Maybe you've dreamed of taking part in Rio de Janeiro's annual Carnival -- or maybe you're a sports fan and want to attend the Melbourne Cup or Monaco Grand Prix in person. No matter which 2015 events and festivals you hope to attend, you might be surprised to find out you can cruise there.
Cruising to major world events -- from elite sporting competitions and races to cultural festivals, street parties and anniversary celebrations -- marks an increasing trend in theme cruising. Reflecting this development, Celebrity Cruises added a new series of "Signature Event Sailings" to its 2015 collection, joining several other cruise lines, such as Windstar, Azamara Club Cruises and Silversea, which have already designated portions of their cruising portfolio to itineraries focused on big-name 2015 events.
The impetus comes from veteran cruisers, who've already done many of the routine sightseeing voyages; now, they're seeking out event-themed itineraries that promise to immerse them more creatively and authentically in a destination.
"We are seeing a trend in cruisers who are looking for opportunities to immerse themselves in a destination's culture. Cruise lines are responding by creating itineraries that coincide with worldwide events," explained Christine Duffy, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association. Additionally, she added, "Industry-wide, cruisers are seeking cruises that offer opportunities to spend more time in a port -- giving passengers more time to immerse themselves in local culture."
Longer or overnight port stays are ideal for experiencing festivals or sporting events, especially ones that might take place in the evening or a long drive from the cruise port.
When passengers don't have to hurry back to a ship that's leaving at 4 or 5 p.m., they can stay and really make the most of festivities, says Janet Diaz, spokeswoman for Azamara Club Cruises, Royal Caribbean International's overnight-intensive brand. Yet another benefit to an events cruise is the general onboard social atmosphere. "It puts them onboard with very like-minded people, which is important, especially on a small ship," explained Joe Duckett, vice president of sales and marketing for Windstar Cruises.
Even better, cruising to marquee events can often save you money over putting together a land-based visit on your own. For example, there's potentially huge savings in cruising to the Monaco Grand Prix, since the markup on a cruise fare is likely far less than that of a hotel stay during race weekend in Monte Carlo. Adding to the value of these types of trips, show or race tickets are often included in the cruise fares or sold by the excursion team at less of a premium than those offered by land-based ticket-sellers. Packages might include transfers and complimentary meals and drinks (that come with the cruise), as well as cool extras tied to the event theme, such as cocktail parties, events-related experts onboard, or meet-and-greets with pro athletes and celebrities.
Here's a look at some of the big-name 2015 events that you can attend via a cruise.
The Event: During Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, one of the most famous parties in the world, millions take to Rio's streets wearing colored costumes and dancing their doldrums away in a collective celebration of life for five days (kicking off February 13, 2015) before a more solemn 40-day Lenten period and Easter.
The Cruise: Several cruise lines offer sailings to the region in time for the event. Azamara Club Cruises operates a 12-night "Rio Carnival & Argentina" voyage on Azamara Journey. Departing on February 7, 2015, the cruise affords two full days of Carnival revelry in Rio, along with an overnight stay in Buenos Aires, Uruguay calls in Montevideo and Punta del Este, and post-Carnival R&R on the beaches of Buzios, Brazil. Or, sail Silversea from Buenos Aires to Barbados aboard a 17-night Silver Shadowitinerary that departs February 10, 2015, and incorporates a two-night stopover for Rio's festivities.
For something a bit longer, check out the 26-night cruise aboard Holland America's Maasdam. The voyage actually begins in Rio with a double overnight on February 15, and passengers will remain in Rio until 5 p.m. on Fat Tuesday, so you'll have plenty of time to experience the full extent of the celebration. When you're partied out, the ship will embark on a comprehensive sailing of Brazil and the Amazon River region, as well as ports in the Caribbean, before disembarking in Fort Lauderdale.
35th Annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
The Event: More than 200 sailboats from 32 countries are expected to race in this annual Caribbean event, which takes place off the coast of St. Maarten from March 5 through 8. And, in true Caribbean style, each night of the race is celebrated with parties that feature live music by popular local and international artists. (Past years have highlighted big names like The Black Eyed Peas and Shaggy.)
The Cruise: Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf will be docked in Phillipsburg on March 7 from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. before departing on a seven-night Caribbean cruise, offering passengers a deck-side view of the esteemed races. To bookend the cruise with sailing experiences, you can book the "America's Cup Sailboat Racing" excursion, with airport or hotel transfer, on embarkation or debarkation day. On this tour, you'll board an America's Cup-winning sailboat and help to sail it alongside the crew (or simply relax and watch all the action).
Skagit County Tulip Festival
The Event: Each year, throughout most (if not all) of April, sprawling fields of tulips -- some of the largest in the country -- bloom in Skagit County, Washington, and the public is welcome to tour the hundreds of acres of fields. There are also meet-and-greets with the growers, and various art shows are scheduled throughout the area.
The Cruise: American Cruise Lines' seven-night river cruise on American Spirit departs April 18, 2015, and also features scenic cruising of Puget Sound and guided tours in each port. One of the included afternoon bus tours will take passengers to the festival. Plus, the cruise line has arranged for a master gardener to come aboard the ship for a few special lectures.
Monaco Grand Prix
The Event: Three storied competitions make up auto racing's version of the Triple Crown: the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix (May 21 to 24, 2015), a tradition since 1929. V.I.P. parties, hundred-million-dollar yachts anchored in Monte Carlo's harbor, and Gucci- and diamond-draped tourists strutting around Ferrari-choked streets of the principality are all part of the entertainment of race weekend.
The Cruises: Given Formula One's popularity and this spectacular location, it isn't surprising to find Monaco Grand Prix-themed cruises, several of which also tout itineraries with stopovers at the nearby Cannes Film Festival. (See more options in the additional listing below.) Hop aboard Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Journey for a special five-night "Grand Prix Voyage" (embarking May 21 from Nice), incorporating a stop for the final race day in Monte Carlo (note grandstand tickets are extra), plus port calls in Livorno, Italy, and Saint-Tropez and Cannes on the French Riviera.
Windstar's tall ship Wind Surf is also offering an eight-night "Grand Prix of Monaco" cruise, sailing roundtrip from Rome (embarks May 19), with stops in Italy, France (including Cannes, during the film festival) and Monaco for the two final race days of the Grand Prix. The cruise is hosted by Formula One racing expert John M. Bisignano, plus passengers get preferred seating in the Grand Prix grandstands.
Cannes Film Festival
The Event: Few film festivals embody the glamor and sophistication of the silver screen scene, with its many international stars and starlets, like the French Riviera's ode to cinema: the Cannes Film Festival. The event has been held annually since 1946 and is running from May 13 through 24 in 2015. Visitors to Cannes during the festival period can try to catch a glimpse of the star-studded events that unfold along the red carpet of the Palais des Festivals, or check out the imprints of some 400 stars' hands at the Allee des Etoiles (Walk of the Stars).
The Cruise: For those looking to double-dip on their events cruising, a trio of cruise lines pairs a stopover in Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix (see event details above) with a call on Cannes during the city's storied film festival. Sail aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit for a nine-night voyage from Barcelona to Rome (embarking May 18), including an overnight stay for two full days in both Cannes and Monte Carlo during the height of the events. U.K.-based Fred. Olsen is offering a similar itinerary, the 15-night "Film Stars & Fast Cars," aboard Boudicca, leaving May 16 from Dover, England. Apart from visiting four ports in Spain, passengers get an overnight stay in Cannes during the festival period and can also access the final day of the Grand Prix via bus transfer (30 minutes) from the port of Nice. (Transfers and race tickets/seating are extra.)
Star Clippers' Star Flyer, meanwhile, departs for a seven-night sailing on May 23, cruising roundtrip from Cannes (and embarking during the film fest period) for a tour of the French Riviera, Corsica and Monaco. During the second day of the cruise, the ship will be docked in Monte Carlo for passengers to attend the Grand Prix finals. (Admission is extra.) Alternately, you can book Star Flyer's four-night May 19 sailing roundtrip from Cannes (with the film festival ongoing at either end), with a stop in Monte Carlo on the first day of the Grand Prix trials, as well as calls on Corsica and St. Tropez.
Or, focus just on the film festival with Celebrity's 10-night Mediterranean sailing from Barcelona to Rome aboard Celebrity Equinox(departs May 11). In Cannes, passengers get exclusive access to a special film festival-themed rooftop cocktail party, and while onboard, they'll benefit from film historian lectures and film screenings featuring past Cannes winners.
The Event: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August 7 to 29, 2015) takes place at historic Edinburgh Castle and is one of Scotland's most significant cultural events. It features musicians and dancers from many nations who perform military precision drills, traditional Scottish dance, historical reenactments and more. The nightly event is capped off with a regal fireworks display. Among the performers are the famed Massed Pipes and Drums, as well as the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines.
The Cruise: Princess Cruises is featuring five sailings with optional excursions to the Edinburgh Tattoo. You can choose a 12-night departure from London on August 1 or August 13 aboard Royal Princess, and visit ports throughout England, Ireland and Scotland, including three full days in Edinburgh (two of which are via Greenock). Or, sail Ocean Princess on a trio of shorter eight-night roundtrip sailings from London (August 1, 9, or 17), which incorporate overnight stays in Edinburgh, via Rosyth, during festival time.
The Event: The Melbourne Cup is Australia's major thoroughbred horse race, called "the race that stops a nation." Race day (November 3, 2015) is a public holiday in the state of Victoria, where the race is held, and it's celebrated by many Australians nationwide. Special dining and entertainment packages can be purchased by racing fans looking for a more social experience. There's even a fashion contest in which the best-dressed women on the course can win cash prizes.
The Cruise: For the first time, P&O Cruises' entire fleet -- Pacific Jewel, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl -- will cruise to Melbourne for the Cup in 2015. Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl are both departing roundtrip from Sydney on October 31 for six-night sailings that dock in Melbourne during the race and include transfers and tickets to the event. Pacific Dawn offers the same inclusions and departure date, but it embarks from Brisbane for a seven-night roundtrip sailing. Carnival's Carnival Spirit departs Sydney for an eight-night sailing on October 30, four days of which it will dock in Melbourne, including the main race day on Tuesday, November 3.
Festa del Redentore
The Event: Venice's Carnevale may get all of the glory, but the city's Festa del Redentore celebrations (July 18 to 19, 2015), dating back to 1577, certainly don't disappoint on the wow-factor. The event -- a mark of religious-inspired gratitude for the end of a 16th-century plague that swept through Venice -- includes a fantastic late-night fireworks display and a bevy of illuminated, festooned boats set in St. Mark's Basin, for which a cruise ship deck proposes a primo perch for viewing.
The Cruise: Silversea's Silver Wind, cruisingfor 10 nights from Rome on July 9, sails to Italian, Sicilian and Croatian coastlines before descending upon Venice for an overnight stay (on July 18) in prime time for the Festa del Redentore. Celebrity is likewise offering a sailing that coincides with the festival aboard Celebrity Constellation's eight-night "Adriatic and Greek Isles" cruise. Leaving from Venice on July 11 for Split, Croatia, and the Greek Isles, passengers return to Venice for an overnight stay during the festival to get front-row seats for the pyrotechnic display, plus a poolside party inspired by a Venetian masquerade ball.
The Event: Occurring just once every five years, Sail Amsterdam (August 19 to 24, 2015) brings together a stunning flotilla of sailboats, tall ships, naval vessels and historic boats for a stunning maritime spectacle. The six-day-long festival marks the largest nautical event in the world and kicks off with a huge parade of hundreds of ships, followed by boating matches, navy shows and waterfront activities.
The Cruise: Windstar's Wind Surf is the world's largest sailing yacht and, as the festival's largest featured ship, will accordingly be one of its main attractions. Sail aboard the line's eight-night "Windmills and Tall Sails" voyage from Oslo to Dover, England (embarking August 16), with stops in Norway, Brussels and Holland. With two full days at the Amsterdam event, passengers will enjoy a prime position from deck for ogling the hundreds of ships in the harbor, as well as a prominent spot within the event's signature parade. Embarking August 13, Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest sails 12 nights from Stockholm, calling on Helsinki; Copenhagen; St. Petersburg; Tallinn, Estonia; Brugge, Belgium; and Amsterdam -- just in time for the big festival. Passengers will enjoy two full days (August 22 to 23) of boating matches and waterfront festivities before disembarking in Southampton, England.
--By Elissa Garay, Cruise Critic contributor, and Sarah Staples, Cruise Critic contributor