You're stretched out in a chair as your ship speeds toward a distant outpost, nothing beyond the bow but empty space. You see a man with a red polyester shirt, a woman in a short dress, both sporting matching upside-down V's. You move to another deck, where another man-this one with pointed ears-wants to discuss the dangers of the Klingons. Someone shouts, "Beam me up, Scotty!"
This is no spaceship, but a large cruise vessel sailing through the Caribbean. Welcome to the world of theme cruises.
The Star Trek cruise (known as "Seatrek") is just one of the theme outings that have set sail, not all of them so wacky. But hitting the water with a purpose is a growing trend. Cruise lines are trying hard to keep their privileged spot as the fastest-growing sector of the travel industry, and capitalizing on the special-interest trend is helping them do it. "Cruise lines have tailored the on-board experience to satisfy the needs of special-interest groups," said Terry L. Dale, President and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, "whether jazz, theater, baseball, health and fitness, or wine and food."
Some luxury passengers might prefer to entertain themselves while at sea, but many are welcoming the growing thematic trend. Lyn Farmer, director of entertainment and creator of the Spotlight Series at Regent Seven Seas Cruises, says that the special-interest programs give passengers the opportunity to "look at the destination from a different perspective."
So, while some theme cruises focus on entertainment, others work hard at getting you out of the pool and into the classroom. But it's hardly traditional classroom education. Ships are adding and revamping programs that revolve around the voyagers' personal interests, like wine, caviar or car racing -- whether it's a newly found passion or a long-forgotten love.
And who doesn't love food? Devoted gourmands and oenophiles can sail on Crystal Cruises' annual Wine and Food Festival, where top chefs and experts in the art of haute cuisine will put your palette to work. This ongoing theme carries across ships and itineraries, so you have no dearth of choices: Dubai to Rome on the Crystal Serenity in May, Copenhagen to London on the Crystal Symphony in August, Montreal to Miami (also on the Crystal Symphony) in October.
Or indulge in a decadent week aboard the chocolate cruise on Regent Seven Seas, which in December sets sail for the Eastern Caribbean from Ft. Lauderdale. On board the Seven Seas Voyager, you can sample the multiple faces of fine Valrhona on a ship packed with cocoa bean experts and pastry chefs.
Conference organizers, too, are finding that holding workshops at sea is a hit: Geek Cruises, for example, has been running computer classes on cruise ships since 1999. But it's not all tech-heavy: they also run Shakespeare-themed cruises. Neil Bauman, founder of Geek Cruises and CEO of International Technology Conferences, Inc., believes that the floating school system is learner-friendly in addition to being enjoyable. "Graduates will return not only refreshed," said Bauman, "but armed with powerful industry contacts and full of ideas."
But theme cruises aren't all about business or upper-crust indulgences. Nudists can have their day in the sun with the company Bare Necessities, which has chartered ships for clothing-optional outings since 1991. Popular? Absolutely-in 2005, more than 2,100 pants-less cruisers boarded the Carnival Legend. And music? Elvis and the Beatles may not be around any more, but tribute bands will never let them die. In June, Royal Caribbean's "Love Me Tender" cruise sets off from New Jersey to Bermuda -- and there are bound to be plenty of rhinestone-filled jumpsuits on board.
The downside for lovers of theme cruises? They may be difficult to fit into your schedule, since they don't run regularly, and may disappear after one outing. Seatrek, for example, sails off for the last time this summer, simply because the organizer wanted to focus on other things.
Still, you have plenty of options. So kick back with a martini, imagine yourself sampling martini-filled chocolates aboard a chocolate cruise, and check out the hottest theme cruises on the water.
"Beatles 40th Anniversary Tribute Cruise,"
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
This luxury version of the "Yellow Submarine" gets rocked by a Beatles copycat band. Its last sailing was back in 2004, and there's no word whether a revival (reunion, if you will) may happen. For more information: www.revolutionlive.com
"Seatrek," Genesis Productions
After 11 years of wackiness, Seatrek is sailing off into the final frontier after this summer's outing. Interested in meeting Captain Chekov? This might be your last chance. For more information: www.scifi-cruises.com
"Hogs on the High Seas"
In its fifth year, Hogs on the High Seas may be more than you can handle. How crazy do things get? Let's just say that one of their onboard competitions is called the "belly smacker contest." For more information: http://hogsonthehighseas.com
"Frank Sinatra Tribute Cruise," Galaxsea Travel
Sinatra aficionados can croon to the sound of Sinatra interpreter Steve Marvin, or engage in Sinatra-only discussions with the host of radio show "Strictly Sinatra." For more information: 800-989-8188
"Caviar Cruise." Regent Seven Seas Cruises
While this ship has sailed, egg-craving cruisers are anxious for a re-hatching. It's easy to see why. Choosing between vodka and champagne to accompany the caviar while cruising the Black Sea? Priceless. For more information: www.rssc.com
"Cabaret at Sea," Crystal Cruises
This aquatic cage aux folles under the command of the Mabel Mercer Foundation will feature composer-lyricist Jerry Herman as well as leading Broadway and cabaret stars. For more information: www.crystalcruises.com
"Great Balls of Yarn," Celebrity Cruise Lines
This needle-happy crowd set sail in early 2007 for an Eastern Caribbean sail, featuring classes with knitting author Nicki Epstein. No word on whether anyone made an afghan for the captain. For more information: www.greatballsofyarn.com
"Slayer Cruise," Genesis Productions
"Too creepy to be true" will never apply to the world of theme cruises. And to prove it, celebrities from the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" will take over the Alaskan coastline this summer. For more information: http://slayercruise.com/
"Girls Get-A-Way Cruise," Premier Christian Cruises
This cruise's motto is "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Mothers and daughters, "friends from way back" and "women in your church circle," get ready for a four-night inspirational retreat sailing this November. For more information: www.premierchristiancruises.com
"Murder Mystery Cruise," GoBarging.com
A "trip to die for," this cruise will feature an expert on ghosts and the supernatural who will take you on the trail of Jack the Ripper and other haunted locations around England. For more information: www.gobarging.com
"The Rock Boat," Sixthman
"The world's greatest floating music festival," featuring Sister Hazel and Toad the Wet Sprocket, among others, will rock the waters of Miami, Grand Cayman and Jamaica at the beginning of 2008. It's party central for the younger set. For more information: www.therockboat.com
"Clothing Optional Cruises," Bare Necessities Tour and Travel Inc.
The name of this cruise doesn't leave much to the imagination, nor do its participating travelers. If you dare to go bare, there's at least one sailing per year. For more information: www.bare-necessities.com
"Tim McGraw Country Cruise Getaway"
This past January was your chance to attend a "country music supercamp." If you're a fan of McGraw's music, just think how you'll feel about the Gala Midnight Country Buffet. For more information: www.McGrawCruise.com
"Chess Moves", GeekCruises.com
Sailing the eastern Caribbean, this floating game room will be your chance to learn the "art of attack" and sharpen your moves. For more information: http://geekcruises.com
"The 2007 Annual Gothic Cruise and Masquerade Ball," All Genre Travel
Sponsored by Vampire Rave and Gothic Beauty Magazine, this cruise doesn't involve any slaying--only moonlight swims, a gothic art auction, a performance by VNV Nation and other raving activities. For more information: www.allgenretravel.com/vnvnation.html
"Love Me Tender Cruise", Royal Caribbean
Cruise with the King -- or at least many versions of his likeness -- to Bermuda. Tribute performances span Elvis's career, from gospel to rock (and thin to fat), while guests will have plenty of opportunity to perform themselves. For more information: www.pandaonline.com