Theme cruises are becoming more than passing fancy—so much so that a Wisconsin couple sold their stove just to be part of one. They might have to rely on take-out for the time being, but it was worth the theme cruise in question: Hogs on the High Seas, an annual motorcycle theme cruise that was started six years ago by Dean Anderson and his wife, Debbie. They run their operation from Waynesboro, VA, just outside Charlottesville, and their bike-themed cruises have sold out each year, often a year in advance.
Elvis enthusiasts can share their appreciation of The King on an Elvis Cruise.
Like other theme cruises, the decision to start their business grew out of the need to fill a niche. Motorcycling is a sub-culture all its own, and its following is legendary. Several yearly motorcycle rallies, such as Sturgis in South Dakota, attract more than 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts each year. These road rallies can become expensive when combined with all the extras like lodging and meals. The Andersons saw opportunity.
“The price gouging was getting out of control,” says Dean Anderson, referring to the cost of hotels, restaurants and other incidentals. “We thought a cruise was a good avenue to pursue.”
Their logic has paid off. Each seven-day cruise, which costs $1800 per couple, is carried out on a Royal Caribbean ship and draws about 2,000 passengers. This past November’s cruise was held on Mariner of the Seas and, as is typical, the first thing to go overboard was the dress code, Anderson says. On a Hogs on the High Seas cruise, passengers don motorcycle attire (cut-off shirts, jean shorts and leather chaps seem to be the favored attire). “Even the waiters in the dining rooms dress like we do,” he says.
Obviously, driving a motorcycle or chopper around on deck is prohibited, so other activities are planned, such as the topless hombre contest, the belly wacker (flop) contest, the tattoo contest and, for the hirsute, the best beard contest.
Motorcycling and cruising couldn’t be farther apart in terms of culture, but their merging underscores how theme cruises can provide an outlet for like-minded people to share in a common thread. They are also a great moneymaker for travel agents and cruise lines who charge as much as $300,000 to completely charter a ship.
Growing In Popularity
“Special-interest cruising has grown significantly in the past 10 years due to changing consumer lifestyles and travel expectations, as well as vacationers seeking active experiences,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). "Theme cruises are designed to help passengers pursue the latest trends in hobbies, explore new fields of learning, even engage some of the world’s leading experts and celebrities in conversation. What could be better than attending a cooking class hosted by a renowned chef or discussing the World Series poolside with one of baseball’s greats?”
MSC Lirica will host a "Baseball Greats" theme cruise in December.
Not a whole lot, which is why MSC Cruises operates its “Baseball Greats” theme cruises. December’s Western Caribbean cruise on MSC Lirica will host baseball luminaries Bob Feller, Dave “Soup” Campbell, Jeff Torborg, Tommy Davis and Stan Bahnsen, who will talk shop with interested passengers. Guests will also get to involve themselves with onboard baseball-related activities and clinics run by the former major leaguers. “Guests have repeatedly told us how much they enjoyed meeting and interacting with the players during past seasons’ baseball theme cruises, so it was natural for us to continue the program,” said Rick Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA.
Of course, not everyone is a sports fan, which is why the cruise lines offer such a wide array of theme cruises to choose from. Are your clients obsessed with the King? The Elvis Cruise, LLC works in conjunction with Carnival Cruise Lines on its “Elvis Cruise,” which this year is a four-day cruise on Carnival Fantasy departing from New Orleans on August 28 and visiting Cozumel. Expect rhinestones, jumpsuits, Elvis impersonators and a number of onboard Elvis-related activities, which will make Carnival Fantasy the next best thing to Graceland. “We are excited to provide individuals who are passionate about Elvis with the exclusive opportunity to interact with fellow enthusiasts and revered performers in a cruise setting,” said Michael McKay, Elvis Cruise executive producer.
If cartoons are more your cup of tea, there’s even a new theme cruise for, of all things, Betty Boop enthusiasts. The legendary 1930’s cartoon character now has her own fan cruise, a five-day cruise aboard Carnival Elation departing October 9 from San Diego and visiting Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico. There will be special Betty Boop events, screenings, parties and a Q&A with Mark Fleischer, the grandson of Betty Boop creator, Max Fleischer.
“This is an exclusive opportunity for fans to interact with fellow Betty Boop enthusiasts and collectors, meet top experts and enjoy a wonderful cruise experience,” said Jason Coleman, president of Jason Coleman, Inc., which is helping put the event together. Though his remark may not be a notable quotable, his use of the word “interact,” like McKay's above, is important. The word is central to describe a theme cruise, which, at heart, is all about interacting with people who share similar tastes.
Initiating New Cruisers
Interaction is the all the rage on a “Groove Cruise,” the brainchild of Jason Beukema, who heads up Miami-based Whet Travel. The music-themed cruises target Generations X & Y and incorporate music from world-recognized deejays, who come onboard to spin wax, as they say. The result: Spring Break for people with jobs. Even better, 62 percent of Groove Cruisers have never cruised before and never would have otherwise, says Beukema, which benefits the cruise lines who might just gain cruising converts.
Groove Cruises, of which three are usually operated each year using Royal Caribbean ships, can also pay off for travel agents who are eligible for commissions. “We make our travel agent partners look very good to their clients,” Beukema says.
Not that all theme cruises are as intense as a Groove Cruise. There are theme cruises devoted to anything from scrapbooking to fitness to religion. It’s not a stretch to say that there may be a theme cruise for every taste and interest.
While theme cruises are still a fledgling part of a cruise line’s business, they have grown to the tune of 30 percent over the last three years in Carnival’s case, says Cherie Weinstein, Carnival Cruise Lines’ vice president of group sales and administration. “Theme cruises give people the ability to be fully immersed in an experience,” she says.
The rise in luxury cruising should also give a boost to theme cruises that cater to older tastes. “Since more affluent travelers are cruising, as is reflected by the renaissance in the luxury sector of the industry, it would be safe to say that special interests geared toward this market would be on the rise,” says CLIA’s Dale.
Theme cruises also have the ability to indoctrinate new cruisers—a pressing and important task for the cruise lines—who may have before been reluctant to take a cruise as a vacation. “Theme cruises can be an entrée to cruising,” Weinstein says. “Some may have been hesitant before, but are more comfortable doing a cruise that features something (that is a) favorite of theirs.”