When I was a kid, all the exciting new prime-time television aired from 8PM to 9PM. So naturally my bedtime was set at 8:30, right in the middle of every episode,  But now, with ancient-TV-streaming technology, I can finally rectify all that childhood trauma.

In late 2022 I was working through reruns of The Love Boat, a popular sitcom from 1977 to 1986 that was set aboard the Pacific Princess cruise ship.  Every episode was pretty much the same: A group of B-list celebrities would come on board with whacky romantic issues that were resolved over the course of several 5-minute segments. 

In one memorable scene, the cruise ship director was trying to cheer up a bored passenger.  She said something like, “But there is so much to do!  There’s ping pong, checkers, and shuffleboard!”  You know, all the stuff you might do at home during a power outage.

So when my roommate asked for vacation suggestions, ping-pong on the deck of a rolling ship was on my mind.  And there is only one thing I know about cruising: Get the newest, largest ship possible.  Luckily, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas happens to be both (at the time of this writing), and she is the first of the two ladies in this story.

The Pacific Princess launched in 1972, compared to the Wonder of the Seas (larger, faster) launched in 2022, 50 years later.

With art supplies ordered, the second lady of this story began to materialize with practice sketches.

Canvas sketch used for the final painting.

Stepping onboard Wonder of the Seas is like stepping into another world.  There were eight “neighborhoods,” each with its own character and unique theme. What you see here is part of the Royal Promenade, which featured mostly restaurants, bars, and concierge services.

Project management rule #1: Tackle the riskiest parts as early as possible. 

For this project, that would be the skin tones.  Even in this early version her back had been repainted half a dozen times, and it still looked like it was inside out.

The second most difficult area (or so I thought at the time) was the violin. I often use a tablet to view the source image; it is convenient to zoom and move around.

It occurred to me that I had only used primary colors for this painting thus far (plus black and white).

I decided to continue mixing primaries for the rest of the painting as a learning opportunity / extra challenge.  Eventually I ran across one purple tone that I couldn’t make from the primaries I was using, so I had to incorporate an extra color just for those spots.

Wonder of the Seas offered a variety of complimentary shows targeting different audiences. Comedy, skating, tap, and difficult-to-categorize shows filled nearly every evening (although there was no Broadway-based show like on some other ships).  

As the cruise occurred during the tail end of the pandemic, the systems for booking shows were not entirely functional, so when the opportunity was finally available, we booked everything we could.  We managed to see every show, despite being the last people in a standby line for one.

The source painting had a substantial amount of 3D texture that helped create the vibrant character of the piece.

When I first saw the texture, it seemed like all I had to do was shovel some solid colors on with a palette knife.

But remember that I was mixing my own colors from primaries?  Making large quantities of solid colors that are consistent across paint sessions is not easy. Heck, my home builder can’t even match the wall color in my home, and they have the exact formula.

Also, once the texture is set, it is permanent.  There is no hiding a mistake because you can always see the outlines. Even changing the color becomes tricky around the edges.

Our housekeeper, an eternally upbeat gentleman, was very talented at creating towel-art.  Unfortunately, he insisted on putting the germiest thing in the room next to the cleanest every day.

If you have seen the old Love Boat sitcom, you’ll remember how weirdly involved the crew was with the passengers.  Wonder of the Seas can accommodate 10x the number of passengers as the old Pacific Princess, so we weren’t expecting to get to know the crew very well.  Turns out this wasn’t quite true.

The paparazzi give you the celebrity treatment at boarding points.  They did not bother with us when they saw the camera I was lugging around, though.

The cruise director made an appearance at most major events.  He was also a talented comedian and sometimes did warmup bits before shows.  We did not meet him personally, but we did run into one of his staff a few times during smaller activities.

The dining staff treated us exceptionally well. When they heard that my companion was vegan, they immediately notified the head waiter.  He ensured that we always had a table in his area (which coincidentally was ocean-front), and coordinated with the chef to make special off-menu meals.  As we got to know the dining staff better, they started sharing tourism recommendations and insights about what life was like working aboard ship.

It took me about a month to cover the canvas completely with paint.  This time-lapse video is about 1 second per day.

For the final touches on the back and ear, I set up a digital image of the original painting (right), next to a tethered, live image of my brush strokes (left).

A close up view of the ear as I paint the final strokes.

The Wonder of the Seas houses an impressive art collection spread all over the ship.  Every stairwell turn offered something interesting to see, and between the elevators rose a 6ish story metal dragon sculpture.  They even made a game of it with an art treasure hunt.  In addition to the permanent collection, there were several art shows / auctions.

This painting by Anatoly Metlan was featured at auction with an asking price of 8,000 USD. There were many beautiful pieces at the auction, but this stood apart and served as the inspiration for my project.

Eventually the Pacific Princess fell into disrepair, and in 2013 it was salvaged to cover unpaid bills. Similarly, my memory of the Wonder of the Seas will fade as engrams are repurposed over time.   

However, this lady should remain vibrant for many years to come. 

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