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Exciting Theme Cruises for Every Passion

Choose your next sailing based on your preferred interests and experiences.

U.S. News & World Report

Exciting Theme Cruises for Every Passion

Aerial view of ship in urban harbor

Whether a music, history or wellness-focused cruise piques your interest, there are plenty of specialty-interest sailings offering unique experiences and like-minded passengers.(Getty Images)

Imagine boarding Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas only to realize that among the ship's 3,782 passengers, approximately 1,850 shipmates are sailing on a High Seas Rally theme cruise geared toward motorcycle enthusiasts. Fortunately, today's megaships feature diverse offerings that cater to a variety of needs and passions, allowing you to select a cruise with Nickelodeon characters if you're sailing with kids, a culinary-focused itinerary if you're a traveling foodie and other special-interest cruises catering to your preferred experiences. And according to the Cruise Lines International Association, 27 new ships will debut in 2016, enabling theme cruises to not only help fill low season departures, but also give first-time cruisers a new reason to set sail.

Before you plan your next voyage, here's what you need to know about the special-interest cruises available today.

River Cruise Companies Say All Cruises Are Themed

Leading river cruise companies have long promoted theme cruises. While you may not be surprised to learn that Viking Cruises offers trips to the filming location for "Downton Abbey," you might not know the company also offers destination-focused itineraries across Europe, Russia, Asia and Egypt. Many river cruising companies feature both activity- and destination-specific journeys, including beer and wine themed itineraries, as well as a few history-focused and culturally driven sailings each year.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's theme river cruises, for example, include exclusive Monarch Collection itineraries, where guests learn all about royalty at custom events with local aristocracy. And on the line's Connoisseur Collection cruises, guests can enjoy epicurean lecturers, cooking classes, tours of truffle farms and onboard menus highlighting the cuisine of each day's port of call.

Meanwhile, Avalon Waterways offers six Jewish Heritage European river cruises through 2017 along the Danube, crossing from Budapest to Prague. On the cruise, guests can expect guided tours that includes stops at important religious monuments, museums and a shore excursion to the Jewish ghetto of Terezin.

Cruises for History, Culture and Music Lovers

Voyages to Antiquity, an upscale small-ship cruise company, was launched to fulfill cruisers' desire to explore the history, cultures and natural wonders of the ancient world. On their sailings, you can expect guest speakers, local expert guides and menus that change according to the destination. Plus, like-minded passengers add to the immersive experiences available onboard and ashore.

If you're a history buff or you're planning a cruise with an intergenerational group, consider a theme sailing with Cunard Line, which offers plenty of seminars and quality bonding time on its traditional transatlantic crossings. With Cunard, gourmet dining, pet care and British nannies are part of the norm, too. The line offers three theme cruise options, including a British Isles Culinary Discovery sailing with chefs and food critics in June, a transatlantic Fashion Week-focused sailing in September and Jazz at Sea transatlantic crossings in August and October. What's more, Cunard provides a chance to meet other travelers that share similar interests and get close to artists such as the Grammy award-winning jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, who joins Jazz-themed transatlantic crossings.

Music-focused sailings are another popular genre for full or partially themed cruises. Covering every taste – from Broadway musicals (organized by Playbill) to rock 'n' roll (Sixth Man Cruises is a leader in this category) to Carnival LIVE performances that feature a famous artist or comedian for one night of the cruise – there are plenty of musically driven sailings to pique your interest.

Get Passionate About a Destination

Passengers who choose where to cruise based on the destinations and regions they're most interested in also benefit from themed activities.

Princess Cruises, for example, brings National Park rangers on board to talk about Glacier Bay on sailings through the park's waters. The cruise line's North to Alaska itineraries even bring sled dog puppies aboard so that passengers can learn about the breed and their training. What's more, fishing fans can ask for any salmon or halibut they catch to be cooked for their next meal.

Meanwhile, Costa Cruises offers sea- and land-based Costa Cruise Tours across Italy (three nights on land plus one-week Mediterranean cruise) from April through November 2016. These sailings can include everything from city visits to markets in Orvieto, Italy and gathering ingredients for an Umbrian cooking class on a food lovers' tour, or sailing with other fashion, art and history enthusiasts on guided trips that begin in Venice, Rome or Milan.

Small cruise lines also offer immersive local experiences. Paul Gauguin Cruises, for instance, offers routes to Polynesia hosted by Jean Michel Cousteau. On these select sailings, Cousteau, the renowned oceanographic explorer, environmentalist and educator, introduces guests to the undersea world on special dive expeditions. And if you're planning a family cruise, keep in mind his Ambassadors of the Environment program for ages 9 to 17 runs on school holidays.

There's a Cruise for Everyone

Interested in pursuing a personal passion on the high seas? CLIA has a roster of 31,000 travel agents who know which theme itineraries are available through cruise companies and specialty tour operators. Royal Caribbean, for example, works with Atlantis Events, the largest organizer of LGBT-themed cruises. To celebrate the tour operator's 25th anniversary in May, the line's new Anthem of the Seas will sail with 4,200 gay and lesbian passengers (an estimated 5 percent women) from New Jersey to the Bahamas. In addition to the ship's versatile range of onboard activities (there's a sky diving simulator, bumper cars, Broadway musicals, rock climbing walls, an aerial lookout, a robot-manned bar, a surf simulator and more), the Anthem of the Seas will offer nightly dance parties.

If you're searching for a wellness-focused cruise, there are plenty of options to choose from. For example, you could join a "Holistic Holiday at Sea" trip spearheaded by the organization A Taste of Health that includes healthy eating options and days filled with Pilates, Zumba and meditation sessions aboard MSC Cruises' MSC Divina in March 2017. On the trip, 35 speakers and 25 chefs teach everything from vegan recipes to macrobiotic cooking classes and yoga.

Alternatively, embark on Silversea Cruises' Bridge sailings, where guests can compete to win prizes in a floating bridge tournament aboard the Silver Wind. A part of Silversea's Exclusively Yours – Enriched Voyage collection, the select cruises offer American Contract Bridge League life masters that lead seminars and games and opportunities to meet other bridge players from around the world.

Of course, your passion may simply be the act of cruising. If that sounds like you, theme cruises provide a great excuse to repeat the experience.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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