Themed cruises are more popular than ever and it's leading to ships selling out in record time
- Themed cruises allow travelers to immerse themselves in their passions whether it be cats, heavy metal, or wrestling.
- Norwegian Cruise Line's themed cruises have been selling out in record time and Holland America plans to grow its partnership with charter companies.
There seems to be a themed cruise for everyone whether you love Star Trek, Chris Jericho, or Broadway musicals.
For travelers seeking them out, cruises are no longer just about relaxing on a ship while hopping from destination to destination. It's about being surrounded exclusively by a community of people with the same specific interests. And monetizing that passion is becoming a larger of the over $7 billion global cruise industry.
At a standard comedy show, the person sitting next to you could either be a casual or mega fan of the comedian. But if you're going on Bert Kreischer's sold-out "Fully Loaded at Sea" comedy cruise in October, there's a good chance everyone around you will be a big fan of Kreischer and his fellow performers.
"[These cruise goers] are super-fan club members," Jeff Cuellar, Sixthman's vice president of events, marketing, and community, told Insider. Sixthman will operate the upcoming comedy cruise. The company was acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line in 2012 and now runs itineraries with diverse themes like heavy metal, wrestling, and "emo's not dead."
Over the last few years, this promise of community at sea has caught the attention of thousands of travelers. And now, these themed itineraries are selling better than ever.
Within the last eight months, several of Sixthman's bookings have sold out in record time, Cuellar said. Its Rock the Bells hip-hop cruise sold out in under five days with no publicly announced lineup. EDSea — a wordplay on electronic dance music festival Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) — was similarly booked up in three days with no lineup. Both are sailing this November.
Sixthman's themed itineraries are so popular, 60% to over 80% of travelers end up rebooking the cruise, turning these vacations into what Cuellar calls an annual "pilgrimage."
"We're doing pretty darn good," Cuellar said. "Let's keep growing and expanding because there's definitely demand to do this. It's why we keep coming [up] with more programming."
In the future, Sixthman plans to grow its number of events, genres, and destinations.
The Norwegian Cruise Line subsidiary isn't alone in this success. Entertainment Cruise Productions operates three themed cruises: Star Trek, the 80s, and High Seas Rally — a floating motorcycle rally. Several staterooms and suites for the 2023 motorcycle rally at sea, 2024 Star Trek, and 2024 80s cruises are already sold out. And about two-thirds of travelers will sail again on their respective cruises year after year, Chris Hearing, the company's partner and executive director, told Insider.
These repeat bookings are music to the cruise lines' ears — it's a mutually beneficial operation for both the themed cruise production companies and the cruise lines themselves.
To pull off these festivals at sea, themed cruise providers charter full ships from various cruise lines. Over the last few years, Entertainment Cruise Productions has worked exclusively with Royal Caribbean. Sixthman sticks with its parent company Norwegian, of course.
The cruise line provides the vessel and operations like cleaning and food. The charter company then adds on the immersive "experience." This includes a wrestling ring for the wrestling cruise, a pool deck stage for the music-themed cruises, and all of the related decor and entertainment.
Holland America Line, a Carnival Corp brand, is best known for its premium cruises. But it also has one of the "largest full-ship charter portfolios in the industry," Rob Coleman, its vice president of charter, incentive and series partnerships, told Insider. About 80% of Holland America's full-ship charters — an average of 20 annually — are for themed cruises. Many of these sail at full capacity with a waitlist.
The cruise line works with over 12 charterers annually. Moving forward, Holland America wants to expand these partnerships: Several of its charterers will be new for 2023 and 2024, according to Coleman.
But it doesn't just rely on outside providers for these unique cruises. The legacy cruise line also hosts its own themed sailings. Just don't expect the same rowdy crowd you might see on Sixthman's heavy metal "Headbangers Boat" cruise.
In 2023, Holland America will operate Heritage Cruises and Culinary Cruises. The former — celebrating the cruise line's 150th anniversary — will visit historic global destinations meaningful to the company's history. The latter will then feature a different celebrity chef — from chocolatier and pastry chef Jacques Torres to sushi master Andy Matsuda — on every itinerary. These food-based cruises first introduced in 2022 were so popular with guests, Holland America decided to bring them back.
They're not the same as a motorcycle rally at sea but let's not forget there's truly a themed cruise for everyone.
"I think the themed cruise industry is going to grow even faster [than the general cruise industry]," Hearing said. "Experiential vacations are becoming more of a part of our society today. That's what we provide for them."
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