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Some diehard cruise fans are so enamored by the very concept -- the food, nightlife, activities and ports of call -- that they don't need anything else to get them excited about heading to sea. But if you, or your traveling companion, need a little incentive to get jazzed up about the idea, then a theme cruise may be the extra push you need.

Theme cruises are organized around a specific interest, whether it's a certain type of music, sporting event, food, wine or a famous personality. Special activities, entertainment and meals are part of the package. Theme cruises are generally open to anyone and promoted by the cruise line itself as well as travel agents. Other theme cruises, say for singles, gays, or religious groups, are targeted to that group only. In this case, the entire ship may be chartered by the group and not sold on the open market, or, if the group is smaller, say 500 passengers on a 3,000-passenger ship, then the group will co-exist along with the regular passengers. But don't worry, you won't be lost on a sailing among thousand of legionnaires or devotees of some yoga guru. Not including ship charters, cruise lines typically have a maximum size for groups so that any one group doesn't take over the ship. For example, a company spokesperson for Carnival says their group threshold is about 50% of the total capacity of the ship.

Keep in mind, theme sailings are often more expensive than "normal" sailings and get booked up faster.

"If there's a big-name attraction involved, prices are often substantially higher than the highest brochure rate," says Charlie Funk, co-owner of Just Cruisin' Plus in Nashville. "If it is a hot group or talent, you need to book your cabin as soon as the cruise is announced."

"Theme cruises are capacity-controlled and almost always sell out," says Sherry Kennedy, president of Satellite, Florida-based Vacation Shoppe. She also adds that any theme events that have¿pre-registration could be filled if one waits too late to book the cruise.

Here's a rundown of some up and coming theme cruises.

Vroom Vroom Vroom

Though the appeal escapes me, you've heard the stats, car racing is one of the most popular sports in the country. Tapping into that awesome market, Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) has teamed up with NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Rusty Wallace for a special theme cruise aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride, December 3-10, 2006. The first "Rusty Wallace Cruise" was offered in 2001, and the one scheduled for this year will offer more of the same for stock car racing fans. The weeklong cruise sails round-trip from Long Beach, CA, and calls on Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.

Special invitation-only events include private cocktail receptions the first and last night of the voyage, as well as exclusive question-and-answer and photo sessions. There will be several racing-themed contests and giveaways throughout the voyage, a variety of prizes and memorabilia, including complimentary race passes and authentic racing shirts autographed by Wallace. Fares begin at $599 per person based on double occupancy, and you must mention reference fare code CPRW when making a reservation to be eligible for the invitation-only events taking place on this voyage.

The Antidote to Fast Cars

If NASCAR isn't your thing, Carnival is offering a special mind/body cruise the same week aboard the 2,974-passenger Carnival Glory between December 2-9, 2006, that focuses on slowing down. The third annual theme cruise is sponsored by Carnival and Shape and Men's Fitness magazines, and will include yoga, tai chi/qigong, mediation, and pilates classes; cooking demonstrations; and nutrition workshops and fitness classes, from "Jamaican/Caribbean Cardio Dance" strength training to "Shipshape Boot Camp," hosted by leading wellness experts.

Leading the workshops and demonstrations will be some of the nation's top experts in fitness, nutrition and wellness, who will also be available to answer questions and conduct one-on-one wellness evaluations. Experts include Teri Hanson, a personal trainer and group fitness instructor for more than 20 years, as well as a contributing editor to Shape, Natural Health and Fit Pregnancy magazines; Elizabeth Somer, the author of several nutrition and wellness books and a contributing editor to Shape magazine and a consultant for NBC's "Today" show; Garth Somerville, the self-described "Fitness Ambassador to the Caribbean," who is the fitness director for Sandals resorts and known for his high-energy style that combines live drumming and Caribbean dance moves; and Jeffrey Scott, a Reebok University global master trainer and an international fitness presenter who has starred in more than 20 fitness videos and has made numerous television appearances including NBC's "Today" show.

The cruise sails round-trip out of Port Canaveral and ports of call include Key West, Belize and Costa Maya. Fares start at $679 per person based on double occupancy and include all "Mind/Body Cruise" activities. You must mention fare code CSSH when making a reservation.

Seahawk Fans Score a Touchdown on the Westerdam

Seattle-based Holland America (tel. 877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) is teaming up with the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks and the AAA Washington/Inland travel agency to offer fans a special cruise. Running back and National Football League MVP Shaun Alexander and guard Steve Hutchinson are among the Seahawk stars to sail on a 7-night Westerdam outing to Alaska on May 21, 2006.

Guests booking through AAA can join onboard activities such as a cocktail party hosted by Seahawks players, chalk talk, autograph party with players and several other activities and opportunities to interact with players and coaches.

The 1,848-passenger Westerdam sails round-trip from Seattle and sails through Hubbard Glacier and Yakutat Bay, and calls on Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia. A naturalist and native speaker will present lectures about Alaska wildlife and culture.

Fares start at $1,182 per person, double occupancy for the Seahawks cruise. For booking and more information go to www.aaawin.com/seahawks or call AAA at 800/430-9001. Designated players are subject to change; contact AAA Washington/Inland for any updates.

Riviera to Riches

Windstar Cruises' (tel. 800-258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com) 308-passenger Wind Surf is doing a 14-night cruise round-trip from Nice on May 21, 2006. Guests will overnight in Cannes, France, during the prestigious and star-studded Cannes Film Festival and spend two nights in Monaco during the Formula One Grand Prix race. Other ports visited include St. Tropez, France; St. Florent, Corsica; Ponza, Amalfi, Sorrento, Portovenere and Portofino, Italy. Optional shore excursions include a gala dinner in the Villa de Lys restaurant, located in the famed The Hotel Majestic in Cannes.¿In Monaco, you can purchase a special dinner and evening out at the Monaco Private Car Collection Museum of the late H.S.H. Prince Rainier III.¿You can walk through the exhibits that include one hundred cars of all ages, made by the biggest European and American firms, and six state coaches belonging to the late HSH Prince Rainier III of Monaco.¿Of course, you can attend Monaco's famous Grand Prix; purchase the Monaco Grand Prix Package Tour and enjoy reserved track-side tickets for the race; an invite to a private "Welcome to Monaco" cocktail reception and gala dinner on board the ship, and a gift package of Bushnell binoculars, Official 64e Grand Prix de Monaco program, Official Team Ticket holder, Souvenir hat and Souvenir jacket.

Fares for this cruise at 3,999 per person, double occupancy. All optional events on this cruise have limited capacity and must be pre-booked; go to shoreex@windstarcruises.com.

Norwegian Traditions on Coastal Cruises

Norwegian Coastal Voyage (tel. 800/323-7436; www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.us) has three theme cruises on the planner for 2006, with a total of five departures from Bergen between April 12 and September 16. The 6-night "Norwegian Maritime Traditions" departs April 12 aboard the 482-passenger MS Nordlys, and feature lectures by Professor Bard Kolltveit, director of research at the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo. The 6-night "Norwegian Life and Heritage" departs April 26 and September 16 aboard the 490-passenger MS Nordkapp, and includes talks by Dr. Fenella Bazin, retired director of post-graduate studies at the Centre for Manx Studies on the Isle of Man and a NCV aficionado. Both of these theme sailings range between $1,303 and $2,540 per person, double occupancy.

The nine-night "Life and Music of Edvard Grieg," the country's most famous composer, is being offered on April 30 and August 29 for $1,738 to $4,576 per person aboard the 674-berth MS Trollfjord.¿The cruise features daily recitals by award-winning pianist Rune Alver and lectures by Eilif Lotveit, manager for Bergen International Festival concerts at the Grieg estate; a concert at Troldhaugen (Troll Hill), the composer's Victorian home near Bergen; the Ringve Music Museum in Trondheim, where young music students play historic instruments; and two nights at a Bergen hotel with breakfast. Additional savings include an AARP member discount of $70 per cabin and a senior savings of $105 per person for travelers age 67 and up that can be combined. The single supplement is waived in some cabin categories on the April and September departures. Cruise rates cover expert guest lecturers and all meals, taxes, port charges and gratuities.

Arias and Ovations on Frederic Chopin

Peter Deilmann's (tel. 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com) elegant 82-passenger riverboat, the Frederic Chopin, is offering a 10-night opera theme cruise tour departing May 18 from Potsdam, which is just outside of Berlin. Ports of call include Magdeburg, Wittenberg, Meissen, Dresden (overnight) and Prague (overnight). Guests can attend opera performances in three cities: Berlin, Dresden and Prague. The trip includes a 7-night cruise from Potsdam to Prague, two hotel nights in Berlin at the Grand Hyatt Berlin and a night at Prague's Renaissance hotel, plus a choice of six optional opera performances. The operas and venues are Bellini's Norma at the Berlin Staatsoper, May 19; Otto Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor at the Dresden State Operetta, May 23; and four choices in Prague: Verdi's Rigoletto at the Prague State Opera, May 26; Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy at the Prague National Theatre, May 26; Tosca by Giacomo Puccini at the Prague State Opera, May 27, and Mozart's Don Giovanni at Theatre of the Estates, May 27.

Fares for the fully-escorted 10-night opera lovers' cruise tour are $2,841 and $3,210 (lower and upper decks) per person, double occupancy. Hotel buffet breakfasts in Berlin and Prague, port charges, taxes and onboard gratuities are included in the special group rate. Opera performances and airfare are additional. A reduced rate package of six shore excursions purchased on board is $205.

For more info or make a booking, contact Tom Taffel (tel. 415/566-7673; www.tomsgroupcruises.com); Taffel is the group coordinator and manager of San Francisco Opera/Ballet's Intermezzo Lounge.

Eat, Drink and Cruise Merry

Radisson Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com) has partnered with the legendary Hotel Plaza Athénée Paris for a series of three special food and wine theme voyages in 2006. Offered about the 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Navigator in May, August and Dec, the theme sailings will feature guest chefs and wine masters of the hotel's renowned Alain Ducasse restaurant Relais du Plaza. There will be onboard cooking demonstrations and wine tastings, Relais du Plaza signature dishes and shore side market visits with chefs.¿All fares include shipboard gratuities, an in-suite bar set up, wine with dinner, and all soft drinks.

May 6 Europe sailing: The award-winning Relais du Plaza executive chef Philippe Marc will join the Voyager for a seven-night cruise from Funchal to Monte Carlo, with calls at Casablanca, Málaga, Palma de Majorca, Barcelona and Sète (Carcassonne). In cooking demonstrations on board, the master chef will focus on the elegant "brasserie chic" cuisine of the Alain Ducasse restaurant, and offer a five-course signature tasting menu in Compass Rose restaurant one evening.¿A series of wine tastings and discussions about food and wine pairings will also be offered, along with a shopping expedition to a local market led by Chef Marc. Per person fares start at $3,247 per person.

An optional two-night pre- or post-cruise hotel package is available at the Hotel Plaza Athénée Paris. It includes a four-course meal at Relais du Plaza, designed and prepared for the private group, and a private visit to the wine cellar for a tasting. Rates for this package are $2,645 double occupancy ($4,075 single) and include one-way economy class flight from Nice to Paris, dinner with wine and tasting as noted, breakfast daily, and transfers.

August 9 Europe sailing: The Navigator's 10-night cruise from Dover to Monte Carlo visits St. Malo, Bordeaux (overnight), Santander, La Coruña, Vigo, Lisbon, Cádiz, and Barcelona. Along the way, Relais du Plaza's head sommelier Didier Thomas, who oversees one of the best wine cellars in Paris, will share his extensive knowledge of wine in four tastings, including one focusing on Champagne and on the wines of Bordeaux.

Also on board for this sailing will be Jean-Claude Elgaire, head concierge of the Plaza Athénée. He'll share his 47 years of hotel experience and offer insider tips to touring and dining in Paris. Also a board will be guest chef Frank Stitt from Birmingham, Alabama's acclaimed Highlands Bar and Grill, which specializes in combining the culinary traditions of the American South with the South of France. Fares start at $4,742 per person, including a choice of free round-trip economy class air from 86 North American gateways, $499 business class upgrade when an economy class air add-on is purchased or $1,000 off the cruise fare.

The Hotel Plaza Athénée Paris package is also available in conjunction with this cruise.

December 11 Caribbean sailing: A 7-night cruise on the Navigator is all about the sweet stuff. Sailing round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Princess Cays, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Nassau, on route one of the world's great dessert masters, Christophe Michalak, head pastry chef at the Hotel Plaza Athénée Paris and captain of the 2005 Pastry World Cup winning team, will be aboard to treat guests to his scrumptious desserts. He'll also conduct a pair of cooking demonstrations. This sailing will also feature the likes of Thierry Hernandez, director of the Bar du Plaza Athénée and named "Best Bartender in Europe." He'll be aboard to showcase his latest libations, from Martini Lollies and Jellied Cosmopolitans to his now-classic Rose Royale cocktail. Fares start at $1,998 per person, including two-for-one savings.

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