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 British Open or Monaco Grand Prix in person. No matter which 2016 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, Windstar, Azamara Club Cruises and Silversea have designated portions of their cruising portfolio to itineraries focused on big-name 2016 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.
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," explains 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 2016 events that you can attend via a cruise.
|Australian Open||January 2016|
|Total Solar Eclipse||March 2016|
|St. Maarten Heineken Regatta||March 2016|
|Skagit County Tulip Festival||April 2016|
|Monaco Grand Prix||May 2016|
|Cannes Film Festival||May 2016|
|British Open||July 2016|
|Edinburgh Tattoo||August 2016|
|Melbourne Cup||November 2016|
Tennis-lovers have made the pilgrimage to Melbourne for the Australian Open since its inception in 1905. It launches the "Grand Slam" season with the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open following later in the year. The Australian Open is incredibly popular and tickets can be hard to come by for men's, women's, mixed doubles and junior championship matches. In 2016, matches will be held from January 18 to 31.
P&O Cruises makes it easy to attend a match at the Australian Open: Book Pacific Pearl's "Australian Open Tennis" round trip voyage from Sydney, departing January 19, 2016. Fares include a two-day Australian Open ground pass ticket and transfers to and from the grounds. Upgraded tickets for the Rod Laver Arena or Margaret Court Arena are available for an additional charge.
During Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, one of the most famous parties in the world, millions take to Rio's streets for five days, wearing colorful costumes and dancing away their doldrums in a collective celebration of life. The festival kicks off February 5, 2016, before a more solemn Lenten period and Easter.
Several cruise lines offer sailings to the region in time for the event. Celebrity Cruises offers its 14-night "South America & Rio Carnival" itinerary on Celebrity Infinity. This Buenos Aires round trip voyage departs January 31, 2016, and includes an overnight in Buenos Aires plus three full days of Carnival revelry in Rio. Other ports of call include Sao Paulo, Ilhabela and Buzios -- all in Brazil. If a 14-night voyage is a bit too long for you, take a look at MSC Poesia's nine-night Buenos Aires round trip departing February 2, which will net you two days in Rio plus visits to Punta Del Este, Ilhabela and Ilha Grande.
Another option for those who want to experience Carnival and then indulge in some sea days is the 22-night "Amazon & Carnival Explorer" itinerary from Holland America aboard Maasdam. You'll start things off right with three nights in Rio de Janeiro before heading to sea. You'll visit Fortaleza, cross the equator, and cruise the Amazon River and many points in Brazil before calling on Saint Lucia and Saint Maarten and finally disembarking in Fort Lauderdale.
Total Solar Eclipse
Witnessing a total eclipse takes your breath away. This phenomenon occurs every 18 months when the moon passes between the sun and earth, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on our planet. In order to see the total eclipse, you must be in the path of the moon's shadow. Oftentimes, the best viewing platform for any sort of eclipse or solar event is from the deck of a cruise ship at sea, since it can maneuver into the best spot for viewing.
Holland America has a long history of compelling Asian voyages and in 2016 they're offering a 16-night "Indonesian Explorer & Solar Eclipse" voyage aboard Volendam. The round trip cruise from Singapore departs March 1, 2016, and visits the Indonesian ports of Jakarta, Semarang, Probolinggo, Ujung Padang, Komodo, Lombok and Bali. At the time of the total eclipse -- from 7 to 10 a.m. on March 9 -- Volendam will be somewhere in the Makassar Strait.
Eclipse Tours offers a similar -- though slightly more off-the-beaten path -- voyage aboard Silversea's Silver Discoverer, departing February 27 from the Solomon Islands and visiting Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. The ship will position itself in Micronesia for the total eclipse.
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 4 through 6. And, in true Caribbean style, parties that feature live music by popular local and international artists punctuate each night of the race. (Past years have highlighted big names like The Black Eyed Peas and Shaggy.)
Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf will be docked in Phillipsburg on March 5 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 a sailing experience, 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
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.
American Cruise Lines' seven-night river cruise on American Spirit departs April 16, 2016, 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.
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 26 to 29, 2016), a tradition since 1929. VIP 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.
Given Formula One's popularity and this spectacular location, it isn't surprising to find Monaco Grand Prix-themed cruises. Most itineraries spend one or two days in Monte Carlo. To live like a VIP yourself, board SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I for an eight-night cruise from Nice to Monte Carlo, spending May 28 and 30 -- the culmination of the Grand Pix -- in Monaco. Sail aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit for an eight-night voyage from Barcelona to Rome (embarking May 23), including an overnight stay for two full days in Monte Carlo during the height of the Grand Prix. Windstar's Star Breeze and Wind Surf will also both be in Monaco on May 28 and 29; Star Breeze as part of its seven-night Rome to Nice itinerary and Wind Surf during a seven-night Rome round trip voyage.
If you don't have time for a weeklong getaway, try Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest for a special five-night "Grand Prix Voyage" (embarking May 25 from Nice), incorporating a stop for a race in Monte Carlo, plus port calls in Livorno, Italy, and Saint-Tropez and Cannes on the French Riviera. (Note: Grandstand tickets are extra.) Alternately, if you have loads of time, board U.K.-based Fred. Olsen's Black Watch for a 15-night Dover, England, round trip voyage that will call on Nice on May 29 for the Grand Prix. Other ports of call include Gibraltar, Barcelona, Cannes and Spain's Alicante and Malaga.
Star Clippers' Star Flyer, meanwhile, offers two departures that feature Grand Prix festivities: For the race trials, board the May 21 round trip cruise from Cannes and tour the French Riviera, Corsica and Monaco. Alternately, you can book Star Flyer's May 28 Cannes to Rome sailing for the Grand Prix Final, with stops in St. Margherita and Portoferraio, Italy, as well as Bastia, Bonifacio and Figari Beach in Corsica, France.
Cannes Film Festival
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 11 through 21 in 2016. 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).
Celebrity Cruises is offering up "Italy, France + Film," a 10-night Barcelona to Rome route on Equinox that spends two days in Cannes. In Cannes, passengers get exclusive access to a special film festival-themed cocktail party, and while onboard, they'll benefit from film historian lectures and film screenings featuring past Cannes winners. SeaDream II, on a seven-night Barcelona to Nice run, will also call in Cannes for one day during the film festival.
Attending the British Open is a rite of passage for many golf fans. It's the oldest of four major golf championships and is a coveted ticket since it follows The Masters and the U.S. Open and leads up to the PGA Championship. The contest celebrates its 145th anniversary in 2016 at the Royal Troon Golf Course in Glasgow, Scotland.
An easy way to check out the 2016 British Open is by booking Celebrity's 12-night "British Isles & The Open" voyage aboard Celebrity Silhouette that departs Amsterdam on July 13. PGA Professional Steve Parry and several other golf pros will escort Celebrity passengers to the Open. There will also be onboard golf clinics and cocktail parties with the guest golf pros. For those only mildly interested in golf, the tournament will be broadcast on the ship with a special presentation of food and beverages to get everyone in the mood to watch the event en masse.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August 5 to 27, 2016) 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.
Celebrity Cruises comes to the table this year with a 14-night "British Isles Cruise." This round trip voyage out of Amstersdam features two days in Edinburgh for the festival. Before you even arrive in Scotland, you'll enjoy the music and dance of the country in order to give you a sneak peek at what you can expect at Edinburgh Castle. Once there, cruisers opting for Celebrity's shore excursion get Front Stand seating for the exciting ceremonial performance that includes military bands, pipe and drum corps and traditional dancers.
The Melbourne Cup is Australia's major thoroughbred horse race, called "the race that stops a nation." Race Day (November 1, 2016) is a public holiday in the state of Victoria, where the race is held, and it's celebrated by many Australians nationwide. Racing fans looking for a more social experience can book special dining and entertainment packages. There's even a fashion contest in which the best-dressed women on the course can win cash prizes.
For the second time, P&O Australia's entire fleet -- Pacific Jewel, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl -- will cruise to Melbourne for the Cup in 2016. Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl are both departing round trip from Sydney on October 29 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 round trip sailing. Carnival's Carnival Spirit departs Sydney for a six-night round trip sailing on October 30, three days of which it will dock in Melbourne, including the main race day on November 1.
--By Elissa Garay, Cruise Critic contributor, and Sarah Staples, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by contributor Andrea M. Rotondo.