By Ken Sharp
Kruise photographs courtesy of Sixthman Cruises/@WillByington
Port of Miami
The Norwegian Pearl, a massive cruise ship, is docked at the port of Miami. As the harsh sun begins to bake the black concrete, a large line snakes its way up and around the ship. To my right stands a family of four hailing from Chicago, Illinois; each is dressed as their favorite member of KISS, there’s two Gene’s (Dad and son), Mom wears the Star Child’s design of Paul Stanley while their young daughter is proudly affixed with Ace Frehley’s “Spaceman” makeup design. As they’re chattering away in an anticipation for the trip of a lifetime, I hear loud yelling and the sound of high fives echoing in distance as I watch a group of fans embrace in tight bear hugs, mile wide smiles affixed on their faces. “It’s a family affair,” bellows one of them. “You’re my brothers and sisters from another mother and now we’re all back and ready to rock.”
It’s the day before Halloween, but you’d be hard pressed to know that judging by the vast array of colorful characters waiting in an ever expanding line; KISS tattoos glisten in the sun, others are decked out in homemade KISS costumes while the favored wardrobe of choice are KISS t-shirts of all styles and dimensions, vintage shirts from the Alive II, Dynasty and Creatures Of The Night tour mixed with more current shirts from the band’s “Rock The Nation” and current tour and final tour, “End Of The Road.”
More than 2300 members of the KISS Navy from almost 40 countries are here and ready to rock as they’re about to get onboard for KISS KRUISE IX. With stops in Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas and Falmouth, Jamaica. KISS Kruise IX, dubbed “Rock and Roll Legacy,” is now a yearly excursion that finds the legendary kabuki superheroes joined by legions of KISS Navy members from America, Japan, Spain, England, Brazil, Italy, Denmark, Russia, The Netherlands and many more countries for an unforgettable fun filled adventure on the high seas with the hottest band in the world. Sixthman, the company who masterminds the highly successful KISS Kruise and a myriad of music theme cruises for other high-profile artists ranging from Jon Bon Jovi to Kid Rock, prides itself on offering one-of-a kind “immersive experience.”
“From day one KISS formed special bonds with their fans and created the KISS Army,” remarks Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman. “That group was unified by a shared passion across the globe. Fast forward to KISS Kruise I when the KISS Navy was formed and the bonds made between KISS fans escalated to a whole new level. Now fans could congregate from over 50 countries and shared stories and form or strength friendships over five days on vacation together. We often hear stories of guests meeting in their home towns and going to KISS shows and conventions on land together all from the contact that was first made on board the ship. It is a truly special community of fans powered by the Hottest Band in the World!”
In reflecting upon the unique connection between KISS and their loyal fan base around the world, Sixthman notes: “The KISS NAVY is an eclectic community of fans of all ages and from all parts of the globe. While the primary KISS fan grew up listening to the band in the '70s and is in their mid-40s and early 50s today….we have a large number of guests on board who are under the age of 18 as well as a good amount of fans in their 20s and 30s….it’s exciting to see so many generations enjoying the electrifying KISS live show all together on vacation on board the ship.” Adds Victoria Newman: “Many guests aboard the KISS Kruise have been fans of the band since they were teens, and have spent years traveling all over the world to experience KISS in unique countries and venues. Paul, Gene, Tommy and Eric know the names of their fans, recognize them on board, and share the memories they have created together. There are nearly 40 countries represented on this year’s KISS Kruise, and while each guest might not come from the same corner of the world, or speak the same language- when the music begins and you hear nearly 2,300 people sing ‘Detroit Rock City’, or ‘Rock and Roll all Nite’ at the top of their lungs it’s easy to forget that these guests are only neighbors for five days a year.”
“Rock & Roll Legacy” is the perfect theme for this year’s KISS Kruise as fans converge circumnavigating first, second and third generations, all aligned in a united front to pay tribute to their rock and roll heroes.
For Gene Simmons the highlights of the KISS Kruises are “the young kids. You really appreciate fans who have been with you since the beginning and who have tattooed their bodies and name their kids after the songs; that’s always amazing. But when you see the lights go on a five-year-old’s mind and eyes is great. We point this out and we talk about it. Look, I wasn’t even born in America. When I first came to America I was one of those kids. The difference between you and anybody eels, there’s no class at school that teaches you how to do that. You decided to roll up your sleeves and put in the time and the effort and the work to get where you are. That’s for me too and the pope and the president. When you look down at the kids and look in their eyes and they’re looking at Mom and Dad and then this give-year-old little putz steps in front of their parents, usually they’ll hide behind, and put their hand out and say, “Hi! I’m Jimmy, nice to meet you.” So you think, there you go, there’s that first big step, that kind of, mom and dad gave me birth but the rest is up to me kind of thing. So the best part of it is that the kids come on the cruise along with the grown up who can flirt and gamble and the kids have all the fun stuff, the pools and the games and all the other stuff.”
Sixthman is the gold standard for music cruise companies. According to Anthony Diaz, Sixthman CEO, the company stands apart from other cruise companies because “we’ve worked hard to create and live our values (below). We strive to make the guest the star, to serve our team, guests and artists beyond expectations – to capture all the excitement and adventure of a music festival at sea experience in a rally for all of us to LIVE LOUD. Sixthman pioneered the concept in 2001. Many years later the reception by fans and bands has been incredible and helped create a thriving industry that continues to innovate across the entire guest experience. Sixthman has made building and strengthening communities before, during and after the festival as its core priority. In doing so, we’ve been able to explore new genres of music, enter into serving new communities in television, sports and comedy. If we live up to our values of delivering a mind-blowing guest experience – we hope to continue to earn the high growth rates we continue to experience.”
How does he explain the continued popularity of the KISS Kruise? “KISS has some of the most passionate fans from around the entire globe,” explains Diaz, “and the band does and incredible job of creating new fan-band experiences every year to exceed KISS Kruiser expectations. We feel honored to help being a part of setting the stage for the band and their fans to rock out together at sea – it’s an absolute blast.”
“Sixthman does more than just plan amazing music festivals at sea,” attests Jess Loud, the KISS Kruise “Warrior” (Community Ambassador). “We create and build communities of like-minded fans, so when someone books one of our cruises, they’re joining a family. You just can’t get that everywhere else!” I broach the question to Jess, for those sitting on the fence about going on a music cruise, what would Sixthman tell them to change your mind? “This isn’t just your typical music festival and definitely not your typical cruise, for that matter. This is an all-encompassing experience that you get to have with your favorite band or genre of music plus a tribe of people who love the same things you do. You’re participating in activities with bands from the lineup, seeing some of the best music in small, intimate venues, and enjoying all that a cruise vacation has to offer at the same time.”
I ask Victoria Newman, Sixthman KISS Kruise Community Manager: this is the ninth KISS Kruise, what makes this one special?: “Each kruise is special for a variety of reasons, but this year we are especially excited to host a few new bands and activities that guests have requested for several years. On this year’s Kruise there are some brand new activities as well as some fan favorites. Guests will be able to learn how to paint one of Paul Stanley’s iconic pieces of art, go head to head with Gene Simmons in pick throwing, and hear from Tommy and Eric in a never before seen panel.
In addition to new talent and activities, guests will be able to experience a KISS show in the round. For the first time in KISS Kruise history, the band will play an acoustic set on a circular stage atop the Pool Deck with their fans surrounding them.”
In terms of creating the concept/theme for this year's KISS Kruise, and what goes into the planning, Jess Loud remarks, “KISS and their team work closely with Sixthman to guide the process as we carry out their vision. Our team works year-round to plan the guest experience and bring to life each year’s concept with special shows and activities.”
Walking through the casino I run into many familiar folks who have been on multiple KISS Kruises. What keeps bringing them back? “The guests, the KISS Navy, return year after year not only aligned by their passion for KISS, but also by their deep bond with their friends and kruise family. Guests travel from far and wide to reunite on the ship year after year,” observes Victoria Newman. “Each kruise is like a family reunion with a few thousand members---the energy is unmatched.”
I corner Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman and ask, as for those who have never been on a KISS Kruise and are on the fence, what would you tell them to entice them take the leap and purchase a cabin? “I would just say, only come if you want to have the absolute time of your life, immersed in all things KISS, with the backdrop of an exotic Caribbean destination with people who share your same passions….a true escape to Rock and Roll All Night and party everyday for five days at sea!”
Norwegian Pearl employers hand out shots of tequila to the 2000 + crowd as the Sixthman crew lead a toast to initiate this hard rockin’ adventure on the high seas. The yearly celebratory toast ends with a sailaway photo of the band and the throngs of fans crammed onto the pool deck leading into a Q&A with KISS. Over the past month or two, fans have submitted questions and those lucky KISS Navy passengers who’ve been selected step up to query their favorite band. Here are some highlights:
Paul addresses the band’s initial foray into the world of music cruises stating “when asked 10 years ago if we’d be open to doing a KISS Kruise I said, “You’re crazy, who’d show up for that?’ Well, with 3300 people from 33 countries on this KISS Kruise showed me I was wrong. And it’s one of those times that I’m happy I was wrong.” Queried about the best advice he’s ever received, Gene’s answer was heartfelt, asserting that “Men think we’re smart ‘cause we’re guys but shut your pie hole. You’re gonna meet a special girl like I did with Shannon and listen to the wisdom of women. They know more than we do.”
Another fan questioned Tommy, asking what was the most difficult song for him to play in the KISS catalog. “’God Gave Rock and Roll To You’ is the most challenging and fun for us to play. It has some of the best guitar solos on a KISS record.” Gene reflected on a change in values steering the course of his life: “When you live long enough and I’m now 70 years old, I know I had to have my own lobotomy moment when I came to realize that it’s not all about ME. My family and children are the most important. One day I will be on my death bed as we all will and who do you want around you, people who love you.”
Gene told a humorous anecdote about the craziest thing he ever signed recounting KISS’s historic three night stand at The Forum in Los Angeles circa 1977. “We’re playing the show and someone held up a prosthetic leg and was asking us to sign it. What do you do? So we stopped the show, signed it and gave it back.”
Paul revealed a surprising inspiration when asked about his biggest influence. “I’ve always admired the artist Picasso until he died he was always trying to find ways to express himself through art. With my work in KISS, painting and Soul Station, all those things are who I am.” When later queried how he’d like to be remembered Paul responded, “Just that I want everybody to believe in themselves. Don’t worry about people who tell you that you won’t succeed. They’re the ones who have usually failed. I’m a cheerleader for you because I believe in everyone here. Go out and fight for what you want you want—you can do it.”
I’m on hand for an exclusive invite-only private Paul Stanley Q&A event attended by those who purchased one of Paul’s acoustic or electric guitars. I’m seated next to Jurgen Grimm, 47, a Mercedes Benz planner from Forchhein, Germany. He’s purchased a stage played six-string acoustic guitar for $3500. “Paul means so much to me,” says Grimm. “His music has inspired me for so many years and helped me through extreme hard times especially his solo album “Live To Win.” It lifted me up and helped me raise my head. I can’t play guitar but I want to hang it on my wall to inspire me every day to look forward and do my best. When you buy one of Paul’s guitars you get to meet him and he’ll inscribe whatever you like. I’m gonna have him write “To Jurgen, this is your piece of KISStory. I played this guitar on the Sailaway show on KISS Kruise XI.”
Relaxed and candid, Paul’s Q&A covered a wide range of topics from plans for the Soul Station album and PBS special, plans for life after KISS and the connection of KISS and their fans (“it’s unbelievable and really humbling.”) Paul offered a detailed explanation as to why KISS is ceasing touring. “It was all about realizing our own mortality. To do what we do you reach a point where it’s impossible to do physically. We began to think, ‘how do we take that final bow?” The tour is long and it’s not long because it’s not gonna end but it’s time. It’s time. That’s why this show is so great. We wanted to do a show that pushed what was possible. We wanted to do the ultimate KISS show so that’s what we’re doing.”
KISS Trivia contest
I strike up a conversation with a familiar face from last year’s KISS Kruise. Meet Mike Wren, 45, an engineer from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. This is Mike’s second KISS Kruise and he’s shelled out the big bucks to the tune of over 20 grand for four exclusive instruments. “For this KISS Kruise I bought Tommy Thayer’s Epiphone electric guitar, a Gene Simmons Axe bass, a Paul Stanley gold flaked Ibanez Iceman and a stage played Eric Singer snare drum. As a guitar player and a fan I think it’s one of the ultimate items plus stage played instruments are very rare and a prized item to have.”
After an all-day excursion at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas for sun, sand, surf and a generous supply of adult beverages, the KISS Navy are assembled in vast numbers on the ship’s pool deck. Unlike previous KISS Kruises, this one adds a unique twist, the creation of a circular stage to ensure an optimal vantage point for all fans onboard. The KISS acoustic sail away show is always a highly anticipated event. Colorful flags and homemade signs hang over the rafters as the excitement builds.
Brad Estra has managed to jam himself into the packed crowd and is three rows from the stage on Gene‘s side. “This is my eighth KISS Kruise. I’ve been a big fan of the band since I was a little kid. Walking around the ship, there’s so much to take in, it’s information overload. This really is a KISS nation. Looking around, I’m amazed at the cross section of fans from around the world, little kids with their parents, and fans who have followed the band since 1974.”
Hard Luck Woman
See You Tonight (a Beatlesque track from Gene Simmons’ self-titled 1978 solo album)
Love Her All I can
Hotter Than Hell
**Former KISS guitarist joins the band for the rest of the set
Hide Your Heart
World Without Heroes
Every Time I Look At You
Nothin’ To Lose
*Upon the conclusion of their set, Gene and Paul throw their instruments into the crowd.
Bruce Kulick and his stellar band—Todd Kerns (lead vocals, guitar), Zach Thorne (bass/lead vocals) and drummer Brent Fitz (drums, background vocals) wow the packed crowd on the pool deck with a consummately performed show focusing on Kulick’s 10-year-plus tenure with the band. Watching the shows, you can sense the passion, muscular musicality and hard work that went into these two spectacular performances with Kulick, Kerns, Thorne and Fitz delivering the goods and once again being singled out by many fans as a major highlight on the KISS Kruise.
Creatures Of The Night
Tears Are Falling
Animalize album medley:
I’ve Had Enough
Get All You Can Take
Burn Bitch Burn
Lonely Is The Hunter
Under the Gun
Thrills In The Night
Uh! All Night
Trial By Fire
The Street Giveth, The Street Taketh Away
Rise To It
Let’s Put The X in Sex
Turn On The Night
Bruce Kulick Q&A
Bruce Kulick: Well, the phenomenon of the KISS Kruise is incredible; I realize not every KISS fan can afford it but the ones who can make it their annual trek and it’s totally understandable. There will be some people on KISS Kruise IX that might be their first cruise.
Were there surprises for you witnessing what went on the KISS Kruises?
Bruce Kulick: I think it’s an incredible experience for any KISS fan. It’s family oriented as well. It’s totally Disneyland for KISs. It’s 24/7 KISS, besides the people and the interactions you have, KKSS music is playing all the time and everything is KISS themed. I think Sixthman and KISS do an excellent on embracing the world of KISS on each cruise.
You’ve raised the bar with your performances on the past two KISS Kruises with many fans citing your shows as one of the major highlights for them. What do you have planned for this year?
Bruce Kulick: Well, some fan lists were looked at very seriously. Fans that Brent and I kept in touch with who were uber fans. I did want to look at that although I told my band, Todd, Brent and Zach, “Let’s reexamine everything. It doesn’t mean we can’t repeat songs from last year but it gives us reason to explore some new things too.” I will admit a fan list was influential in a way but only when we dig into what the song list would be. In other words, some tracks have never been played live by the band. In fact. Off of every KISS album. A lot of songs never were played live. That’s pretty typical but not everything lends itself to being played live. Last year, the medley of song we performed was very effective. But we did look at that and things that kind of worked and had a common theme meaning an era or an album were explored in a very very cool way and then the ones that aren’t covered that way, we came up with some fresh ways to link a few full songs together that would be very effective as well. It’s been important to represent a new milestone in the sense of an anniversary with KISS. The fall of 2019 when the cruise happens is the 35th anniversary of me being the lead guitar player in KISS. So the Animalize record and that tour was a very big part of my KISStory. It wasn’t the same as the Asylum record, meaning now I’m on the cover of the album and I’m playing on every track and I’m a co-writer. But I made enough contributions on a few songs on the Animalize record and then to do that tour, like doing “Thrills In The Night” is really clever. I think I kind of surprised the band when I wanted to discuss the set list that I wouldn’t just be looking at the albums I played on. The rule for this cruise was to look at a set list of things that I played on live bit didn’t necessarily play on the recording. That’s why I did dig into some of the Animalize songs that I did with the band live like “I’ve Had Enough” “Get All You Can Take” was never played live by us or maybe we played it one time and then dropped it. I was able to dig online to look at some of the unique things about the Animalize tour itself, which of course but I don’t remember minute details as it was 35 years ago. (laughs) I printed everything so I could discuss it with the band. There were a couple songs from that album played live but then dropped immediately, things like “Burn Bitch Burn.” There are some decent bootlegs of our initial shows in Europe with me in the band. I was the mysterioso member, it was like, “Who is that?”
So these cruise shows will be a deeper dive into “Animalize.”
Bruce Kulick: Right and that’s something I don’t think that KISS looks at and it’s right up my alley, It’s a no brainer to do songs from Crazy Nights or Hot In the Shade or any of the other albums from the time I was in the band.
There were songs you and your band performed on KISS Kruise VIII that made me appreciate them much more as they were fresher and more powerful done in contemporary versions, things like “King Of The Mountain” and “Let’s Put The X In Sex.”
Bruce Kulick: We fooled around with “Let’s Put The X In Sex” at the KISS Konventions in 1995 because we had a young female teenager come up and sing it which, was a little awkward. That’s another song we want to do again because it just goes over so well.
Think about it, there’s no better audience that an audience of captive die-hards on the Kiss Kruise who are gonna known even unreleased material. When we do “Time Traveler” on this cruise the fans are gonna go nuts. For me to pick something like that and have to adapt with my band and do it live because it was never completely finished in a perfect way but it was on the KISs box set. “Sword and Stone” wasn’t but we did that on KISS Kruise VIII. I’m trying to keep this fresh. We will revisit some songs but played before but there will be a lot of new things that could take the fans back in time. We’re playing two shows. I don’t know what we’ll play either night until it happens.
Given your performance on KISS Kruise VIII, Paul Stanley was very complimentary about your rendition of the KISS songs from the ‘80s and mid ‘90s.
Bruce Kulick: On KISS Kruise VIII, I was watching them on one of the last nights of the cruise; they were judging a KISS Karaoke contest. Paul saw me from the side of the stage and one of the songs that someone chose to perform was a song we did on the cruise. But all of a sudden that became discussed by the guys and then Eric (Singer) said, “He’s right there!” Paul brought me up onstage and publically on the cruise ship saying great things about my band, which meant a lot. Paul’s been so cool. He was very impressed with Todd as a singer and told him how good it was to hear that stuff performed because he knows what a bitch it is to sing stuff from the ‘80s. I have such a powerful band vocally and musically. Quite honestly, if on KISS Kruise VIII I served a buffet of my years with the band, KISS Kruise IX is a first class banquet in honor of my KISStory with the band.
Sitting at table enjoying their dinner, I meet three members of the KISS Navy, all major Gene Simmons fans judging by their attire, Gene Simmons t-shirts, one proudly proclaiming “Simmons For President 2000.” Paula Stanford, 51, a Nicu RN from Maumee, Ohio is here with her husband Steve. “My husband has been on three KISS Kruises and I thought it was time to come and share the experience. And what an experience! It’s interesting to see the camaraderie of KISS fans—most are strangers when they meet but they’re not strangers for long as they become friends quickly bonding over their love of KISS. I also need to add that in my job I work with families struggling to survive financially so to get the opportunity to even be on this KISS Kruise at all is a blessing because the majority of people will never be able to take a trip like this in their whole life.” Stanford also expresses her gratitude and appreciation for Sixthman for their expert handling of the KISS Kruise.” Sixthman does such an incredible job. It’s very well organized and passenger friendly. All of the staff are helpful and accommodating. If you’re unhappy on this cruise you’ve got some serious mental issues.” (laughs)
Anticipation is building to a fever pitch inside the intimate 1100 seat venue. As we wait to file into the venue, I corral Gon Zalo, 52, a resident of Rosario, Argentina who owns a record store. “This is my first KISS Kruise,” he excitedly shares. “I’ve been a KISS fan since I was nine years-old so being able to be on the KISS Kruise is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t miss!”
Opening with “Say Yeah,” culled from the group’s Sonic Boom album, the set mixes deep cuts, fan favorites and the premiere of two songs never performed by KISS—“Larger Than Life,” a Gene Simmons penned track featured on side 4 of Alive II and “It’s My Life,” a song KISS recorded both in the early ‘80s and later in the id ‘90s that was never released until its inclusion on KISS’s Box Set.
Larger Than Life
Got To Choose
Do You Love Me?
Heaven’s On Fire
I Was Made For Lovin’ You
It’s My Life
God Gave Rock & Roll To You II
Detroit Rock City
Rock & Roll All NIte
Throw all your pre-conceptions of cruises out the window. These aren't the cruise ships of old enjoyed by your parents and grandparents where the most exciting event was choosing between bingo or ballroom dancing, surf or turf and apple pie or jello. Sixthman strategically plan and organized these cruises with military precision ensuring there’s enough activities happening all the time that you’ll never get bored. Want to see a rock show? check. Acts featured on this year’s kruise includes ‘80s hair metal mainstays Warrant, The Darkness Adler’s Appetite, a band led by drummer Steven Adler, formerly of Guns ‘N Roses, Simply Queen, a Queen tribute band and many more. Want to immortalize your love of KISS with a KISS tattoo? Done. Atlanta, Georgia’s famed Liberty Tattoo you can get inked right on the ship. Interested in putting on makeup of your favorite member of KISS. Onboard you can venture to A Fair Affair and meet with Stephanie Williams, a professional face and body artist, who will transform you into a doppelgänger of Gene or Paul. Want to gamble? Step right this way into The Pearl Club casino where you can join for fellow KISS Navy passengers and see how you fare playing games of roulette, blackjack and slot machines, collectible KISS theme game chips supplied of course. Amidst the non-stop partying and imbibing of adult beverages, for those that want to stay in shape, fitness buffs can enjoy rock climbing, basketball or the amenities of a fitness center. And if you want to take a break from the constant action, no problem. You can spend time in the Mandara Spa, which offers a temporary oasis of calm from the rock and roll craziness that abounds.
After the first KIS indoor show, inside the casino, I meet up with a familiar face, Allyson Wachsberg, 49, a native of Toronto, Canada who I’ve encountered on a few past KISS Kruises who reveal this is her 5th adventures at sea with Gene, Paul Tommy and Eric. A mother of three children and part-time photographer, Allyson relates “It’s my favorite time of year with my favorite Band! Fingers crossed that KISS KRUISE will take on the adventure for one more year for a total of a 10! What Anniversary part that would be! Each year has brought so many memorable memories. I have to start with the KISS Army family and friendships, that have bonded from the globe /international countries. Many cherished friendships to last a lifetime.....and the uniqueness of only gathering at this particular time of year to embrace the music. On the final day to say good bye to our friends, it’s not uncommon to feel the emotions of us all gathering to say our last goodbyes…tears are shed along with hugs and kisses as we wish our friends safe travels home until next time. The Adventure is full of programs, group games trivia, Q&A‘s, live performances in the theater in costumes and pool deck in jeans and shirts for an acoustic sailaway complete with a set list like no other. Who could forget the past years with the Halloween masquerade costume. It allows each guest to dress as their favorite band member from any decade and of course any other costume is welcome. This year is one to “impress.
Is there one most memorable moment she has witnessed on the KISS Kruise? “I’d have to say the bellyflop contest with Gene Simmons’ daughter, Sophie Simmons’s judging. This tops it!”
As with past KISS Kruises, Gene Simmons is workin’ it 24/7. When he’s not performing onstage with KISS, he’s busy taking part in a series of exclusive events, a Rockstar Bass Experience where the “Demon” of rock meets with fans who purchase his signature line of hand crafted basses. “Your experience will not be like any other fan’s experience because you are you and Gene actually speaks to you, he identifies with you, he spends time with you,” explains Christina Vitagliano, Gene Simmons Axe Bass Coordinator, You are not a body in a line of fans with the only goal in mind, to finish. Gene’s only goal is to have his fans leave thinking ‘that was the most awesome thing I have ever done and…how do I do it again!” Fans who purchase the Gene Simmons Vault, a massive 11-CD box set featuring demos chronicling his entire career, from pre-KISS years through to the present, are invited to an intimate meet and greet with Gene who will sign the Vault book, char and pose for photos. But this year, there’s a newly created event, The Gene Simmons Entrepreneurial Dinner Experience that truly epitomizes the essence and spirit of the man who boasts he’s never taken a vacation in his life and espouses the value of working seven days a week. Christina Vitagliano tells us more: “This is the fun part! One of my favorite things about Gene is talking business and the quality of an experience with his fans and Gene always delivers. He believes the Kruise Bass experience should be special and stand on its own. For the last three KISS Kruise years he has been including a Gene Simmons Master Class with the Gene Simmons Bass Experience package. Now, Gene offers the Master Class once a year off Kruise. This is the 9th KISS Kruise and with three years of Gene Simmons Master Classes Experiences, it felt like time to change it up a bit, keep it fresh!
So, the brainstorming began and it didn’t take long for us to determine that Gene’s business background is a large attraction to a Gene Bass Buyer Experience.
Of course, the KISS Fan attraction leads the pack, but over the years, I’ve experienced the Fan/Gene Simmons interaction and it doesn’t take long to see that they meet with him for guidance on so many life levels but business stands in a class all its own. A popular question is “Is it okay to seek Gene’s advice during my Bass Experience?” Of course and through chatting with Gene about the Bass Experience history, the Gene Simmons Entrepreneurial Dinner was born. This is a rare chance to stand up in front of a large group of folks with Gene Simmons heading the helm, no pun intended, and pitch you all to Gene. But instead of random pitches on vast ideas, Gene has streamlined this event so everyone is up at bat for the same pitch, aiming for that home run. They’ll each be pitching Gene on their most creative custom Gene Simmons Bass designs. And to push this a bit over the top, Gene is going to choose the design he likes best and Gene Simmons AXE will create that bass, and Gene will play it, if it’s a playable design, on stage at a 2020 KISS show of their choice, then meet Gene after the show where Gene will sign and personalize the same bass over to them, to keep. So, to come full circle and ask why this particular event?
Because Gene likes to deliver 110%.”
The Great Outdoors
After hearing a variety of impassioned pitches from over 40 + fans who took part in the event offering well thought out and arresting designs both visually and conceptually, Gene Simmons had a tough decision on his hand in selecting the winner, which would be announced over a week later. Besting the competition were two winners; Dale Benson whose striking red Axe bass design will be made and played onstage by Gene Simmons while the other winner, Matt Collins (Animalize back cover/tour book) will also have a bass produced for him with his design.
Today is a day at sea as the mighty ship steers its way towards the off-shore excursion of Falmouth, Jamaica. Seated at a blackjack table is Jon Corkum, 56, a government official from Halifax, Nova Scotia. “This is my 9th KISS Kruise. I’ve been on all of them.” Why does he keep coming back year after year? “I keep coming back because of my love of the band and I’ve met a lot of fellow fans from all the world and look forward to seeing them every year.”
Meet Kosh and Suzan Shioya from Coer d’ayene, Idaho, first time KISS Kruisers. Says Kosh: “This is our first KISS Kruise. I’ve been a huge KISS fan since ’76. I’m a musician and I cut my teeth on KISS Alive and Alive II. We just went on a Mediterranean cruise and the music was sub-par so we needed to go on the KISS Kruise to cleanse your musical palette.”
As I watch two KISS fans prepare to add some more ink to their backs, I speak with another curious onlooker, Peder Tafanfalk, a 55 year-old school teacher from Stockholm, Sweden. What drew him to the KISS Kruise? “I’ve waited nine years to do this. I love KISS and I love adventures and the two together is perfect.”
It’s been a fun filled adventure for those on board and while most of the passengers on the ship are settled in deep slumber, there remains a straggle of rowdy die-hards who aren’t ready to slip quietly into the night. The drinks keep flowing for these Creatures of The Night who aren’t ready just yet to hang up their rock and roll shoes and return to the daily workday grind. This is the eighth straight KISS Kruise for realtor Greg Hounshell from Wytheville, Virginia. “During the year, my days are long and hard. Coming onto the KISS Kruise is my yearly reward for breakin’ my ass and as you can see, I’m draining every drop of this beer and not letting one minute go to waste as soon enough I’ll be back in the rat race. For four or five days I can get crazy and wild with my friends, new and old, and celebrate my favorite band in the universe—KISS and there ain’t nothing better than that. Bring on next year’s KISS Kruise!”