Monsters of Rock Cruise 2023 – a look back

Monsters of Rock Cruise 2023 – April 29 – May4, 2023

It has been almost a month since I returned from the 2023 Monsters of Rock Cruise. Long enough to be entrenched back into the rituals of daily life, yet short enough I can still feel the sea breeze sending my hair flying as the pool stage is being rocked before my eyes and ears. Now I am back in that almost year-long anticipatory state from the moment I saw my 2024 reservation go through to the minute my rock brethren and I will step foot onboard the 2024 Monsters of Rock Cruise.

The Metal Queen – Doro

2023 was my fifth time on the Monsters of Rock Cruise and I can say it just keeps getting better every year. The lineup this year was absolutely stellar. My circle of friends grew considerably. Due to COVID cancelling the 2021 cruise and the travel restrictions still in place last year, I got to see friends I had not seen for three years. This year I met so many wonderful, like-minded people and we all enjoyed each other’s company and some serious kick ass live rock.

Ben & our ROCK ship

Before I begin to describe the awesomeness that this cruise is, I want to express thanks and gratitude to the behind the scenes staff who make this event happen. The people the fans do not see (much of at least). The stage production staff, the sound and lighting team, the security group, fellow photographers, and the Monsters staff as a whole. There is tireless dedicated work before, during and after an event like this and there is no way it can be successful without the people who make it happen. Many thanks to everyone I interacted with, broke bread with, laughed with, rocked out with and just enjoyed the company of! Being part of the photo experience team, I see a tiny bit of the inner workings of the larger picture and I know the effort that goes into making this event run smoothly is considerable.

A ton of great peeps

There is no way I can describe, or recall for that matter, in detail just all of the fun I had hanging with my friends and meeting new ones. I would be here for days writing about all of the killer performances I witnessed onboard. As with every year I have been onboard, this year there is such a stacked and packed daily lineup that with multiple bands playing at once decisions had to be made. What follows next is a few of the stand out memories I recall and photo highlights of each day.

Chris Holmes

The sail away party is like starting your senior year of high school, in that you are reacquainting with friends you have not seen for a little while and it feels like the best days of your life just ahead.  While I saw and hugged many familiar friends, I had to wait till the day of departure to see my two dear Canadian friends who neither was able to attend the sail away party. I got to meet the “Mean Man”, Mr. Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. fame, I saw a hilariously fantastic Mac Sabbath set and I (finally) introduced myself to an incredibly cute girl, who I had seen at a couple of prior ‘Monsters’ events and is now a new rock friend.

Photos from the Mac Sabbath set at the sail away party

Embarkation day finally arrives and an early morning coffee run in with my cabin-mate, B Man, turns into a metal moment as we encounter Mike of Queensrÿche and he graciously takes time for a photo with me and a few words. We were not even onboard yet and already rock stars are all around. That same senior day feeling from the day before is magnified on a larger scale as now (new) familiar faces are in greater quantity in the terminal and then we are feet onboard the ship. Let the rock adventure begin!

Mike of the Ryche

It was soon after dropping off luggage and exploring with camera in hand that B Man and I ran into Ben, our third cabin mate and Allyson (Ms. Rocker). They are the two previously mentioned Canadian friends who I should have been able to see last year, but sadly was not able to. Introductions for B Man and hugs between us all, it was good to be back in person with two great friends who I had met on prior cruises and stay in close touch with.

Allyson & B Man

The entire day and evening had that reunion feeling and while some bad weather knocked out anything this day on the pool stage I took in as much rock and camaraderie as I possibly could. While I probably could have seen more than the nine shows I did this day, time was better spent reuniting with friends and meeting new friends of theirs.

Sail away party and Day 1 highlights

Our second day onboard brings us a full day at sea and the start of the band photo experiences, of which, B Man and I each had one each that we were scheduled to do. I am humbled to be a part of the photo team onboard with a group of extremely talented photographers and a fantastic supporting team. It is an exhilarating experience and an opportunity to cross paths with literally everyone onboard who chose to come get their photo taken with the various scheduled bands.

Most of the MoRC 2023 Photo Team

I had the band The Cruel Intentions and they would not start without cold beer in their hands, like not even line up for any test shots. I thought they were kidding. Once beer was acquired I have to say it was the funnest photo experience sessions that I have ever had the fortune of doing (thank you Ms. Spicy Ginger!) The guys in the band were an absolute riot, making funny faces for each photo which had me laughing the entire time. The beer supply was replenished at least twice more before our session was completed and we parted ways with me for sure having to see their upcoming set(s).

Photo experience with The Cruel Intentions (seriously, check out the difference in the first two shots, without beer and with beer)

When the band doesn’t like your photos of them

The pool stage finally opened this day and again for me the highlights of the day are the friends I was with and the rock we experienced. It was good to be able to sit down and share some quiet times at meals with dear friends and just catch up and enjoy being together again. I got to see some rock legends I had never seen before. I got to see some rock legends it had been a couple of years since I had seen them and I got to experience new bands that I am still exploring their music weeks after the cruise.

Again this day I tried to take in as many shows as I possibly could and was there to capture and cheer for my new friend and her friends in the daily costume contest, with today’s theme being The Final Frontier. Affectionately known as the “Rock Wives”, they would not confirm, nor deny, it was them who attached Rock Wives magnets to everyone’s cabin door on the sixth deck, one of which now adorns the front of my refrigerator.  

Rock Wives

Day 2 highlights

Our third day onboard, and first island stop was at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. B Man, Ben and I had quite an enjoyable time walking around and taking photos at the tourist area until at some point I discovered I had misplaced my wallet. What a stressful time that was until I was resigned to the fact that I needed to get back to the ship where I had internet and phone access to cancel my debit and credit cards. Eventually, my wallet was found and turned in back onboard the ship, minus a small amount of cash and a couple of gas gift cards. I am thankful it was returned and it was a total PITA living with no debit or credit cards for a few days upon our return. I express my gratitude for the help my cabin mates gave me in the stress induced panic I was in until everything got sorted out and to whoever was honest enough to turn it in on the ship. With that sorted I could get back to my CMO duties.

An extraordinary lineup of shows and rock legends I saw this day, and still taking the time for a sit-down dinner with friends in the dining room. Once again I say I probably could have seen more shows, but some of my all-time favorite bands played this day and their sets required my full attendance, rather than the dance that is me calculating the timing of the best photo opportunity for times when those scheduling decisions have to be made.  

This day was also the first time ever I have been in a selfie photo where it took three of us to hold the phone and take the actual photo. Not sure why, but I remember we all laughed afterwards saying, why did that take three of us to do that? It is the little laughs like that I treasure so much, quality time with good friends.

How many people does it take to take a photo?

Day 3 highlights

Our fourth day onboard had everyone onboard waking up to and in a tropical paradise. The beach area in the private cruise line area in Labadee, Haiti is simply breathtaking with its crystal clear waters, golden sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze and a mountain range surrounding the area. This was my fifth time visiting this tropical getaway and while I already live in a beach paradise ‘back home’, I made sure to get off the ship and do a little photo exploring around.

Tropical paradise

Earlier in the day before I hit the beach I was able to attend a Rockstar Paint Class. The first one was on our second day onboard and was during my photo experience with The Cruel Intentions so I was not able to attend. The subject for this class was Slash, which drew a very large class size. In between visits to the paint class Ben, B Man and I embraced the ‘duck hunt’ onboard looking for little rubber ducks that contained an entry to win a cabin for the 2024 Monsters of Rock Cruise. Each day one hundred duck entries were hidden all throughout the ship and I wish we would have been paying closer attention the first couple of days.

1 in 500 chance!

Once again the shows I witnessed were simply fantastic. Bands that take me back in time to my musically formative years, to bands I have never heard of before a week ago when the daily schedule was released that simply kick serious ass live. This evening was also the only onboard Mac Sabbath performance since they were the headliner of the sail away party. To me this was the hardest choice of shows that I had to make onboard this year in that Queensrÿche’s second set almost completely overlapped Mac Sabbath’s. I do not usually like to have to use math when I am on vacation but from a photographic and quantifiable standpoint, I started out at Mac Sabbath for fifteen minutes, ran to Queensrÿche for the middle half hour of their set, then ran back to the last fifteen minutes of Mac Sabbath. It is a total first world problem having that be the biggest decision of my six day adventure!

Mac Sabbath

I saw The Cruel Intentions play and I thought their set was absolutely fantastic. There was time for a sit down dinner with my close friends, and while out and about we saw some funny and creative Dynamic Duo themed costumes in the nightly contest. I just tried to make the absolute most of the day because even though none of us would say it, we all knew what tomorrow would bring.

Day 4 highlights

Our last day onboard was once again jam packed with activities, but what the last day onboard brings with it is how fast this day always seems to go by compared to the other days onboard. Time does not go any faster in actuality this day, but for me, the last day always goes by in an instant no matter how hard I fight against the forces of nature to stop it.

3 ducks – still a 1 in 500 chance

Our continued duck hunt resulted in three found ducks but only one was an official entry duck. The other two, well, that is too long of a story for this – ask me at the next show you see me at.

I tried to take in everything I possibly could this day. Today’s paint class subject was John Lennon, and once again a very sizable crowd attended. B Man and I attended and helped photo the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund auction. Shout out to our friend Rob who runs the auction and is a great dude! I am glad we had as much time to chat on this cruise as we did and I look forward to the next auction! The amount of photos with my friends onboard increased exponentially this day as well. Somehow we still found time for a sit down dinner, and still saw twelve bands today. I took what turned out to be my favorite and I think best shot of the cruise during the very last set that I attended with Burning Witches kicking ass on stage.

Laura Guldemond of Burning Witches

Time with friends was the most important aspect of the day. Besides the sit down dinner I spent as much time as possible with my Canadian duo. My friend Sparky, dude, it was great to see you again and I so look forward to the next time we can hang out, we became instant friends last year – it is great keeping in touch with you, you are a stand up and righteous guy man, you (and Joe Dirt) keep me from having No in my heart. Your post goofing that I made you feel like the prettiest girl at the dance still makes me laugh at the thought when i see the photo!

I also applaud my friend Amy, she and her Rock Wives friends won the costume contest on the last night with their Star Trek ‘Dress your decade’ theme. Next time I will not be so shy about talking with someone who I know that we share such a common interest, she was still tight-lipped about the magnet spree!

Winning costumes! Rock Wives

There are too many unnamed people here who this cruise experience would not have been the same without. Dan, the dude B Man and I met on the bus to the port who we encountered literally everywhere and neither of us was sure who was jokingly stalking who! Rob, dude I was glad to find out earlier this year that you are semi local and I have had a blast every chance we have had to hang out. It is funny, you are everywhere, but nowhere, you are the most helpful and appreciative person, and you know literally everyone. I look forward to our next rock adventure! Tony, it is always a great time to laugh with you and I hope there is an adventure soon with B Man and Gilbert included as well. Dan, my mate from the UK, dude always great to talk with you, we clicked right away back in 2018 as we had the exact same gear set up and that led to a conversation and a friend across the pond. Joe, Mike and Neil, it is awe inspiring to see your work as we go through the days onboard, but to see the full sets of shots once you each have had time to go through them, it makes me appreciate how humble each of you are with your skills and friendship. Jovan, just like I told the guy on ABC, danger is my business! It was great to see you and family after so long. Tom, we might not have had a chance to play mini-golf, everyone’s schedule was jam packed this cruise, but I do look forward to future chances to sit down and chat. Will, the man with the Will to Rock in his soul. I am glad you made that last minute decision not to miss the party, it was great to laugh with you and of course watch a master at work. I still think you need a haircut. Drew, man you saved the day and I again express my gratitude. It was great to watch the master in action and I congratulate you that we will be watching you shred on stage onboard next year with your band, Kaleido! Cheri, I remember we met last year at the sail away party and you did not go on the cruise, but this year it was really nice to chat as much as we did, and put a name to a face from the photo team FB chat group. I am looking forward to seeing you again next year! Cody, dude, how did I know you were an IT guy before we even talked about it, crazy stuff man. We Nerds rule the world! Gina, after getting a daily hug from you on this adventure, any future days where the opportunity presents itself, I will NEVER miss one of those again!


Ms. Spicy Ginger, B Man and I thank you for the opportunity to be part of the Cool Kids Club! Seriously, you are one of the hardest working people I see day after day. It made me happy to see you so happy watching Extreme on the pool stage, and I was glad that you got some time to enjoy yourself and take in some of the festivities.

My amigo Ben, dude you are proof how a conversation with a stranger can be a life changing experience. You have been a great friend over the years and we have more adventures ahead. The same goes for Allyson, a friendly ‘hey don’t eat all by yourself, come join us’ a couple years ago has turned into now a third cruise where the two of us are inseparable once we are onboard. I know Ben is already in for 2024, we NEED you onboard Ms. Rocker!

B Man. Dude, I would not be where I am without your help and guidance with your Jedi skills behind the lens. The fun we have on the drives over and back, the inside jokes, the roots that go back to high school, it makes it that much more fun to have such a good friend along.

To my friends who have always been on the fence about going on this adventure, after me coming back from my fifth Monsters of Rock Cruise and to again say that it was the funnest week ever and that each one keeps getting better, look at the smiles in the photos, look at the Horns Raised in the air, look at all of the killer rock I witnessed and then look at your schedule for early March 2024 and get time off of work scheduled and your reservation in!

Allyson, Ben & B Man

Day 5 highlights

The rest of the bands who did the photo experience photos

This was the sunrise as B Man and I prepared to disembark and begin the transition back to reality.

Return to reality

All of the bands that I saw by day – see lines 307-312

All of my photo experience photos

Until next year!


CMO \m/