He was technically there to work, but Sam Hunt said he and his band felt like they were on vacation when they performed on two massive cruise ships docked in Cozumel, Mexico, Oct. 19 and 20. Hunt was the latest country star to headline Carnival Cruise Line's popular Carnival Live Concert Series.

“Before leaving to come down [to Cozumel] I looked at it as more of a work trip, and I was here maybe 45 minutes and went down and got in the ocean and the switch in my head flipped to vacation mode just right off the bat,” Hunt told Taste of Country and other media onboard the Carnival Splendor in between shows. “We have a lot of downtime, so I'm absolutely in vacation mode right now.”

Hunt said he particularly enjoyed playing on the cruise ships because the fans, too, are “on vacation when they come to our show. Everybody's in a good mood on vacation, so that works to our advantage right off the bat … That really made the experience a lot more exciting for us."

“We had a blast,” Hunt added the day after his first show on the Carnival Fantasy and shortly after his sound check for his second show on the Carnival Splendor. “The crowd [onboard] was having a good time and that translated. … I always enjoy playing live, but there was something about last night. … I didn't feel like I was working at all. I felt like I was just part of the cruise and hanging out with everybody, so it was really fun.”

Later that night, Hunt and his band clearly enjoyed themselves again when they performed a 65-minute set on the Splendor in an intimate venue of about 1,300 seats, with the star even jumping off the stage and into the audience several times during his high-energy set. Near the end of his show, Hunt reinforced that he was in holiday mode when he told the crowd, “I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making this vacation possible for us.”

His set included hits “Leave the Night On,” “Take Your Time,” “House Party” and encore songs “Make You Miss Me” and “Break Up in a Small Town,” as well as fan favorites from his early mix tapes released before landing a major label record deal. They included “I Met a Girl,” which recently became the first No. 1 hit for newcomer William Michael Morgan. Introducing one of his first cuts as a songwriter, the Billy Currington hit “We Are Tonight,” Hunt said, “This song put gas in the van and got us around the country when we were first starting out and eating gas station pizza.”

Hunt began and ended a mid-show set of cover songs with Merle Haggard's “Mama Tried,” filling the space in between with snippets of Maren Morris' “My Church,” Dierks Bentley's “Somewhere on a Beach,” Thomas Rhett's “T-Shirt,” Old Dominion's “Snapback,” Cole Swindell's “You Should Be Here” and Luke Bryan's “Huntin' Fishin' and Lovin' Every Day.”

Although he has transitioned to mostly playing much larger venues over the last year and a half, Hunt was happy to be able to perform in club-sized room again. “I've forgotten how much I appreciate that intimacy,” he told members of the media the day after the show on the Fantasy. “Last night was probably one of the most intimate shows we've played in six or eight months. And tonight just going onstage … to do sound check it just reminded me of our … tour about a year and a half ago, the Lipstick Graffiti Tour, which was my first headlining tour in venues similar to the venue we're playing tonight. Everything was fresh and new and exiting not just for myself, but for all the guys in the band. I had a lot of those memories come back when I was doing sound check earlier. I really miss and appreciate those types of shows. … I feel like that's where music really translates best.”

Hunt also talked about his next studio album. He says he's doing his best to not let the music be affected by expectations.

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