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Thursday, June 1, 2006 - Page updated at 09:23 AM

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A theme cruise for everyone, from Web geeks to fitness and film buffs

Chicago Tribune

When cruise line pronouncements crow that cruising has something for everyone, it's no overstatement. Case in point: theme cruises.

Themed sailings attract individuals with a common interest that can range from the arcane to the zany. A theme can be a particular plus, especially on today's mammoth ships — helping to reduce a huge vessel's impersonal aspect and make it feel more like a neighborhood inhabited with newly made friends with like-minded interests.

To zealous theme lovers, it may not matter even on which ship they sail or where it's going. The theme is the draw.

You name it, there's probably a cruise devoted to it: quilting, race cars, golf, poker, mah jongg, music, dance, art, food, cooking, antiquing, health, fitness, history, and so on. With the advent of the Internet, it's a snap to find themes tailored to your particular proclivity.

Some theme cruises are spawned by aficionados who consider cruising a particularly fun and convenient way to share their passion-say, cruises devoted to chess or crossword puzzles.

As often, a cruise line itself will arrange and promote a theme sailing. A signature offering on Delta Queen Steamboat's cruises is Civil War history. Crystal has its annual Food & Wine Festival at Sea. Every transatlantic crossing of Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is themed with an agenda chock full of enrichment to gratifyingly fill the days at sea. Some are even more specialized: Norwegian Coastal Voyage sailings highlight the music of Norway's most famous home-grown composer Edvard Grieg.

Here's a glimpse of some theme cruises compiled from industry news and a quick Google search:

Tech-surfing at sea . That is, if you're a geek-a person whose idea of heaven is rolling up your sleeves and dealing with bits and bytes. Apparently surfing the Web at sea is more appealing than lolling around a packed convention center, suggest Geek Cruise founders Neil and Theresa Bauman.

Convinced that die-hard PC programmers and Apple acolytes wanted more contact with industry specialists, the couple launched the first techie cruise in 2000. The Inside Passage sailing in Alaska was a groundbreaking event: Never before had a computer conference been held at sea, Bauman says.

Since then, Geek cruises on topics such as Java and Linux, two wildly popular software languages, have flooded the seas. Mac Mania and iPlay for iPods debuted last year. Last February, a reprise cruise on Mac Mania featured Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and Jason Snell, editor of MacWorld magazine.

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If phrases like "Java Jam" turn you on, this is the group for you. The company plans a Linux Lunacy cruise in Alaska this August (2006) and a Mediterranean Mac Mania sailing in September (2006). For single cruisers, a cabin-share program is available. For details, visit www.geekcruises.com

Coffee junkies : Would you spend $800 for a cup of coffee? Well, maybe, if it came with a cruise. Java junkies of the caffeine variety can perk up their cruise vacation alongside aficionados of the specialty coffee industry.

Appealing to serious coffee enthusiasts or anyone thinking about opening their own coffee bar, www.coffeecruises.com is a joint venture of Portland, Ore.-based American Barista and Coffee School, Fresh Cup magazine, and Coffee Fest. The cruises offer educational seminars and classes taught by the industry's top coffee professionals.

Targeted mainly to those already in the specialty coffee biz, it's a fun way to network and share your passion for the elixir. On an upcoming cruise, an excursion includes a visit to a coffee plantation in Guatemala, says Tamara Smith of Coffee Fest, a trade show events company.

Coffee enthusiasts indulge in educational seminars, cuppings (like wine tastings, only with coffee, Smith says) retailer roundtables, espresso and coffee workshops, classes for existing and start-up coffee retailers, and more. Rub elbows with roastmasters and sample estate and origin coffees. There also will be time to spend one-on-one with industry experts to chat up your own business.

With all that caffeine, just remember to bring along some sleeping pills.

Scheduled on Norwegian Sun from New Orleans on March 11, 2007, the weeklong cruise calls at Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; and Belize City, Belize. To book, contact Marita Howry at Advantage Cruising (800-487-6451).

All aboard for crosswords: Stanley Newman's prowess solving crossword puzzles eventually led the former Wall St. executive to found the American Crossword Federation, an organization that arranges crossword puzzle cruises. The next maritime outing for puzzle solvers is a 7-day Mexican Riviera sailing on Holland America's Oosterdam, departing Jan. 6, 2007. The cruise will sail roundtrip from San Diego.

Newman now enjoys a full-time career as a creator, editor, publisher and syndicator of crosswords and has been the puzzle editor for Long Island's Newsday newspaper since 1988.

Newman organizes individual and team competitions on board, as well as informal word and trivia games, instructional seminars on a wide range of puzzle topics and the chance to create an original crossword to be published in Newsday. A $25 registration fee includes all the puzzles, games and instruction, plus a copy of one of Newman's crossword books to take home with you. Booked exclusively through Special Event Cruises, www.specialeventcruises.com

Sea-going films : Regent's 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner turns the spotlight on film on an 18-night Auckland-to-Los Angeles cruise this fall. The themed sailing, on Nov. 30, will feature films related to the region cruised-the burgeoning film industries of New Zealand, Australia and Pacific Islands captured on celluloid. Participants can discuss film with experts David Fantle and Tom Johnson, authors of "Real to Reel," as well as film industry colleagues from New Zealand.

The theme spills over to the culinary arts, as Mariner's chefs recreate classic movie meals, including "Babette's Feast," the exotic dishes from "Like Water for Chocolate" and the towering timpano from "Big Night." (www.rssc.com)

Fitness on the high seas : Carnival Cruise Line's "Mind/Body Cruise" — a weeklong trip departing Dec. 2 on Carnival Glory — focuses on fitness, with nutritional workshops conducted by wellness experts and everything from yoga to tai chi/qigong classes. Jointly sponsored by the cruise line and Shape and Men's Fitness magazines, the workshops are led by more than a half dozen top experts in fitness, nutrition and wellness, and include such topics as "Jamaican/Caribbean cardio dance," strength training, shipshape boot camp and beginning Capoeria martial arts, among other specialties. The itinerary calls at Key West, Belize and Cozumel. (www.carnival.com)

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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