You've probably seen TV clips of thousands of trekkies lined up by the thousands in costume to attend a convention focused on Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the Klingons.
Citing that wacky example, Bob Sharak, executive vice president of marketing and distribution, Cruise Lines International Association, says, "if someone can fill a convention center with Trekkie fans, why not fill a ship?" While acknowledging the Trekkie focus is avant-garde, he says more broad-based niche interests like fine wine and cuisine, health and wellness, dance, eco-travel and sports appeal to huge numbers of consumers and create excellent trade sales options.
"I like themed cruises a lot, and I've done them a lot," stresses Mark Comfort, co-owner, Cruise Holidays of Kansas City. "We've made them work for us fairly well, but I can't say great. But every now and then we hit a home run. I'm still a big believer in themed cruises."
Just the other day he met with a local upscale restauranteur to try and entice him to host a cruise; while there's no decision yet, Comfort continues to seek out potential opportunities.
Cruise lines have a wealth of ready-made themed cruises for agents to sell. Agents might book clients onto those or design a "cruise within a cruise"—taking an affinity group onboard and giving them added perks focused on the theme. Specializing in themed cruises and tours, Charlene Corris, owner, Custom Travel Concepts, Springfield, MA, previously took a group onboard the Carnival Men's Fitness cruise: "Go to your local gym and [be proactive]. I talked to my yoga instructor and said if you'd like to go on a cruise you must get 16 people."
Starting at $1,195 per person double, Costa Cruises' (www.costacruises.com) seven-day "Holistic Holiday at Sea" voyage onboard Costa Fortuna sails March 30, 2008 from Port Everglades. Workshops cover everything from vegan and macrobiotic cooking to shiatsu massage and heart disease prevention. For a luxury experience, clients might opt for Crystal Cruises' (www.crystalcruises.com) 11-day Thanksgiving voyage on Crystal Serenity with "Mind, Body and Spirit" programing. Sailing from Miami on November 19, the cruise, starting at $3,380 per person double, features tai chi and yoga masters, fitness expert Debbie Rocker and a Cleveland Clinic wellness specialist.
Cultivating a theme puts agents into a mindset of booking groups, which has high revenue potential, says Terry Thornton, Carnival Cruise Lines' vice president of marketing planning. He says themed cruises also may attract new cruisers—those who might be persuaded to try cruising with activities focused on their interest. Benefits of Themed Cruises
"Themed cruises are also good annuity builders for agents, as the themes are often transferred from ship to ship," says Thornton.
So if an agent has a successful five-day scrapbooking cruise on one ship, begin selling a similar cruise on another ship while onboard.
Sailings for Everyone From Golfers to Theater Buffs
For "down-home fun," Carnival's (www.bookccl.com) "Grand Ole Opry" Caribbean Cruise departs January 26 from Miami on Carnival Freedom. Country stars onboard include Charley Pride, Craig Morgan, Hal Ketchum and Jeannie Seeley. Included are private shows by the country music entertainers, an exclusive cocktail party and an Opry member question-and-answer session. Rates start at $1,209 per person double.
If dining out and savoring fine wine and cuisine is your client's absolute passion, the choices are prolific. Holland America's (www.hollandamerica.com) multiple Celebrity Chef Sailings give clients a chance to interact with wine and culinary experts and to secure savory recipes and cooking techniques. For example, Michael Bloise, executive chef of Miami's Wish, creates culinary delights that combine robust American flavors with haute Asian cuisine; he'll sail on Statendam's 14-day Australia and New Zealand journey on November 4. Prices start at $1,949 per person double.
Another cultural offering is the Regent Seven Seas Cruises' (www.regentexperience.com) "Theatre at Sea 2008," a 12-night extravaganza of performing stars on Seven Seas Mariner from Manaus, Brazil to Fort Lauderdale for $5,295 per person, double occupancy. Participating are Ed Asner, Tovah Feldshuh, Patricia Neal, Eli Wallach and other greats.
For sports fans, consider the December 14 voyage on MSC Cruises' (www.msccruises.com) Lirica. This seven-night cruise, roundtrip from Port Everglades, is priced from $479 per person double. Clients will interact with baseball celebs, including former Yankees players Stan Bahnsen and Tom Tresh and former New York Mets star Ed Kranepool.
Or, agents might design their own golf cruise around Celebrity Cruises' (www.celebritycruises.com) Golf Concierge program or Royal Caribbean International's "Golf Ahoy" program (www.golfahoy.com), which includes courses such as Mahogany Run Golf Course in St. Thomas and Barbados Golf Club. For luxury-focused golfers, the December 8 voyage of Silversea Cruises' Silver Shadow (www.silversea.com) from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale is a Silver Links voyage hosted by Brian Williamson of Elite Golf Cruises. Guests play on such courses as Acapulco's Fairmont Pierre Marques Golf Club and can opt for private instruction in custom-built golf cages during sea days.
Another option is to tie into special promotions. Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) offers a "Mother-Daughter Memories" package at $495 (in addition to the cruise fare) for any sailing this year on Emerald Princess; included are a sterling silver charm bracelet, manicure, pedicure, half-day pass to the Sanctuary retreat, reserved seats for wine tastings and a photo.
But you don't have to fit a square peg into a round hole: Consider themed cruises as a starting point for your own creativity, says Corris. She designed a Widow of the South cruise with author Robert Hicks on the May 20 Delta Queen "Civil War" voyage from Nashville to Cincinnati for $2,250 per person double.
Many other cruise lines also feature themed cruises—from food to nature, music to high technology. "Guests all share in a passion for certain activities on a themed cruise but, on a cruise vacation, guests also do what they want, when they want, any time," says Sharak. "Themed cruises should continue to be featured in any growing business."