Theme cruises range from a light veneer of programming to all-in buyouts of the ship. Regardless of which route you chose -- from a yoga cruise on a 10-cabin sailing yacht to the KISS Kruise on 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl -- make sure your manners are beyond reproach with our top 10 etiquette tips.
As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for because too much of a good thing is still too much. For example, concerts can be great fun ... but are you really ready for The Groove Cruise, which bills itself as the "World's Largest Floating Dance Music Festival" with nonstop dancing and partying all day and night? And while you might love to watch "Dr. Who" or "Star Trek," ask yourself if a vacation surrounded by sci-fi fans on a TV- or film-themed cruise is actually your (or your travel companion's) idea of a great time.
On the flip side, be aware of how light some "theme-inspired" sailings can be. Paul Gauguin Cruises, for example, invites oceanographer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau onboard periodically to give lectures and accompany several dives. But his contributions are more icing on the cake than the main entree.
Use an onboard app -- or bring a little notebook -- to keep track of themed events, which can get lost among more packed cruise itineraries. Smartphone and tablet programs (usually free) can display personalized schedules and also provide on-ship texting so you can rendezvous with travel companions easily. This is extra important when you could get hit with expensive roaming charges abroad. Put your device into "airplane mode," and let the ship's signal do the heavy lifting for you.
We recommend downloading apps like Disney Cruise Line Navigator and Royal Caribbean's Royal App before embarking so you can hit the decks running. Bonus: Many lines offer deals and status points to tech-savvy passengers.
"If you can easily pack your treasures, carry them along to get signed," advises Stephanie Oswald, editor of "Travelgirl Magazine," who took VH1's Best Cruise Ever, a music-themed sailing. "You'll pay a premium price for items bought onboard ... and they probably won't be as personal."
Some passengers prefer to keep their memorabilia with them and snag quick signatures when they encounter their heroes at events or around the ship. But more shy guests shouldn't despair: Celebrity-centric theme cruises host multiple autograph sessions, usually on days at sea. Line up early, though, as the queues can last hours.
Don't be shy about wearing your heart on your sleeve: Suit up, and review your trivia. You might land on the receiving end of swag or unique experiences like the Gonzales family of Chehalis, Washington, who sailed on Princess' first Seahawks sports fan cruise. As they ate breakfast in their football jerseys, "this guy came up and said, 'I have two armbands for a passing clinic with [former quarterback] Warren Moon. Would you like them since you're all dressed up and ready to go?'" explained Susan Gonzales. "We thought it was a prank at first!"
She had booked the cruise as a surprise for her husband, Gene, and children, Alicia and Jeffrey. "For the last few years, the kids have invited me to all their Seahawks events, and we've had so much fun," she said. "I wanted us to have this experience as a family, before they grow up even more and move deeper into their own lives. It's all been amazing, but the ultimate frosting was the clinic with Warren Moon!"
Most celebrity-themed cruises -- or even ones with headliner guests -- offer chat sessions, where you can finally ask those burning questions. Increase your odds by jotting them down (legibly!) on an index card, which can be easily handed off to organizers.
This almost falls in the "all I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten" category of obvious advice, but here goes: Be polite. A cruise line's guest stars are people, not lab animals. Don't poke, prod, squeeze or even drain too much of their time (and, yes, this includes requesting selfies at inconvenient moments). Stick to a quick, breezy "hello, I love your work" or "I'm looking forward to seeing you at the signing tomorrow," and move along.
If enough fans keep things casual, you might be rewarded with the sight of your heroes in the wild ... or get to share a walk down memory lane with them. First time cruiser Leslie Brann even scored a beer with one of her idols on the Princess Seahawks cruise. "What I loved most was interacting with the players," she said. "They're just walking around like any guests, going to shows and having drinks. It's terrific."
Programs like Celebrity's Top Chef at Sea and Holland America's Dancing With The Stars can go beyond a brush with fame -- like a quick autograph or photo-opp -- and have competition finalists working hours a day alongside their role models. Keep it cool. Yes, you might develop some camaraderie as the trip goes on and even receive feedback from world-class experts. But the celebrity guests are not your new BFFs ... nor will this be your big break into television stardom or sports history. Take the events in the lighthearted spirit of which they are offered, and don't overstep.
Check the fine print to make sure you know what's included in your fare. Theme trips like the Zumba Cruise on Carnival center on shipboard activities. But others include onshore activities like paranormal investigations with Norwegian's Ghost Hunter's Cruise or escorted rides on ETA Motorcycle Cruises, the only booking agents that can wrangle your bike or trike onto MSC and Celebrity ships. Make sure you're not booking excursions on days when you already have complimentary activities scheduled.
Cruise lines have codes of conduct, which include not fighting, stealing or taking illegal drugs. Violate these rules -- even on the most libertine-sounding cruises -- and the captain can send you packing. And even if you're allowed to stay, the humiliation factor in a hot-housed, theme environment can really sting. "Wild child" superfan Amanda discovered this on Carnival's annual New Kids on the Block Cruise chronicled by the reality show "Rock This Boat" on Pop TV. She lifted her shirt at mature boy-bander Danny Wood, expecting to get an after-party bracelet. Instead, he stormed off and she slunk back to her cabin, sobbing and completely embarrassed.
Hanging out with likeminded folks is half the magic, so don't hold back! Get out there; attend the events, show your pride, and don't hesitate to chat with fellow enthusiasts. "How often are you around hundreds -- or thousands -- of people who love exactly the same thing you do?" Oswald asks. "It can be harder to make friends as an adult, but here's your chance! If you feel bashful, approach someone with a compliment, like 'I love your T-shirt. I missed that concert. Was it amazing?' At the very least, you'll probably have a quick, fun conversation ... and you might even make a life-long pal!"