Jimmy Buffett has seemingly branded the world with Margaritaville. Resorts, liquor, casinos, RV parks and myriad minutiae bear the stamp of a parrot and palm tree synonymous with the singer’s multibillion-dollar empire.
It’s surprising, given Buffett’s love of the sea, that it took this long to associate a ship with his breezy imprint.
But as of Saturday, the 658-cabin Margaritaville at Sea Paradise is heading from the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, to Grand Bahama Island on a regular schedule of two-night cruises. The ship is a rebranding of The Grand Classica owned by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and has been transformed, like all Buffett entities, into a fully island-themed experience.
The “Come Monday” icon, 75, has also developed a new production, “Tales from Margaritaville: Jimmy’s Ship Show,” with longtime friend and super-producer Frank Marshall, as a live offering on board. Based on characters from Buffett’s books, “Tales from Margaritaville” and “A Salty Piece of Land,” the show features a six-piece band and six characters to sing and dance their way through the lighthearted plot.
Question: You’ve known each other for four decades and worked on the Broadway musical (“Escape to Margaritaville”) together. How did that experience color the creation of this new production for the ship?
Frank Marshall: At first we were thinking of doing the Broadway show (on board), but this show is only 45 minutes and we only had six weeks to pull it together. So we started talking about a variety show based on Jimmy’s books and some of those characters. I asked Jimmy to give me a set list and we went back and forth about how to get into the songs. Because I know this world so well, it was pretty fun.
Jimmy Buffett: It was Frank’s idea because we had time as a factor. This is the first time we’ve collaborated writing together and he said let’s go back to “A Salty Piece of Land.” I had to go back and reread my book! I fell back in love with my characters again.
Marshall: The ship had its sail date and you cannot stop that because tickets are sold and people are coming on board with their suitcases and flip-flops and we had to be ready. We had to transform the theater and rehearse the cast in New York before moving (to Palm Beach). We were walking over carpets and tables and signs because the transformation of the ship was happening at the same time.
Buffett: I’m a sponge of ideas. My business partner (John Cohlan) said it’s the unexpected phone call that comes along and you say, that sounds interesting. That’s how this started (with the ship). It’s got to be the right time, the right feeling and there has to be a lot of luck in it, too. But the boat was it for me.
Q: When I read the description of Margaritaville at Sea Paradise, it reminded me of what they’re doing at Disney World with the immersive Star Wars experience. Is that the general idea?
Marshall: That’s exactly it, but here they have windows!
Buffett: And an ocean! I grew up in a shipyard in Alabama, so when I got on board I said, I want to go from the bridge to the bilge. I was as interested in the ship as I was getting the show together, being the son of a son of a sailor.
Q: How involved were you in the creation of everything else on board, Jimmy?
Buffett: The teams at every level, from the performance to the transition team, were amazing and that’s what you want. I kind of run my band like a good ship; some days are good, some not and it could all go to hell in 15 minutes. I was just in Midland, Texas, and the band was stuck (elsewhere) and I thought I was going to have to do an acoustic show, but then the woman at the (Midland) theater gave the band a ride. We are veterans of all of this, but you rely on the camaraderie of everyone in every aspect of running a show.
Margaritaville at sea 360 SHIP TOUR