Special Interest Cruising

Themed trips for every taste

BYBarry Garron
There’s always plenty to do on a cruise. What with bingo and binging on gourmet desserts, dancing and duty-free shopping, sunbathing and sightseeing, tours and trivia contests, slots and stage shows, there’s enough to fill every hour at sea or in port.
And now there’s even more.
Hundreds of cruises a year feature a theme that adds an entire new layer of activities on top of the traditional favorites. In 2016, 24 million cruise passengers took a cruise, and more and more cruise lines are offering themed sailings every year at various price points. “When planning your next vacation, try something new and different,” says Amy Moreno, senior travel manager of AAA Arizona. “Many enjoy taking a cruise focused on the activities or hobbies they are most passionate about.” 
There’s a Theme for That
This past year, there were more than 700 theme cruises of all lengths and itineraries. Whether you revel in rock ‘n’ roll, wonder about wine, are captivated by crafts or long to be part of a pack of cat fanciers, there are cruises for you. There are even sailings for history buffs and those who like to sail in the buff.
Theme cruises provide something extra, but that “something” varies, depending on the theme. Music cruises, like the annual KISS cruise, include performances and chances to meet band members. Wine tours may include tasting sessions and lectures from winemakers, as well as tours of wineries in ports of call.
Fitness and craft cruises include experts and classes. Sports cruises bring well-known players aboard. The Meow Meow Cruise for cat lovers includes special trivia contests and a scavenger hunt, though you’ll have to leave Tabby on shore.
The Mark Twain cruise on the American Queen steamboat stops at Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, and boasts lectures from Twain authorities. The Ante Up poker tour on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas offers three free poker courses as well as three tournaments. And you can guess the common interest of passengers on the Carnival Victory, which is renamed The Big Nude Boat for one 10-day sailing.
Why Go Themed?
There are several reasons for the growing popularity of theme cruises. For one, sailings built around a shared hobby or interest can lower the gangway for those who might not otherwise take the plunge.
According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the umbrella organization for cruise lines and travel agents who sell cruises, only three to four percent of the U.S. population has taken a cruise. Many times, knowing they will be traveling with others who share a common interest gives reluctant cruisers a reason to cruise and a comfort level likely to assuage any concerns.
Also, singles often are attracted to theme cruises because they have a chance to meet others with common interests. In many cases, a single can ask the theme cruise operator to be paired with another single.
Filling the Passenger List
In general, there are two types of themed cruises. One type fills an entire ship, some large enough to hold 6,000 passengers. Although some cruise lines put together their own theme cruises, the full-ship variety is usually chartered by a travel agency or a large organization.
Royal Caribbean, for example, charters about 25 cruises a year. Although the most popular theme on Royal Caribbean ships is music, the line also leases its ships for fitness, religion, and other interests.
The second type of theme cruise may be arranged for smaller groups, such as church groups or fans of a radio or TV personality, such as the Highroads With Dan Davis annual cruise. These constitute only a part of the entire passenger list. Often, those who take these cruises get cards or bracelets for admission to special events held on board just for their group.
Industry experts say the theme cruise business is booming. Theme cruising on Royal Caribbean was up 15 percent last year and is expected to grow by the same percentage in 2017. Cruises based on TV series such as Walking Dead, Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sons of Anarchy have been so popular that there are bound to be more focused on television shows.
“Many theme cruises are put together by agencies or organizations and only can be booked through them” Moreno says. “However, a AAA travel agent who specializes in cruising can help you find themes that may interest you and help you book it.”
Formerly Chief TV Critic for The Hollywood Reporter, BARRY GARRON has written on cruise travel for metropolitan newspapers and has been published in Variety, TV Guide and Emmy magazine.
Learn More
Book your next cruise with the help of a AAA Travel agent by visiting AAA.com or calling toll-free 1-800-870-9367.
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