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Marketing your loyalty program: A theme and a deck chair

What do the rock ’n’ rollers, Civil War buffs and wildlife enthusiasts in your group have in common? They have a chance to celebrate their passions on a themed cruise aboard a luxury liner or historic steamboat.

From scrapbooking to poker to fitness, more than 500 topics have headlined themed cruises on oceans and rivers in recent years. If you think you cannot possibly outdo the super Super Bowl party your group enjoyed this past February, think again. Plan now for a 2013 football fantasy cruise, and this sun-bathed bash could be just as much fun as having seats on the 50-yard line in New Orleans.

This weeklong themed sailing will celebrate Super Bowl XLVII aboard one of Royal Caribbean’s luxury liners with a slew of events, including game wagers, cocktail parties and loads of games and contests, according to Claire Tucker, assistant account executive.

Or if you’re looking for a really cool boost to your annual girls’ getaway, have the moms, sisters and best girlfriends in your group steal away on a Royal Caribbean cruise — one that is specially designed for women looking to escape to a sunny locale for some relaxation, good food and special events, including makeovers and pampering amenities.

“These themed cruises, along with others that include a Polka Cruise with the Stars and a Beatles Tribute Cruise, are typically booked through a travel agent. However, there are a few other ship charters that are available for booking through Royal Caribbean that include Blue Suede Shoes on Rhapsody of the Seas,” said Tucker.

Only a click away
Themed cruises on large ocean liners are typically booked through a designated travel agent.

“Often it is a special travel agency, usually a very large one, offering the whole deal: the theme, the itinerary and the special rate that includes a reserved block of rooms. You can find that information with just a minute of research on the Internet,” said Susie Hudson, travel agent with Travelennium in Memphis, Tennessee.

Other companies, like Sixthman, offer full charters on many major cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines, that bring together thousands of like-minded people on luxury cruises.

Awarded the Cruise Critic’s Editors Pick for Best Cruises for Music Lovers in 2010, Sixthman offers about 10 themed cruises a year. Anthony Diaz, chief marketing officer, explained: “We partner with different companies, from TCM television to offer a Turner Classic Movie Cruise, to Graceland to offer an Elvis Tribute Artists Cruise, to artists themselves, like Lyle Lovett and Kiss.

“With the exception of arranging plane travel, we do everything from A to Z, including the marketing, selling the tickets and arranging all the communication that includes sending information and gifts months prior to the trip to get our passengers excited.

“We have a pre-party in the departure city and make sure these people who have come together from around the world have an opportunity to enjoy some time on land.”

The grand dame is back
The Mississippi River steamboat American Queen is returning with much fanfare in April, and the paddle wheeler’s themed trips will include a pre-cruise, luxury hotel stay in the departure city to celebrate not only the theme but also the surroundings.

Nancy Swanson, executive director for the Red Wing Area Seniors in Red Wing, Minnesota, was mulling over the idea of taking her group on a cruise in 2012 when she heard that the American Queen, now owned by the Great American Steamboat Company, was back in business.

“Knowing that, there was no doubt about our cruising plans,” she said. “Throughout the years, our times on Mississippi River cruises were by far my favorite trips. Talk about luxury, history and relaxation — it was the best.”

Today, Swanson is debating whether to take an American Queen cruise in August or September.

“Both offer music themes: One is big band, and the other is music of the ’50s. Both themes are perfect for our group, and we are so pumped,” she said.

Tim Rubacky, senior vice president for sales, marketing and product development for the Great American Steamboat Company, is also pumped. “Even before our first launch, we are already having spectacular sales success — largely thanks to groups who love not only our food, service and entertainment, always rated tops by Condé Nast, but because of our themes,” he said.

According to Rubacky, upcoming themed itineraries include Southern Culture and Spring Time on the River, themes that go hand in hand and that offer the beauty of Southern plantations, an eco-tour safari and expert speakers discussing wildlife and nature.

“Our guests will hear about and experience the food that is rooted in the South. They will learn about the textile production and how cotton is grown. They will be immersed in the Southern culture,” he said.

As always, the Civil War and music will also be theme favorites. “With historic land tours that showcase the most poignant of Civil War destinations and speakers who awe the crowd, this time in history is best showcased on a boat that quietly cruises the very waterways where events took place,” said Rubacky. “And those folks who traveled with us before will be happy to know that we are bringing back all those great musicians.”