2009/10 Theme cruises

Here's a scenario many cruisers can relate to: you're eager to take a seagoing vacation aboard the ship of your dreams. The problem is your spouse, sibling, child or best friend is dragging his or her feet because a cruise isn't a vacation they'd ever consider.

They'd rather go hiking, play golf, photograph nature, take a cooking class, ride a bike, head to Las Vegas for a poker tournament or any number of activities that are, they believe, incongruous with taking a cruise.

But there are very few activities or interests that can't be enjoyed even more on a cruise whether it is part of the modern cruise experience or a theme cruise. Here are a sampling of the enormous range of activities and special interest program.

Golf

Most cruise lines offer golfing ashore at some of the world's best golf courses. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines offers in-depth golf programs in Hawaii and Bermuda that enable golfers to tee off on some of the top courses. Carnival Cruise Lines' "Golf Ahoy" program includes onboard instruction with the golf simulator and guided golf excursions in almost every port of call.

The facilities on the Grand, Crown, Diamond, Sapphire, Golden and Caribbean Princess are some of the finest afloat. They're the only line with two virtual golf simulators onboard; plus, these vessels also include an onboard pro, outdoor cages, putting courses, private and group lessons, clinics, and new Nike Golf equipment and attire (including the clubs and clothing Tiger Woods is now using). Crystal Cruises schedules golf cruises in nearly every part of the world.

Culinary Those who love to cook will find plenty of opportunities to learn new techniques from some of the world's top chefs. Aboard Holland America ships are Culinary Arts Centers plus classes and demonstrations led by roughly 70 visiting guests chefs per year. In 2009/10 Crystal Cruises has scheduled numerous theme cruises focusing on food and wine in some of Europe's most spectacular ports. Uniworld River Cruises also offers "Epicurean Adventures" that include excursions ashore and cooking demonstrations on many European river sailings. As part of its ScholarShip@Sea program, Princess features lectures and experts in culinary arts aboard its vessels. MSC Cruises offers "how to" classes covering table-setting, serving food a drink, making centerpieces and decorating cakes.

Fitness, Biking and Hiking One of the biggest misconceptions is that cruising is a sedentary experience for the elderly. In fact the average age of Royal Caribbean's passengers is 42 and both Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line reports similar demographics. Modern ships are equipped with fitness centers that rival those found ashore, boasting the latest pushing and pulling machines as well as jogging decks, basketball/volley ball courts and, in some cases, miniature golf. Royal Caribbean's Voyager- and Freedom-class ships boast ice-skating, roller blading on deck and rock climbing.

And today, cruise line shore excursions offer even more opportunities ashore for those who prefer an active vacation experience. Carnival Cruise Lines offers bicycle tours in Skagway, Alaska; Barcelona and Jamaica, among other ports while Princess Cruises' shore excursions typically include hikes to scenic places. Cruise West's photography cruises in Central America feature excursions ashore with experts who will help participants improve their techniques.

Music and the Performing Arts Aspiring actors can study with the pros aboard Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossings between New York and Southampton. On all QM 2 crossings the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art offers acting workshops that focus on voice training, body movement and performing a Shakespeare monologue. This enormous ship is one of the few that offers ballroom dancing to a 17-piece orchestra, symphony and top-flight guest performers.

Carnival Cruise Lines also offers an impress roster of music theme cruises for those who love Elvis, the "Fab Four" (Beatles) and Rick Springfield plus soap opera and murder mystery cruises. Or, take the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise featuring some of the biggest names in music scheduled January 23, 2010 aboard Holland America's Eurodam.

The two best sources for scheduled theme cruises are Cruise Line International and the Theme Cruise Finder which has lists of special interest cruises as long as your arm.

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