Caucasian couple admiring view from boat deck

From bonding with like-minded travelers who share your passions in Patagonia to music-inspired tours in Salzburg, these specialty cruises cater to a variety of tastes and preferences. (Getty Images)

In 2014, cruise ships carried more than 21 million passengers – double the number of cruise passengers who traveled in 2004. And as demand grows, cruise lines continue to diversify their itinerary options. These days, it's possible to find a Star Wars-centric voyage or an itinerary hosted by former MLB players. "Many cruise lines are offering theme cruises on board their ships to enhance their guest experience and differentiate their offerings," says Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president of Cruise Specialists. And though the theme often ties to the ports of call visited on the itinerary to help passengers immerse themselves in their surroundings, sometimes the theme simply offers entertainment value or caters to cruisers sharing a particular interest or hobby. From food- to film-focused cruises, here are five standout theme cruises to take in 2015-16.

Windstar Cruises' Culinary and Wine Delights of Spain and France Voyage

Most cruises offer endless wining and dining, but on Windstar Cruises' Culinary and Wine Delights of Spain and France itinerary, it's all about the quality of the cuisine and seeing the source. The cruise departs from Dublin and ends in Portugal where guests can taste port wine in Porto. Other stops include Bordeaux and La Rochelle in France and Gijon, Spain, France. Activities include a lot of onboard tasting and food-oriented shore excursions, such as exploring an oyster-farming basin, learning how to prepare regional dishes during a cooking class, touring an apple cider factory and visiting the Cognac region to learn the science behind distilling brandy. In keeping with the theme, turndown gifts include a wine stopper and a wine journal so guests can record their tasting notes during the 11-day cruise. Rates start at $4,499 per person for the next sailing on June 10, 2016.

Tauck River Cruises' Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube

Tauck River Cruises bills this itinerary as a musical odyssey. And rightfully so, because its Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube sailing brings passengers to the same sights and sounds that motivated musicians like Bartók, Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss. The 12-day itinerary is led by Tauck's maestros – accomplished music performers and scholars – who provide the musical narrative to stops including cathedrals, concert halls, opera houses and palaces in BudapestPrague and Vienna where some of music's most iconic names once played. The cruise also features an excursion in Salzburg to see the backdrops where "The Sound of Music" was filmed and visit the birthplace of Mozart. On the ship itself, passengers are invited to attend activities like hands-on workshops and music trivia competitions. Prices start at $5,690 per person for the next trip, departing on June 9, 2016.

AmaWaterways' Art Cruises

Aspiring artists can leave their materials at home – AmaWaterways supplies canvasses and easels on its art-inspired river cruises. Onboard, painting instructors lead complimentary classes in the ship's studio so passengers can paint the sights they see on their voyage and make their own souvenirs. Designed with art aficionados in mind, the seven-night itinerary's shore excursions allow passengers – both budding artists and experienced collectors – to soak in the same surroundings that inspired some of the world's most celebrated artists. Activities on the Paris and Normandy itinerary include a visit to Monet's home in the town of Giverny, a walking tour of Van Gogh's final resting place, Auvers-sur-Oise, and the obligatory stop at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris to see masterpieces by Cézanne, Degas and Renoir. Prices start at $2,449 per person for the next sailing, departing on April 8, 2016.

Australis' Darwin-Inspired Route

Australis, a cruise company with itineraries through Patagonian channels, goes to extreme measures to ensure the excitement of discovery is still palpable for passengers on its Darwin's Route from Ushuaia itinerary. It's been nearly two centuries since Darwin sailed this course around Chile and Argentina to the southernmost tip of South America. But for eight days on this sailing, passengers experience life as a naturalist and navigator. Sights include Darwin's scenic namesakes, Darwin Island and, of course, plenty of Magellanic penguins. Passengers also visit Punta Arenas and see a full-size replica of the HMS Beagle, the legendary ship that Darwin worked on in the 1800s. Onboard programming includes lectures and presentations and a demonstration for landing at Cape Horns. Rates start at $2,366 per person for sailings through March 2016.

Crystal Cruises' Film-Focused Cruises

The Broadway veterans on Crystal Cruises' next Film & Theatre Festival-themed cruise include the phantom from "The Phantom of the Opera," Grizabella from "Cats" and the lead actor from the original production of "Jekyll & Hyde." But the voyage is also very Hollywood heavy. An acclaimed celebrity impersonator and a voice-over artist from a popular 1970s cartoon help round out the talent on the trans-Atlantic itinerary that travels from San Diego to French Polynesia. In addition to taking in daily performances, passengers aboard the Crystal Symphony can attend interactive lectures hosted by a Hollywood producer, a costume collector, a red carpet stylist, a celebrity talent broker and a songwriter. Prices start at $3,325 per person for the 13-day voyage, departing on Nov. 26, 2016.


Tags: cruises, travel

Katie Jackson has been a travel contributor for U.S. News since 2015. She began her career in 2011 as an on-air travel spokesperson for NBC LA before she transitioned into travel writing in 2013. Her work has appeared at,,, and in The Sunday Times. Travel, adventure, luxury and anything requiring the signing of a waiver is in her wheelhouse. She spends most of the year traveling internationally, but when she's not on a flight, she's at home in Montana with her Leonberger, Zeus. You can follow her travels on Instagram at @katietalkstravel.

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