For some cruise lines, it's not enough just to offer passengers a generic week of fun in the sun, all you can eat, and shopping till you drop. Now, they're selling themes as well. So bagpipe players can convene on the Cunard Countess in May for a Scottish festival. Amateur sleuths can test their powers of deduction during murder-mystery cruises aboard Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 this spring and summer. And chocoholics can gorge on samples from 20 manufacturers during the Costa Classica's October chocolate fantasy outing.
Theme holidays help cruise lines fill ships during less-popular months. They also enable passengers to take advantage of off-season rates and group discounts. The chocolate cruise in the Caribbean, which includes a "bon bon" voyage party and year's subscription to Chocolatier magazine, starts at $1,385 per person--$400 off the regular price.
With so many cruises to choose from, themes "help the first-time cruiser make a decision because there's a focus," says Jo Kling, principal of cruise specialists Landry & Kling, which conceived the chocolate and Scottish events. A shared interest also makes it easier to meet other passengers.
In addition to developing ideas for its own clients, the company has compiled a list of 70 theme cruises. The list (800 223-2026) is a handy guide for cruisers with special interests. For example, smokers trying to quit might like the Dolphin's smoke-free cruise, coinciding with the Great American Smokeout in November.
There are also ecology tours, jazz and big-band cruises, film festivals, and comedy weeks. Norwegian Cruise Lines (800 327-7030), one of the biggest in the theme business, is offering a Universal Studios cruise in August, featuring costumed characters and stunts from the movie company's films. Those afraid of turning into deck potatoes can try sport weeks, with coaching by professional athletes.
Cunard (800 221-4770) lets passengers meet well-known actors and musicians during Theater at Sea and Music at Sea cruises aboard the Vistafjord and Sagafjord ships. Cunard also sponsors a murder-mystery event aboard the QE2 on trips between New York and Southampton, England. It helps pass the time during those long hours at sea.