days until KISS Kruise VI.” Another happy customer is Roz Cartwright from Queensland, Brisbane, “I’ve been on a few KISS Kruises and each year it gets better and better. The best part of the KISS Kruise all comes down to one thing; reconnecting with my KISS family, my lovely friends from all over the world, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Japan, U.S.A, We are one! I say to everyone, stop bumpin’ your gums you gum bumpin’ wally, and don’t miss out on the KISS Kruise, it’s the experience of a lifetime.” Paul Stanley has upped the ante and promises, “This year’s KISS Kruise has been great, but wait until next year, KISS Kruise VI is gonna blow this one away.”

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