Sailing away on a theme

Specialty voyages let passengers soak in favorite activities -- from mystery and music to beer

Cruises

March 09, 2003|By Arline Bleecker | Arline Bleecker,Special to the Sun

Themed sailings have long been a popular standby of cruising. Such a cruise is tailor-made to your tastes and can ensure that even if you aren't wild about the ship, at least you have something to focus on that floats your boat.

Several lines tend to specialize in particular themes. For example, you can count on Norwegian Cruise Line for sports themes, Holland America for music themes and Crystal Cruises for food and wine festivals. The vaunted QE2 even offers a different theme on every trans-Atlantic crossing.

A few lines follow eclipses, offering astronomy buffs lectures by prominent cosmic experts or scientists. Years ago, Windstar even offered a cruise on the topic of ice cream that featured the corporeal Ben and Jerry. Although passengers could forget about dieting on that one, many lines arrange themes around health, nutrition and yoga.

As often nowadays, special-interest groups and travel agents also put together theme cruises aboard a regular sailing.

In either case, don't expect the ship to be overrun by enthusiasts. I have, on occasion, been a regular passenger on ships with a theme cruise in progress and, unless you're a participant, you would hardly notice (unless it's an Elvis impersonator cruise), particularly on a megaship.

Theme planners typically schedule events in private rooms during sea days, or themed activities blend in with the rest of what's going on. Besides, theme events don't necessarily have anything to do with where your ship is headed or even the ship itself.

A theme cruise simply lets you immerse yourself in your obsession du jour and meet like-minded people in the process. Whether your penchant runs to poodle skirts and pompadours, quilting or card-playing, mah-jongg or murder mysteries, there's a theme out there for you.

How to find one? Call the cruise lines directly or consult a travel agent. Or try your luck searching the Web for "cruises" plus your topic of interest or just enter "theme." My stab at it drummed up scores of such cruises, including a quilting cruise in June on Sun Princess in Alaska.

Here are a few theme cruises offered this year by cruise lines and / or independent organizations.

* Delta Queen Steamboat Co. (800-543-1949; www.deltaqueen. com) has "music of the river" vacations that let you experience America's rich musical heritage -- including ragtime, Dixieland jazz, blues, gospel, rockabilly, country and western and more -- on a number of itineraries that visit ports where the different styles emerged. The cruises are under the direction of John Edward Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smith-sonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

* Crystal Cruises' long-standing themes include food, wine, music and film. A musical theater cruise showcasing selections from West End to Broadway debuts this year. That joins the line's other popular themes of yoga, health and fitness and the Wine & Food Festival, in its ninth year. The luxury line will even dabble in foul play during a murder- mystery cruise from Yokohama, Japan, to Vancouver, British Columbia, in May, when the Harmony repositions to Alaska. For more information, consult a travel agent, or visit www. crystalcruises.com, or call 800-820-6663.

* One travel company that considers cruising great for the soul offers a cruise it calls "The Other Side." The March cruise on Holland America's Zaandam caters to those who want to connect with their lost loved ones in the afterlife. The Psychic & Spiritual Healing Cruise -- organized by Intuitive Vision Network -- claims to be the only psychic cruise of its kind in America. It invites the bereaved to come to terms with their grief and explore new metaphysical realms with the help of psychics, mediums and grief / empowerment experts. The seven-night cruise departs March 15 from Port Canaveral, Fla. Bookings are exclusively through the Cruise Center, a Houston travel agency. More information: 800-592-9772; www.cruisecenter.com.

* OK, so maybe you'd rather just cry in your beer. The All About Beer Magazine Brew Cruise might be for you. The seven-night Alaska cruise on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas sails from Vancouver in July. Sponsored by the magazine, the cruise's beer-related events include regional brews, tastings, lectures, a small beer festival and a three-course dinner featuring specialty brews. For more information, call Carlson Wagon-lit / Magic Happens Travel & Cruises, in Cary, N.C., at 800-824-4968; www.magichappens. com.

Arline Bleecker is the cruise correspondent for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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