Of all the times I’ve fantasized about traveling to a faraway land, none of them ever involved a ship or, more specifically, a cruise ship. I always assumed cruises didn’t have much to offer besides buffets and bridge games, and while I’m sure those activities are fun, I need more excitement in a vacation. But it turns out I’ve been living in the past, because today’s boats offer much more than I’d thought. The industry’s trying to lure younger travelers onboard by creating theme cruises that meet almost any need or desire you can imagine. More than just vacation vessels, these ships give people opportunities they crave (but lack) in their daily lives, like pursuing hobbies or hanging out with their favorite celebrities. And for those with, shall we say, unique interests, don’t worry—there are cruises for those as well.
Party with Celebrities (or Their Doppelgängers)
Okay, so there aren’t theme cruises devoted to Johnny Depp or Scarlett Johansson, but many other members of the entertainment industry make onboard appearances. Boy-band fans can travel to Key West and Cozumel with Carnival’s Backstreet Boys Cruise, or tropical Half Moon Cay on the New Kids on the Block Cruise. If Flip Cup tournaments and men’s wet-T-shirt contests entice you, try the Kid Rock Cruise. Even if your favorite musicians aren’t performing anymore, you can still enjoy them in tribute form, like so many do on Beatles and Elvis tribute cruises.
TV enthusiasts can live out their ultimate fantasies by rubbing elbows with soap opera stars, or actors on the most popular sci-fi series to date, Star Trek. Twi-hards, who rival Trekkies in steadfast fanaticism, will be happy to know there’s a Twilight Fan Cruise going to Alaska—and featuring three actors from the movie, to boot—this summer.
What’s a better travel souvenir than the gift of knowledge? There are cruises that will teach you investment know-how, take you on a particle physics laboratory tour, and even show you how to develop psychic skills. The Royal Astronomical Society actually teamed up with one cruise line to offer a vacation centered on solar-system science and geophysics. For those more into social sciences, Smithsonian Journeys puts on several different history-themed cruises, including a tour of Greece and Turkey that explores those countries’ ancient pasts. The organization also throws a World Leaders Symposium every year with an impressive array of guest speakers (Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Madeleine Albright, to name a few).
If these are too science-specific, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a few options for what it calls “mariner enrichment,” where guests learn all about a certain region’s food, art, history, and so forth.
Take a Hobby to the Extreme
With jobs, families, and a host of other responsibilities to attend to, we often find it difficult to devote the kind of time we’d like to hobbies. Travel companies, recognizing that need, have introduced a slew of specialized cruises that cater to our inner quilters, scrapbookers, and knitters. Board-game players can participate in chess cruises and Scrabble at Sea, which include both tournaments and casual games that come with trophies at the end. People whose hobbies don’t include clothes will enjoy Bare Necessities’ Ports of the Ancient World, where almost all onboard activities are clothing-optional. Travelers looking to meet new people (the original purpose of cruises) should check out the second International Cougar Cruise. Those who don’t even have time to adopt a hobby needn’t miss out, either: MSC Cruises’ Hobby Cruise introduces you to games and arts and crafts.
These might sound boring to nonfans, but remember, the boats still arrive at fantastic destinations. For example, various Scrabble at Sea cruises go to Hawaii and the Panama Canal and through the Mediterranean, and the infamous Cougar cruise traverses the Mexican Riviera in between all that mingling.
Surround Yourself with Other Sports Fanatics
Everyone worries about gaining weight while on vacation (especially on cruises, aka “floating buffets”), but that’s unlikely on these journeys. The Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise is a week-long race that starts and ends somewhere new each day. Cruises hosted by the Fun & Fitness Travel Club involve daily water aerobics during jaunts to Alaska, New England, Canada, and the western Caribbean. If you’re into yoga, Pilates, and healthful vegetarian cuisine, try a Holistic Holiday at Sea. Golf players can travel to the courses of their dreams on numerous cruise lines. Happier on the sidelines? There are many baseball- and football-themed cruises that give fans the opportunity to meet their sports heroes.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
On the other end of the fitness spectrum are cruises devoted to gastronomic indulgence, such as Windstar Cruises’ Food and Wine at Sea, which features master chocolatier Fran Bigelow bestowing her sweets prowess on guests. You can also hop onboard Food Network at Sea, a seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise with cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs and menus based on the network’s signature recipes. For more of a narrow focus, try Holland America Line’s Deadliest Catch–themed cruise, which sails through Alaska. During the trip, Captain Keith Colburn (the Emmy-nominated TV show’s host) shows cruisers how to prepare different kinds of crab. Or you could skip the hard crab-cracking work and opt for the Oktoberfest Escape, which involves a tour of Munich, gourmet cuisine, and plenty of beer.
Clearly, cruises these days involve much more than the bridge games and tango dance lessons of yore (though those types of trips do still exist, if they’re your thing). Spending hours holed up on a boat doesn’t sound so bad when you can take part in activities like yoga, astronomy lessons, Scrabble tournaments, unlimited chocolate sampling, and naked-people watching to pass the time. When the alternative is spending hours holed up on a stuffy plane crowded with cranky travelers, a theme cruise might be the more entertaining option.