Your Ultimate Cruise Guide

Theme Cruises 2015 - 2016

Dancers on cruise ship stage in purple and pink lighting Think of a hobby you enjoy, celebrity you'd love to meet or an exciting activity you've always wanted to try. Now imagine getting to do those things on a cruise. With popular options like yoga, craft beer and Bravo's "Top Chef," theme cruises are a great option for first-time cruisers or those looking to combine an interest with a relaxing vacation.

Some theme cruises offer up chances to hobnob with famous musicians, authors or athletes, or attend lectures, concerts and Q&As in intimate settings. Others allow cruisers plenty of downtime to indulge in their passions. For example, a golf cruise allows duffers to brush up on their skills with a cruise itinerary dotted with world-renowned courses, while a dancing cruise can be versatile enough for both seasoned foxtrotters and beginners.

Food, craft beer and music are the most widely offered themes. Cruises in our "Food, Wine & Beer" category offer a range of culinary pursuits, from regional wine tastings led by a sommelier and local brewery tours to cooking lessons from a celebrity chef and reality show-style competitions at sea. Music cruises, on the other hand, are less of a learning experience; they're a chance for fans of a particular artist or genre to attend concerts, Q&As with musicians and celebrity meet-and-greets.

Theme cruises can be broken down into three categories:

Full-Ship Theme Cruise: Choose your theme wisely because it will set the tone for your sailing. Everyone onboard can participate in the themed activities and entertainment, and every onboard venue is in use, from the pool-deck for concerts to the dining room, where special menus might be featured.

Woman learns to cook with chef on cruise ship

Full-ship theme cruises can be either fully chartered by an independent company or offered by the cruise line itself. For example, Sixthman, a travel company focusing on theme cruises, offers fully chartered musical festivals, such as The Rock Boat and Cayamo. Throughout each cruise, passengers can enjoy concerts, themed activities, competitions and opportunities to mingle with performers. Cruise line partnerships include Holland America's Dancing With the Stars: At Sea and Regent Seven Seas' annual Chocolate Cruise. These tend to appeal to a broader audience.

Partial-Ship Theme Cruise: Not all theme cruises engulf the entire ship. Special interest groups can purchase a number of cabins in different categories and market to people who would be interested in the activity, which can range from scrapbooking to baseball. These groups usually have little impact on the other vacationers onboard, although some of the public spaces may be taken over by the group.

Gay and lesbian cruises can be full-ship charters or groups booked on regular sailings. You can find out more about these themed sailings here.

Theme-Inspired Cruise: Cruise lines commonly advertise themed sailings, but these tend to be regular sailings with some extra special-interest activities or guest speakers added to the usual programming. On these sailings, you might have a regionally inspired wine tasting or guest musical performer onboard. Paul Gauguin Cruises, for instance, features appearances by oceanographer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau throughout the year. On these select sailings, Cousteau offers lectures and accompanies dives from the ship. Un-Cruise Adventures also welcomes special guests onboard its ships; they range from photographers to local brewers.

In our roundup, we offer suggestions for just about every type of traveler, divided by category. Check back often, as we'll be updating them throughout the year.

--By Gina Kramer, Associate Editor

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Editor's note: If you're looking for a more Euro-centric take on this story, you can read our U.K. version, U.K. Theme Cruises.

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