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When last we checked in with the theme cruise universe, we explored the world of dark-and-scary Goth and heavy metal music cruises. Today, our subject is golf. And they say cruises are all the same ...

Golf is a natural fit for cruises, with ships acting as giant, floating golf carts, shuttling players between a region's top courses. Some cruise lines offer golf programs on every sailing of a particular itinerary, with packages that bundle greens fees, transportation, onboard instruction, and club storage or rental. Other lines offer golf packages on specific cruises, and several independent companies create golf-themed package trips on a variety of ships, or charter small ships to offer all-golf, all-the-time vacations. Below, I'll run through a bunch of the better golf options being offered over the next year.

Golf Packagers

Golf Ahoy (www.golfahoy.com) is the largest packager of golf cruises, with more than 20 years' experience in the field. The company arranges golf cruises for couples or groups aboard lines like Regent, Silversea, Cunard, Hapag-Lloyd, and Carnival, with golf course transfers, greens fees, pull carts, driving range warm-ups, refreshments at the courses, club/shoe/towel-cleaning services, and welcome-aboard cocktail party included in the package rate. Cruises are available in Europe, Hawaii, the Caribbean, South Africa, New England/Canada, and the Mexican Riviera. Non-golfing companions can arrange for spa packages at the golfer's rate. Special "University at Sea" golf/spa cruises are targeted to doctors, lawyers, accountants, money managers, and other professionals who must rack up annual continuing education credits.

Classical Golf Cruises (www.classicgolfcruises.com), a division of Travel Dynamics International, is a smaller operation that offers dedicated golf cruises aboard the small, 100- and 114-passenger ex-Renaissance ships Clelia II and Corinthian II. Packages include greens fees, transportation, golf carts, accompanying golf hosts, gratuities to guides and drivers, welcome and farewell cocktail parties, some hotel stays, and an open bar aboard ship. Currently, the company is offering a golf cruise in the Adriatic this coming May (visiting ports and courses in Italy, Albania, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Croatia, and Slovenia), three in New England and the Canada's Atlantic provinces in May and June, and one along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard in October.

Cruise Line Golf Programs

Carnival (www.carnival.com) offers the most comprehensive golf program among the major cruise lines, offering some combination of onboard instruction, virtual golf simulators, guided golf excursions, and equipment rental on every voyage. You can have your stroke analyzed via V1 Digital Coaching, which uses a split-screen to compare your stroke side-by-side with that of various golf legends -- which could either be totally demoralizing or totally inspiring, depending on your frame of mind. In port, golf excursions bundle early debarkation, transportation, priority tee times, golf pro escort, cart rental, caddy, and greens fees into one excursion cost, with clubs and golf shoes available for rental or duty-free purchase if you don't want to lug your own. Days at sea may include clinics, demonstrations, and onboard putting contests. On some ships, computer simulators allow virtual play that mimics some three dozen of the world's top courses, including Scotland's St. Andrews, North Carolina's Pinehurst, and California's Pebble Beach.

Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) offers a comprehensive golf program on its Hawaii and Bermuda cruises, and is the official cruise line of the PGA Tour. The deal is similar to Carnival's, with lessons from onboard pros, V1 Digital Coaching, guided golf excursions, club and equipment rental, and transfers between ship and course all available. In Hawaii, there's also club valet and storage and a dedicated onboard pro shop. In Hawaii, play is available at several courses each day, including Puakea and the Princeville Resort (Kauai); Mauna Lani Resort, Big Island Country Club, and Makalei Golf Course (Hawaii); Makena, The Dunes at Maui Lani, Pukalani, and Wailea (Maui); and the Ko Olina Golf Club (Honolulu). In Bermuda, excursions take golfers to Riddell's Bay Golf Club, Tucker's Point Golf Club, Fairmont Southampton, and the Oceanview Golf Club.

Among the luxury lines, Silversea (www.silversea.com) stands out with its "Silver Links" program, which takes golfers to top courses around the world (bundling greens fees, pull or powered carts, transfers, and caddies where available) and offers equipment rentals and onboard clinics, personal instruction, V1 digital swing analysis, demonstrations, and putting contests.

In Europe, river and canal cruise operator European Waterways (www.gobarging.com) offers golf cruises in Scotland, England, Ireland, and France aboard 8- to 12-passenger luxury barges. Supplements on top of the regular cruise rate average about $500 and include greens fees at four courses, as well as transfers to and from the clubs.

Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) also programs occasional golf cruises and specialty excursions. On October 22, Crystal Symphony's 10-night New England/Canada cruise from Montreal to New York will carry a golf theme, with golf legend Billy Caspar as a featured speaker and PGA pro John Clark offering clinics and instruction. This July, an optional package tacked on to Crystal Serenity's July 19 Black Sea cruise will visit the 150th British Open in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the tournament's final two days, with a private driver, access to a private all-day VIP area with open bar, accommodation in a five-star hotel, meals, and a flight to join the ship.

In addition to these programs, virtually every mainstream and luxury line offers shore excursions to golf courses around the world, from Alaska's Valley of the Eagles course to the 9-hole Ushuaia Golf Club, the world's southernmost course, at latitude 54 degrees south in the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego.

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