Theme cruises have always been around as a sort of off-season incentive to travel, but today they are becoming main attractions.
"There's a cruise out there for everyone," says Karen Bohning, spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group representing 25 of the top lines. "If you want to go on a Star Trek cruise," she says, "you can find one."
Cunard Line alone has 33 theme cruises from which to choose, including "Big Bands at Sea," a trans-Atlantic voyage featuring the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, and a six-day "Great Authors of the Century" sail from New York to Southampton with Frank McCourt, author of the best-selling "Angela's Ashes."
There are cruises that cater to opera buffs, golfers and all kinds of other sports enthusiasts. Other themes range from "Women in Jazz" to "Cajun Heritage."
If you can't find a cruise to your liking, Bohning says, "a travel agent can ... charter a ship for you and make the theme available." That pretty much covers the waterfront.
AFRICAN SAFARI IN CALIFORNIA COMFORT
You don't have to fly to Kenya to see free-roaming wildlife. In Santa Rosa, Calif., some 350 exotic and endangered animals -- including giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and gazelles -- live on a 400-acre wildlife preserve called Safari West.
You can mingle with the animals -- at a safe distance -- as part of a deluxe, African-style tent-camping package. Spend the morning tracking a scimitar-horned oryx and sample African cuisine for dinner. Then retire to a canvas tent with bathrooms, hardwood floors and a king-size bed.
Information is available online at www.safariwest.com, or by calling 707-579-2551.
A WEDDING FIT FOR A PRINCESS
England's Amberley Castle, once home to Queen Elizabeth I, offers a storybook wedding fantasy to take the cake. Wedding parties can rent the 900-year-old fortress for the ceremony and reception, and that comes with minstrels, harp, horse-drawn carriage and an optional helicopter for bird's-eye views of the lush countryside. The West Sussex castle has 15 guest rooms and five suites (each with its own Jacuzzi), along with the requisite moat and dungeons, starting at $9,600, which includes breakfast for 40. For information, go to www.amberleycastle.co.uk.
If you're not keen on the relatives staying with you this summer while they tour the nation's capital, you could steer them to www.wdcahotels.com. The Web site allows users to check out lodgings categorized by personality types (suburban, city-folk, kids in tow, high-brow), and also provides information about getting around the city, hot museums, shopping areas and other tourist tips.