Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)
Theme and Special Cruises
A whole world of hobby, special interest, and lifestyle theme cruises awaits your participation.
Think of your favorite interest or theme and you’ll probably find a special cruise dedicated to it. These are the special theme cruises that don’t really fit into the normal range of offerings, although they usually follow the same itinerary.
Theme cruises are primarily ‘regular’ cruises, but with additional programs, linked to personalities and theme subject specialists. With special seminars and hands-on learning sessions, dances or concerts, sports, and leisure on the menu, the possibilities are endless. On a theme cruise, you’ll be traveling with people who have the same hobbies, interests, passions, or obsessions, or to increase your knowledge of a particular subject.
Music on the high seas
Music has always been a popular feature of shipboard entertainment, and special interest music festivals, celebrations, and even competitions at sea have been part of the modern-day cruise scene since the 1960s. It’s like having a special backstage pass to be up-close-and-personal with world-class musical talent.
Solo instruments are an unusual item for a theme cruise, but in 1986 the first Accordion Festival at Sea - with over 600 accordionists on board competing for financial and other prizes - took place aboard Chandris Fantasy Cruises’ Galileo. It was not a full ship charter, so the other passengers were fascinated in the richness of performances of this much misunderstood, but versatile, instrument.
Even before that, however, starting in 1976 a Classical Music Festival At Sea took place annually aboard the Paquet French Cruises’ 650-passenger Mermoz until the early 1990s (and wine, all other drinks, and shore excursions were included in the fare). The artistic director Borocz Andre organized the whole event, including booking about 70 musicians who sailed on each of these special musical cruises (either in the Mediterranean or Caribbean). World-class artists such as James Galway, Barbara Hendricks, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Maurice Andre, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yo-Yo Ma, Emmanuel Ax, Schlomo Mintz, Bobby McFerrin, and the English Chamber Orchestra sailed aboard the ship, with music concerts performed ashore - usually in the evening - in Caribbean venues such as Papa Doc’s Citadel in Haiti, La Popa Monastery in Cartagena, or, in Europe, the ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus, the Teatro Mercadante in Naples, or the ancient open-air theatre at Xanthos, Turkey.
P&O Cruises operates regular Strictly Come Dancing cruises.
What was unusual, and fun, was to watch these world-famous artistes rehearsing in the daytime - often in their bathrobes - with passengers (also in bathrobes or casual clothing) attending; then, at around 6pm, everyone donned tuxedos for the evening. The close contact and interaction between performers and the music-loving passengers were wonderful. Suffice it to say that this was indeed a very special theme cruise, unlike any other.
In 1993 Paquet French Cruises was purchased by Costa Cruises, which was itself purchased by the Carnival Corporation in 1996. In 1999 Paquet Cruises was dismantled, and the Mermoz was sold to Louis Cruise Lines (the ship was scrapped in 2008).
Today, several cruise lines have taken up the Classical Music Festival at Sea theme, with Hapag-Lloyd’s annual Ocean Sun Festival the most prestigious event. It has seen great success each year.
The company also hosts the annual Stella Maris International Vocal Competition in cooperation with renowned opera houses throughout the world. It is organized under the direction of Canadian tenor Michael Schade aboard Europa, with up-and-coming opera singers from around the world competing to win a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
Staying on the music theme, Big Band theme cruises have also always been popular, with bands such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra all having been part of the music on the high seas theme.
Jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry (trumpet), Woody Herman (clarinet), Benny Carter, Buddy Tate, Gerry Mulligan (saxophone), Junior Mance, Mel Powell, and Paul Broadnax (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Keter Betts, Major Holley, Milt Hinton, and Kiyoshi Kitagawa (double bass), Chuck Riggs and Louis Bellson (drums), Mel Tormé (voice), the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, Joe Williams and the Festival Jazzers have all sailed and played on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Floating Jazz Festival cruises aboard the now-scrapped Norway and other NCL ships of the time (organized by Hank O’Neal).
Today, the Smooth Jazz Cruise (also known as ‘The Greatest Party At Sea’) has been attracting well-known names such as the jazz violinist Ken Ford, guitarist-vocalist George Benson, bassist Marcus Miller, guitarist Earl Klugh, saxophonists David Sanborn, Mindy Abair, Paul Taylor, and Richard Elliott, and jazz fans - principally aboard the Holland America Line ships Eurodam and Westerdam.
Off your rocker
Today, even rock ’n’ roll stars and fans have taken to cruising, with music-themed charters of ships becoming more prevalent. In 2013, Weezer - the LA rockers - took more than 2,500 fans aboard Carnival Destiny (now renamed Carnival Sunshine), and in the same year, the ‘70,000 Tons of Metal’ theme cruise had almost two dozen heavy metal bands from around the world taking over Royal Caribbean International’s Majesty of the Seas.
In 2014, On The Blue Music Cruises featured a Moody Blues Cruise (www.moodiescruise.com) with guest star Roger Daltrey, The Zombies, Carl Palmer of ELP, The Orchestra starring ELO, Starship, Little River Band, and many more.
Also in 2014, celebrated band Yes headlined one of the great progressive rock festivals (www.cruisetotheedge.com), which also starred Marillion, Steve Hackett of Genesis, Queensryche, Tangerine Dream, Renaissance, Patrick Moraz, the Prog Rock Orchestra, and others.
Not to be left out, ‘boy bands’, including the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, have also been cruising.
You can expect more of the same as rock ’n’ roll and blues bands take to the high seas to replace the loss of land-based venues, and revenue (merchandising aboard a cruise ship with a captive audience is a massive incentive).
Although classical music and jazz cruises tend to be 7-14 days, other music themes, such as rock ’n’ roll, or heavy metal, tend to be shorter.
Usually a full-ship charter, a re-creation of the popular music show Soul Train includes artists such as Gladys Knight and Earth, Wind and Fire, together with numerous artists that have been part of the television show, created and hosted by Don Cornelius. The artists, dancers, and fans have a blast, and enjoy the close interaction with each other (www.soultraincruise.com).
Going up country
Country and Western and Gospel music theme cruises also pop up occasionally. In fact, in 2013, the country and western band Alabama sailed with a flotilla of some of their biggest fans on a country music festival at sea to celebrate the band’s 40th Anniversary of their first show at The Bowery.
In 2014, The ‘Best Country Cruise Ever’ took place aboard Norwegian Pearl. Among the featured artists were: Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, Wynonna, Neal McCoy, Love and Theft, Craig Morgan, and Lonestar, as well as up-and-coming hopefuls. There will also be songwriter workshops and, of course, karaoke (judged by the professionals) and late-night dance parties, plus a little unscheduled jammin’ along the way.
Meanwhile, in January 2014, Kenny Rogers, Vince Gill, and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers performed aboard Holland America Line’s Eurodam.
Dancing with the stars
Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com) has several voyages for followers of TV’s Dancing with the Stars. TV personality Carson Kressley and show dancers Tristan MacManus and Kym Johnson host each sailing.
Fans of TV’s Strictly Come Dancing ballroom dancing shows will find special theme cruises throughout the year with P&O Cruises (www.pocruises.com).
Aboard the ships of Disney Cruise Line, everything is Disney - every song heard, every game played, every participation event, race, or party - it’s the complete Disney at sea package.
Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International have their own star themes at sea. Norwegian Cruise Line teamed up with TV’s Nickelodeon to provide cruises with characters SpongeBob, Patrick, Dora the Explorer and Diego, among others (not all ships).
Aboard some of Royal Caribbean International’s ships, the Premium Barbie Experience holds sway; so do characters from the DreamWorks Experience such as Madagascar’s Alex and the Penguins, Shrek’s Fiona and Puss in Boots, and Po of Kung Fu Panda.
Making music aboard Crystal Serenity.
Culinary theme cruises
Food and wine cruises have always attracted interest, although some are better than others. Most have tended to be more like presentation lectures at cooking stations set on a large stage - more show than go - and always seem to leave audiences wanting to ask questions one-on-one rather than as part of a general audience.
Wine-themed cruises are especially popular with oenophiles (wine lovers) who get to meet owners and specialists from various world-famous vineyards with wine talks and wine tasting as part of the pleasure of these special voyages.
Finally, cruises for ‘chocaholics’ have been a big draw in the past, but how many chocolates can you really taste in a week?
Many ships now have culinary classes and demonstration kitchens (those aboard Holland America Line ships are set up in the theatre and are among the best). However, Oceania Cruises’ Marina and Riviera have gone one better, and each has 24 individual cooking workstations for classes on days at sea at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, while Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 has a 12-station Culinary Center using appliances you find in your home, as has P&O Cruises’ Britannia.
Fans of television chef Paula Deen can opt to partake in her Party-At-Sea cruises.
An astronomical event
Total Solar Eclipse at Sea. For anyone who is an ‘eclipse chaser’, a cruise ship can represent the ideal place to be. Ships can position themselves - using the latest in weather technologies to avoid cloud banks - in the best location for the best viewing opportunities.
The author remembers over 600 astronomers aboard one 1,200-passenger ship - you couldn’t move on deck because of the tripods, huge telescopes, and long camera lenses. The ship, however, had a deep draft and so it was very stable - good for the photo-snappers!
The next total solar eclipse, said to be the eclipse of the decade, will take place on March 20, 2015, and the best location will be in the Arctic, off the coast of the Faroe Islands - north of Scotland - where the longest duration of totality will be two minutes 47 seconds.
Culinary masterclass aboard Ryndam.
Holland American Line
Not your regular theme cruise
Other unusual theme cruises include naturist vacations - clothing-free vacations. Bare Necessities has been doing it since 1990, although participants do dress to go to the dining room. Then there’s Dream Pleasure Tours, founded in 2007 (www.dreampleasuretours.com) for sensual pleasure indulgence at sea. This company usually charters boutique-size ships (such as SeaDream I or SeaDream II) for hedonistic lifestyle cruises, such as those for the gay, lesbian, and swinger communities.
The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Rally At Sea has been happening for almost 10 years aboard Celebrity Cruises. Dress code: biker attire. Naturally, there’s a belly smacker contest; a treasured chest (women); best beard (men); and, of course, a contest for the best tattoo.
Some cruises are just magical adventures in themselves. But, in 2013, everyone’s favorite wizard, the venerable Harry Potter, took to the seas with his own theme cruise. It’s the latest movie-themed voyage to hit the high seas, and follows in the footsteps of recent additions such as the ‘Saw’ film franchise cruise.
Other theme cruises
Other theme vacations include Wellness, Fitness, ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’, and ‘Life Modification’ cruises (the first Holistic Health Cruise at sea was aboard Cunard Countess in 1976, with the well-known Ida Rolf - creator of the extreme massage technique known as Rolfing - on board). Then there’s the Quilting and Girlfriends cruise - for girls who cruise to quilt (www.stitchinheaven.com); castles and gardens cruises (www.hebridean.co.uk); scrapbooking cruises (www.cruiseandcrop.com); a horror theme cruise, with all the thrills of the ‘Saw’ franchise but none of the morbid consequences (www.scare-zone.com); a Star Trek cruise - with actors who have appeared in the cult television show (www.startrekcruise.com); and a baseball giants cruise (MSC Cruises; www.msccruises.com).
In addition, several cruise lines have golf-themed cruises, but perhaps the best packages are put together by companies including Crystal Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and SeaDream Yacht Club, all of whom operate smaller-size ships for a more personal experience.
Meanwhile, in 2012 a ‘Titanic 100th-Anniversary Memorial Cruise’ took place, with two ships chartered for the somber celebration (Azamara Journey, Balmoral), following the path of the ill-fated ship on her maiden voyage 100 years previously.
Cruise passengers witness a total solar eclipse in the Cook Islands.
River cruise themes
Festive Christmas Markets cruises are always popular in November/December on the Danube, Main, and Rhine rivers. The most celebrated Christmas markets can be found in Bamberg, Cochem, Nuremberg, Rothenburg, Würtzburg, and Wertheim, where merrymaking at stalls on cobblestone streets - and Glühwein - means festive spirits for all (www.amawaterways.com; www.avaloncruises.com; www.uniworld.com; www.vikingrivercruises.com).
Another popular theme is the annual ‘Celebration of Wine’ cruise (www.amawaterways.com). This cruise includes excursions to historic vineyards and cellars along Europe’s Rhône, Danube, and Rhine rivers, as well as wine talks by celebrated wine hosts, and, of course, much wine tasting.
In the US, Mark Twain is always a popular theme aboard a Mississippi River cruise (www.americancruiselines.com). Become reacquainted with one of the world’s best-loved authors. Visit Hannibal, Missouri, to explore Injun Joe’s cave and visit Mark Twain’s home - now a museum.
Corporate incentive organizations and seagoing conferences need to have such things as accommodation, food, or entertainment for their delegates organized as one contract, and cruise companies have specialized departments to deal with all the details. Helpfully, many larger ships have almost identical cabin sizes and configurations.
Once a corporate contract is signed, no refund is possible, so insurance is essential. Although you may need to charter only 70 percent of a ship’s capacity for your purposes, you will have to pay for the whole ship if you want an exclusive charter.
Although you can contact cruise lines directly, I strongly recommend contacting the professionals at www.seasite.com, which contains all cruise brands designed for event planners by the Miami-based ship charter specialists Landry & Kling (who can also arrange whole-ship charters for theme cruises). You can download a Meeting Planner Guide for ships from the website.
Maiden and inaugural voyages
It can be fun to take part in the maiden voyage of a new cruise ship. Or you could join an inaugural voyage aboard a refurbished, reconstructed, or stretched ship. However, you’ll need a degree of tolerance - and be prepared for some inconveniences such as slow or non-existent service in dining venues.
One thing is certain: any maiden voyage is a collector’s item, but Murphy’s Law - ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’ - can prevail. Service aboard new or recently refurbished ships (or a new cruise line) is likely to be uncertain and could be a disaster. An existing cruise line may use experienced crew from its other vessels to help ‘bring out’ a new ship, but they may be unfamiliar with the ship’s layout and may have problems training other staff.
Plumbing and electrical items tend to cause the most problems, particularly aboard reconstructed and refurbished vessels. Examples: toilets that don’t flush or don’t stop flushing; faucets incorrectly marked, where ‘hot’ really means ‘cold’; and ‘automatic’ telephones that refuse to function.
In the entertainment department, items such as spare spotlight bulbs may not be in stock. Or what if the pianos arrive damaged, or audio-visual materials for the lecturers didn’t show up? Manuals for high-tech sound and lighting equipment may be in a foreign language.
Items such as menus, postcards, writing paper, or TV remote control units, door keys, towels, pillowcases, glassware, and even toilet paper may be lost in the bowels of the ship, or simply not ordered.
The galley (kitchen) of a new ship is in trouble if the right supplies don’t turn up on time.
If you feel any of these mishaps might spoil your cruise, it would probably be better to wait until the ship has been in service for at least three months.