Our neighbor refuses to cruise.
It's all about eating, getting fat and being trapped at sea with lots of strangers, she says.
Not necessarily so, though you can chow down if you wish. But beyond that, it can be a feast for the soul too. Theme cruises make it possible to sail with like-minded folks who share your passion for, well, nearly anything, immersing yourself in camaraderie, learning, workshops and fun, often accompanied by top-notch lecturers. The gamut of themes runs from ballroom dancing, baseball, jazz, gardening, quilting and culinary cruises to nude cruises and "cougar" adventures for older women in search of younger men.
With so much available, the question isn't what to do but how to find the cruise that floats your boat. Many theme cruises are offered by outside organizers; others by the cruise lines themselves.
One place to begin is themecruisefinder.com, where you readily can match your interests to a specific sailing. Garden buffs, for instance, may want to catch a ride on Azamara's Chelsea Flower Show Voyage on May 17 from Amsterdam to Southampton, England (azamaraclubcruises.com). The cruise visits horticultural showcases from port to port. Or there is Carnival Cruises' Seed and Garden cruise to the Caribbean on Feb. 11 (carnival.com).
For total garden immersion, a 14-day trip aboard Swan Hellenic Cruises (swanhellenic.com) lets you explore the "gardens of the Celtic fringe." The cruise circumnavigates Ireland, then sails south to England and up the Seine River to Rouen, France, where you can visit some of the region's finest gardens and castles.
How about a "Fangtasy" vampire-themed cruise (vampsatsea.com). Sail Holland America's Zuiderdam in Alaska on June 23, and your fanged vacation even will include a visit from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and a vampire movie fest. Concerned about cruising among bloodsuckers? Not to worry: The sun never quite sets in Alaska in summer.
Shouting "bam!" doesn't belong just to Emeril. An annual Mah Jongg Madness cruise (mahjongg.org attracts hundreds of players, with the possibility for true addicts to play 24/7. The 27th such event sets sail on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas' on Dec. 1 for seven days in the Caribbean.
Want to sharpen your cooking skills as well as your knives? Silversea Cruises (silversea.com rolls out 20 voyages this year featuring the famed Relais & Chateaux L'Ecole des Chefs cooking school. The curriculum includes workshops ranging from basic knife skills and kitchen terminology to baking and preparations of sauces.
Sew many places, so little time. You can keep yourself in stitches on any number of quilting cruises organized by quiltcruises.com. These cruises blanket the globe: Quilt your way through the Panama Canal, along the coast of Spain — even Japan and China — accompanied by master quilters and renowned instructors who conduct quilting seminars at sea.
For movie buffs, Crystal Cruises (crystalcruises.com may be just the ticket. On Serenity's April 21 Los Angeles-to-New York voyage, you can rub elbows with Tippi Hedren, Kate Burton, members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles and a faux Edith Head, as well as join hosted cinema screenings and trivia games.
On the intimacy of a small ship, a river cruise on Avalon Waterways (avalonwaterways.com retraces the footsteps of the great Impressionist artists in scenic northern France. View masterpieces at Paris' Musee d'Orsay, and Chateau d'Auvers for paintings by Cezanne, Van Gogh and Monet. Visit Joan of Arc's historic Rouen and the city's famed cathedral, a favorite subject for Monet, as well as the Musee des Beaux-Arts Andre Malraux in Le Havre.
If you want to combine a barge cruise with a bicycle tour in the Netherlands during tulip time, join a Yale-sponsored (yaleedtravel.org voyage in May that visits picturesque Dutch villages, a wooden shoemaker, a cheese farm and tulip fields, as well as other particularly Dutch treats.
Also, a company called BikeToursDirect (biketoursdirect.com gets you pedaling on more than 60 individual boat-and-bike trips in 16 countries including France, Vietnam and the islands of the Seychelles.
Each tour delivers a unique experience on small vessels, from those holding fewer than 25 passengers (barges, schooners, yachts or converted fishing boats) to those that carry 150 people.
How about American history — without the exams? Consider the newly introduced 149-passenger sternwheeler, Queen of the Mississippi, from American Cruise Lines (americancruiselines.com that will retrace the steps of the Civil War by visiting the hallowed grounds of famous battlefields, including those of Vicksburg, Miss., and Nashville, Tenn.
Perhaps your penchant is to explore a particular dot on the map rather than continent-hop. An exhilarating focus on wildlife and birding is offered by American Safari Cruises (innerseadiscoveries.com on a roster of weeklong sailings from November 2012 through April 2013, in the fabled Sea of Cortez. Bird enthusiasts will discover real-life tweets on the round-trip sailings from La Paz, Mexico, aboard an 86-passenger vessel. In this UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, you can snorkel with playful, young sea lions at Los Islotes or bird-watch on Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Coyote, among other pristine places.
Anglophiles can spend 10 nights in May exploring the heritage of the British Isles, a patchwork of palaces, castles, cathedrals, gardens and historic landscapes in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, on a rare all-England-all-the-time cruise aboard a Voyages of Discovery vessel. (us.voyagesofdiscovery.com.
For the ultimate in intimate adventures, you even can captain your own vessel with one of Le Boat's fleet of more than 1,000 watercraft along the rivers, lakes, lochs and canals of France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, England and Scotland. Drift along the Lot, wend your way on the Midi Canal, Europe's oldest waterway, or enjoy the sights and sounds of Venice from something bigger than a gondola (leboat.com.
And if total abandon is your goal, you can leave your luggage at home. Forget formal nights and bring only the barest of necessities on a raft of nude cruises (cruisenude.com be aware, this website shows examples!). Bare yourself in June for 14 nights in the Med aboard the 227-passenger Royal Clipper, or for eight nights of clothing-free cruising aboard the aptly named Carnival Freedom on a Panama Canal voyage in February 2013, or — for the ultimate in hedonism — two weeks in March 2013 in Polynesia aboard the 330-passenger Paul Gauguin.
Finally, for the older woman in search of studs with six-pack abs, there could be something special under Norwegian Cruise Line's Christmas tree. The next Cougar cruise is slated for gift-giving time in December, departing Miami for the sunny Bahamas (cougarevents.com.