When Stefanie, a customer service representative from San Jose, CA, heard about Kesha Cruise, she knew immediately that she was going to go. “I was and still am anxious about going on a cruise, but it's Kesha so I had to do it. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she tells me. “It's funny, before this cruise was announced someone asked me if I would ever want to go on a cruise, and I had said ‘not really.’ But I'm willing to do pretty much anything to see Kesha.”
Kesha Cruise: Kesha’s Weird And Wonderful Rainbow Ride set sail on February 17 from Tampa, FL, and will last until February 21, traveling to the Bahamas. It will also feature performances by Girl Talk, Matt & Kim, and Superfruit, and an appearance by Jonathan Van Ness. Stefanie, who runs Kesha fan accounts on Instagram and Twitter and says she “loves to support Kesha in all that she does,” will be sharing a room with three friends to help keep costs down, and says being able to pay for the trip in monthly installments has allowed her to afford it. (There’s a range of pricing levels; ticket packages start at $945 per person.) “There is no guarantee that I or anyone attending will be able to meet Kesha. She is, however, hosting and participating in various events on the boat throughout the trip, so, never say never,” she says.
Stefanie is one of a growing number of customers shelling out hundreds and even thousands for these kinds of thematic sea-bound adventures. The list of cruises catering to relatively niche obsessions — not just Star Wars, but stuff like jam bands, public broadcasting, craft beer, The Walking Dead, Golden Girls, and veganism — is dizzying. Celebrities like Oprah, KISS, David Hasselhoff, Pitbull, The Backstreet Boys, and of course, Kesha, are creating and headlining their own cruises too, often with a mix of performances, on- and off-ship activities, and meet-and-greets. Or, just an opportunity to stand mere feet from your favorite performer in the middle of the ocean.
All of this represents a turning point for the cruising industry. While the popularity of cruise tourism has been steadily risingover the past ten years, there’s still the perception that the passtime is for fuddy-duddies — retirees or families with kids, not young adults who could just as easily backpack through Europe or spend a week exploring Thailand.
“Cruises have never gone out of fashion with the audience they’re most associated with — my parents recently retired, and are in their early 60s and they’ve quickly embraced the cruise as their new favorite type of holiday,” says Sarah Housley, a senior editor in the lifestyle division at trend forecasting firm WGSN. “What’s new is that younger generations are starting to buy in too — millennials, but also Gen Xers.”
It’s worth noting that, as in so many things, gay culture paved the way here. Gay and LGBT cruises, which often feature theme nights and celebrity guests, have been around since the late ‘80s. In fact, there are now several companies dedicated to producing them exclusively, and it’s not hard to see how the breakout success of these events may have inspired cruise companies to get more creative.
Housley posits that the formerly cruise-averse have realized that pre-planned trips and tours, all-inclusive pricing, and the chance to meet new friends and romantic prospects make ship life an easy, fun vacation alternative. But the explosion in popularity of themed cruises speaks to much more than just convenience.
Such offerings promise, as Stefanie noted, the potential “trip of a lifetime.” After all, they’re unholy amalgamations of warm weather, high seas adventure, open bars, and celebrity guests. It’s like Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, but on a boat, and with a significantly lower number of middle-aged men reliving their glory days. It’s like Fyre Fest, but not a total scam. And no matter how seemingly idiosyncratic your own personal ultimate cruise fantasy, there either is or will probably soon be a sea vessel dedicated to it.
If you’ve ever dreamed about attending New York Fashion Week, for example, but lack the credentials or connections, consider Transatlantic Fashion Week. Cunard’s annual fashion-filled journey from New York to Southampton, England, will take place this July, and while most fashion shows and events on land are invite-only, all you need to participate in TFW is at least $1,500 (though ticket packages can reach $6,000). Previous iterations have seen special guests like Iris Apfel; this year’s lineup includes former model Pat Cleveland, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, and actor Alan Cumming. There's also high-end shopping, panel discussions, runway shows, and cocktail-attire dinners not unlike the ones influencers might attend during NYFW.
The cruise, which first debuted in 2016, is the brainchild of Lee Powell, Cunard’s VP of Brand and Product, and Gail Sackloff, a loyal Cunard guest who also happens to be a fashion consultant best known for introducing Jimmy Choo to buyers in the United States. Sackloff was traveling on the Queen Mary II from Britain to New York for NYFW, when the pair got into a conversation about what passengers enjoy doing on cruise ships, and what keeps them coming back. Cunard offers several other thematic cruises, including a literature, outer space, and Dance The Atlantic, a partnership with the English National Ballet, which debuts this year.
“We’re creating experiences around interests that people have. From a brand perspective, certainly from my perspective, this is an opportunity to talk to audiences about what we have to offer by showing them something they didn’t think they could get on a cruise ship,” says Powell.
Kimberly Mufferi, a photographer who was hired last year to document TFW and has been on at least 20 other cruises, calls it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” echoing Stefanie’s high expectations for Kesha Cruise. “I typically make friends with people on cruises in general, but adding in a common interest only makes it that much easier. I met a few other photographers, and many fashion designers, among others in the business,” Mufferi recalls. “Fern Mallis [the original creator of New York Fashion Week] even stopped me, handed me her phone, and asked me to take a photo of her while onboard. So here I am, sailing across the ocean with an icon.”
If traditional travel forces you out of your comfort zone to see something unfamiliar, and meet people from different walks of life, themed cruises aim to do the opposite. They’re about coming together with people who you share something in common with and reveling in an already-beloved passion. Sure, not everyone you meet on board is going to be exactly like you — Powell emphasizes the diversity of age at TFW, noting, “You have everyone from a fantastic older lady in a fabulous dress to younger individuals in evening wear who are really embracing the idea of dressing for dinner.” But there is a level of ease when you know you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of people who, perhaps like you, also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the top fashion collections of the past decade, or know Kesha’s discography by heart. Shared interests have always brought people together — the only difference is now they’re doing it at sea. And, well, you have to pay pretty handsomely for it.
“We are all seeking community at the moment like never before,” Housley hypothesizes. “As the world feels more fractured and uncertain, it’s one of the things that can make us feel secure and valued. An experience that delivers ready-made community is a really valuable commodity.”
Be honest with yourself: If your favorite performer — or chef or veteran TV castor band — announced their very own cruise tomorrow, wouldn’t you feel like you had to do it, too?