Cruise Ship Karaoke Comes of Age

Gone are the days of cruise ship karaoke singers screaming "I Will Survive" to a taped backing track.

Karaoke, the popular onboard diversion, has evolved to include video games with virtual instruments, professional recording studios and "American Idol"-style competitions. The latest option for those looking to belt out (or butcher) pop hits in front of fellow cruisers? Carnival Cruise Lines has begun offering karaoke backed by a live house band.

By year's end, Carnival will feature live band-backed karaoke on 12 of its ships, with professional musicians playing guitar, bass, drums and keyboard, and backup singers providing the harmonies. Passengers can croon or caterwaul over 100 popular songs from artists like ABBA, Zac Brown Band, the Beatles, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga. The program, called "Superstar Live Karaoke," is already available onboard Carnival Conquest and Carnival Valor, and later this week, the offering will debut on Carnival Pride. Interested passengers need only sign up with the on-site host in the Superstar Live Karaoke lounge after boarding to participate -- availability will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cruise karaoke has come a long way since the days when a mere night or two of your trip might be deemed "karaoke night." On lines including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Princess, passengers can indulge their inner rock star in designated karaoke rooms, compete in video game-based karaoke contests on giant poolside movie screens, and even audition to appear in shows alongside the cruise ship entertainers.

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Here's a rundown of how other cruise lines have amplified their karaoke options:

Karaoke at Sea: Cruise Line Diversion Grows Up

Carnival isn't the first line to introduce karaoke backed by a live band. Princess launched its "So You Wanna Be a Rock Star?" program aboard Ruby Princess in November 2008. Similar to Carnival's new offering, passengers get the opportunity to perform live in front of fellow cruisers with the help of a professional rock outfit.

On Royal Caribbean's Freedom- and Oasis-class ships, passengers will find the On Air Club, a dedicated lounge featuring a stage, DJ booth and video screens, along with private karaoke booths where slightly less brave patrons can record their performances and even purchase DVDs.

NCL features private karaoke rooms on a number of ships some in designated venues. While the line has downplayed karaoke on its newest ship, the Norwegian Epic -- built without a designated lounge for karaoke -- younger passengers can still perform. The 10 to 12 set gets a private karaoke performance stage/cinema.

Costa Pacifica features a state-of-the-art recording studio. For 35 euros, passengers can book one-hour sessions. Engineers are on hand for the session, and afterward, they mix and edit your CD. The finished product is delivered to your cabin.

On a recent cruise, we were told that this is much harder than "regular" karaoke; a member of the tech crew said it's important to really know your song before you start.

In addition to its new "karaoke with live band" offering, Carnival hosts events focused around the popular video game Rock Band. Held in a ship's lounge, performers can rock out on virtual instruments and earn high scores based on timing and accuracy.

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