Is there such a thing as too niche? As the cruising industry increasingly tries to persuade travelers that it can offer something for anyone and everyone, the answer might be yes – at least when it comes to themed sailings.
In addition to the now standard celebrity guest options – e.g., Oprah, Paula Deen, the cast of Walking Dead – there is an impressing and growing array of highly specific itineraries, including knitting cruises, a heavy metal music cruise and a “Meow Meow Cruise” for cat lovers (including dining while wearing cat ears, a kitty scavenger hunt and sharing photos of the beloved felines denied boarding).
Derek Banks, managing director of European Waterways, links the boom in theme cruises to the rise of experiential travel: “Our guests don’t want to be ‘spectators’ of history and culture, they want to be participants. … From sharing a glass of pastis with a friendly lock keeper, to gourmet lunch with a baroness, to playing golf in the country that invented the sport.”
Yes, those options are more sophisticated than sunbathing alongside Gene Simmons on a Kiss cruise. Theme sailings don’t have to equal cheesy – it’s just that the more outrageous ones garner the most attention.
If you like the concept of a theme cruise – but crave tasteful over tacky – here are seven themed sailing options to keep in mind:
AmaWaterways: Taste of Bourdeaux wine cruise
Multiple sailings in 2020
Sailthrough Bordeaux along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, sampling extra special vintages, comparing tasting notes, chatting with winemakers and perhaps picking up a couple of cases to carry home. The rest of the itinerary is refreshing in its simplicity. Hop on a bike and drink wine. Hike and drink wine. Visit a bustling marketplace or charming medieval village and drink wine. Stop by a Second World War petrol cistern and drink wine. (You get the idea.) amawaterways.com
Uniworld: Europe’s Jewish Heritage
Multiple sailings in 2020
This boutique (think toile, fresh flowers and contemporary art) river cruise line features Jewish heritage programming on several sailings in Central Europe, offering visits to museums, memorials, synagogues and other significant sites. In Frankfurt, for example, trace the history of Germany’s Jews through the prosperous Rothschild family and their former family home on Judengasse, the street where all of the city’s Jews were required to live for almost four centuries. uniworld.com
MSC Cruises: Holistic Holiday at Sea
February 21-28, 2020
If your recent resolutions include phrases such as “plant-based” and “self care,” then this vegan cruise might be for you. Embarking in Miami and stopping in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and Antigua and Barbuda, this sailing promises to nourish both body and mind through workshops, lectures and classes that focus on the vegan lifestyle, ethics and activism. (Sample lecture: Cheese – How Breaking the Secret Addiction Can Revolutionize Your Health.) Even recreation is wellness-minded, from healthy cooking demos and meditation sessions to Ayurvedic astrology. And yes, there will be a juice bar. holisticholidayatsea.com
Avalon Waterways: German Grandeur for Beer Enthusiasts
July 23-31, 2020
Roll out the barrel for this nine-day river cruise from Nuremberg to Basel with a beer expert on hand to suggest pairings, lead tastings and hold lectures. Stops along the Main and Rhine rivers – including Strasbourg and Frankfurt – will provide the perfect complement for lager-loving travellers. Check out family-run beer gardens in between visits to stunning Gothic cathedrals and the Black Forest’s Vogtsbauernhof open-air museum. Back onboard, relax with a smoked German-style rauchbier while enjoying live entertainment and regionally-inspired dishes. avalonwaterways.ca
Ponant: World Affairs in the Baltic Sea
August 5-13, 2020
Concerned that you and your traveling companions have too much in common? Hop aboard this sailing, which begins in Stockholm and ends in Copenhagen, and discover your hotly contested differences on the concept of Trump making foreign policy by Twitter. Hosts include former supreme allied commander of NATO Admiral James Stavridis, former ambassador to Russia and current president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace William Burns and American foreign affairs analyst and journalist Robin Wright. en.ponant.com
Cunard: World Space Week
October 2-9, 2020
Celebrate international World Space Week while aboard the flagship Queen Mary 2, embarking on the iconic transatlantic voyage from Southampton, Britain to New York. The theme is Women in Space and astronomers, astrophysicists and aerospace experts (not all men, one hopes) will explore this topic through lectures and panel discussions. The Queen Mary 2 is also home to the largest planetarium at sea – the perfect opportunity to stargaze far away from the light pollution on land. cunard.com
Crystal: Nobu Matsuhisa Culinary Cruise
October 15-31, 2020
One might make the argument that every cruise is culinary in its own way, but this one is extra special: Sixteen days with chef Nobu Matsuhisa, famed worldwide for his black cod and restaurants’ minimal interiors. Soak in the environs of Indonesia and Australia while making the most of cooking demonstrations, cookbook signings, sake tastings, the art of floral arrangement and Crystal’s generous all-inclusive Champagne pours. Those looking to truly indulge can also sign on for premium experiences, such as an intimate omakase dinner. crystalcruises.com
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.