Try a Theme Cruise for Your Next Vacation

01/16/2016  |  Colleen Gaier
Travel USA

Have you ever wanted to get a backstage pass to meet your favorite legendary Grammy Award-winning music artist after a concert, sip a fine glass of Moscato wine poured by an award-winning winemaker, play poker with tournament champs, attend a Military Reunion with your Vietnam buddies, do the twist and daily exercise with Chubby Checker, participate in a “Cruise For A Cure” walk on a ship to raise funds for Children’s Cancer, meet Disney characters at breakfast, listen to your favorite DJs or learn how to prepare an exquisite meal alongside a celebrity chef?

You would describe these types of events at sea as a THEME CRUISE VACATION. Theme cruises — sailings focusing on a hobby, area of interest, celebrity, sports figure, special event, as well as floating music festivals — can be your backstage all-access pass to your passion or dream.

What To Expect From
Your Theme Cruise

They are the fastest growing segment to cruising in the last few years and it’s easy to see why. From the moment you board a full-ship theme cruise, expect to dive into the experience. That might come in the form of a pre-sailing concert, champagne with prestigious lecturers, VIP meet and greet, dance lessons, or a welcome kit in your room laying out an exciting and full schedule of events — including chances to party alongside big-name guests. You’ll likely have received materials pre-sailing to prepare you for how you’ll spend your days and what you need to bring. Themed sailings allow you to immerse yourself in a favorite activity or interest, combined with all the special amenities of a cruise ship, excitement of meeting other people with similar interests and waking up to new port of call every day.

But before you book, take a close look at what is included and all of the options. Theme cruises can vary widely. They range from small affinity groups that meet on regular sailings, to thousands of aficionados who take over a cruise ship.

Small Group or Large Group

Before you book, you will have to decide how big of a group you want to go cruising with. When Excellence in Travel (EIT) put together their Military Reunion Cruise, EIT booked only some of the cabins on the sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, it was not a ship charter. The private military group will have specially military-themed activities including special organized events, group dining, meet and greet cocktail party, private viewing in the ship’s movie theater of “proof of aliens,” that appeared on the history channel and will have a military ball on formal night (Day 2). EIT will be bring the “proof of aliens” and will be exhibited only to the private group. These events are only for those people who booked with Colleen Gaier, Excellence in Travel, the travel agency organizer. It is not open to the other cruisers booked on the Anthem of the Seas cruise ship. They will be sharing the ship with the other cruise passengers.

Ultimately, the intimacy of any theme cruise depends on its size and the number of activities in which the headliners participate. The private events can be as few as two events or on the higher end can be as many as 30 events. An outing with just a few hundred fellow enthusiasts or one that takes over a small ship is more conducive to one-on-one interaction.

How and When to Reserve

When it comes to making the booking, more often, a travel agency or promoter handling a given cruise will handle the booking. Be aware that popular outings can sell out quickly — such as cruises involving a number of popular music acts or a famous celebrity with a big following. Sometimes repeat cruisers get first dibs on cabins. Treat the cruise booking like concert tickets, and get on the phone a few minutes before the voyage goes on sale.

Questions to Ask Before You Book

How do you decide if a theme cruise is right for you? After finding a sailing with a theme that’s appealing, you’ll want to look carefully at the offerings to make sure you know what you’re getting.

Review the daily activities and schedule, and make sure what’s offered is what you expected. How much will the theme be played out? Will you get to meet a celebrity lecturer or musician, or will the stars do their things and vanish? Is the theme carried out in ways that appeal to you, such as varied kinds of gatherings or events? This kind of outing might be fun for someone who simply wants to hear good music, but perhaps it’s not ideal for someone keen on meeting the stars on a bucket-list trip.

Take a look at the itinerary, and make sure the ports are places you want to visit — though you always can stay onboard if you’d like. See whether the sailing’s theme cruise extends to shore excursions, such as tours guided by an archeology, wine, food, or with a photo expert or music concerts located ashore. These can be memorable ways to experience a port and get more out of your theme cruise.

Theme Cruise Pricing

You’ll likely pay a little more for a theme cruise than a general sailing, as you’ll be getting extra activities and private access to the artists or VIP guests. A celeb-packed itinerary means the travel agency has to include a value add “entertainment fee” to cover the costs of bringing on the sports star or musical artists/bands onboard. However, when Excellence in Travel puts together these theme cruises, they are organized at a minimum of 12 months in advance and can often negotiate their deals far in advance with cruise lines. EIT can build in value-adds and keep the price close or lower to what the other cruisers will be paying — or lower than last-minute bookings by the general public —“because we’re bringing such a large group.”

Look for incentives like souvenir T-Shirts, lanyards, cocktail party, complimentary VIP photos with the celebrity or an autographed photo, onboard credit and prizes. Sometimes you can get discounts such as an early-booking, cruise line past guest or a military discount. Other discounts may include firefighter, policeman, teacher, senior rates, residential special rates that can also lower the total cost of a theme cruise. Some organizers also can match up same-sex singles in cabins, so they can avoid the unpopular single supplement of 200 percent (single price for double occupancy). Booking early also allows you to get the best cabin location. On EIT cruises, the seats for the music concerts are tied to your sign up date.

What To Pack

Choose clothes to suit the roster of activities. On a ‘60s music cruise? Break out the love beads, tie dye shirts and bell-bottoms. On EIT’s military cruise, like the Anthem of the Seas that sails out of Newark, New Jersey on April 30, 2016, they would consider wearing your military uniform to the Military Ball, bring your veterans T-Shirt or hat, bring your military coin or bring your war pictures to share. Veterans should bring business cards to pass out to fellow cruisers they might like to see again.

A good example of a Theme Cruise Vacation is DISNEY CRUISE. Disney does themed events exceptionally well and is a great choice for multi-generational family reunions. If you like their land-based theme parks in Disney World and Disneyland, then you’ll enjoy how Disney Cruise Line caters wonderfully to kids and the kids at heart. Your themed Disney cruise is jammed packed with parties, character-autograph sessions, Broadway type musicals, Disney movies, games, classes, tours, children/teens programs and even a 1,800-foot water play area on their larger ships. Disney cruises will exceed your child’s expectations because of the extensive activities — think princess parties, animation lessons, pirate night, science classes and computer lessons.  I took my then three-year old grandson on a Disney cruise, he is now seven years old and still talks about his Disney cruise experience!

THEME CRUISES offer the opportunity to indulge in a favorite hobby and increase your knowledge through a wide variety of subjects — from gourmet cuisine, fine wine, 60s and 70s music, destination culture and military history. Programs may include special guest speakers, performances by noted entertainers, theme-related shore excursions and the chance to interact with leading figures in a particular field. Theme cruises are very popular and often sell out early.

Colleen Gaier is an Accredited Cruise Counselor, with Excellence in Travel LLC, a veteran owned travel agency located in Dayton, Ohio. Visit their website www.ExcellenceInTravel.com.
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