OUR TAKE: Programming a Show; Programming the Cruises

Last week was dominated by programming of upcoming shows and cruises. We had two Samara Joy shows to program and our entire team was in St. Louis working through the programming for The Jazz Cruise ‘24, The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’24.1 & ’24.2 and Botti at Sea ’24. Four full days of putting the final touches on our Samara Joy: A Joyful Holiday and walking through the events for each of the 28 days of our upcoming sailings.

Samara’s shows were last Sunday afternoon, at the legendary Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas and, on Tuesday night, in St. Louis at our usual haunt, The Factory. In all nearly 3,000 guests attended these shows, which featured, not only the amazing Samara Joy, but also virtually her entire talented family, The McLendons. Backstage, the spirit of the performers was inspiring to say the least. Literally, every member of her family could sing, play an instrument, and, most of all, smile.

There are lots of different types of smiles, and these were the smiles of contentment and grace. This family was performing the music of their hearts and their souls and taking great pride in doing so. I was jealous of the sheer satisfaction that each felt and of the pleasure that they were having entertaining a huge crowd and doing so as a family. These shows were the perfect start of a holiday season.

Our planning sessions for the cruises consisted of poring over the events and shows lists for each sailing. Each cruise event schedule consists of over 300 entries, ranging from exercise classes to main shows. Many of the items occur behind the scenes and are listed for our eyes only. Still, the number of events that wind up being shared with our guests is usually around 220, each of which must be examined to be properly described, assigned to a venue that can accommodate the activity and list all the performers, staff, and crew that are required to make the event successful.

The software we use for this exercise is called Teamup, which allows us to quickly and easily cross reference events so that we can make sure that our participating artists have time to prepare for the event, or, more importantly, are not double booked. In an instant, we can print out the entire cruise schedule for everyone. That schedule, which we call an Individual Performance Schedule, IPS for short, is shared with each participating artist long before the cruise for their input and approval.

Reaching a first draft of the Performance Schedule for each sailing is arduous, but achievable without much travail. Once the IPS’ go out and we address the ideas and modifications suggested by the individual participating artists, the process can become chaotic. Very few changes can be made without several corresponding adjustments. We compare the process to a couch with a lump in it. You can push that lump in at one point only to see it reappear somewhere else. And each change comes with its own set of viewpoints. Herein lies both the agony of the process and the ecstasy of the result.

Sitting around the table are members of our staff each charged with analyzing events from the viewpoint of their expertise. Music Director Eric Marienthal examines how the events affect the musicians in terms of their scheduling, venue selection, and balance of types of shows at any one time. Production Manager Brian Rachko makes sure that the shows can be set up, rearranged, and set up again for the next show. The availability of backline equipment, lighting requirements, and staffing needs are also part of Brian’s consideration. Jazz Consultant Lee Mergner reviews all events, titles, and subjects for authenticity and accuracy.

Our Cruise Emcee Mario Vines is charged with understanding how each show will be presented to the guests, what information needs to be shared at that time, and, most importantly confirming that our scheduling works. Onboard Operations Director Brad Pavlik checks out the food and beverage connections and needs for the various events and shows with an eye to coordinating dining times that provide ample time to enjoy meals without missing the music. Guest Relations Director Aubrey Pavlik is ever vigilant on the issues of the inclusion of times and availability of assistance for our guests and making sure that their accommodations and services are properly provided.

My job is very simple. I look at the Performance Schedule from the eyes of our guests. Where our RED/BLUE designations are used, I look at the cruise experience from both vantage points. I walk through the day and night of a “Blue Guest” and then trace the steps of a “Red Guest.” Making those experiences equal is difficult but making them work for each group is essential. Then I try to walk through each day from an overall perspective with the hope of making sure that there is a proper balance between exciting events, leisure time, and social activities.

For this last undertaking, the entire team, including our Sales and Marketing Team, have a say. Senior Sales Representatives Robin Jackson and Jamey Powell have more contact with our guests than anyone, so their input as to how our guests experience the cruises is particularly important. A significant number of subtle nuances have been added to our schedules due to guest comments shared with Robin and Jamey.

Planning a cruise may not require a village, but it does require several sets of eyes, ears, and opinions. In all, there are nearly 30 sets of eyes and ears that are involved. As for the number of opinions presented, well, let’s just say that there are many. “Healthy debate” is the polite version of what often ensues on a particular issue. Our conflict resolution procedure is to allow the issue to be thoroughly discussed by all parties. Doing so will usually reveal how a vote would go if there were to be one.

Avoiding votes avoids winners and losers, so our unwritten course of action is for those in the minority to propose the compromise upon which the ensuing peace is based. After years of many of the same people sitting around the same table examining and reexamining slightly different versions of the same issues, the process described above is acted out seamlessly without calling attention that a process is taking place.

And, for those wondering if these sessions are excruciatingly dull, they are not. For every minute of actual planning and diligent work, there are 9 minutes of sheer fun, laughter, and good cheer. Not too different to the time allocations on our cruises… 90% joy/10% of items like unpacking, packing, sign ups, etc.

We are nearly there in terms of programming. The Performance Schedule Reveals (PSRs), via email and on the websites, will take place as follows:

The Jazz Cruise ’24 sails in 33 days. ‘Tis the season… almost!

By Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise, Chris Botti at Sea and The McDonald & LaBelle Cruise. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at [email protected].

Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff

Jazz in NYC in January

The week before The Jazz Cruise sets sail from Miami, New York City will be a gathering point for much of the jazz community, thanks to a confluence of events geared to both industry professionals and fans.

Winter Jazzfest

Winter Jazzfest takes place Jan. 10-18 with a series of concerts, with the main event(s) being a marathon on Friday (Jan. 12) and Saturday (Jan. 13) nights at eight or more venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively. Among the artists performing are many associated with Jazz Cruises sailing over the years, including Jose James, Aaron Parks and Immanuel Wilkin.

Unity Festival

On Friday and Saturday nights, the Unity Festival will be held at three venues (The Appel Room, Dizzy’s Club, Ertegun Atrium) within Jazz at Lincoln Center. Among the numerous artists performing shows at the festival are Randy Brecker, Isaiah J. Thompson, Linda May Han Oh and Chief Adjuah.

Unity Festival

Jazz at Lincoln Center will also host concerts and events at its facilities at Columbus Circle, starting on Thursday, Jan. 11 with Jazz Congress, a conference gathering industry professionals and artists, in a series of panels, discussions and presentations, along with tributes to Sarah Vaughan, Eddie Palmieri and Wayne Shorter. In addition, Dee Dee Bridgewater will receive the Bruce Lundvall Jazz Visionary Award.

Mug Shots of the Week

Anthonyette H. – New Jersey
Donna R. – Panama

Each guest on the cruises received The Weekender mug, which we hope you will use with your Saturday morning coffee while you read the latest edition.

Please share a picture of yourself & your mug with us so that we can include it for the 100,000+ folks who receive The Weekender each Saturday. 

Tag us @thejazzcruise @bottiatsea @thesmoothjazzcruise #jazzcruises and #theweekender. Email your photo to [email protected].

Pre-Cruise Webinars

As part of the Get Ready series, we hosted Live Webinars just for guests on each of Jazz Cruises ‘24 sailings. We enjoyed hearing your questions and I hope that our answers were helpful. If you missed the webinars or wish to have a second look, you can access them through the Booked Guests page on each cruise website. Click the cruise below to access the past webinars:

The Jazz Cruise ’24
Webinar #1 recorded on November 16, 2023.
Webinar #2 (focused on Celebrity’s Online Check-In and Pre-Cruise Planner) recorded on December 7, 2023.

The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’24.1 & ‘24.2
Recorded on November 2, 2023.

Botti at Sea ’24
Recorded on October 19, 2023.

With the holidays in full swing, we know it can be difficult to carve out time (as opposed to the turkey!) to concentrate on the tasks needed to be fully prepared for your cruise. With the opening of Celebrity’s Online Check-In and the requests for assistance in using the Pre-Cruise Planner, we are scheduling New (FINAL) Pre-Cruise Webinars so that we can share some thoughts and recommendations:

The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’24.1 & ‘24.2
DATE: Tuesday, December 19, 2023
TIME: 3:00 PM ET
Sign-Up for Webinar

Botti at Sea ‘24
DATE: Tuesday, January 9, 2024
TIME: 3:00 PM ET
Sign-Up for Webinar

The Jazz Cruise ’24Botti at Sea ’24The Smooth Jazz Cruise
‘24.1 & ‘24.2

These ’24 Cruise Programs are fully reserved. However, cancellations do occur creating available staterooms. A handful of staterooms, fewer than 8 at this moment, are available for The Jazz Cruise ’24. Though few in number, they are all staterooms with balconies! A great opportunity for those not already booked.

Otherwise, cancellations are almost immediately filled through the applicable Waitlists. If sailing in ’24 is important to you, being on the Waitlist is the best choice to follow.

McDonald & LaBelle Cruise ’24
Though the cruise does not sail for nearly five months, the program is over 80% reserved.
If you wish to join us for this One-Time Only Cruise Getaway, we urge you to act now. 

The ’25 Cruise Programs

The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’25
25.1 February 11-18, 2025
25.2 February 18-25, 2025

The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’25 is already over 60% reserved! Pre-Sale Reservations are now closed and guests who have completed a Pre-Sale Reservation have been assigned to a group. Each group will have a designated time when they can initiate their selection. 
 “Open Booking” begins on January 3, 2024, and from this date forward, anyone may reserve any available stateroom.

The Jazz Cruise ’25
January 28, 2025 – February 4, 2025


  • Guests who are sailing on The Jazz Cruise ’24 have from now until January 21, 2024 to rebook their current staterooms!
  • January 22, 2024 through January 24, 2024. During this period, ’24 Guests have the exclusive right to reserve any available stateroom, including those staterooms that ’24 Guests have not rebooked.


  • Those not sailing on The Jazz Cruise ’24 have until January 17, 2024 to establish their priority for a stateroom on The Jazz Cruise ’25 by completing a Pre-Sale Reservation. 

Botti at Sea ’25
will be announced the 1st week or so in January ’24!


  • Guests who are sailing on Botti at Sea ‘24 have from the announcement date until February 10, 2024 (the third full day of the cruise) to rebook their current staterooms! After that date, any stateroom not rebooked will be available to those holding a Pre-Sale Reservation.
  • February 12, 2024 through February 14, 2024. During this period, ’24 Guests have the exclusive right to reserve any available stateroom, including those staterooms that ’24 Guests have not rebooked.


  • Starting on the announcement date, those not sailing on Botti at Sea ’24 have until February 7, 2024 to establish their priority for a stateroom on Botti at Sea ’25 by completing a Pre-Sale Reservation. 
  • Starting on February 20, 2024, Guests with Pre-Sale Reservations will be assigned a window to select and reserve any available stateroom for Botti at Sea ’25.


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