Why Theme Cruises are a Great Way to Attract New Cruisers

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I’ve seen it happen so many times. People who never thought they would like cruising end up on a sailing for one reason or another and get hooked.

Maybe you reluctantly agree to go on a cruise because a group of friends or family are doing a sailing to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or some other special occasion like a wedding (yes, they have those on cruises, too.)

Cruise CompeteI had not realized the powerful effect a theme cruise also could have in drawing a crowd of newbies onboard a ship. I discovered this when sailing on the inaugural Floating Festivals out of Southampton, England, on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.

Over the course of one week and back-to-back cruises, more than 5,800 passengers came onboard to celebrate their favorite music and styles, all during the three-day Throwback Festival and four-day Stages Festival.

Throwback: The ’80s Festival at Sea and Stages: The Musical Theatre Festival at Sea featured several stars that drew avid fans, and the overwhelming portion of them had never been on a cruise before.

And every one of the passengers who I talked to thought the idea was brilliant to have these events on a cruise ship. They enjoyed all the conveniences of endless food, drink and entertainment, all without having to traipse back and forth to concert grounds or other venues, which are the standard procedures for these multi-day festivals. Plus, you get comfy accommodations, extra amenities like pools, gym and spa services while surrounded by the gorgeous scenery of the sea and making a stop at an interesting destination for a day of exploring (we visited Bruges and Amsterdam during the two cruises).

Many of the people I chatted with said they definitely planned to keep on cruising (huge numbers also booked for next year’s festivals while onboard, as well).

Throwback Festival on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas
Passengers went all out to celebrate the awesome era of 1980s music and fashion during the Throwback Fest on Navigator of the Seas.

Throwback Fest attracted fans of ’80s British pop and synth-pop music with featured acts Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark, Erasure’s Andy Bell, Human League, Killer Queen (a standout Queen tribute band), Jason Donovan and Chesney Hawkes.

On the Stages sailing, the focus switched to West End theater, with icons like Beverley Knight, Michael Ball, Collabro, Lee Mead and Kerry Ellis as headliners.

Navigator of the Seas Windjammer Cafe
Most of the ship was filled with first-time cruisers who were made to feel welcome aboard for the festival and who gladly indulged in all the food choices at Windjammer buffet and the other restaurants on Navigator of the Seas.

While these two particular cruises appealed quite specifically to British cruisers, they also were perfect case studies in how these specialty sailings grab hold of a new audience and turn them on to cruising.

There have been cruises for fans of Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can also find sailings for Zumba enthusiasts or for marathon runners. Motorcyclists and vintage auto lovers. Quilting, crafting, biking and hiking. Hip-hop and rock music. Almost anything that boasts an energetic following is game.

Wham George Michael tribute performer on Throwback Festival
A Wham tribute act thrills the crowd in Metropolis Theatre on Navigator of the Seas.

Onboard Navigator of the Seas, people were having a marvelous time, staying up late and packing all the venues during showtimes. Throwback fest featured themes on each day, and passengers dressed up for “Back to the ’80s/’80s Icons)”, “I Love Lycra”, and “Pretty in Pink vs. Rocky Horror” on successive nights while roving the ship and rocking out to the amazing performances by Human League, Andy Bell and OMD.

Stages fest was less rambunctious, but cruisers stayed up late, as well, and got the proper feel of what a cruise is all about, with trivia contests, time relaxing in the spa or in hot tubs, enjoying the buffets and specialty dining options and a lot of late-night dancing and karaoke.

Navigator of the Seas sailaway party
The sailaway party gets things going for the four-day Stages: The Musical Theatre Festival at Sea cruise.

Cruise ships really are the perfect large-event venues, with multiple theaters and lounge musical acts or other activities and presentations. Plus, the built-in convenience of restaurants and amenities like pools, a casino, spa and gym that are always just steps away. Don’t forget the FlowRider, rock-climbing wall, sports court and mini-golf course, too.

Navigator of the Seas Floating Festival sailaway party

Plus, it’s much more fun to have your event center travel to new places every day. Next year’s Throwback and Stages festivals, for example, will visit Le Havre, France, and Dublin, Ireland, on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.

Amsterdam at Rijksmuseum
During our Stages Fest sailing, we visited Amsterdam and were able to enjoy some time off the ship on excursions before returning to the festivities onboard.

So, a theme cruise can serve to get a new passenger onto a ship for the first time.

It doesn’t matter whether they take their first cruise simply to enjoy the featured live music acts onboard — or the hits from Madonna, Wham, Duran Duran and Michael Jackson or ballads from their favorite musicals like Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables playing in the background all day. Believe me, we got our nonstop fill of ’80s and theater tunes on my sailings.

Amsterdam canal

Once passengers get the full sense of all the fun a cruise offers, it’s not likely to be their last trip on a ship.

In fact, on the Floating Festivals I joined, organizers told me that they had sold 75 percent of the spots for the 2019 versions within one week after the end of the cruises.

“The reaction to this year’s first ever Throwback cruise was phenomenal,” said Jonathan Blackburn of Blackburn International, the entertainment agency that organized the Floating Festivals. “And it is safe to say our passengers had an absolute blast.”


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