Remember, if you will, the old days, when Carnival Cruise Lines was known for its hard-partying ethos, and its "Fun Ships" motto meant fun in a very 1970s kind of way. Well, no more: This week, the formerly swingin' line issued an edict that strikes at one of the core fantasy-obsessions of our time. To wit: Carnival will no longer host "cougars" theme cruises.
I know, I know, it's a blow -- and such a surprise, coming on the heels of what was apparently a very successful December "cougars" cruise aboard Carnival Elation, in which nearly 300 older women and willing younger men, um, participated.
Like most theme cruises, the December cougars cruise was organized and marketed by an outside agency, but when SinglesTravelCompany.com tried to set up Cougar Cruise II with Carnival, they were turned down.
No offense, says Carnival, but "We are no longer allowing any groups to be booked and marketed under this theme on our ships."
But fear not, seaworthy cougars and cubs, other cruise lines are apparently not so prudish. Cougar Cruise II (www.singlestravelcompany.com) is already set to go aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, sailing 7 nights from LA to the Mexican Riviera May 16Â?23, and Cougar Cruise III (www.singlestravelcompany.com/singles/2010_3rd_international_cougar_cruise.html) is set to depart December 3 for a three-night Bahamas cruise aboard NCL's Norwegian Sky.
"Expect fun!!" says the agency's press material: coordinated singles get-togethers, nightly dancing and socializing for group members, "meeting new and fun single friends ... and so much more!!!" Uh-huh.
But What If I'm Not a Cougar or Cub?
"But what if I'm not a cougar or cub?" you ask. "Is there a semi-bizarro theme cruise or group cruise for me too?"
Likely so. Let's be completely 21st century and just set aside some groups that might have been considered bizarro or controversial back in the dark ages, but today are just part of the warp and weft of western civilization. Gay or lesbian group cruises? Ho-hum. We're now at a place where a company like R Family Vacations (www.rfamilyvacations.com) can successfully market gay family cruises to a bunch of boring middle-aged couples and their kids -- people like, say, me, only gay. I'm going to ignore the whole subject of clothing-optional cruises (www.bare-necessities.com) too, because face it, if Ben Franklin could take his daily "air baths" every day 200-plus years ago, how controversial can that really be? (Though some aren't so open-minded: Back in March 2005, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' ship Polynesia was refused permission to dock in Nevis -- not because the ship was sailing a gay cruise, said tourism minister Malcolm Guishard, but because it was sailing a naked gay cruise. "If this ship had been chartered by a heterosexual clothing-optional group, our decision would have been exactly the same," Mr. Guishard noted.)
No, today there's not a whole lot of affinity groups that can't find their place aboard a cruise ship if they so choose. And with that said, let's look at some of the ... I was going to say "weirder ones," but that's so not PC. Let's just call them "niche." To each his own, right?
Not lifestyle in the Pottery Barn, fitness club, or gated community sense, but lifestyle in the "swinging lifestyle" sense. Couples who want to sail with and get to know other couples, in the biblical sense, can sign on with The Swinger Cruise (www.theswingercruise.com) for any of five cruises planned between now and April 2011. Says the cruises' organizers of their November 2010 lifestyle cruise, aboard Royal Caribbean's 2,100-passenger Radiance of the Seas, "Experienced swinger lifestyle event promoters French Connections and cruise planners CSI, Inc. has secured a 100% takeover charter on the Radiance of the Seas... . This is a 100% lifestyle takeover sailing. No families, no vanilla passengers." Other swinger cruises in the offing include a weeklong Caribbean cruise departing January 24 aboard Windstar's 312-passenger Wind Surf and a 5-night clothing-optional swingers cruise in the western Caribbean aboard Radiance of the Seas, departing April 25, 2011.
Angry, Disenfranchised Voters ... on a Cruise Ship
When you open up the website of The Liberty Ship (www.thelibertyship.com), you see an image of George Washington crossing the Delaware, with the inscription, "This cruise helped to establish our freedom." The rest of that sentence, "Yours will help to restore it," appears over the image of a pair of bare feet at the end of a deck chair, with the sunny sea and cloudless sky beyond. Which, y'know, makes perfect sense to me.
The Liberty Ship, says the group's website, is "a unique American themed cruise vacation for We The People -- the Tea Party patriots, the 912'ers, common sense Conservatives, Libertarians, and all freedom loving citizens from across the fruited plain." It will "feature a variety of common-sense personalities and celebrities, speaking and participating in spirited panel discussions, Q&As, and meet and greets," providing "just the right mix of politics, fun and relaxation, to refresh and re-energize our base following the mid-term elections!" So there you go -- I report, you decide. The weeklong eastern Caribbean cruise departs November 14 from Ft. Lauderdale aboard MSC Cruises' Poesia.
More establishment conservative cruises are being offered this year by The Weekly Standard (www.twscruise.com/index.html) and The National Review (www.nrcruise.com/index.html). On the left, a pair of liberal-themed cruises are being offered by The Nation (www.nationcruise.com/index.html) and Air America (www.airamericacruise.com).
Cruising with Your Own Kind
Sometimes you just want to hang out with your people, y'know? Which explains why there's a Star Trek Cruise -- though it's technically called Cruise Trek (http://cruisetrek.com/med2010.html), because it's "not affiliated with Paramount Pictures or Viacom in any way," and Viacom is pretty strident about its trademarks. Cruise Trek has apparently been going strong since 1992 and has another cruise scheduled on October 19 from Genoa, sailing to ports in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, though the site doesn't yet list which ship will be the venue. We are promised, however, that the experience will feature "actors who have appeared in Star Trek® and Other Sci-Fi Films & TV Shows. Of course Behind-the-Scenes production staff join us as well!"
On a different celestial plane, NCL's Norwegian Gem will sail round-trip from Venice October 23 on a weeklong Greek Isles cruise, and among the guests will be a large contingent of Red Hat Ladies -- women over 50 who wear red hats and purple outfits, go out for tea, and celebrate silliness as "the comedy relief of life." This particular cruise is affiliated with The Exalted Scarlett Dames of the SFV, (www.orgsites.com/ca/exaltedscarlettdames/) a self-described "Official Chapter of the Red Hat Society," and is being sold by The Cruise Center (www.cruisecenter.com/regular/default.asp?RegularGroupID=11).
Cruising with Really, Really Narrowly Focused Interest Groups
In Japanese symbology, koi fish -- those oversized goldfish/carp seen in gardens, spas, and more upscale new age homes -- represents perseverance and strength, and also non-conformism. Keep that last in mind when contemplating The Koi Cruise (www.koicruise.com), which sets out on April 15 aboard NCL's Pride of America. Sailing that vessel's usual 7-night cruise among the Hawaiian islands, the cruise gives koi enthusiasts a chance to visit six top koi breeders in Oahu, the Big Island, Kona, and Kauai. Any fish the participants purchase will be air-shipped home from the breeder by special arrangement, bypassing the hassle of transporting live animals through customs and caring for them during travel.
Nonconformists of a different stripe, whose dogs all have fleas, will be sailing in just a couple weeks aboard the big Ukelele Cruise (www.seacruises.com/group_sites/uke10/index.shtml), departing January 24 aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. Running 7 nights round-trip from Los Angeles, the cruise visits Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta -- all places where the armadillo-shelled charango is definitely a more prevalent stringed instrument than the uke, but no matter. On board, uke fans can participate in classes, workshops, jam sessions, open mic sessions, and uke-themed parties, and take in some performances to boot.
Meanwhile, an affinity group that you'd expect to sail under the radar seems in fact bent on world domination. I'm talking about quilters, who have the chance of sailing on no fewer than five Quilting Cruises (www.quiltcruises.com) over the next 18 months. The first, sailing June 21Â?29 aboard Holland America's Eurodam, sails round-trip from London to ports in Scotland and Norway, and features five noted quilting teachers who will lead in-depth classes on various quilting topics throughout the week. Later quilting cruises include a weeklong Alaska cruise sailing August 29 aboard HAL's Oosterdam; a 10-night southern Caribbean cruise sailing February 6, 2011, aboard the line's Noordam; and an 8-night Bermuda cruise sailing June 5, 2011, aboard Veendam. This year's winter quilting cruise, departing February 3 aboard Noordam, is already sold out.
And Finally, the Category Called "Does This Really Seem Like a Good Idea for a Theme Cruise?"
On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic left Southampton on her doomed maiden voyage. She was supposed to arrive in New York on April 17, but instead sank on April 14, and became a legend. On April 8, 2012, the MS Balmoral of Fred. Olsen Cruises -- operating in association with British travel firm Miles Morgan Travel -- will set sail from Southampton for a 12-night Titanic Memorial Cruise that will follow Titanic's original itinerary, passing by Cherbourg on the French coast, calling at the Irish port of Cobh, then heading out across the Atlantic. She'll arrive at the site of Titanic's sinking on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, and conduct a memorial service above the wreck. From here, Balmoral will do what Titanic never did: continue on to Halifax, Nova Scotia (where Titanic never was intended to call, but where rescue ships ended up bringing many of her dead) and then complete her journey in New York. During the cruise, lecturers will discuss daily life aboard Titanic during her brief career, as well as the general history of the vessel.
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