“I rode the highway to heartache; I took a trip on the ship of fools.”
When Paul Stanley, Kiss’ flamboyant frontman, sang those words in 2012, the “Kiss Kruise” had departed for the first time the previous year. Maybe it was his inspiration. After all, only a particular kind of lunatic would choose to spend five days at sea with aging glam metal rockers as the primary source of entertainment (at the cost of as much as several thousand dollars). Evidently, however, this breed of lunatic is numerous.
From 2011 to 2019, the cruise was an annual sellout, as fanatics from every continent converged on Miami—and, on one occasion, New Orleans—to set sail on a voyage billed as the “vacation of a lifetime.” COVID-19 brought this tradition to a halt in 2020, and when the cruise embarked on its tenth voyage in 2021 a dearth of international attendees caused by travel restrictions prevented it from reaching its full capacity of almost 2,500. In 2022, organizers planned two cruises departing Los Angeles with stops in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico, anticipating demand would be higher with the pandemic on the wane at last. They anticipated incorrectly. Sales proved underwhelming, and the first week managed only to attract around 1,300 guests, myself among them. Nevertheless, communications from the cruise line assured me, “Kisstory” had been made.
On the morning of Sunday, October 23, I arrived at my hotel in San Pedro, located only a mile away from the Los Angeles World Cruise Center. Already, the lobby was cluttered with people sporting Kiss t-shirts of some unique design. In one corner, a pair of Japanese women wearing embroidered Kiss kimonos stood making plans for the week. By the elevators, a man dressed elegantly in chinos and a knitted crewneck sweater was heading up to his room. He returned minutes later in wraparound sunglasses, shredded jeans held up by a chain belt, and a baggy purple shirt. Beside me, a hirsute fan and longtime Kiss cruiser assured first-timers that the experience would prevent them from ever enjoying a regular concert again. If nothing else, the week ahead promised to be distinctly unusual.