Jason Leppert (Popular Cruising) sailed with Holland America's Dancing With the Stars: At Sea Champions Cruise and was kind enough to give us another interview (our third), but he also wrote a very special blog which we are thrilled to post here. After the blog, you will find the most recent interview (January 23, 2014) followed by our earlier interviews from July, 2013 and November, 2013.
Tristan MacManus, Holland America and Dancing With the Stars: At Sea
by Jason Leppert (@popularcruising)
Certainly the opportunity to meet and interact with Tristan MacManus on a cruise ship should be reason enough for any fan to be drawn to Holland America Line’s Dancing with the Stars: At Sea program, but there’s much more to it than that.
Every Holland America Line sailing features complimentary dance classes choreographed and introduced via video by pro dancer Kym Johnson as well as an enticing guest competition, save for on the champions cruise itself. During the competition you can dance for a chance to win a free cruise for yourself and a guest – the very champions cruise that concluded 2013’s competition last week. (http://www.popularcruising.com/2014/01/21/dancing-stars-sea-guest-experience-tops-holland-america-lines-nieuw-amsterdam/) The competition has now reset for 2014, and you too can participate and maybe make it to the finale, be judged by Tristan MacManus himself and take home the coveted mirrorball trophy.
Super fanboys and girls will want to specifically consider booking the Dancing with the Stars: At Sea themede cruises – 6 sailings in 2014 that actually bring the pro dancers and celebrities from the TV show onboard when they're not filming in California. On these cruises, guests can interact with the stars at photo meet-and-greets and Q & As as well as see them perform their moves in a signature production show that is truly spectacular. Tristan MacManus, Kym Johnson, Sabrina Bryan and Carson Kressley are all scheduled to appear on these select sailings. (http://www.hollandamerica.com/pageByName/Simple.action?requestPage=DWTS)
On a personal note, I must say it really is great to hang out with the dancers and celebrities because they are genuinely friendly and approachable. I was very impressed that Tristan had remembered me from my first Dancing with the Stars: At Sea cruise and mentioned that it was nice to see me again. Similarly, my mother enjoyed chatting with Emma Slater a bit about her time with Bill Engvall last season.
Hands down, there is no better place to be than a Holland America Line cruise to meet your favorite stars and experience a dancing competition just as they do on television.
Administrators Note: Jason is very active on social media, so be sure and look for him here:
Our Exclusive Interview with Jason Leppert (@popularcruising)
January 23, 2014
Jason, since our last interview back in November, you seem to have been traveling non-stop! Tell us what you’ve been up to prior to the Holland America Dancing With the Stars: At Sea Champions Cruise.
Wow! Yeah, there have definitely been a few other travels. Leading up to the DWTS cruise, I had been to Disney’s D23 Expo, Walt Disney World and New York City, as well as sailed on the Disney Fantasy, Norwegian Breakaway, new Royal Princess, Carnival Miracle and MSC Divina. It’s been an exciting time for sure.
As we look at your travel blogs, photos, tweets, and Facebook posts, it becomes obvious that you invest a lot of time into it and to delivering a quality product. On the average, how much of your day is spent writing, editing, organizing, and posting?
That’s a very good question, and thank you for recognizing my efforts. Having the best job in the world, I fully enjoy my travels, but there is always a thread of work in there. I’m never entirely free of my iPhone, for instance. I’d say it’s about 50% of the time that is spent dedicated to those endeavors. Depending on the nature of the trip, that number can go up or down. There was lots more to cover on this last cruise than other ones, but that’s all part of the fun for me too.
How do you choose the cruises on which you travel? What do you look for specifically when you are on the cruises, and since there is so much to see and do, how to you pick and choose?
I make a point of trying to cover the greatest diversity of cruise products that I can to satisfy the “popular” nature of my website and other outlets. So, I like to hit the mainstream lines as much as the premium and luxury ones, plus river and ocean sailings. The bullet points for me to cover are always accommodations, activities, dining, entertainment and service. Granted that’s a lot to cover, but those are the areas I focus on. Usually, all those things will be encountered to some degree during every cruise.
You just finished up your second DWTS At Sea cruise on Holland America, but this time it was the Champions Cruise. How was this one different than the first (other than the itinerary), and was one better than the other for any reason?
They were both great for different reasons, but I’d have to give a slight edge to this last one just because there were so many things going on with the competition finale on top of the production and fashion shows. There also seemed to be more pro dancers and celebrities onboard this time too. The first one was still very unique because you could see the initial competition occurring. This time, new guests couldn’t compete just because there was not enough time with the four final judging rounds. There’s just so much excitement onboard these theme cruises.
What were the competitions like? It seems like the winners from previous cruises had plenty of skills, and the ultimate winner received glowing reports.
They were so much fun! In fact, Omar who won on our first cruise ended up representing the Oosterdam, having beaten out all the other dancers who competed throughout the year onboard that particular ship. So, he was one of fifteen – one from each of Holland America Line’s ships – that competed on the Nieuw Amsterdam for the mirrorball trophy. The competition is usually judged by the ship’s company of dancers, but on the theme cruises and the champions cruise, the pros from the show act as the judging panel. So, it was interesting to see the dancers who are normally judged themselves by Len, Carrie Ann and Bruno get the opportunity to impart their wisdom. And the guest competitors themselves were incredible performers. The winning tango from Allyse was just tops.
We loved your photos from the show featuring the DWTS pros and celebrities. In your opinion, was there a particular high point from that show? What did you enjoy most?
Oh, thank you! The show that they put on is so full of unrelenting energy. It’s incredible really. Carson Kressley and his comedic banter throughout were hilarious, and it was great to see Emma Slater return to the cruises as a pro on the TV show now. I was amazed to see how she and Derek Hough brought up some audience members on stage to dance with too, especially the one girl that Derek hopped over. That definitely made for a fun photo. It was also neat to see how they featured different numbers in order to spotlight the moves of the new performers this time around.
Since you have been on two of the DWTS cruises already, are you planning to go on any of the recently added ones for 2014?
I have nothing planned just yet, but I would absolutely love to! These cruises are a blast, and it’s always a pleasure to cover the festivities and see the stars interact with the guests.
We’re curious. Were you one of those folks who go up on stage for the impromptu dance lesson with Emma and Derek? Have you ever felt the urge to try to Salsa or Tango and how are your dance skills? :)
No, I’m usually the one behind the camera, but I have attempted salsa at a salsa making and salsa dancing shore excursion in Cozumel, Mexico once. That’s about the extent of my own dancing I’m afraid. Although, I am more interested to try now since Dancing with the Stars: At Sea, which is really a testament to how inspiring the shipboard program is.
Finally, is there anything you would like to add or say? Don’t be a stranger. Keep in touch with us, and we are happy to post links to your blogs and photos – whether they are DWTS related or not.
I’d just like to say how nice it has been to engage with Tristan and his wonderful fans throughout this journey! I will absolutely be in touch! Thanks again!
Our previous interviews with Jason are archived within the website, but in case you missed them, here they are.
November 12, 2013 Interview
Jason, you’ve been a busy man since we last spoke with you in July. Tell us about some of your cruise adventures since then.
Yes, indeed. I’ve had the pleasure to sail onboard a Viking river cruise in Europe, the Disney Fantasy in the Caribbean, the Norwegian Breakaway in Bermuda, and the new Royal Princess for her inaugural sailing from Florida. It’s been a blast, especially river cruising. I will always love ocean cruising, but there is something newly near and dear to my heart about the intimacy of smaller riverboats sailing through the heart of Europe.
What has been your favorite cruise in 2013 thus far? Why?
That’s a tough one because I love them all for one reason or another. I honestly have to say the one onboard the Disney Fantasy though since that ship is a bit like my cruise ship baby. I did see her constructed and christened after all, so she will forever be special to me and my gear-head and heart. Plus, if you love Disney, there is nothing better than a Disney cruise to immerse yourself in the magic. The cruise line truly is the best Disney experience to be had anywhere in the world.
You don’t have to mention names, but is there one cruise you have taken that especially disappointed you? The service, the itinerary, the conditions, etc.
Generally, cruises are fantastic experiences, but, from time to time, there are less than ideal situations. I’ve never really experienced a bad cruise overall, but as a non-smoker, navigating smoking areas on ships is always a challenge, especially in the casino where it tends to spread beyond. Even though it wasn’t allowed, a previous guest had smoked in the cabin that I had been assigned to once and it just reeked accordingly. The quality of service and food varies with each cruise line as expected, but smoking onboard is probably the biggest pain in the “aft” as I like to joke.
We know you were on the DWTS cruise to Alaska in July, but as far as entertainment on a cruise, what is the most memorable cruise ship entertainment you have had a chance to see? Why?
I really think the Disney Cruise Line sets the standard as far as entertainment is concerned. Nearly all of its stage productions are winners with extensive use of every theatrical staging technique and technology available, and the performers are just top-notch. The line also was the first to introduce a fireworks display at sea, and it’s still the one to beat. It’s always a hoot to see the Disney characters out on stage and around the ship too.
We understand that you will be one of the lucky people on the Holland America DWTS champs cruise which departs on January 12. Tell us a little about what we can expect to read from you in your cruise reports (which we love, by the way). What types of things will you be looking for?
Thanks very much for the compliment! I will be reporting some live as before, mostly on my Twitter (Twitter.com/PopularCruising) and Facebook (Facebook.com/PopularCruising) accounts, and I’ll also wait to publish other content until I return. My focus will be on the DWTS dance classes and major production show as well as any opportunities to see the stars and contestants out and about like at the fashion show. In fact, it will be interesting to see if Emma Slater will be onboard because she was last time as a troupe dancer before being promoted this season with Bill Engvall. And to your readers’ delight, Tristan MacManus is scheduled to be on the ship once again as well.
Can you tell us anything about that cruise? Perhaps tell us a bit about the itinerary and activities on board. Have you sailed on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam previously?
This time we will switch Holland America Line ships and itineraries, as well as climates for that matter. The Nieuw Amsterdam is the newest ship in the fleet, and I have yet to sail onboard, so it will be very interesting to experience the champions cruise on this vessel. The ship, for instance, has an additional specialty Asian dining venue, the Tamarind Restaurant. The Caribbean itinerary will also be great because besides stopping at Grand Cayman and Cozumel, we will call on Key West and Holland America Line’s private island which are less common ports. In fact, the private island will be entirely new to me. It leaves from Ft. Lauderdale and will last a week as before.
Obviously, you are a cruise veteran with lots of great stories to tell, but would you share with us what you liked most about Holland America’s Dancing With the Stars cruise in July?
I think what stood out to me the most was just how much fun it all was. There is such an unmistakable energy that the dancers exude. It was great to be able to meet all the dancers, and, of course, Carson Kressley was absolutely hilarious as emcee. It was particularly interesting to see how well DWTS integrated with the existing ship entertainment and how the singers and dancers onboard were incorporated as well. Next, I’m really looking forward to returning to see how a different company of performers will interpret the DWTS experience.
What else do you have coming up in the next few months? Approximately how much time each year do you spend traveling? How much of that time is spent on cruise travel?
I will be onboard covering three back-to-back cruises starting on November 17th - the Carnival Miracle followed by Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas and later the MSC Divina before a short Christmas break. Then the DWTS champions cruise commences in January. On average, I cover a cruise once a month if not more as is currently the case. So, all in all, I spend about 15 total weeks a year traveling, and I love every minute of it.
Tell our new website members who might not have read our July Interview more about yourself and how they can keep up with your cruise adventures.
Sure. I’m a cruise veteran that started sailing before I was even two years old thanks to my generous parents, and most recently, I just completed my 60th cruise before I turn 30 in December. I cover the experience of my cruises with extensive written and video reviews that can all be found at popularcruising.com.
You are obviously a veteran of cruises, but would you share with us how you ended up in such a fascinating field? When you aren’t traveling on the seas, do you enjoy other types of travel?
In college, I actually studied graphic design, photography and video, but I was always a proficient writer and world traveler, mostly on cruises. So, I submitted a cruising article to my local San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper about two years ago and then used that as a springboard to begin writing about the cruise industry professionally. I do enjoy all travel and have been blessed with opportunities to try all kinds. I also really enjoy train travel, but prefer cruise travel over all other forms.
Since you spend a lot of time writing, we’re curious if you also have a background in journalism.
No, I really don’t. I ended up in a field different than the one I studied. As if often the case these days, I wear many hats, and my art background comes in handy constantly as I designed my own logo and website and take photos and video constantly while on my travels.
Do you have a particular favorite cruise destination, and is there a cruise that you have not yet taken that particularly intrigues you?
My all time favorite to cruise to is Alaska. It’s just infinitely beautiful there with trees covering every inch of the landscape, and it’s one of the few remaining places where you can take a deep breath of fresh, crisp air. Alaska is God’s country. He did great work there. Australia is next on my bucket list. I’ve only ever heard great things about that destination, and I hope to get there very soon.
After 56 sailings, you have no doubt been to a lot of cities and countries. Does one place stand out as a favorite?
I have always enjoyed France as a country. I personally don’t find the locals to be nearly as rude as the stereotype implies. I’ve found that the attitude one encounters from others internationally is equivalent to the attitude you bring. Just be friendly and say “hello” or “good day” in their language. It goes a long way. San Diego will always be my favorite city, but other standouts are Vancouver, Rome, Stockholm and Venice, among so many others.
Have you ever been on a cruise where weather conditions affected the itinerary and/or made travel more challenging?
Generally, it’s smooth sailing onboard, but rough seas and adverse weather do occur from time to time. The ships are designed to take much worse and thus are never in danger. In my experience, only one port of call was ever cancelled because it was unsafe to run tenders from ship to shore. It’s all part of the adventure of travel.
What types of things do look for specifically when on a cruise? When you reviewed the DWTS At Sea cruise, what did you initially target for your review, and did that change as the days passed?
I look for quality in accommodations, service, food and entertainment. I try to evaluate the entire cruising experience and certainly had high hopes for the Dancing with the Stars: At Sea component. It did not disappoint. In fact, the new program exceeded all my expectations. It was so well done and was a perfect fit for the Holland America Line brand of cruising. As it had been five years since I was last onboard a cruise with the line, the improved food – which was excellent to begin with – astounded me because the fare was so exceptional for the price point.
Before the DWTS At Sea cruise, had you ever watched Dancing With the Stars? What impressed you most about the performers and the performances?
Honestly, I had only ever seen a handful of episodes, and I was most impressed by just how fun it all was. The performers were all genuine people who always took the time for their fans. Carson Kressley in particular was absolutely hilarious and quite the showman, and as you are all no doubt wondering, Tristan MacManus is indeed as friendly and charming as you have imagined. And of course, the ladies were all so lovely and elegant. The performances were most impressive – extraordinarily energetic and passionate. I now intend to watch Dancing with the Stars regularly.
At 30 years of age, Jason is a cruise expert with 62 sailings under his belt and a fresh, youthful perspective on the industry. He has been cruising since before he was even two years old thanks to his parents' shared passion for traveling and their desire to experience all journeys together as a family.
Before starting Popular Cruising, Jason was a regular contributing editor at CruiseMates. He now also participates as a co-host on Cruize Cast, contributes to Onboard.com and the Travel Channel and has been featured in the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. ---from PopularCruising.com
Enjoy Jason's reviews of Dancing With the Stars: At Sea (and the Oosterdam) from July, 2013 by clicking on the following links:
-- http://www.popularcruising.com/2013/07/18/video-holland-america-line-oosterdam-ship-review/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=suqY6C48F8Q (video review)