-- When travel agency owner Howard Moses launched a website to track theme cruises less than a decade ago he could count the number of such offerings on two hands. Now his one-time pet project, themecruisefinder.com, lists 400 to 700 cruises at any given time.
"The market has grown dramatically, almost exponentially," says Moses, president of The Cruise Authority in Marietta, Ga. "The public wants this unique opportunity to meet and see experts on topics, and share the passion about whatever the subject is."
Theme cruises these days run the gamut from the sublime to the bizarre, focusing on everything from quilting (quiltcruises.com) to Harleys, from Donny and Marie to jam cruises to heady discussions of evolution.
Some of the most popular cruises afford an opportunity for fans to mingle with stars, and vice versa.
"We want to hang out with you and not sit in our cabins all day," Kid Rock told an enthusiastic crowd at his Kid Rock's Chillin' the Most Cruise last April.
The approach obviously works. The rocker's third annual Bahamas cruise next April on the 2,642-passenger Carnival Destiny is sold out. Likewise, a New Kids on the Block Cruise on the same ship next June was sold out hours after it was announced this summer. Both have a wait list.
It's no wonder more performers are booking at-sea appearances.
New in 2012, alt band Weezer will appear on The Weezer Cruise, Jan. 19-23, on the Carnival Destiny, cruising to the western Caribbean from Miami. The floating music festival will also feature other bands including Dinosaur Jr. and Q&A sessions.
Meanwhile for country fans, the Blake Shelton Cruise features the reigning Country Music Award Male Vocalist of the Year appearing on a weeklong eastern Caribbean cruise on the 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel, embarking Miami on Oct. 14.
While some theme cruises are full-ship charters where everyone on board shares a particular interest, others take the form of large groups with participants invited to private activities (not available to other passengers). In both cases, the cruises may be priced at a premium to cover the extra entertainment/activities.
Cruise lines also organize their own theme sailings with speakers doing sessions open to all passengers.
With a guarantee you'll be traveling with like-minded people, theme cruises are particularly popular with singles, Moses says. Some even offer roommate matching for those looking to share a cabin.
Theme cruises are being added to the docket practically weekly, but here are some additional 2012 highlights:
• The Osmonds host their first Bahamas cruise, Donny & Marie Cruisin' With Friends, embarking from Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 28, on the MSC Poesia. Their siblings will be on board, too.
•Vamps at Sea on Holland America's 1,916-passenger Zuiderdam in Alaska's Inside Passage, has such guests as vampire scholar John Edgar Browning and Dacre Stoker, a great-grandnephew of Dracula author Bram Stoker. The weeklong cruise embarks from Vancouver, where Twilight movies were filmed, on June 23.
•Three cruises focus on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking in April, with the Titanic Memorial sailings visiting the disaster site in the Atlantic. The cruises are on the 694-passenger Azamara Journey and 1,350-passenger Fred Olsen Cruise Lines Balmoral.
•Hogs on the High Seas celebrates its 10th motorcycle rally at sea, Oct. 28-Nov. 4, on Royal Caribbean's 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas, cruising the western Caribbean from Port Canaveral. Events include a trade show, tattoo and Topless Hombre contests and many parties. Participants are encouraged to wear leather on formal night.
•Two evergreen favorites are the Jam Cruise, also in its 10th year, Jan. 9-14 on the MSC Poesia; and TheSmooth Jazz Cruise, Jan. 15-22 and Jan. 22-29 on the 1,916-passenger Westerdam. The Caribbean sailings are all from Fort Lauderdale and feature performances and sessions by a bevvy of artists.
•Scientific American hosts Bright Horizons11, adding brainpower to an eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America's 2,104-passenger Eurodam, Jan. 14-21, from Fort Lauderdale. Topics to be explored include flower and plant evolution, astrophysics, primatology and physical cosmology, with such sessions as "Plant Sex Made Easy" and "Einstein in a Nutshell."
•Murder at Sea: Mystery Authors and Mayhem Revealed, May 13-20, brings best-selling mystery writers onboard the 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas, cruising the eastern Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale. In addition to socializing with Edgar Award-winning authors, passengers will match wits with other passengers to solve a shipboard whodunit.
•Football fans can go shipboard to mingle with Coach Don Shula and famed fullback Larry Csonka on the NFL Legends transatlantic cruise on the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity in May, while baseball fans can pick up pointers from former Major League stars including Vida Blue and Ken Griffey Sr., on a winter series of Baseball Greats Caribbean sailings on the MSC Poesia.
• Nudists can bare all in the Mediterranean on the 227-passenger sailing ship Royal Clipper, on a 14-night Midsummer's Eve Cruise from Civitavecchia (near Rome), embarking on June 9, with special activities including workshops with relationship advisers.
•Politicians will be espousing their philosophies at sea next year, too. The National Review and The Nation have competing annual sailings (fall dates are not yet announced) themed for conservatives (Nov. 12-19 on MS Eurodam) and liberals (Dec. 11-18 on MS Nieuw Amsterdam), respectively. Interestingly, one thing they agree on is the choice of Holland America ships for both cruises.