SUPER FANDOM HAS A NEW DOMAIN—THE HIGH SEAS

BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI

During January’s Walker Stalker Cruise from New Orleans to Mexico, aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl, the chance to mingle with actors and crew from the AMC series Walking Dead drew 2,500 fans to a three day excursion filled with Q&A sessions, panels, and parties. Last year, the first official Star Trek: The Cruise set sail with Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, who posed for photos and led wide ranging discussions aboard the Norwegian Jade. In 2015, Sailing with the Scotts allowed fans to commune with HGTV’s Property Brothers stars, Drew and Jonathan Scott. It was an instant sell out.

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Smoothing some of the choppy waters experienced by the cruise industry of late, themed sailings are increasingly popular, and profitable. A convention like atmosphere surrounds the Fan2Sea Comic Con Cruise by the Royal Caribbean line, for example. Devotees similarly flock to board with cast members from Netflix’s Stranger Things, filmdom’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and representatives of Oprah Winfrey’s O, The Oprah Magazine on the Holland America Line.

Fan cruises began gaining steam during the 1990s, and are especially popular when they embrace music genres. Industry experts report these cruises create a more intimate experience for fans, and tidy profits for cruise lines. In the wake of the phenomenon, new travel firms have been created and now experience success organizing the voyages. Among them are Sixth man, Theme Cruise Finder, and The Cruise and Vacation Authority. Such production companies tend to book the ships off season, as fans are more interested in the experience than where or when they’re traveling. Further perks for lines include the fact that participants often pay more than what a non themed cruise would charge aboard the same vessel, and that themed expeditions draw newbies to the cruise culture, creating an ample and typically younger clientele that isn’t afraid to spend; according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the average fare paid by the 2,300 passengers on the six day Star Trek cruise was $2,400 per person.

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Music themes have dominated the industry for years, Bloomberg stated further, and that aspect is experiencing even further growth. Sixth man began staging annual Festivals at Sea in 2017 that featured Pit bull, Train, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock, Kiss, and acts from the Warped Tour.

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Will Byington Photography © 2017

“It has been exciting to see artists continuing to place value in curating special experiences for their fans,” said Sixth man CEO, Anthony Diaz. “Changes in the music industry, such as growth in streaming and prioritizing heavy touring, are two shifts which have accelerated the desire for artists to create their own franchises to celebrate and directly interact with their most passionate fans. Festivals at Sea brings together like minded individuals who share a common passion. The sense of community is incredibly special.”

Being on vacation at sea with favorite artists, Diaz further explained, creates one of a kind moments that cannot be duplicated at landlocked venues The walls between listeners and bands are torn down,” he said. Sixth man has arranged over 100 Festivals at Sea, which typically begin with live music on the Pool Deck Stage as the ship pulls away from port as grinning passengers hold drinks aloft and move to the music. “You can tell that they know there is no other place they would rather be. It’s that feeling we work so hard to deliver.”

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In addition to ship wide takeovers, small group gatherings have also proliferated and thrived. Now in its third year, the seven day Yeamon Caribbean cruise, featuring popular New Jersey based cover band Jimmy and the Parrots, and also on the Norweigian Pearl, draws hundreds of fans. They share the boat with often unsuspecting fellow cruisegoers who quickly join in the musical fun.

In 2016, Kiss founder Gene Simmons told the BBC that his band’s annual Kiss Kruise, during which the band performs and “hangs out” with fans, “is one of the highlights” of his annual calendar. “Imagine 2,300 crazy friends swimming, shopping, gaming, and visiting exotic ports of call with us,” the 68 year old rocker said.

The KISS Kruise

The boon has extended to specialized travel agents, whose industry has been hit hard by online travel booking websites. Happily, targeted marketing can result in high commissions and a new customer base in the coveted younger demographic. The acts them-selves regard the cruises as a way to extend their brands, stay relevant with their fans, and take advantage of these smaller floating venues, particularly in light of the challenges and expenses of booking stadiums and arenas. There are now reportedly upwards of 700 themed cruises sailing the globe each year, a figure that rises steadily.

In other parts of the world, these ventures have extended to serve followers of films and television shows. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines has organized a UK Scenes from the Silver Screen sailing that includes stops in Ireland that were featured in Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter films, and the future is as limitless as the horizon.

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“We’re excited to continue along our path of creating more interactivity between fans and bands, and finding new ways to surprise and engage guests, all while introducing new communities to the Festivals at Sea concept,” Diaz said. “We will continue to reach out into untapped music genres and other areas of arts, comedy, sports, and entertainment.”

In addition to new ships, onboard features and performance venues, and ports of call, he said, enhancements will include up-close fan/band experiences, custom shore excursion concerts at beach-front resorts, exclusive “mantle-worthy” guest gifts, fan-built music set lists, and the chance for guests to perform with artists.

Will Byington Photography © 2017

“We’re excited to explore new ways and places to curate special experiences for bands and fans,” Diaz said. All Aboard!