Maybe you've dreamed of taking part in Rio de Janeiro's annual Carnival -- and appreciate the convenience and value of cruising to get you there. Or maybe you're a sports fan and want to attend the Melbourne Cup or Monaco Grand Prix in person.
Cruising to major world events -- from elite sporting competitions and races to cultural festivals, street parties and anniversary celebrations -- is the next big trend in theme cruising, experts say.
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.
"What we're seeing is, as cruise lines look to stand out amongst shoppers, premium and upscale lines especially are going out of their way to arrange more of an experience in port, rather than simply a visit," says Dwain Wall, SVP and general manager of the travel agency chains CruiseOne & Cruises Inc.
Longer port stays are ideal for experiencing events, especially ones that might take place in the evening or a long drive from the cruise port. So cruise lines that stay ashore into the evening -- or overnight -- and port-intensive river cruises are a natural fit for hosting event-centric theme cruises, Wall says.
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's overnight-intensive brand.
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 or meet-and-greets with pro athletes and stars.
Here's a look at some of the big-name world events that you can cruise to this year.
The Event: During Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, one of the most famous parties in the world, millions take to Rio de Janeiro's streets wearing colored costumes and dancing their doldrums away in a collective celebration of life for five days before a more solemn 40-day Lenten period and Easter.
The Cruise: Lots of cruise lines offer sailings to the region in time for the event, most with departure dates in February. For something a bit later, check out the 26-night cruise aboard Holland America's Maasdam. The cruise actually begins in Rio with a double overnight on March 2, 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 festivities. 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.
The Event: Besides Carnival, another way to celebrate the pre-Lent season of excess is to attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This extravaganza centers on daily parades, where you can collect beads, toys and trinkets thrown from festive floats. Although nighttime reveling in the French Quarter can be raucous, G-rated parades, family picnics and elegant balls are the true traditions of the citywide celebration.
The Cruise:American Queen Steamboat Company's seven-night cruise up the Mississippi on February 28 is preceded by a complimentary one-night hotel stay in New Orleans before a full day onboard in the city (departing at 9 p.m.), providing you with two whole days to take in the festivities leading up to Fat Tuesday -- the culmination of Mardi Gras. You'll also visit Oak Alley, St. Francisville and Baton Rouge in Louisiana, and Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi, before returning to New Orleans, with the Mardi Gras theme carrying on throughout your time onboard. A full day on the river and one in Helena, Arkansas, complete the itinerary. American Queen Steamboat Company includes complimentary shore excursions in every port.
The Event: Approximately 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 6 through 9. And, in true Caribbean style, each night of the race is celebrated with parties that feature live music by some of the best artists on the island.
The Cruise:Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf will be docked in Phillipsburg on March 8 from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. before departing on a seven-night Caribbean cruise, offering passengers a deckside 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 the 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).
The Event: Each year, throughout the month 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 19 and also features scenic cruising of the 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.
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 1's Monaco Grand Prix, a tradition since 1929. V.I.P. parties, hundred-million-dollar yachts anchored in the 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 F1's popularity -- and this spectacular location -- it isn't surprising to find several Monaco Grand Prix-themed cruises. They can sell out as early as the dates are released, so racing fans are advised to book early. Star Flyer departs for a seven-night sailing on May 24, sailing from Cannes to Monte Carlo before embarking on a tour of the French Riviera and ending back in Monte Carlo. During the second day of the cruise, the ship will be docked in Monte Carlo for passengers to attend the Grand Prix Finals. Admission to the race is not included, but an airfare credit is, so that may help offset the price of tickets to this elite event. Alternately, you can book Star Flyer's May 17 sailing roundtrip from Cannes, with a stop in Monte Carlo on the first day of the Grand Prix trials. The experience will be similar, though the ship also visits some Italian ports. Tickets to attend the trials, rather than the finals, are a fraction of the cost.
6. Boston Pops Independence Day Fireworks Spectacular
The Event: Every year, the historic city of Boston hosts one of the nation's largest Independence Day fireworks displays -- a televised production set to patriotic tunes played live by the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra. Locals and tourists alike flock to the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade to take in the powerful spectacle.
The Cruise:Cunard may breathe British patriotism, but that doesn't mean the cruise line doesn't respect and appreciate American history. (It is owned by the Carnival Corporation, after all.) The cruise line is offering a five-night cruise aboard Queen Mary 2, departing from New York on July 1, with an overnight in Boston from July 4 through 5, giving passengers the opportunity to head down to the Hatch for an unforgettable 4th of July celebration before returning to the Big Apple.
The Event: The Edinburgh Tattoo 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 and Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines.
The Cruise:Princess Cruises is featuring two weeklong sailings with optional excursions to the Edinburgh Tattoo. You can choose to depart from London on August 3 or August 11 aboard Ocean Princess and visit ports throughout England, Ireland and Scotland, including an overnight in Edinburgh that encompasses almost two whole days. There are three different Edinburgh Tattoo excursion options at varying price points.
The Event: The Melbourne cup is Australia's major thoroughbred horse race, called "the race that stops a nation." Race day is a public holiday, and it's celebrated by many Australians. 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:P&O Cruises' Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl are both departing from Sydney on November 1, 2014, for six-night sailings that dock in Melbourne during the race and include tickets to the event. Carnival Spirit departs Sydney on November 2, 2014, after which it will dock in Melbourne for three days, including race Tuesday.