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Cruise Lines Look to Theme Cruises to Lure First-Time Cruisers

Skift logo Skift 9/14/2015 Andrew Sheivachman, Skift

Sixthman © Provided by Skift Sixthman

Cruisers party hard on The Rock Boat XV cruise. Sixthman

Skift Take: Themed sailings help cruise lines fill their ships and cruisers meet people with similar interests. Even small niche groups on cruises help cruise lines grow the pool of potential repeat customers.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Witchcraft. Death metal. Knitting.

A diverse range of themed cruises have become a big focus for cruise lines. Brand partnerships and niche gatherings onboard allow cruise lines to bring elusive first-time cruisers onboard.

At the same time, cruisers on themed sailings have a more communal experience onboard than on most traditional mass-market cruises. A packed schedule of shared meals, events, activities and seminars is planned in advance, providing structure and bonding experiences for cruisers.

“Theme cruises often attract guests who may not have considered cruising in the past, but are sailing to be with their favorite football team, support their alumni association or meet with fellow collectors,” said Ann Sedgwick, divisional vice president of charters, corporate and incentive sales at Carnival Cruise Lines. “We want to provide an atmosphere for guests to have a memorable experience and with cruising’s high satisfaction levels we know there’s a likelihood they’ll sail with us again.”

First-time cruisers are crucial to cruise lines turning a profit. Just 23 million people are expected to cruise worldwide in 2015 according to Cruise Lines International Association, a four percent increase from 2014.

The cruise industry is in the middle of a building boom, and the only way to fill those ships is to get the new-to-cruise onboard. Sailing with friends or others with similar interests eases the transition into cruising for first-timers.

“It’s no secret that guests really enjoy traveling with like-minded people,” said Sedgwick. “Social media has allowed people to share their experiences in real time, therefore more and more people have become aware of these types of unique vacation experiences whether it’s cultural, entertainment or socially-driven.”

Full-boat charters and large groups blocked off far in advance are valuable for cruise lines; their business model is based on filling every cabin onboard with people willing to spend on food, drinks, and shore excursions.

Norwegian Cruise Line has partnered for years with Sixthman, which plans and executes music festivals at sea.

Sixthman has grown its portfolio of festivals at sea since launching in 2001. Its fare is mainstream and aimed at an American audience; think The KISS Kruise and Kid Rock Cruise.

For Norwegian, Sixthman’s events bring in a combination of first-time cruisers drawn by the artists on hand and experienced cruisers more interested in the community onboard.

“Themed cruises can really be a mixed bag, depending on the type of cruise and audience,” said Alaidriale Derway, communications managers at Sixthman. “In our experience, the younger crowds have the most first-time cruisers, but as the industry itself starts to trend younger, we’re looking at more repeat cruisers than not.”

The proximity to music artists, who are usually ensconced backstage at typical concert venues, is a huge pull.

“Because there is a much smaller audience on a cruise than a land based event, you can have more meaningful and closer interactions with your heroes,” said Derway. “For bands and stars, it is a great way to connect with fans and create one-of-a-kind experiences.”

But there are plenty of themed cruises available for this with more eclectic, or occult, tastes.

Take the seven-night Conspira-Sea Cruise aboard the Ruby Princess, which encourages attendees to “Sail the Magnificent Mexican Riviera and Awaken to the Truth that Sets Us Free.”

Or the Furry Cruise 2015 on the Norwegian Breakaway where cruisers can “grab your swim trunks, your flip flops and your fursuit” for some fun at sea.

The diverse offerings on a cruise ship can accommodate a wide range of tastes. And cruise lines need themed groups to continue to flock to their ships.

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