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 keen golfer, tempted by the opportunity to sit in the grandstand at a storied tournament like the British Open.
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 done many of the routine sightseeing voyages before; 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 like Formula 1's annual Monaco Grand Prix or Down Under's Melbourne Cup. 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.
In addition, 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 may 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 the big-name world events that you can cruise to this year.
1. Australia Day
The Event: Celebrate the day Australia became a nation. The First Fleet arrived on the shores in 1787, with a ship full of convicts. It wasn't until some 50 years later that the anniversary was commemorated by emancipated prisoners who came to love their new land. January 26, 2013, will be feted with concerts, tall-ship races, fireworks and more.
The Cruise:P&O Cruises' Pacific Sun sails out of Sydney January 25, 2013, for a three-night special Australia Day cruise. You'll wake up on this patriotic holiday, anchored with a panoramic view of Sydney Harbor and the day's festivities. Enjoy a great spot for fireworks-viewing when Pacific Sun sails to Sydney's Darling Habor in the evening.
Try This Instead: Looking for a slightly different kind of event-focused cruise in Australia? P&O Cruises can also take you to the Melbourne Cup, November 2, 2013. Pacific Pearl and Pacific Jewel sail from Sydney to spend three nights onboard in Melbourne, plenty of time to take in Australia's major thoroughbred horse race -- "the race that stops a nation."
The Event: It's the most famous street party in the world. Millions take to Rio de Janeiro's streets wearing colored costumes, dancing their doldrums away in a collective celebration of life for five days before a more solemn
40-day Lenten period and Easter. What began in 1840 as a simple masked ball has evolved into a series of parades through the downtown, the botanic garden and the Sambodromo, where semiprofessional dancers shake it in front of
The Cruise: Multiple cruise lines are offering itineraries pegged to this year's Carnival, February 8 - 12; typically, passengers can experience the event through shore excursions to the Sambodromo. Our top pick is Holland America's Maasdam, which departs Rio de Janeiro February 10 for 26 nights, ending in Fort Lauderdale. On the first of two overnights onboard in Rio, an optional excursion to the Sambodromo, a massive arena on both sides of Marques de Sapacai Avenue, lets cruisers experience Brazil's annual celebration of excess -- the Samba Parade. There isn't a choice of grandstand or box seats; HAL cruisers will view the riotous music, dancing and hedonism from seats in section 9.
You'll pay $599.95 for the six-hour shore excursion.
Try This Instead: Azamara Quest embarks in Rio on the last night of Carnival and stays in port overnight to begin its 18-night Copacabana to Biscayne cruise. After an early dinner onboard, you can view the parade from the grandstand in the 60,000-seat Sambodromo. Pre-purchased tickets are available for $306.55 as an optional excursion.
The Event: If sharing the streets of Rio with nearly a million people isn't appealing, American Queen Steamboat Company offers another option to celebrate the season of excess -- Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This pre-Lent 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: The eight-night cruise up the Mississippi begins with a complimentary one-night hotel stay in New Orleans before an overnight onboard in the city, providing you with two nights to celebrate at the beginning of the
festivities -- a time when family-friendly parades can be enjoyed, most taking place Uptown. On your way to Memphis, you'll also visit Oak Alley and St. Francisville in Louisiana, and Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi. 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.
Try This Instead: Want to stay stateside, but bejeweled floats and beads aren't your thing? Consider viewing the 34th America's Cup -- a yacht-racing tradition dating back to 1851 -- from the deck of Celebrity Solstice. This hallowed race for sport's oldest trophy returns to U.S. waters for the first time in 17 years when the finals take place in San Francisco. Get "front row seats" onboard the ship for two full days of racing finals as part of a 10-night Wine and America's Cup Cruise, sailing from Seattle to Ensenada from September 13 to 23.
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 Cruise: 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. Crystal Serenity departs May 18, sailing from Istanbul to Barcelona, and overnights in Monte Carlo on the last day of the famed race. You can choose to view the Grand Prix from the paddock, where you can watch the Driver Parade; a private verandah above the casino; or the grandstand at the finish line. Exclusive extras include gourmet meals, Champagne, open bars and more. An additional shore excursion is an invitation to the official Formula 1 V.I.P. party. A private vehicle will take you back to the ship whenever you choose. Such elite entree doesn't come cheap. Prices for the outings range from $829 to $14,199 per person.
Try This Instead:Windstar Cruises offers an exclusive Grand Prix package for its Yachting the Rivera voyage on Wind Surf. You'll get preferred seating for Saturday's preliminaries and Sunday's race, dinner, a gala at the casino and even a gift of high-definition binoculars. The optional package starts at $2,299 per person. Additionally, Silversea's Silver Wind has an optional two-day V.I.P. Grand Prix de Monaco package available on its weeklong Barcelona-to-Rome sailing. It is sold out, but it may have a waitlist.
The Event: The Claret Jug is one of the most coveted golf trophies in the world, awarded to legends of the Open Championship -- the British Open -- since 1872. For sports enthusiasts, there's something special about attending the oldest of these golf tourneys, the only one held outside the U.S. The 142nd British Open will be hosted by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Muirfield -- where golf's rulebook was written -- July 18 - 21, 2013. Spectators can walk the roped-off fairways or watch their favorite players' rounds on big screen TV's within the hospitality "tented village."
The Cruise: With the popularity of golf theme cruises soaring, it was only a matter of time before cruise lines started arranging trips to golf's four annual "majors." PerryGolf and GolfAhoy, each in partnership with Azamara, have an 11-night 2013 British Open Golf Explorer package, featuring a 10-night Dublin-to-Hamburg cruise on Azamara Quest, departing July 14. The trip includes tickets to the final round of the championship at Muirfield on July 21, an overnight in Dublin, a round of golf at the K Club Palmer Course and four more golf days in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. All logistics are taken care of, from green fees to a truck to transport passengers' clubs from one course to the next. The cruise package is priced from $7,394 per person. Non-golfing spouses get a discount off the package price.
Try This Instead: Visit the lochs and leas of Scotland without a tee or sandtrap in sight by attending the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the annual spectacle of pipes, drums and military bands. Voyages of Discovery offers a 12-night Celtic Footprints and Edinburgh Tattoo cruise aboard Discovery that sails from Harwich on August 6. Discovery stays in port at Rosyth until midnight on August 16, allowing time to enjoy the late-into-the-night festivities.
The Event: Every summer, Germany's oldest fireworks festival, Rhein in Flammen, features a series of pyrotechnics displays near Koblenz. The event brings 250,000 spectators to the Rhine and Moselle banks, where everyone sips local
wine and watches rockets shoot skyward illuminating ancient fortresses, riverside manses and ruined palaces. Thousands more watch the fireworks aboard brightly colored and illuminated river cruisers in what is Europe's largest annual
flotilla. The final, spectacular fireworks display is a don't-miss event; it takes place on the second Saturday of August against the picturesque backdrop of Koblenz's Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.
The Cruise: Evening boat rides to the fireworks are bookable from German operators, but you can also try a full-fledged Rhein in Flammen theme cruise, available through mostly British tour operators. Shearings Holidays has two itineraries, both departing August 7, sailing roundtrip from Cologne, on either MPS Rotterdam or the slightly cheaper MV Virginia. The ships are scheduled to join the flotilla near Koblenz, giving passengers a pivotal role in Rhein in Flammen's culminating event.
Try This Instead: See fireworks at sea from onboard Amazara Quest during its 11-night Baltic Rendezvous and Kiel Fireworks cruise, sailing June 22 - July 3. The pyrotechnic display celebrates Kiel Week, a yearly nod to music and sailing in late June.
The Event: Experience a rare hybrid solar eclipse from the Atlantic Ocean. On November 3, 2013, the dark shadow of the moon will sweep across Earth, blocking the sun for 90 seconds -- just 10 seconds short of the maximum possible time. Just off the coast of Sub-Saharan Africa is an ideal spot for viewing this phenomenon, as it is an area of less cloud cover than much of the shadow's ocean track, increasing the odds of a successful observation. The hybrid eclipse, which last occurred in 2005, is when both a total eclipse and an annular eclipse (where a bright ring of sunlight surrounds the Moon at the maximum phase) are visible along the path. This event occurs only once every 19 years.
The Cruise: You can thrill to the awesome sight onboard Saga Sapphire, sailing roundtrip from Southampton for 28 nights. The itinerary includes visits to Lisbon, Cadiz, Agadir, Las Palmas and more. While at sea, the captain will position the ship so that you can get the best possible view of the exceptional event, weather permitting.
Try This Instead: TravelQuest International is offering a two-week West Africa cruise, departing Malaga on October 22 aboard the all-suite Corinthian, which carries 100 passengers and a crew of 67. The luxury sailing visits Morocco, the Canary Islands, Senegal and Sierra Leone. TravelQuest's onboard historians and astronomers will guide the at-sea viewing of the total solar eclipse, weather permitting.