The (One) Love Boat: Inside The Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise
Photo Credit: David Allan Blanks

There were plenty of parties poppin’ in 2019 but, as we reflect on the best of all the revelry, there are a few that stand out above the rest. The “Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise” is one of those annual events that tops the charts year after year — and 2019 was no different. You’ve had a chance to glance at this seafaring celebration, but now let’s go in for a closer look.

Now heading into its seventh year, the “Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise” has grown gargantuan. So much so, that the founder, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, had to upgrade to a bigger ship on a different cruise line (Royal Caribbean Cruise Line) to accommodate the rapid expansion of the “bashment.” What was built on the foundation of his fan base has taken on a life of its own. The regulars have even become one big loving family. Every day and night a constant reminder that despite the “fuss and fight” of daily life, there are spaces like these where beautiful Black people can “get together and feel alright.”

Many made their first maiden voyage on the 2019 cruise, but the majority had three, four, five or more trips under their belt. A true testament to the sexy of this concert party experience. (Pro-tip for first-timers: Pack an all-white outfit and be prepared to rep your country for the themed evenings!)

Because food is a super important feature of any cruise, you’ll be glad to know that there was enough all-you-can-eat fare from staple West Indian dishes to ballpark favorites. Vegan buffets, gluten-free spreads, deli counters teeming with cold cuts and cheeses, pastas, soups, pan-fried red snapper, curry goat, chicken and lamb, sliced slow-roasted roast beef, jerk chicken, assorted breads and pastries; beef and curry chicken patties (with coco bread) were on point like darts.

Every day on the Independence of the Seas was also packed with activities, from Nyahbinghi drums in the morning, to Yoga sessions and spa treatments, an onboard casino. Every night was filled with superstar performances on a massive sound stage system on the top deck (outdoors, the way Reggae is supposed to be heard), movie screenings and three simultaneous after-parties. “Gongzilla” and his team pulled out all the stops.

DAY ONE – SAIL AWAY

A “Sail Away Party” featured heavy-weight selectors such as Irie Jam’s Steelie Bashment and DJ Gringo. The showtime line-up featured the Mighty Diamonds, Everton Blender and the sultry superstar singer, Tarrus Riley. And yes, love was in the air, with a partygoer taking bended knee to propose during Riley’s performance of “She’s Royal.”

Photo Credit: Evan Wollenberg

After the show, the parties jumped off for “Bubble and Whine.” Couples snuggled and sipped drinks. “Modeling” big time in flashy fashions, gentlemen and “Rude Bwoys” mingled with the bountiful and beautiful Black Women as authentic Dancehall culture was displayed. Sounds included Shinehead’s Kingston 12 Hi-Fi, DJ Norie and the all mighty Stone Love.

DAY TWO – “ALL WHITE NIGHT”

 Photo Credit: David Allan Blanks

Tournaments galore! Dominoes, 3 on 3 Basketball and Football (not that one!). Artist meet and greets, designated areas for the children and a concert line-up stretching from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. Johnny Osbourne, Sister Nancy (BAM BAM!) and Pinchers graced the stage.

 Photo Credit: David Allan Blanks

Top bill included Ghost, Marcia Griffiths, and headliner Stephen “Ragga” Marley. Can’t forget to mention his daughter, Shacia Payne putting down the sounds. The day also featured an in-depth Q&A with “Jr. Gong.”

DAY THREE – OCHO RIOS

Arriving in “yaad,” the ship made its first stop at Ocho Rios. The crown jewel was the talent assembled for the cruise’s midpoint concert. Skip Marley, Christopher Martin, Popcaan, a commanding performance by the veteran “Warlord,” Bounty Killer and the headliner, performing for the first time on the “Welcome to Jamrock” stage, was Buju Banton.

 Photo Credit: David Allan Blanks

One couldn’t help but to be touched by the evening’s highlight of Banton kneeling before Stephen Marley and singing a song of heartfelt gratitude for his friendship as he revealed that it was “Ragga” who posted the bail that secured his release during the great tribulations of his US federal trial.

DAY FOUR – FALMOUTH/”REP YOUR COUNTRY” NIGHT

 Photo Credit: David Allan Blanks

Red, gold and green everywhere the eye may land, supplemented by the flags and clothing of what appears to be the whole of Africa and its diaspora.

 Photo Credit: David Allan Blanks

Rising star Koffee gave a “Toast” and brought us all to the “Rapture.” Morgan Heritage performed classic catalog cuts from their Grammy-Award-winning career and the night was capped off by Busy Signal followed by a four-way “Soundclash at Sea” that saw defending champion Tony Matterhorn make a “duppy” by Warrior Sound.

DAY FIVE – THE PARTY’S NOT OVER

A day full of top talent such as “Party Animal” Charly Black, Wayne Marshall and an exceptionally entertaining and energetic set by current dancehall dance king, Ding Dong and his Ravers Clavers. The night featured performances by Professor Nuts, a set by Julian “Juju” Marley that had to be taken into the Royal Theater due to rain, and “The Prophet” Capleton closing out the concert as Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise’s final act.

If you are looking for an ultimate concert/party experience, then this is the cruise for you for true. But you may have to “hold yuh corner” a bit. The 2020 “Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise” is already sold out. But give thanks, the waitlist is now open!

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