It’s hard to believe that more than 45 years have passed since The Love Boat first set sail. Ted Lange, who played Isaac the bartender, and Jill Whelan, who joined the gang as the captain’s daughter, Vicki Stubing, look back fondly on their years with the series. “It was a really special time in all our lives,” Ted tells Closer. “And we have stayed friends for all this time — can you imagine how rare that is?”

Jill, who first appeared on The Love Boat as a guest star at age 11, joined the cast fulltime in Season 6. “Going on all the cruises was such fun,” she tells Closer. “I hadn’t been anywhere in the world yet.” Jill’s teachers also tried to make her travels educational by coordinating her lessons with her itinerary. “So, while I was studying the Great Wall of China, I was actually sitting on it!” she recalls.

The cast, says Ted, “was one happy family.” That spirit of unity came down from the late Gavin MacLeod, who played the captain, and Bernie Kopell, the ship’s physician. “They always said the real stars of this show are not us. They’re the cruise ship and the guest stars,” Jill remembers.

The Love Boat remains so beloved that CBS recently created The Real Love Boat, a reality series set aboard a Princess Cruise ship. “It’s fun to see young people in this environment, getting the opportunity to know each other, possibly to fall in love,” says Jill, who made a guest appearance with Ted.

After all these years, they remain proud to be ambassadors for the original series. “The critics were always hard on us, but the general population loved our show,” says Ted, who recalls a woman thanking him for making her father smile in his last days: “She said that our show took him out of his pain for an hour. She said, ‘Thank you for that.'”