Imagine a cruise ship filled with cat lovers, cougars, or folks dressed as Frodo, or a boatload of chaps all named James Smith. If that sounds like something you’d hallucinate after taking too much Dramamine, how about a cruise that allows you to schmooze with your favorite musician, or go toque-to-toque with a top chef? Welcome to the world of theme cruises, where there’s a trip to match nearly every interest, from steampunk to the Civil War.
As cruising becomes mainstream, with passenger counts of up to 4,000 people, “a theme cruise is personalized to your particular interests,” says Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of www.cruisecritic.com. Theme cruises offer first-hand experiences you won’t find anywhere else. “I took an ESPN theme cruise where I ate dinner with four Super Bowl winners and tried on their Super Bowl rings. [On the same trip] I chatted with an Olympic gold-medal-winning soccer player,” McDaniel says. “It’s hard to match those opportunities anywhere else — you’re actually vacationing with your idols.”
So if you’re dreaming about, say, dancing with the stars of “Dancing With the Stars,” you can make it happen. Music cruises are also a popular theme, and culinary cruises are on the upswing, McDaniel says. And who wouldn’t want to share a ship with a former 007, Sir Roger Moore? Get onboard and take a look at theme cruises.
THIS CRUISE IS HOBBIT-FORMING
A visit to Middle Earth on a cruise ship — now there’s a concept! Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas embarks on a J. R. R. Tolkien-themed cruise to the Western Caribbean (Dec. 6-11), featuring a black tie gala (pointed ears required), a “Hairy Hobbit Feet” competition at poolside, plus a Tolkien Talk panel featuring actors from the Peter Jackson films, a Middle Earth masquerade ball, and a Tolkien-inspired movie marathon. Tolkien’s great-grandson Royd Tolkien will read from the author’s works. The five-night cruise starts and ends in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with stops in Belize City, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico. If you miss the boat, additional Tolkien fan cruises are planned for 2015. www.trilo3y.net
ROCK OUT AT SEA
Norwegian Cruise Line launches its fall lineup of music festivals at sea with KISS Kruise IV, aboard the Norwegian Pearl. This four-day trip kicks off with a pre-party on the ship, featuring KISS and guest band Cheap Trick — a dream-come-true double bill for ’80s rock fans. The theme of the cruise, from Oct. 30th (pre-party) to Nov. 4, is “Dressed to Kill,” and given that this is KISS, we’d suggest packing plenty of face paint along with the sunscreen. The itinerary includes an epic indoor rock show, an acoustic concert, and KISS question-and-answer sessions and photo ops. If you want to “Rock and Roll All Nite,” and party every day, it doesn’t get better than this. Ports of call are Miami, Nassau, Bahamas, and Great Stirrup Cay (that’s Norwegian’s private island).
Not into KISS? Not to worry. In partnership with the Grammy Awards, the Norwegian Pearl sets sail with Women Who Rock from Nov. 4-8, featuring Heart, the Indigo Girls, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Skylar Grey, and more. The itinerary is the same as above, with some added “fun activities hosted by the bands.” As the rocker chicks are disembarking the ship, country fans will come aboard for a “This Is How We Cruise,” sailing with headliner Florida Georgia Line and other country rock acts, Nov. 8-12. www.ncl.com/theme-cruises
If a jazz soundtrack sounds like the perfect complement to Caribbean vistas of sea and sky, consider the Caribbean Sunrise Jazz Cruise offered by upscale line Crystal Cruises, aboard the Crystal Serenity, sailing Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. Acts will include Bill Allred and Eddie Metz, performing in groups and solo as the ship sails to Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, Key West, Fla., and Miami. www.crystalcruises.com
STEPPING OUT ON THE LIDO DECK
TV fans are making Holland America’s “Dancing With the Stars: At Sea” a hot ticket. DWTS pros Kym Johnson and Tristan MacManus will be onboard the MS Zuiderdam and MS Westerdam for six themed cruises between June and December, sailing in Alaska from Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, and the Eastern Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale. The two will be joined by fashion guru-and-major goofball Carson Kressley and singer Sabrina Bryan, who were contestants on DWTS. The celebrities will perform routines based on the show (bring on the sequins and the spray tans!), and mix and mingle with guests. Bring your dancing shoes; passengers can participate in a dance-off for the chance to sail on the Champion’s Cruise in December. www.hollandamerica.com
A TOAST TO FOOD AND WINE CRUISES
The midnight buffet was never like this. On an exclusive Top Chef at Sea voyage, offered by Celebrity Cruises, guests will sail with former “Top Chef” contestants, participate in cooking demonstrations, and have the opportunity to join private cooking classes and events hosted by former “chef-testants.” Destinations include Bermuda, Alaska, Europe, and the Caribbean. The last “Top Chef”-themed sailing of the year is Nov. 15. Bring your fat pants. www.celebritycruises.com/topchef
If you’re partial to beer, consider a luxury craft-beer cruise, offered by Crystal Cruises beginning Nov. 15. Aboard the Crystal Serenity, you’ll sail from New York to Miami on a 14-day voyage with stops in Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., Charleston, S.C., the Turks & Caicos, Curaçao, Aruba, and, finally, Miami. Exclusive shore-side excursions include visits to micro- and (ultra-local) nano-breweries in and around New York and Charleston, plus cooking classes, tasting sessions, beer dinners, and expert presentations from folks such as beer authority Stephen Beaumont, cicerone (beer sommelier) Victoria Tonini, and “Art of the Drink” TV host Anthony Caporale, who’ll teach guests how to make cocktails using beer. www.crystalcruises.com
MISCELLANEOUS COOL CRUISES
Other theme trips that deserve a shout-out include the “Calling James Smith” cruise, on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas ( www.rx4funtravel.com ), a gathering of folks with the most common name in the United States. They hope to set a Guinness World Record, with 180 James Smiths gathered on the deck of the ship. Then there’s the Meow Meow cat-lover’s cruises aboard the Carnival Victory (www.meowmeowcruise.com) for those who are feline infatuated. And that cruise with the former James Bond, Sir Roger Moore? That’s a Crystal Cruises trip (www.crystalcruises.com), one of its Signature Sailings, featuring a slew of celebrities. As for the cougar cruise? Sorry, you’re on your own there.
For more info, check out the theme cruise finder at www.cruisecritic.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.