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Theme Cruises: A Primer

A glimpse into the world of theme cruising, a concept that has exploded

Judi Cuervo - Theme Cruise Editor

Introducing Judi Cuervo who joins the cruisemates.com staff as Editor/Theme Cruises. A New York-based cruise writer whose work has appeared in regional, national, Canadian, U.K., and Australian publications, Judi will be familiar to cruisemates.com readers who've enjoyed the occasional features she's contributed to the site since 2008 (many of them, not surprisingly, on theme cruises). Cruising since 1976, Judi met her husband aboard Holland America's Statendam and their wedding was aboard Celebrity's Galaxy.

Theme Cruises: A Primer

When I was on my first theme cruise, I wasn't even aware of it. It was aboard a QE 2 Caribbean sailing, somewhere in the 1980s, and the theme was hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers, in particular. I must say that I didn't-and still don't-- give a puck about hockey or the Philadelphia team, but this partial charter of the ship had me intrigued. From the very first evening, the hockey contingent would claim a corner of the ship's disco, laughing, dancing and appearing to be members of one big happy family that actually liked each other. The fact that the contingent contained the actual team--about 30 stunningly handsome, fit young men-didn't hurt either.

Since that first glimpse into the world of theme cruising, I'm happy to say that the concept has exploded and, today, you'd be hard pressed to find a topic, hobby or field isn't being celebrated enthusiastically at sea.

Why a Theme Cruise?

As a fan of cruising, you know the excitement that comes as you anticipate your next sailing: The places you'll see, the people you'll meet, the luxuries you'll enjoy. Imagine adding to that anticipation the likelihood of learning more about an interest or hobby from an expert in the field, seeing performances by your favorite TV or recording artists (and maybe meeting them) or even enhancing your professional skills, all against a backdrop of exotic destinations. And in these pursuits, you'll be accompanied by scores (and sometimes hundreds or thousands!) of individuals who share your interests and passions.

What's Out There?

A better question is "What's your interest?" Do you have a passion for food & wine, music, television, sports, gardening, family travel, dance, theater, finance, mystery, photography, literature, gay and lesbian lifestyle, religion, British Royalty, or the Northern Lights? Each of those topics has at least one, and usually more than one, currently-planned theme cruise. Love your Mac computer? There's a theme cruise for that, too. Are you looking for a sailing that's truly out of this world? A theme cruise investigating the paranormal will put you in the right "spirit." Single? Ditch the computer dating scene and seek your mate on a singles cruise.

Of all the topics showcased in today's theme cruises, perhaps none is as popular as those that feature food & wine or music and today's cruise lines don't approach either topic as one-size-fits-all. Is it Spanish wines that appeal to you? French? Or maybe those of Napa Valley? At sea, you can concentrate on your particular preference and probably visit the very fields that produce the grape of your favorite vintage. Expect even more variety in today's music cruises with opera, country, jazz, blues, Christian and gospel, and rock music fans will find a dizzying array of options that include heavy metal, classic rock, prog rock, gospel, bluegrass, Christian, 50s and more, with artists like Jimmy Buffet, Kiss and The Moody Blues holding court upon their very own sailings. And don't forget the Beatles tribute cruises!

Some ships, by their very nature and itineraries, are theme cruises themselves. This is particularly true of expedition ships which typically focus on the education, environment and exploration of a region. European riverboats would also fall into this category with December sailings that are festive floating holiday celebrations of the Christmas Markets that dot the river's path.

How do I Find a Particular Theme Cruise?

Theme cruises may be offered by a cruise line, but more often they are organized by a company or travel agency not associated with the line itself. Because of this, it is suggested that you first check the "Theme" or "Enhancement" section of your favorite cruise line's website and then further broaden your search online. Input the topic of choice plus "Theme Cruise" and the year you would like to sail and check out the results!

Important Theme Cruise Notes

Theme cruises tend to come in two varieties: Full ship charter and partial ship charter. As the name suggests, a full ship charter means that the entire ship has been chartered by a company or agency and will be filled with only those passionate about the theme of the sailing. Such sailings will not appear on the cruise line website since the sailing and all organization of it is handled by the chartering organization. A full ship charter tends to feature the most immersive theme experience.

Aboard a partial ship charter, also organized by an outside agency, those participating in the theme activities will be sharing the ship with guests not participating in the theme aspect. It is important to note that, in most cases, only those who have booked the cruise through the theme-sponsoring company or agency will have access to the events and activities related to the theme .

In either case, full ship or partial ship charter, it is very likely that fares will be higher and sometimes significantly higher than a non-theme sailing aboard the same ship. The added costs are necessary to cover fees associated with on board talent (celebrity performers or expert lecturers), décor or set creation, special events, security, giveaways and activities related to the theme. "Optional" activities may be offered at additional cost and might include special events with celebrities on the sailing, shore excursions related to the theme or exclusive dinners or tastings.

In future columns, I'll take a look at the best theme cruises on the horizon and let you know how you can get on board.

Next Up: The best Rock Music Cruises.

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