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Many cruises have music aboard, or offer fine dining, or invite distinguished guest lecturers to speak. Others go further and devote whole cruises to a theme, attracting like-minded devotees from around the world. Words: Peter Needham.

Just a little note: We’ve divided this feature in half to make it easier for you to read. It’s sequel is Dream Themes – Part 2. Enjoy!

1. The Sound of Music

Virtually every cruise is enlivened by music, be it a string quartet, a rock band in the disco or gypsy fiddlers over dinner. Some cruises go further. In 2011, APT will offer music-lovers the opportunity to see conductor, composer, violinist and waltz-master André Rieu in Europe. The line will include live Rieu performances throughout the year, with chances to see the maestro in Maastricht at Vrijthof (a picturesque open square in the heart of the city) or in Vienna at World-Heritage-listed Schönbrunn Palace. Some cruises are already sold out. www.aptouring.com.au

Not to be outdone, Avalon Waterways has scheduled a ‘Magnificent Europe Music River Cruise’ from Amsterdam to Budapest on October 16, 2010. Shore excursions include a visit to the Bayreuth Opera House (home of the Richard Wagner Music Festival); Budapest Opera House; organ recitals; a classical Royal Waltz concert in Vienna and more. www.avalonwaterways.com.au

Music of a different sort will echo through the enormous 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas on a cruise starting January 30, 2011. Some of America’s top country-music stars will hit the stage aboard Royal Caribbean’s ‘Opry Country Classics Cruise’. www.royalcaribbean.com

Then there are the wild music cruises! In 2011, Carnival Cruise Lines will run an ‘Elvis Cruise’ round the Caribbean on Carnival Ecstasy, the – perfect ship for it, followed by a ‘Gothic Cruise’. Royal Caribbean is running a cruise named ‘70,000 Tons of Metal’ (guaranteed 100 per cent heavy metal) on Majesty of the Seas.
www.carnival.com and www.royalcaribbean.com

2. Picture Perfect

Next year, luxury hotel barge Magna Carta will run a series of week-long ‘Art Discovery Workshop Cruises’ on Britain’s Middle Thames, between Hampton Court and Henley, with Sunday departures from April to October. Art tutor Julie Hyde works with a range of media, including pastels, oils, watercolours, ink and acrylic, on subjects ranging from life to landscape. The cruise starts with a visit to an art gallery and then to Hampton Court Palace. It also visits Shepperton, Runnymede, Windsor, Cookham, Dorney, Bray, Maidenhead and other delightful English towns and villages. www.magna-carta.co.uk

Norwegian passenger and freight line Hurtigruten is running a seven-day ‘Digital Photography Voyage’ next year, giving amateur photographers the opportunity to capture memorable images of the Northern Lights. The cruise carries a lecturer, experienced in digital photography and related software, to help with passengers’ queries while on board.

Hurtigruten operates 11 ships on the Norwegian Coastal Voyage route at any one time. Its ‘Digital Photography Voyage’ visits 34 ports, offering photographic subject matter ranging from snow-draped villages and wheeling sea eagles to Art Nouveau Ålesund and brightly painted fishermen’s cabins reflected in deep water. Departures are scheduled for January 17 and March 8, 2011. www.hurtigruten.co.uk

3. Making History

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic falls in April 2012. Fred Olsen Line ship Balmoral (previously Crown Odyssey) will sail a 12-night ‘Titanic Memorial Cruise’ from Southampton on April 8, 2012, following Titanic’s original itinerary. It will arrive at the fateful site during the night of April 14 and 15, exactly 100 years after the sinking, before arriving in New York on April 20. Worldwide Cruise Centre is selling it in Australia and many cabin categories have already sold out.
www.fredolsencruises.com or www.cruisecentre.com.au

Ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises, in conjunction with San Francisco-based World Leaders Travel, will host the ‘2011 World Leaders Symposium’ on a Middle East voyage aboard Silver Wind. Distinguished guest speakers include former US Secretary of State James Baker, former Egyptian first lady Jehan Sadat, veteran journalists, and other notable figures in Middle East politics, culture and history. The cruise departs Amman on December 29, 2010 and ends in Dubai on January 12, 2011. Highlights include a rare opportunity to experience the magic of Petra by candlelight. www.silversea.com

‘Tales of Scandinavian Courage’ is one historical theme pursued in Celebrity Cruises’ Enrichment Series. Lectures are generally destination-driven and some accompany special-interest programs. ‘The Parthenon: the Glory of Greece’ is another. Further lectures cover ghost ships, rogue waves, mysteries of the sea, coral-reef ecology and piano music of Spain and Italy. www.celebritycruises.com

4. Pedal Power

Bicycles are finding their way onto ships. “What could be more appealing than pedalling along quiet cobblestone streets, down cosy alleyways and past charming medieval homes, just as the locals do?” asks APT. The company carries bicycles on each of its European river cruise vessels, available for passengers to use “as and when you choose”. It also conducts guided bicycle tours. www.aptouring.com.au

Scenic Tours, on its 15-day ‘Jewels of Europe’ river cruise, also offers complimentary bicycles. The itinerary includes an Amsterdam cycling excursion and other optional cycle tours through the vineyards of the Wachau Valley wine region. www.scenictours.com.au

Amsterdam City Cruises runs appealing options for cyclists. Passengers cycle together through the pretty, flat landscape of the Netherlands, boarding the boat to dine and sleep. It’s very much a hybrid cruise. As its operators admit, it’s a bit like being on a cycling tour with a hotel room and restaurant following you around.
www.amsterdamcitycruises.nl

Ocean-going cruise ships tend to be less bike-friendly, though a bike and cruise operation aptly named ‘Bike & Cruise’ has been running since 1989, generally in association with Norwegian Cruise Line. It’s based in Naples, Florida. www.bikeandcruise.com

5. Golf Links

Some cruise ships offer mini-golf or putting aboard but to really get into the game, you need to go ashore. New Zealand’s Bay of Islands is a delightful spot to do so. New Zealand-based Island Escape Cruises is running a six-day/five-night ‘Luxury Golf Afloat’ cruise in January and February next year, visiting championship golf courses en route. The itinerary leaves plenty of opportunity for fishing as well. Fares include 18-hole golf course fees, motorised carts and helicopter transfers to three of the four courses. www.islandescape.co.nz

Also in the luxury bracket, Sea Cloud II will run several cruises to the lush greens of the Lesser Antilles and Grenadines from January to March 2011. Golf courses featured include Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic (designed by renowned course architect Paul Dye), the Royal St Kitts Golf Club, the Robert Trent Jones-designed Nevis, St Lucia Golf and Country Club and the Trump International Canouan. A golf pro will be available at all the courses as well as onboard.

Sea Cloud II, with capacity for just 94 passengers, was named best small cruise ship by Condé Nast Traveler magazine in February 2010 and was accepted by the international Chaine des Rotisseurs. It’s about as upmarket as they come. www.seacloud.com