Special music and party related theme cruises for the Gen-X and Boomers are filling ships without ease.
There has been an almost imperceptible but extremely important sea-change in the profile of the "average" passenger on cruise ships these days - much younger adults born in the 60s and even 70s are the fastest growing age demographic in the cruise industry.
While maybe 10 years ago cruises attracted mostly retirees and families, the number of younger passengers (25-39 years of age) is showing significant growth. According to Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's trade organization, this age group accounted for 31 percent of all passengers in 2006, up from 28 percent in 2002.
This is a very popular demographic for the cruise lines, because these younger people tend to crave experiences and late night action more than the older generations. They spend more on libations, and they want active shore excursions.
To keep those numbers climbing, cruise lines are striving to appeal to the younger crowd by offering activities such as popular "Texas Hold-Em" poker tournaments, theme party cruises, "beer pong" matches, and onshore excursions for bar and club hopping. Royal Caribbean has even started offering DJ "scratch" classes. Carnival has 22 bars and lounges on its new ship, Liberty, including a nightclub covered in fluorescent tattoo designs and black lights.
Musicians specializing in the kind of sound that appeals to the younger set are in high demand, as traditional cruises offered few alternative entertainment options in the past. If you weren't into Broadway revues, magicians and comedians there was little to do at night except to hit the casino or the mostly-teenage-oriented disco.
Groove Cruises But mostly it is travel agents who are leading the wave, by finding out what young people find affinity with and putting together special theme cruises of their own to capture their imagination. Some of these agents have been amzingly successful - able to charter and take over whole ships based on music concerts by currently popular rock bands, for example.
As for "party cruises," realizing the huge market potential beyond the usual (and quieter) organized singles cruises that are listed on Cruisemates' Singles Calendar. Whet Travel (www.whettravel.com) was among the first to dive right in by starting to offer "The Groove Cruise" back in 2004; the last such offering drew more than 300 passengers. Dubbed "a spring break for adults," it provides three days of music with popular DJs like Bad Boy Bill and Donald Glaude along with exotic beach parties and late-night silk robe and slinky lingerie deck parties that last until sunrise. "Lots of wild and crazy stuff," reported one passenger from the 2006 Groove Cruise; "plenty of flesh, and, yeah, some inebriation too."
Two Groove Cruises are scheduled for 2007 on Royal Caribbean's Sovereign-class ships: May 11-14, from Miami to Coco Cay and Nassau; and July 20-23 from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico. A third is planned for the fall, which will go from New York to Bermuda. Prices range from $389 to $2,299 per person, double occupancy.
Rock the Boat, Baby Rock Boat Cruises (www.therockboat.com) attracts more than 2,000 passengers, mostly in their 30s, on its annual sailing, and while binge drinking seems to be the major pastime, rock 'n' roll is the highlight. More than 20 acts are featured onboard, such as Wet Sprocket and Sister Hazel and Toad. Unlike traditional cruises, ports of call and shopping are not priorities. On the last Rock Boat cruise, most passengers didn't bother going ashore in the Turks and Caicos after sailing from Fort Lauderdale, preferring to rest up from the night before and get ready for the one ahead. The next cruise is scheduled for January 19-24, 2008 on Carnival's Imagination from Miami to Jamaica and Grand Cayman. Cabins start at $699 per person.
Last month the annual "Jam Cruise," with some 2,000 "30-something," tie-dyed, Birkenstock-wearing pseudo-hippies aboard, sailed from Fort Lauderdale with a full schedule of poker tournaments, pirate costumes and karaoke. And instead of chocolate mints and towel animals on their pillows, they found free beer coupons. Reservations are already being made for next year's January Jam Cruise, even though the date has not been set. Rates start at $799 (www.jamcruise.com).
Spring Break at Sea Even the college set is reaping the benefits of the cruise industry's realization that not all passengers are "newlywed or nearly dead." The Spring Break Bahamas Party Cruise shuttles students between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Bahama through April on the 1,300-passenger Discovery. The five-hour journey offers plenty of reasons to party -- mainly that the minimum drinking age is 18 on the ship and in the Bahamas. The all-inclusive cruise, including a four-night hotel package, starts at $299 per person, based on four to a hotel room (www.studentcity.com).
One of the most interesting aspects of these cruises is that this growing trend of younger passengers is not just singles who want something to do besides see shows and dance to the oldies. Younger married couples with children are also climbing onboard; one agency even said it is thinking about offering free baby-sitting services for the new cruises that are rocking and rolling�and not just from the waves in the ocean. Being aboard one of these cruises, one cannot help thinking you are seeing the future of cruising before your very eyes.