I have been meaning to write this for a long time, as we were on the 2018 cruise however the further away it got, the less the post made sense. However, the 2019 cruise, which incidentally is set to be the final Walker Stalker cruise is due to set sail at the end of this month, so perhaps I can give you an idea of what to expect if you’ve never been before but are travelling with them this time, or are still considering buying some of their last remaining tickets – and it looks like they still have a fair number of tickets left… Doesn’t look like they’re doing too well this year.
New Orleans Cruise Terminal
If you’re heading on the 2019 cruise, I believe it leaves from Tampa so ignore this part. However in 2018 the process was really easy to follow and actually very well organised. You get a embarking time, which everyone seems to roughly stick to which is great as it stops the terminal getting too crowded. It does take a while to go through the process of security, setting up your ship card, getting your various packs, photos and passport checks done, but you pretty much never stop moving from one desk or station to the other so it doesn’t feel like a long process.
The port of New Orleans is really easy to get to and if you’re a little early, there are plenty of restaurants and shops right next to it in the outlet collection at Riverwalk – in fact opposite the area where you check in there are some lifts which take you basically to the food court.
The staff at the port are really helpful and friendly, with the whole process (both getting on and off) being far smoother and a much nicer experience than what we found when we cruised (also with NCL) out of Miami. I would be more than happy to cruise out of New Orleans again in the future and would highly recommend it as a port of call if you have any cruises planned for the future. The city itself is also a melting pot of culture and myth, making for a truly unique travel experience.
The cruise is held on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Pearl, which is a pretty nice ship. It’s not one of the biggest in the NCL fleet, but for this type of event it’s a perfect size, and has plenty of options for drinking and getting involved in the various events. Some of the stand out areas which make the ship a pleasure to be on include the Pearl Casino which has a really nice selection of slot machines, the Bliss Ultra Lounge which is the nicest places on board for a drink in my opinion, O’Sheehans Neighborhood Grill, which does basically the same food as the buffet but in a nicer table service atmosphere and the Body Waves Fitness Studio which can be a nice place to get away from the crowds and sweat out some of that beer!
However you’re not on this cruise to enjoy the facilities of the ship alone so here’s what made the Walker Stalker cruise more than just a trip to Cozumel, Mexico (although if you’re travelling in 2019 you will be heading to the Bahamas, which I can’t comment on).
I know what you want to read about is the cruise itself, especially the Walking Dead related bits, and I’ll leave for last.
One important factor for us with this trip is that we found out, days before that my wife was pregnant, which changed everything for the trip – from drinking through to activities. NCL were kind enough to change our excursion tickets and refund back to the room account, because we didn’t want to take the risk with Cozumel being one of the places warned against due to the Zika Virus. As a result we literally just got off the ship to get on solid ground for an hour or so and stayed in the port. I have been to Cozumel before though and again I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great destination for seeing cultural aspects of old mexico, snorkeling, swimming, boat tours, driving tours, beach stays and shopping.
The Walker Stalker Cruise
So here’s the bit which you want to know about, and I’ll break it down a little further below.
The first glimpse we got of any of the guests was as early as the port where we saw Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Norman Reedus go past the line as we waited for our cruise cards. We knew something was going on because of the huge roar of cheers which made its way through the various halls as they made their way through to the ship. However other than that you get very few candid glimpses of the guests, due to problems which they’d had in previous crossings, especially with the male stars getting grabbed by female cruisers. Other guests we saw were the two of them again getting off the ship in Cozumel (and we spotted them again from the restaurant as they came back on) and we saw Pollyanna McIntosh a few times walking around the ship to watch some events.
Don’t expect to be mingling with the guests too much though, they spend most of their cruise time either working on various events or in the private area of the ship where the haven suites are.
One of my favorite things at Walker Stalker events and other cons is the photo-ops, which on the cruise were far more reasonably priced than at other walker stalker events, so we had ours done with:
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
All of them were an absolute delight, so you’d expect, and we got some really nice photos of out it. A lot of people in the queue thought I was a bit weird when I was waiting for my Pollyanna photo but she seemed to appreciate the effort, she even said “You’re a saucy one aren’t you” and then squealed a bit when I walked off because I was wearing skin colored shorts and she thought I was naked under the apron! That is one of my favorite all time photo-ops.
We then also met a few of them for autographs, which again were fairly well priced when compared to other Walker Stalker events. I like getting the McFarlane action figures signed, and the only real problem was getting all of those safely to the ship and back. In the end I got signatures from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Norman Reedus, Robert Kirkman, IronE Singleton and Jon Bernthal.
I am still yet to get my figure signed by Ross Marquand which I tried on this trip as well as at Walker Stalker London. The problem with him is that he is too nice to the fans and spends far too much time with each one for a chat. This is really nice of him, but it does mean that both times I have run out of time with it, which is a shame.
Another one who spent a lot of time with the fans was IronE Singleton but he had a fairly good balance between the two. He is probably the nicest guest I have ever met at a convention. I had to laugh cause he asked everyone if they want a selfie and it was only the person in front of my who pointed out that he was meant to be charging for them. He said, if you pay for a signature and want a photo I’m not gonna charge for that, it doesn’t cost me any more! I love that.
There are a few different entertainment activities which are on offer, to ensure that there is something to keep everyone happy.
The most prominent of these are the bands and djs with to be honest the only ones being any good having been Monte Revolta who we saw in the Atrium. The band look amazing, with a real horror feel to their image and performance. The front man is an absolute showman and the dancers helped to make the whole experience look even more entertaining. To round it all off they don’t just sound amazing, but intersperse the songs with real humor. Absolutely loved them!
If the music isn’t your thing, then there are also always plenty of movies being played, with the majority of these of course being zombie flicks. If I remember rightly, amongst those on show last time were 28 days later, zombieland and the crazies – although I could be wrong… you get the idea though.
There are finally also plenty of live entertainment opportunities in the stardust theater, including panels with the stars (although the main one with Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Robert Kirkman was held outdoors in the rain). The best one we saw was with Jon Bernthal who was genuinely absolutely terrified of being on the ship, and I believe on the previous day he’d had some major sea sickness problems! Another cool thing we watched was a live demonstration of applying special effects makeup, although we did leave early because it went on for a long LONG time!
There are plenty of things to keep you busy outside the various guest activities and meet ‘n’ greets and the majority of them have a zombie slant.
My Favorite activity was going to the casino, and it got a zombie twist on one of the themed nights which was zombiegras. Dressing up as a mardi-gras zombie was really good fun but taking latex etc does take up a lot of luggage space!
One other thing which I looked forward to and almost missed out on was the belly flop competition which was judged by Jesus himself, Tom Payne. Although I missed out on moving past the first round by just half a point! It was good fun though, Americans really get in to this kind of event and there was a nice level of camaraderie between the contestants.
The bingo is also good fun and pretty affordable with real prizes up for grabs. However be warned, if you go for one of the ones which is hosted by one of the shows stars rather than the NCL crew (who are also very funny), the queue is ridiculous. We wanted to go to the dirty bingo with Ross Marquand and Michael Trayner, but couldn’t get anywhere near it, even an hour before hand.
To be honest that was about it for the activities which we took part in, other than a few little things like a few random photo ops.
Besides the normal NCL shopping (including good deals on jewelry and watches during a one day sale), really the only shopping was Walker Stalker merchandise – which was insanely expensive, and the ability to pay for a tattoo or buy some of the tattoo artists artwork. There was no other shopping at all, which I thought was a real shame. I genuinely thought that there would be opportunities for some kind of Walking Dead merch related shopping. An AMC shop would have been a really nice touch.
All in all, it was a great experience to be on a themed cruise, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that I wouldn’t go on another one, maybe when my son is bigger – but perhaps a music festival cruise would be cool. As for a Walking Dead cruise, would I go on another one if they were to continue them? In a word – No.
But if we enjoyed it so much, why wouldn’t I want to go on another one?
The main reason is that much of it was just so badly organised. A lot of this was due to the poor weather, which I know is something they can’t do anything about, so the weather isn’t my complaint. However, when the bad weather did come, the way they re-organised things or cancelled them and then let people know was often quite poorly communicated and not very well timed. A lot of activities seemed to clash as a result, with there still then being other times where there was nothing to do.
The activity however which annoyed me the most as this could have been avoided was the pub crawl, or to be more precise the sign up for it! As is a legal requirement on all cruises, we had to go to one end of the ship for our emergency drill. Then the sign up for the pub crawl was more towards the other end of the ship and held in a bar… That same bar was just host to another group of people on the emergency drill. There are only limited numbers, and by the time we go to this bar, all the people who were there for the drill had already queued, making it a physical impossibility for us to join it.
Things like that or the dirty bingo should have been things which you sign up for before the cruise to give everyone the same chance. The way it was done completely excluded the majority of cruisers who might have wanted to take part. I know I wasn’t the only one annoyed by this.
But the poor organisation started before we ever even got on when our welcome pack wasn’t delivered to our home. So I emailed and they said, oh don’t worry it will be in your room on the ship. We got on and checked in but still, nothing, so I spoke to one of the reps in the Atrium. We were told it will be there in the next couple of hours. It finally turned up out of the blue while we were out the next day. It was a minor inconvenience…. But when you get something you’ve paid for (and this cruise is never cheap), you want everything you paid for to be there!
It really was a great experience, but sadly there were just too many things on the organisational side of it, that meant that for the huge price you pay (including the money you end up spending on board), it is not even close to being worth what we paid. I’d have been better off coming to a US walker stalker (maybe Atlanta) and then heading down and doing a separate cruise… would work out cheaper and give a similar overall experience.