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Salt air and live music

From gentle strings to hard rock bands, the sounds of music are wafting and reverberating aboard cruise ships booked for special entertainment packages this year and next.

With their lounges, theaters, atriums and pool decks, modern ships are well designed not only for cruises with an assortment of entertainment choices, but also for a pack of acts centered on a single theme. Themed cruises are a growing trend, and music often is the draw. Other top headliners are wine, food, sports stars, and fellow nudists.

Ships have some great advantages for people who want to immerse themselves in their choice of music, especially when the show is a collection of rock and roll concerts.

Missing on a rock music cruise, for instance, are big concert ticket prices, lines for the beer tent and bathrooms, mud, parking fees and traffic jams before and after. If you drink a little too much alcohol, no worry, you can safely weave your way to your cabin without endangering anyone else. If you don’t like a particular show, you can nap or seek a quiet corner to await the next act. And chances are, sometime during the cruise you’ll bump into a performer at the lido buffet or sitting around the pool, an occasion to ask that long-held question about a lyric or a chord.

No wonder that music themed cruises continue to grow in popularity.

Some are planned by cruise lines as a special event, others are for groups invited to private activities not available to other passengers. Most, however, are booked and/or chartered for the full ship by a separate entertainment company, such as the growing Sixthman, out of Atlanta, which has produced theme cruises featuring Kiss, Kid Rock, John Mayer, Zac Brown Band, 311, Lyle Lovett, and Barenaked Ladies.

The key of course is to get on the cruise that marches to your beat. The wrong music cruise could be a nightmare vacation, which is close to the name of a cruise scheduled for Dec. 3 out of Miami on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. Promoters are calling it the “Barge to Hell” and the “World’s Most Extreme Metal Cruise,” as the four-night festival will feature 25-40 heavy metal bands playing for “head bangers from around the world.” Aboard will be Napalm Death, Behemoth, Enslaved and Sepultura. Prepare to stand in the ship’s theater, as seats will be removed for this cruise. You have been warned.

Much gentler are the various classical performances associated with European river cruises (usually off the boat) and the big band and ballroom dancing cruises on Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony during voyages across the Atlantic (always on the ship).

Other ships bring special guests aboard for performances and give the cruise a name.

Starting prices that follow are per person for two people and may be an inside cabin.

• Dozens of jazz artists will perform on Crystal Symphony during a seven-night Mexican Riviera sailing on Nov. 18 round trip from Los Angeles. ($3,030, which on Crystal ships now includes wine, spirits and gratuities).

• Ponant’s L’Austral is calling its eight-night Mediterranean voyage departing Nice on Oct. 27 Jazz at Sea, as French clarinetist Christian Morin will give two concerts ($2,621).

Among the many more rollicking music cruises scheduled for this year and next:

• Five R&B nights Oct. 1-6, 2012 from Miami in the Western Caribbean with R. Kelly and others aboard Carnival Destiny ($1,499).

• Nightly concerts for a week in the Caribbean with country star Blake Shelton and others Oct. 14-21, 2012 aboard Norwegian Jewel ($999).

• Four nights of southern rock Oct. 27-31 on Norwegian Pearl out of Miami with Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doobie Brothers, the Outlaws, Blackberry Smoke, Bonepony, Dirty Guv’nahs ($775).

• Four-night rock legends cruise Jan. 10-14, 2013, from Fort Lauderdale in the Caribbean with Foreigner, Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult, 38 Special and 20 other bands on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, sponsored by the Native American Heritage Association ($1,049).

• A week in the Caribbean out of Fort Lauderdale on a Soul Train cruise Feb. 17-24, 2013 with Patti LaBelle, the O’Jays, Kool & The Gang, Jeffrey Osborne, in nightly concerts in the Vista Lounge of Holland America’s Westerdam ($1,875).

Look for more music theme cruises with top stars in the future, as their success has intrigued cruise line executives in two key areas: Cabin rates for music cruises tend to be higher and the average age of passengers lower than on more typical voyages. Andy Levine, president of Sixthman, largest of the music cruise promoters, has estimated his per-day rate at between $175 and $350 per person, not including airfare, which is higher than the current industry standard for non-music themed cruises. Levine also has said that his cruise passenger’s average age is 35, which is nearly 15 years younger than the average on most other cruises.

Hundreds of cruises include some sort of theme, and music cruises range from blues and Irish to gospel and Christian. For ideas, click on For recommendations, consult a travel agent who specializes in cruises.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of