It’s the new definition of an actor’s dream. You get a job starring on a hit TV series that runs for decade. Then after it goes off the air, you have a steady 30-year gig where you occasionally get to greet adoring fans not in some dank convention hall (no offense, “Star Trek”) but aboard luxury cruise ships headed to exotic destinations.
Such is the fate of “The Love Boat” cast.
“The Love Boat” cast at the Regal Princess naming ceremony in Ft. Lauderdale. (Photo: Princess Cruises)
The entire original cast of the 1970s/1980s TV comedy was on hand in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to help inaugurate the Regal Princess, the newest ship in the Princess Cruises fleet (after a six-month run in the Mediterranean, the Regal Princess is beginning its first season in the Caribbean).
Seeing the cast together again you can almost hear that theme song, can’t you? (Photo: Princess Cruises)
In what may be the greatest product placement campaign ever, “The Love Boat” took place on board a Princess cruise ship. And the show — with its able crew, exotic locales, and lighthearted, PG-rated romantic entanglements — is credited with bringing cruising into the American mainstream (Princess says during the show’s first few years on the air, the cruise industry enjoyed doubled-digit annual growth).
And today, almost 30 years after “The Love Boat” went off the air, the cast members — led by Gavin MacLeod (“Captain Stubing”) — still make promotional appearances on Princess’ behalf. Those duties brought them together once again in Fort Lauderdale for the Regal Princess’ naming ceremony and Caribbean debut. After the ceremony, the entire cast sailed with the Regal to Princess Cays in the Bahamas.
Throwback photo: “The Love Boat” cast during the show’s run. (Photo: Princess Cruises)
“I consider it a gift from God,” MacLeod told Yahoo Travel about his long association with the cruise line. “The people I work with [at Princess] are like a family.”
Another of those extended family members is Jill Whelan, who played Captain Stubing’s teenage daughter Vicki on the show. Whelan calls MacLeod her “surrogate dad,” and seeing the way they dote on each other can give one a serious case of the “Awws” (when asked during a Q-and-A session if any “Love Boat” cast members fell in love during the show, MacLeod said he did… with Jill).
Whelan loves her “Love Boat” promotional gigs. (Photo: Princess Cruises)
“[MacLeod] is the most special, the most humble, the most gracious man I know,” Whelan told Yahoo Travel. And she agreed that her current “Love Boat” appearances make for a sweet gig. “It’s like winning the lottery,” she said. “You’re going to be ‘working’ and going where there’s fabulous food and great locations and people are gonna come and smile and talk about their happy memories. Tough life,” she said, laughing.
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But the cast of “The Love Boat” is more than just actors lucky enough to score an enduring gig that keeps them in touch with old friends. All the decades they spent filming aboard cruise ships for the show, and the promotional cruises they’ve taken since the show ended, have made them cruising experts.
So I asked them each a question: What advice do you have for people who are taking cruises?
Gopher actually told me to take a hike (but Fred Grandy meant it in the nicest possible way). (Photo: Princess Cruises)
“Take a long leisurely walk around the ship,” said Fred Grandy, who played Gopher, the ship’s purser. Grandy, ever the politician (he served three terms in the U.S. Congress after “Love Boat”), also recommended going out and pressing the flesh. “Find people to talk to,” he said. “Build the community on the ship. That’ll pay lasting dividends.”
Ted Lange, who played Isaac the bartender, told me about his own cruising hobby. “When we were doing the show, I’d bring aboard jigsaw puzzles and models,” he told me. And, no, he didn’t mean the kind of “models” one would expect the young star of a hit TV show to be bringing into his cabin. “I liked sitting on the deck and putting together model airplanes,” he said.
As much as I wanted to judge Ted for his questionable taste in cruise ship activities, I just couldn’t. One reason was because Isaac was one of my favorite “Love Boat” characters. Another reason was because during our chat, Ted was nice enough to show me how to do the patented double finger point that Isaac does in the “Love Boat” opening credits.
“Isaac” teaches me how to do “The Isaac.” (Photo: Tracey Steinberg)
The cast member most affected by her years of cruising on “The Love Boat” may have been Whelan. Having spent most of her teens on the show, Whelan was off seeing the world while her peers were stuck in classrooms. “It was really profound for me because it gave me a global experience,” Whelan said, “to know there was much more to the world than just my little place where I live. For me at a young age to have that kind of exposure was wonderful.”
MacLeod’s advice to potential cruisers was simple. “Just have a great time,” MacLeod said. And as I found out, that’s easy to do when you’re sailing with the people who helped you fall in love with cruising in the first place.