Updated September 21, 2017
Imagine yourself dancing the night away with the hosts of your favorite home renovation show, partying with rock stars you grew up admiring or sunbathing on a private island with famous football players. While sailing to Mexico with the cast of "Star Trek" might seem too good to be true, we assure you it's not science fiction. Welcome to the world of themed cruises, also known as fan cruises. Take the sun and surf of a Caribbean cruise and add a twist -- maybe a lineup of world-famous DJs or cast members from "The Walking Dead" -- and voila! Themed cruises are no new fad -- The Rock Boat, a music festival at sea, is in its 16th year.
Major players in the world of themed cruises are Sixthman, Premier Vacations & Events and Entertainment Cruise Productions. Theme cruises are typically shorter sailings than other cruises, but costs are higher than average as well, which begs the questionWhy? One reason is the big-name celebrities and artists that sometimes sail on themed cruises. Their star power is reflected in the price.
Are themed cruises really worth the hype? Cruise Critic breaks down the pros and cons of themed cruises to consider before deciding whether to fulfill your ultimate fan fantasy and book a vacation at sea.
Theme Cruise Pros
Facetime with your idols
Every fan cruise is different. On Sailing with the Scotts, a design-themed cruise hosted by HGTV's "The Property Brothers," the much-loved siblings hung out with the crowd, taking selfies and giving out hugs. This wasn't the case on the inaugural Walker Stalker Cruise -- cast members from "The Walking Dead" were friendly, but rarely seen outside of designated photo op/autograph times, and photographs were restricted to paid opportunities only. Regardless of which face-to-face ops you're given, you're all ultimately occupying the same ship space-- even if you don't get to every meet 'n' greet, you might run into your favorite actor or singer in the halls or in the airport. And don't forget to introduce yourself when asking questions at the panels. Heck, buy some tequila shots for the members of KISS on the annual KISS Kruise or Alex Trebek (he sailed as a guest on the Turner Classic Movie cruise) and see what happens.
From themed games to trivia to dance lessons, take advantage of the activities included along the way on your voyage. Theme nights encourage you to dress up. Got a really great costume or a particularly crowd-pleasing neon onesie? Break 'em out -- people will definitely want a shot of you in their vacation photos. On a theme cruise, never be afraid to indulge your fan fantasy. You'll see everything from handcrafted T-shirts to full steampunk regalia.
Connect with other fans
Fandom creates a strong community of people who have met through online fan forums, at Comic Con or by following their favorite band from city to city. Cruising together is just another way to connect. If the theme cruise you're on is a full ship charter, chances are every passenger onboard is a fan like you. Let your freak flag fly, so to speak; it's a chance to geek out in peace, along with others who feel the same way. Endlessly debating plot points, obsessing over lyrics, drooling over so-and-so -- it's all part of the routine on a theme cruise. To get a head start on your connections, check social media as soon as you book -- most theme cruises have official Facebook pages where cruisers-to-be can chat and share photos or swap tips leading up to, during and after the sailing.
Forget the bland convention center or impersonal arena; on a themed cruise, not only are you attending shows and meet 'n' greets, but when you stop to take a look around, you're in the middle of the ocean! If the weather cooperates, expect the chance to sunbathe at sea while sipping a frozen tropical cocktail; spend an afternoon at the spa; play a hand at the casino; and get off the ship to explore foreign ports of call like Cozumel or Nassau. Don't forget that you're not just onboard to hobnob with the stars or rage like there's no tomorrow -- you're also on a cruise vacation; expect towel animals and extra dessert. Worried about bringing the kiddos? Mainstream cruise ships all have kids clubs; some even have late-night babysitting.
Theme Cruise Cons
Expect to pay more for everything
Theme cruises are exclusive; even on a large ship there is limited space -- and you will pay accordingly. Putting aside the thousands you'll need for the cruise, airfare or gas to get to port, and all your gear for the trip, be sure to budget further for all the onboard options you'll want to take advantage ofautographs, photo ops, merch from the voyage, even special-edition bottles of craft beer -- they all cost extra, and not just a little bit. An official cruise T-shirt might set you back $30. And autographs? You might be asked to pay as much as $100 for the most well-known stars' signatures. You don't want to regret not buying or seeing or doing, so factor in any extra costs.
Sure, professional zombie makeup would make for a killer Instagram post, but many of your fellow cruisers feel the same way -- thus the line that wraps around the deck. Even with timed event entry tickets and designated meeting spots for sessions with the band or favorite cast members, you might have to wait in multi-hour-long lines. Diehard fans know this is the price to pay for some precious facetime with the ones you admire, but it can still feel arduous as that waiting time dips into other fun activities happening around the ship. Chances are you'll be able to do everything, but just factor in extra time.
The ships aren't the newest
Theme cruise operator Sixthman holds all its sailings onboard Norwegian Pearl, which was built in 2007 and lacks many of the amenities Norwegian Cruise Line's newer ships have, like outdoor drinking and dining venues. The same applies to another ship often used for themed cruises -- Carnival Ecstasy (built in 1991). While there's nothing wrong with these ships (they are refurbished and upgraded every few years), don't expect all the most modern bells and whistles from the line's newer models.
If you're a super-fan who would do anything to get close to Kid Rock or Rob Gronkowski, booking a theme or fan cruise will give you a genuine star-studded experience. If you have limited vacation time and a large enough budget to splurge on all the extras, a themed cruise is a memorable way to spend a few days -- think of the water cooler stories! Worse comes to worst and you don't actually enjoy yourself, you can still say you once sailed on the same ship as New Kids on the Block.