One of the most famous musicals ever to grace the stages in New York, London (and anywhere else for that matter) is Cole Porter’s 1934 classic Anything Goes. The musical is very appropriate for this entry as it takes place on ocean liner on its way to London from New York. Early in the first act, the ensemble sings a song called There’s No Cure Like Travel/Bon Voyage as the ships set sail.
And there’s no cure like travel
To help you unravel
The worries of living today
When the poor brain is cracking
There’s nothing like packing
A suitcase and sailing away
Indeed – there is no cure like travel, especially if you want to immerse yourself into a favorite hobby or pastime. And there is no better way to combine these two than by going on a theme cruise. It has been over a month since we were on the Celebrity Equinox and Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise and I am still smiling because of it. I guess that might be the case for many of us who love the idea of being on a ship. But this was different and special. My wife and I recently took a theme cruise and it was fantastic. It is definitely a different experience on board a cruise ship – and one that we hope to be able to do again.
We have been on group cruises before. It seems unlikely that anyone has ever been on a cruise ship without one or two or more of these groups. Maybe they were wearing matching t-shirts (my favorite are definitely not the ones with some variation of “ship faced” on them). We went twice as part of a group for my sister-in-law’s dance studio and had a great time.
Our groups were around 100 people (dancers and their families) and it was nice to be on a ship of 1800 people and see familiar faces at every turn. Groups might be for dance studios, family reunions, team celebrations, class reunions, etc. They will have one or two special events during the trip, for sure. The key is that people know each other in their other lives – and come together as a cohesive group during the cruise. Having an element in common can make for an enjoyable trip for everyone.
Being on a theme cruise has some of the same aspects of a group cruise, with a twist. That common bond is not typically someone you are – or what family you are – but something potentially much stronger. These theme cruises have a special connection. There is a great joy in being with a group of people with a common interest. Maybe it is more than a common interest – but a common passion. The common thread can be just about anything. Like Old Time Radio? There is a cruise for that. Fan of Harry Potter, get on the boat. Think country music is the best, time to book your ticket.
I looked around and found cruises that are themed around Music groups, movies, writers, old time radio, dance, arts, nature, photography, just to name a few. These theme cruises are numerous – and pull together people in a large variety of groups. I will provide some links below so you can find your own. Theme cruises may take over an entire ship (or nearly so) or just are a very large group on board a ship. So you might not even know that you are on a theme cruise because your path will not cross that of the people who are in that group. As with groups, theme cruises have separate events and programs that are just for the people who sign up for it. And as the old saying goes, the only thing worse than being on a cruise with 500 people fixated on the Backstreet Boys is being on a cruise with 1000 people fixated on the Backstreet Boys.
A E I O U (Y)
It seems that there are a number of valuable aspects of a theme cruise – that I am breaking down by all of the vowels in the English Language (plus one sorta). These are: A is for access, E is for events , I is for immersion, O is for organization, U is for up charge and Y is for your host. While I have a grand total of one theme cruises under my belt – sharing what I learned on this cruise might help you evaluate if a theme cruise is in your future.
A is for Access
So many of these theme cruises bring together fans of the arts, especially music, television, the movies, and theater. One of the most exciting parts about a theme cruise focused on the arts is that you get something you do not get every day – access to the stars. So the person on that movie you loved, the person in that group where you know all the songs by heart, and the stage voice you remember hearing only through the original cast recordings – they are part of your cruise. You get access to these stars and that can be an amazing – and strange part of the experience. There are some big names that participate. These stars trade a little bit of freedom for a vacation with their fans. If they had a theme cruise where librarians were the celebrities – I would do it in a heartbeat!
Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise
I want to share information about the cruise we were on. We took Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise. It was a week-long Eastern Caribbean Cruise to San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and St. Kitts on the Celebrity Equinox (February 17-24, 2018). Our group was around 100 people and the host was Seth Rudetsky – a tremendous Broadway personality who has his own show on Sirius XM’s Broadway Channel and is a regular contributor to Playbill. More about him later. The Three stars on our cruise were names that we were very familiar with as fans of Broadway musicals and musical theater.
Liz Callaway has had a very long career on Broadway – but may be best known as the singing voice of Anastasia in the 1997 animated movie of the same name. Jody Kuhn is a four-time Tony nominee who originated the role of Cosette in Les Misérables and also has an animated movie credit – singing for Pocahontas in the 1995 Disney animated film. Adam Pascal is best known for his Tony-nominated role as Roger in the 1996 sensation, Rent (a role he also played in the 2005 movie version of the play). These three stars were outstanding and generous from the perspective of an attendee. We were not really sure what to expect – so being in the room with these stars was simply surreal.
One story worth sharing took place at dinner on the last two nights on the cruise. My wife and I were sitting in our dining room section at a table for two – when Adam Pascal and his wife sat next to us. It was truly surreal. We were polite – but we were channeling my step-brother who lives in Nashville. The story there is when you see a music star, you have to be cool and not make a scene. So that was what we were trying to do until Adam’s wife Cybele mentioned that she received a text from her father unambiguously suggesting that they do not see The Phantom Thread (the movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis). Well, I had to jump in and tell her that her father is completely correct! That led to a very normal and fun conversation about the best movies of the year. This was not something that we every experienced during any other cruise, so the experience was rather unique and wonderful – for us at least!
E is for Events
Performances on Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise – Celebrity Equinox – February 2018
One thing you can count on a whole set of events and programs that are just for the special members associated with the theme. So in addition to the lectures, shows, classes, contests, etc. that everyone can participate in, you get access to a whole set of entertainment options that are only for those in the theme group. These events are targeted to the type of theme cruise you are booked on. If you are on an Old Time Radio cruise, they recreate old time radio scripts (with sound effects). You may have autograph sessions, question and answers with the stars, special games, and other kinds of events. If this is a musical themed cruise, you may have special concerts just for the group participants.
During our cruise, we had five shows that were simply amazing. We had three cabaret format shows each featuring the Broadway stars who were on the cruise (Liz Callaway, Judy Kuhn and Adam Pascal). One evening, the event was Seth’s famous deconstructing video’s – where he shows a video of a Broadway star and then tells us the story behind it. Our last concert featured each of these great stars and the group numbers that we rehearsed all week long. We also had a fun game of Broadway Bingo, an autograph session, and master classes with participants who wanted an edge for future auditions. Even with all these events, we still had time to catch some of the evening entertainment (as well as some daytime ones as well) on the ship – so the timing was good for us.
I is for Immersion
For fans of cruising, there is little incentive that you need to cross the bridge and get on the ship. The cruise lines do a great job of providing a nice array of activities to keep the hundreds and thousands of guests happy on the cruise. Theme cruise attendees have an added advantage because you have a whole set of activities focused on a subject that you like, and probably adore. So in addition to all the joys of being on a cruise vacation, your activities are focused around something you love. That is definitely part of the appeal of a theme cruise. The immersion activities vary a great deal. A friend went on a Star Trek cruise and they got pictures with the cast who were on the boat. On Old Time Radio cruises – you recreate old scripts with sound effects. You have to really want to participate and like what the theme is all about, or you will best be served just booking a regular cruise.
During Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise, the immersion activities were amazing. We did not realize what the daily activities were going to be like – but they exceeded our wildest imaginations. During each of the days at sea, we met twice as a group and learned music that we were going to sing during the final performance. Those sessions were not only informative (especially for those of us who have not looked at sheet music in years) but tremendously fun. When we were not learning music (though we carried the sheet music everywhere at Seth’s insistence), we listened to Seth record his XM radio show, had a Broadway trivia game, and were able to participate in an autograph session. While the theme is definitely the focus for the voyage, you still have the time to catch some sun, go to the spa, go swimming or just relax with a book. There were some programs we missed because of our schedule – but I would not have swapped what we did.
O is for Organization
Pre cruise preparations
For travelers who have been on a cruise ship, there is a certain pattern and rhythm that you learn and can carry from line to line. One of the biggest questions people ask about the first time on a cruise ship, or maybe the first time on a cruise line, is what to expect during the trip. I am often surprised about the lack of information that is available about what to expect on your voyage. This is partly relevant as it relates to dining and attire that you need to wear in the dining room. The facebook groups and message boards are helpful here for generally information about what it means to be a passenger on a cruise. But with theme cruises – there is a whole separate level of questions that one might have because there is a whole different set of activities.
With Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise – we had great communication from Seth himself prior to the cruise. He was tremendously accessible via email and through the facebook group. And did we had never been on one of these theme cruises before, we had a million questions. He was patient and answered them all. We received a few emails before embarking with information about our cruise which gave a good introduction of what to expect. What was so important was an opening reception where Seth and the representative from Celebrity Cruises shared information about dinners in the Silhouette Dining Room, what our schedule was going to be and any other news that we needed to make the week fantastic. While they made in clear that we were not going to have any conflicts on port days, they organized a special excursion in San Juan, Puerto Rico to visit an animal shelter that rescued numerous dogs after the hurricanes of the previous fall. We opted to go on a different excursion, but everyone who went with Seth had a great time.
U is for Up Charge
With all these special events, shows, gifts, access and general festivities, this all comes with a price. For our cruise, there was an extra charge of around $500 per person over the going price for the guest. This is why on the surface, theme cruises seem far more expensive than they should be, especially if you are shopping prices on the web. But when you consider the perks that you get – for us, it was five amazing shows and more music lessons than we thought we would ever get, the value is actually pretty outstanding. And those are for the events that you liked. There are added needs of a theme (or any group for that matter) such as logistics involved in coordinating combined seating at meals, added rooms for events, and staff time in the events and theaters.
This is why you really want to do this when you sign up, because there are far more affordable alternatives to getting on a ship. If it works well in your group, everyone is going to be excited and enjoy the week. If your spouse or partner is not excited about participating – you are going to spend extra money and not really get the value. Take that into consideration when one of your family wants to do something – but not everyone wants to do it.
Additionally, there was some confusion to see if you are actually booked as part of the group. That is always a trick when the marketing information says call your local travel agent. A few people on the cruise were not getting the messages prior to the sailing because they were not connected with the group. The people at Celebrity Cruises were working on making sure this would not be a problem down the road.
Y is for Your Host
Complementary cruise director
There are so many key elements that go into making a successful theme cruise. But maybe one that can not be more important is the role that the host plays in making a theme cruise a tremendous experience. In many ways, the host serves as a complimentary cruise director, making sure the events and experiences are wonderful for people on the theme cruise. With a theme cruise, so many of the events revolved around the host that having an engaging and inviting person in the role could make a huge impression of the entire trip. If we focused on just the host, then without a doubt, we scored the Jackpot….or won the Tony (since it was a Broadway cruise).
Seth has a huge personality and was perfect as host. He was funny, engaging, informative, fun, energetic, and he made you only focus on the positive. The music lessons he gave the group were not like what you remember from school. They were funny, useful, informative and an unexpected surprise. Not only did I leave the Celebrity Equinox knowing more about music, I never had a teacher as funny and engaging as Seth. Every theme cruise needs a host as strong as Seth!
Would I do it again?
So would I do this cruise again? Heck yeah – in a second. We are trying to figure out a timing when we can travel with him again. However, I would not do a theme cruise if only I or my wife were interested in the topic. So I guess I will have to pass on the Cruising with Greg Bell and a week of listening and recreating old time radio!
Here are some links to help you find a cruise that is right for you:
- Theme Cruise Finder: http://themecruisefinder.com/
- Theme Cruises from Vacations To Go: http://www.vacationstogo.com/theme_cruises.cfm
- Large Group Cruises and How to Avoid Them (December 13, 2017): https://cruisefever.net/0125-large-group-cruises-and-how-to-avoid-them/
Corey Seeman (aka Squirrel man) is the director ofKresge Library Services (Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), a position he has held since 2006. He is also an avid photographer whose work has been shared via flickr. In particular, he is an avid photographer of the campus squirrels at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is married with two adult children (so he is kinda old). While he has written a great deal about libraries, he is trying a variety of fun fiction and nonfiction writing. Visit his home page for links to all his ‘stuff’.
Emma says: Thanks so much for this one Corey! Lovely to have you back guest blogging for us again.
I have to admit I don’t know anything about anybody you are talking about in this post but I still love it. I would LOVE to try a theme cruise. I’m not sure what type of theme cruise I’d like to go on, maybe a Coronation Street cruise maybe? (British soap opera)
Not sure I count Y as a vowel either 😉