ABBA VOYAGE + ABBA MUSEUM. The Future of Cruise Ship Entertainment

Abba Voyager sounds like the name of a cruise ship. So, we went to Pudding Mill Lane to investigate. The full address of the Abba Arena is Pudding Mill Lane, London E15 2PJ. It is part of the Olympic Park in Stratford East London, the area known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There are ten blue badge parking spaces at the Abba Arena, but these must be booked. If you are driving, then the closest car park would be the Westfield in Stratford, but public transport is highly recommended.

The almost dome-like arena holds 1700 seated and has a dance floor for standing room. There are Dance Booths that can hold between 4 and 12 people. The project has been said to have cost around £140 million and it is a 90-minute show with no break. Paul McCartney is now said to be looking at a special project for The Beatles. That would be ironic as the Museum is said to have been modelled on the Liverpool Beatles Museum.

As both Jean and I have spent our lives in entertainment, film, and TV we often go to shows and rave to fellow cruisers that this will soon be on a ship near you. The Jersey Boys begat Four Seasons Groups, many musicals appear on ships. However, this is a sea-change. Sorry about the pun…

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), founded by George Lucas of Star Wars fame, created the digital versions of ABBA, known as ABBAtars.

One of the questions I am asked on the cruise ship stage almost every cruise I perform on, is “are special effects taking over?”

The answer I always give is no, it is just different. More people now work, they just work differently. That may all change, as may the entertainment on board. It took over 1,000 artists to colour in this moving non-human avatar work. You see it in animation, in films like Avatar and all the Marvel superhero films. As the only celebrity stuntman on the cruise circuit, I talk about many a trick of the trade, as well as the films I eventually directed and books I have written which are now being developed for television. Cruise Ship Crime Investigators.

Let’s just start by saying, the Abba Voyager show was amazing, it did not disappoint at any level, and it took the best minds and mega bucks to make it happen. Was it good? It was marvellous. Why might this be the future of cruise ship entertainment? Well, it comes out of a can, like baked beans. Not that there are any pre-prepared foods onboard. Wait, yes there are. So, pre-prepared entertainment is what we are talking about.

To explain, we were watching Scotch Mist as my nan would say. let’s start by saying that the mist was man-made, using Artificial Intelligence. It took some of the following and more… apart from a great act and great music that is 50 years old and has proven itself commercially.

160 cameras were used to film the motion capture (Mo Cap). For a whole month, the 4 stars wore green suits with tracking dots and performed over and over again. In general, each day was a different song, though some took longer than a day. Each of the twenty songs became a project known by the title of the song they were to nail down.

“Every day had a working title, which was the title of one of our songs,” Frida recalls. They did this work when they were in their early seventies. In the concert, they use images and film from when they appeared in 1979. The songs are re-digitised versions of the originally recorded vocals accompanied by a click track and a live band.

What is Mo Cap, or Motion Capture? Our younger family members who are still acting, do this all the time, for film, TV or more often Video Games. You take their green suit, or whatever colour it is, remove it from the red or blue background, and you are left with a moving 3D figure that illustrators, hundreds of them, can now dress with art. It is often how video games are made. The dots on the suit help the art latch onto the moving figure.

ABBA has been working with choreographer, Wayne McGregor to invent the ABBAtars. The director was Baillie Walsh. So, the real ABBA invented themselves as twenty-first-century Abbatars (a play on Avatars) by recreating their own twentieth-century moves. Maybe, you might spot a moment when the Abbatars are different from the films they copied, but rarely. It is more likely you could notice the restriction of position as the Abbatars work in the laser plane and the filmed shows show more depth and positioning of the piano. However, it has all been done so well, that you will just be amazed.

So, are you watching robots? No. Are you watching Scotch Mist? Yes. The lasers produce figures made of nothing more than light waves.

Who did this? ILM. Industrial Light and Magic. a company I have worked with, just as I have worked with the late great Stan Winston who created the Queen Alien around my body (I was thinner then) for James Cameron. That was my last movie as a performer, but, like Abba, you never know when you are going to be asked back. Stunt Coordinators, like the Abba Choreographer, with the Visual Effects Supervisor, produce the moves, the routines that are half real, half human, half movie magic.

So, is anyone live? Yes. There is a 10-piece band playing along to a banging click track, which happens on every ship all the time. At Abba Voyage it was on a sound system, the quality of which I have not enjoyed the likes of for many a year. It shows the detail Benny has gone to for perfection. There are 291 speakers inside the ABBA Arena, creating 870,000 watts of audio and it is very loud but perfect.

There are also three wonderful backing singers. A click track is a pre-recorded music track and, in this case, the re-digitised voices and orchestral additions. The music, light show, and the use of curtains and gauze are amazing.

It is often said there is more computing power in a modern wristwatch than first took a man to the moon. What once was housed in warehouses sits on a memory stick. So, what cost millions to make for Abba will no doubt one day be Elton John or George Michael concerts without the stars needing to be there. Or, for a new generation, Ed Sheeran. Rumour is, that Paul McCartney has been mentioning a new Beatles project and it might just be the next hologram show. Beatelatars?

But licensing such shows, in their 45-minute version, to play on laser tech-equipped ships, advertising the full-length show back home will happen. The future of entertainment is seen at Abba Voyage, and the future starts tomorrow.

We had to book months in advance for this sell-out show, where people come from other countries to see it. Not only will this show probably be cloned, but there will be others, they will be on cruise ships, and one day you will walk into the main dining room and someone famous will have their avatar auto-playing the piano for dinner.

Although we live in the London suburbs, it took us 2 hours to get there and the same back. Our standing, or dance floor tickets were £77 each. To be seated they ranged from £120. Next door there is a non-related bar, but we found the food better and cheaper and on-tap beer and better wines in the Abba dome. It cost us about £300 for the night out. Our night at the Wembley play Newsies last month was about the same. I am not a big West End fan because the cost can be more, and the show often disappoints. On the P&O Aurora last month, we saw a showcase and choreography that was new, fresh and a game change that I think beats most of what I have seen recently in the West End. Cruise shows are a walk away from your cabin, the beer is at pub prices most of the time, and the show is free

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We saw this show in 2023, which is 51 years after the band formed in Stockholm in 1972 and even longer since the key union in June 1966, when Björn Ulvaeus (born 1945) met Benny Andersson (born 1946) for the first time. Björn was a member of the Hootenanny Singers. Abba has always been Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The museum reveals each of their histories with pictures and artefacts, then the band’s history. ABBA is an acronym of the first letters of their first names arranged as a palindrome. The museum is easy to find from the cruise stop should you go there on a cruise, and we suggest an early visit, then the VASA museum next door, then back to the Old Town for the afternoon so you are nearer the ship. Nothing is far, but Stockholm is a collection of little islands joined by bridges, tunnels, and ferries. We did the journey to the museum quicker than the tube across London to the Abba Dome. This might be useful on your cruise because you will want your cameras charged. Museum+VASA+Stockholm.

This film is a videocast and YouTube Podcast, designed to be viewed or listened to.

To see the port guide of Stockholm, Jean visits Stockholm and takes you to the Abba Museum the VASA museum and so much more. Yes, now you need to visit the museum and Stockholm.

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The VASA Museum is a wonderful place and took us by surprise with how interesting and good it was, and it is almost next door on the same island. It is unlikely that Stockholm is not on a Baltic cruise.