A themed cruise may well float your boat. Credit: Shutterstock

Theme and variations: why you should book a themed cruise

Author: Deborah Stone

Published on:

Updated on:

From foodie trips to sporty tours
and music festivals at sea, whatever
your passion, you’re bound to find a
themed voyage that suits you

One of the best weeks I’ve ever spent at sea was last summer’s ‘Comedy Stars’ cruise with Princess: seven days of exploring lovely Scandinavian ports and enjoying all the amenities of Enchanted Princess – plus non-stop laughter.

Whatever your interests, there’s probably a themed cruise to match.

Comedy is my personal favourite but you might prefer sport, music or the chance to learn a new skill, such as cordon bleu cookery.

If so, you’re in luck, because all of the above feature in themed cruises this year.

And I’m pleased to say that Princess is back with an even brighter Comedy Stars line-up in July: Paul Merton, Ed Byrne and Julian Clary. LOL!

Sporty cruises
These are mostly regular itineraries but with the inclusion of tickets to big sporting events taking place in the ship’s ports of call.

For example, NCL’s Norwegian Epic has been chartered by Infinity Sports Travel for a Mediterranean cruise that includes tickets to the rugby world cup, taking place in France.

Eight packages of differing lengths are available, departing between September 8 and October 16, with tickets to see England, Scotland, Wales and other teams.

Formula 1 is another popular cruise tie-in, and Azamara has a five-night ‘Grand Prix Weekend’ cruise from Barcelona with tickets for the Monaco Grand Prix in May 2024, while Silversea has a nine-night cruise from Civitavecchia that includes tickets for the same race.

Play a memorable round and still enjoy a relaxing cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

Azamara also partners with PerryGolf, which offers admission to prestigious golf courses – three to six during a typical cruise – and arranges the necessary transport, caddies, lunch and drinks in the clubhouse.

Onboard social functions ensure that non-golfing spouses – who only pay for the cruise, not the golf – don’t miss out.

Alternatively, Golf Travel Cruise has partnerships with several lines including Costa, the official cruise line of the 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy, and is offering a golf-themed Mediterranean trip this September.

For a high-end option, Hapag-Lloyd offers English-speaking golf-themed summer cruises visiting Livorno and Antibes, plus an American cruise this October with opportunities to play at Rhode Island, Portland, Boston and Baltimore.

If tennis is more your game, P&O Cruises has an Australian Open cruise in January 2024, round trip from Sydney to Melbourne and including two match days at Melbourne Park.

Finally, grapple fans should look out for 'Chris Jericho’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling Rager' aboard Norwegian Pearl in January 2024.

Get on board

Norwegian Cruise Line's three-night 'Rugby World Cup Cruise' aboard Norwegian Epic, round trip from Marseille including tickets and transfers for Wales v Portugal and England versus Japan, departs September 15, 2023, from £1,885.

Azamara's 12-night '2024 British Isles Golf Cruise' aboard Azamara Quest, from Edinburgh to Dublin via Invergordon, Kirkwall, Glasgow, Belfast and Douglas (Isle of Man), departs July 14, 2024, from £6,820 including the final two days of the British Open and three rounds of golf (£4,028 cruise only).

See Take That star Gary Barlow in concert on select P&O voyages. Credit: P&O Cruises

Star cruises
Cruising with the stars is not so far-fetched as it might sound, thanks to a new breed of brand ambassadors.

In her capacity as wellness advisor to Celebrity Cruises, Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow launched an offshoot of her Goop lifestyle brand with a live interview and Q&A aboard Celebrity Beyond last year.

Musician and broadcaster Jools Holland has worked with Saga Cruises since 2019 – both of the line’s new ocean ships feature The Club by Jools restaurant – and the man himself will be appearing on stage aboard Spirit of Adventure later this year, in August and September.

P&O Cruises has a whole stable of stars who join selected voyages every year, from celebrity chefs to Take That singer Gary Barlow, who appeared in charity concerts aboard Arvia and Iona this spring.

P&O’s regular 'Sail With The Stars' series also includes its 'Global Explorers' cruise in September, when broadcaster Ben Fogle will appear with BBC Great Escape’s Monty Halls.

Cunard has a long track record of hosting stars on board, and it will be repeating its successful partnership with Cheltenham Literature Festival this November.

The 'Literature Festival at Sea' aboard Queen Mary 2 will feature best-selling novelist Kate Mosse, novelist and screenwriter Lynda La Plante – creator of Prime Suspect – as well as former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, military historian Antony Beevor and celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh.

Queen Mary 2 is a British transatlantic ocean liner. Credit: Cunard

New Tilbury-based Ambassador Cruise Line is also getting in on the act, offering ‘In Conversation With’ cruises featuring celebrities including comedian Tim Vine this June.

Get on board

Cunard seven-night 'Literature Festival at Sea' aboard Queen Mary 2, from Southampton to New York, departing November 19, 2023, from £1,099.

P&O five-night 'Global Explorers' cruise aboard Ventura, round trip from Southampton via Le Havre and Rotterdam, departing September 19, 2023, from £499.

Cookery and wine cruises

These are just about the most popular themed cruises going, and luckily there are itineraries to suit all budgets.

Princess Cruises offers one of the best value voyages – a round trip from Southampton (so no expensive flights to pay for) with onboard culinary demonstrations from some of the UK’s best-loved chefs: Ready Steady Cook’s Ainsley Harriott, Si King of Hairy Bikers fame, and Michelin-starred French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.

At the other end of the price scale, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has several ‘Epicurean Spotlight Voyages’, including a 10-night Mediterranean cruise with Alain Roux, chef-patron of Berkshire’s Waterside Inn, which has retained three Michelin stars every year since 1985 – an achievement unique outside France.

For oenophiles, Regent has two wine-themed cruises among its Spotlight Voyages.

In November, Stephanie and Michael Honig of Napa Valley’s Honig Vineyard will be joining Seven Seas Splendor in the Adriatic, and in October, US Master Sommelier Doug Frost will be aboard the same ship in the Western Mediterranean.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers 6-star sailings. Credit: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

P&O was a pioneer of foodie cruising and has a posse of ‘Food Heroes’ including chef Marco Pierre White, wine expert Olly Smith and UK-based Spanish chef Jose Pizarro.

All will host masterclasses aboard P&O Cruises ships this year.

Among the river lines offering culinary cruises is Scenic, with two French itineraries: 'Tastes of Southern France' this June, August and October and 'Flavours of Bordeaux' in July and September.

Both include food and wine appreciation classes.

Further afield, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth embarks on a 'Great Australian Culinary Voyage' in January 2024, round-trip from Melbourne, during which local celebrity chef Karen Martini will highlight Australian produce and cuisine.

Get on board

Princess Cruises seven-night 'Culinary Stars' cruise aboard Sky Princess, round trip from Southampton via Guernsey, La Rochelle, Bilbao and La Coruña, departing September 16, 2023, from £699.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises 10-night 'Epicurean Spotlight' cruise with chefs Alain Roux and Michael Nizzero aboard Seven Seas Mariner, from Rome to Venice via Salerno, Messina, Santorini, Ephesus, Gythion, Corfu and Dubrovnik, departing August 14, 2023, from £5,712.

Music cruises

Floating music festivals have been a huge trend in recent years, with companies such as Sixthman, On The Blue, Flower Power Cruise and Star Vista chartering ships from the major lines, often in the Caribbean.

Join Kiki Dee onboard an Ambassador cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

Always popular, 'The 80s Cruise' will feature more than 20 acts including Soft Cell and Debbie Gibson when Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas sails from Florida’s Port Canaveral to Aruba and Curaçao in March 2024.

Similar sailings include the 'Super Legends Cruise' this September, featuring Rose Royce of Car Wash fame during a three-day trip from California aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.

Ambassador Cruise Line, based at London’s Tilbury Docks but offering a range of UK regional departures, has four music-themed cruises for 2023, including its 'Land of the Vikings with Motown Meets Rock ’n’ Roll Legends' cruise, starring Kiki Dee plus Elvis Presley impersonator Ben Portsmouth.

On Europe’s rivers, Saga is offering several music-themed cruises aboard Rex Rheni, including two 'Jazz and Wine on the Rhine and Moselle' trips, in June and August, with Hungary’s BRB jazz band playing for six of the seven nights.

In July, August and September, the same ship hosts 'Sounds of the 60s' cruises on the Rhine, plus a ‘Sounds of the 70s’ cruise in July, with six nights of entertainment.

Later in the year, Classic FM host John Suchet will be guest speaker on Spirit of the Danube
for a 'Classical Music on the Danube' cruise in November, with live music on board and a private concert at one of Vienna’s palaces.

Get on board
Ambassador Cruise Line's seven-night 'Land of the Vikings with Motown Meets Rock ’n’ Roll Legends' cruise aboard Ambience, round trip from London Tilbury via Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Aarhus and Kristiansand, departs July 29, 2023, from £759.

Saga's seven-night 'Classical Music on the Danube' cruise aboard Spirit of the Danube, round trip from Budapest via Bratislava, Vienna and Linz, departs November 4, 2023, from £2,136.

Regent ship

Top booking tips

Book early
Themed cruises tend to sell out quickly, so if one takes your fancy, don’t delay.

That’s the advice from Ambassador Cruise Line’s chief commercial officer, Phil Gardner, who points out that early booking gives you the widest choice of cabins.

"It also means you can make the best of any launch offers or add-ons, such as upgrades and onboard credit," he explains.

Do your homework
Special event cruises – to sports events or music festivals - are usually organised by specialist companies who charter the whole ship, so you have to book with them, rather than the cruise line.

Take a look at our music and sporty cruise sections for suggested websites, and keep an eye on fan-club sites too.

Sign up for newsletters
The best way to find out about themed cruises is by social media, so sign up to newsletters run by your favourite cruise lines, clubs and bands.

Ask for a deal
Whether you’re booking through a travel agent or directly with a specialist operator, it always pays to ask for a deal, especially if you’re intending to travel with a big group of family or friends.

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