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 prequel is Dream Themes – Part 1. Enjoy!

6. Literature Lovers

There’s nothing like a cruise for providing a quiet environment suitable for getting into a good book. Cruise lines can help. P&O Cruises has introduced Chapters Book Club, at which keen readers can meet and discuss new and classic books. This non-exclusive book club lets literary-minded passengers link up with others on board who share similar interests. Two books are discussed per cruise and readers share their thoughts in an informal forum-style discussion. Books for discussion on specific cruises are listed in advance on P&O’s website.

If you like thrillers, book a passage on board Silver Whisper’s 16-day Buenos Aires to Santiago cruise, on which best-selling suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark will discuss her work. The author, whose books have sold more than 100 million copies in the US alone, has penned dozens of thrillers, including Santa Cruise, co-authored with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, which is set on the high seas. The cruise departs Buenos Aires on January 20, 2011.

Cunard’s Book Club aims to promote thought-provoking literary discussions among passengers. Book Club selections change quarterly and are carefully chosen so as to reflect the interests of each ship’s guests. The ship’s librarian or one of Cunard Line’s hostesses leads each Book Club meeting, providing a short history of the author and then leading the discussion.

7. Gardeners’ Pride

Elegant 88-passenger European river cruiser River Cloud II will offer four eight-day/seven-night cruises for garden enthusiasts between July and August 2011, all escorted by expert European garden designers. Passengers will visit the famous Federal Horticultural Show in Koblenz and the Bavarian Garden Club show garden.

English gardens in the Caribbean? Combine the two on Windstar Cruises’ round-trip cruise from Barbados on Wind Surf, departing January 9, 2010. British garden designer Anthea Guthrie, awarded 13 Royal Horticultural Society medals, will be aboard. She specialises in restoring old gardens to their former glory and will host a Windstar shore excursion to the Soufrière Estate Botanical Gardens on the west coast of St Lucia.

The song ‘Tiptoe through the Tulips’ is indelibly associated with the late, great Tiny Tim, who used to perform aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s SS Norway 30 years ago. To swoon over tulips these days, head for Holland and Belgium. Avalon Waterways’ eight-day springtime ‘Tulip Time’ cruise visits Amsterdam, Arnhem, Dordrecht, Antwerp, Ghent, Middelburg, Veere, Rotterdam and Volendam, taking in the blooming beauty of the Keukenhof Gardens’ spectacular floral displays interspersed with works of art.

Learn how to arrange blooms beautifully with Holland America Line’s Explorations Team. Launched last year, this initiative provides staff with expertise in floral arrangements to assist you with mastering the art form.

8. Heavens Above

Dark, clear skies far from light sources, give ships perfect conditions from which to observe the heavens. For those reasons, James Cook sailed from England to observe the 1769 transit of Venus across the Sun. He saw it and discovered Australia on the same expedition.

At the end of this year, a fantastic cruise is scheduled to coincide with two celestial events. Insight Cruises’ ‘Cosmic Trails’, a 10-night cruise of the Panama Canal and the Caribbean, departs Fort Lauderdale on Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam on December 13, 2010. Accompanied by astronomers, the cruise takes in the Geminid meteor shower and then, on December 20, a total eclipse of the Moon. It also visits the Kennedy Space Center.

P&O Cruises’ Southern Hemisphere astronomy program, ‘Voyage to the Stars’, is arranged by noted Australian physicist and astronomer Stephen Hughes and conducted by P&O Cruises staff. Participants in the program get to use binoculars, telescopes and the SkyScout, a device that identifies and displays information on the stars and planets when pointed in the right direction.

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science and geophysics. Cunard hosts Royal Astronomical Society speakers aboard selected voyages to teach passengers about constellations, meteorites and space travel, and to conduct stargazing sessions on deck. As always with stargazing, ‘weather permitting’ applies.

9. Computer Literacy

Crystal Cruises has developed a reputation for its courses on technology skills, computer and digital photography, conducted in conjunction with Del Mar College of Corpus Christi, Texas. Courses are designed to improve computer literacy and to develop understanding of all aspects of computing. Crystal ships allow 24-hour internet access from every lab computer and from every stateroom. Instruction ranges from basic computer skills to advanced digital photo finishing and website design.

Princess Cruises includes a course called Photography@Sea in its educational Scholarship@Sea program. Professional staff run courses including ‘Introduction to Photography’, ‘Using and Setting Your Digital Camera’, ‘Photo Digital and Film Basics’, and ‘Creative Photography’.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers an excellently equipped internet café on deck five of its Seven Seas Voyager. Throughout its sailings, it also offers complimentary computer classes that cover everything from introduction to email to digital photography. Courses are available on the ship’s coming ‘Baroque Elegance’ cruise from Stockholm to Copenhagen, departing June 21, 2011.

10. Wining & Dining

There’s no lack of interest in gastronomy among cruise passengers. Whether it’s eating, preparing or studying the art of fine wining and dining, gourmet cruises abound. Holland America Line ships run a Culinary Arts Center program presented by Food & Wine magazine, in which presentations take place theatre-style in a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen.

Celebrity Cruises is another operator to run food-and-wine-themed cruises: during the ‘Savor Your Destination’ series, guest chefs and winemakers reveal their secrets, top chefs have cook-offs, and hands-on food-and-wine pairing classes are conducted by experts.

Avalon Waterways runs an 11-day wine-themed cruise of Burgundy and Provence that combines two nights in Paris, arguably the gourmet centre of the world, with
a seven-night cruise and a night in Nice. Sublime!

P&O Cruises’ popular gourmet mini-cruises sail from Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle on Pacific Dawn, Pacific Jewel and Pacific Sun. Foodie experiences aboard include wine, beer and cheese tasting, barista classes and jazz shows.