How Offbeat Theme Cruises Can Boost Your Bottom Line

Balcony stateroom on the MSC Divina, host ship of the “Holistic Holiday at Sea” cruise sailing round-trip from Miami on March 14.
Balcony stateroom on the MSC Divina, host ship of the “Holistic Holiday at Sea” cruise sailing round-trip from Miami on March 14.

As the year winds down, it’s a great time to take stock of cruise sales. Why not promote a group theme cruise or special-themed option offered by a cruise line or other sponsor to entice clients to book as a holiday gift?

Expand Your Outlook

With wine, cuisine, art, music and crafts-themed cruises to choose from, travel agents can reach a wide pool of potential guests. The “gold” comes from having a superb database—telling you everything about your clients and their personal interests. Seemingly unimportant tidbits of knowledge about the client can mean the difference between making a sale or not. Use them as sales hooks.

Even odd or quirky topics for an affinity group cruise may fit perfectly for a particular client you know. Did you know 20 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo? It’s true, according to Paul Gambino, editor in chief of Rebel Ink magazine, which—along with photographer Dan Howell—will sponsor the first North American tattoo-themed cruise on Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas next spring. The four-night cruise sails round-trip from Fort Lauderdale on April 16 and includes a port call at Cozumel, Mexico.

The tattoo aficionados will consist of a large group—at least 100 staterooms—within a regular sailing of the ship. Clients who have tattoos or are simply a die-hard fan of the art will love the line-up of tattoo artists, including Tatu Baby, Sarah Miller, Mark Longenecker, Amy Nicoletto and Chris Torres. Ink fans will attend exclusive events including burlesque shows and tattoo contests, enjoy complimentary photo shoots and head out for a private beach party in Cozumel.

Rates begin at $970 per person double and include all activities and events. In addition, cruisers in this group receive a $100 credit toward an onboard tattoo for the first and second guests in each stateroom.

Agents may sell into the group and they’ll receive commission. For details, check out “Ink or Swim” at

The first North American tattoo-themed cruise will set sail on Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas next spring.
The first North American tattoo-themed cruise will set sail on Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas next spring.

In a very different vein, CroisiEurope is promoting three “Great War” cruises that extensively focus on World War I events and historical sites. During the September 10, 2015, seven-day cruise entitled “A Commemorative Cruise – Ostend to Lille” guests will visit less trafficked historic sites in Belgium and France, including the “Trench of Death,” the Memorial to the Missing in Kortrijk and underground tunnels used during the war.

While those topics may not appeal to a broad mix of people, therein lies the hook. For an agent with a client who’s wildly passionate about 20th-century history or military history, this and two other similarly themed CroisiEurope cruises are engaging hooks. Prices begin at $1,809 per person for travel on September 10, 2015. Each cruise includes specialized onshore excursions. To look at these itineraries, visit the CroisiEurope website and click on “Cruises.”

The Zen of Selling Wellness

Do you know which clients in your database belong to a gym, practice yoga, are vegans or vegetarians or enjoy wellness lectures? That’s good to know as the public’s taste for a healthy lifestyle builds. One option is Whet Travel, an experiential travel company specializing in full-ship festivals at sea, which also has many wellness and Zen-like options.

Whet’s “Holistic Holiday at Sea XII” cruise on MSC Divina sets sail round-trip from Miami on March 14, visiting Falmouth, Jamaica; George Town, Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico; and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. Participants on this MSC Cruises ship will listen to lectures, participate in workshops and dine on vegan natural foods and beverages prepared by special chefs.

Whet Travel will offer agents selling this and its other wellness-themed cruises (including its “Zen Cruise”) 10 percent commission of the total cruise fare, excluding taxes and fees, as well as 10 percent commission paid on travel insurance policies purchased through Whet Travel, discounts for agents to book the client’s lodging, flight and ground transportation, and availability for agents to book the clients’ reservations online. Visit for this specific sailing.

Whet also offers music cruises like the annual Groove Cruise, while Norwegian Cruise Line and partner Sixthman have a slew of music-related voyages. In addition, Carnival Cruise Lines offers a popular “Carnival Live” concert series. Agents might target fans of singers or groups. (See our previous piece at

Create Your Own Affinity Group

Selling into an existing group is great, but “if you really want to expand your client base, the easiest and best way to do so is to build [your own] affinity groups,” emphasizes Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International. Look for those who are like-minded or have a common interest. And don’t overlook non-cruisers.

For people who love cooking, Freed says the agent might develop an affinity group focused on culinary interests, and include such features as an excursion to a well-known restaurant ashore with a cooking class. She says Royal Caribbean even can arrange that through its shore-excursion department and will pay the travel partner commission.

Cruise Planners’ Anna Conway has created a “Meow Meow Cruise!” for cat lovers.
Cruise Planners’ Anna Conway has created a “Meow Meow Cruise!” for cat lovers.

In the case of building your own affinity cruise, it’s also good to tap into your own personal passions. One agent who did that is Anna Conway, owner of a Cruise Planners franchise agency in Sarasota, FL, who created a “Meow Meow Cruise!” for cat lovers. It sails on Carnival Victory on February 26, 2015. While people cannot bring their pets on the Carnival Cruise Lines cruise, they will definitely enjoy conversation with many “like-minded” feline enthusiasts.

How did the idea develop? It’s simple, says Conway. Every time she sailed, she ran into people who loved cats as much as she did. They shared photos and talked about the personalities of their kitties. So the four-night cruise was born and now includes such cat-themed activities as a “Meow Meow Mixer” and a scavenger hunt. The cruise sails round-trip from Miami with port calls in Key West, FL, and Cozumel. Check out Conway’s page at

Also, think celebratory occasions. Freed says she recently was approached by Janet Blackwell, a part-time travel agent at Tidewater Cruises and Travel, about an affinity group cruise for her own retirement as a school teacher. “Many of her teacher friends and family are going on a group cruise to celebrate,” Freed emphasizes. “I think retirement cruise groups are a great market for travel professionals to cater to.” Freed gives some other “gleanings” about interesting group prospects in the sidebar on page 31.

So as 2015 looms, get out your database, promote themed options to clients as holiday gifts and look for clients with a hobby or interest, or a personal milestone. Talk to your cruise line business development manager or inside sales agent for assistance in creating an affinity group. Then next year, you might be not only earning more money, but promoting with a much more full-bodied mailing list, one that includes new cruisers you wouldn’t have had without that special interest hook.

More Tips From Vicki Freed

What other tips does Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, have for agents in selling affinity group cruises? Here are a few.

  • Think Simple: Ask your clients what they are passionate about. From their answers, find a way to build a group.
  • Bowling for Dollars: Head out to the local bowling alley or find clients that belong to a bowling league. “This is a great opportunity for a bowling group to sail and host their awards ceremony at the end of the season on a cruise ship.”
  • Tap into Religion: Churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship have members interested in beautiful religious buildings that they might explore overseas. “Many ports have historical churches and temples.”
  • Grab a Game Group: Sometimes something simple holds great promise. “Mahjong groups are very popular. It’s the same with bridge groups.”
  • Plant the Idea Early: Timing is critical when it comes to some affinity groups—like wedding groups. " Plant the idea into your clients’ heads when their children get engaged."
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