It's a moonlit night in San Juan and there's lots of shimmying, shouting and whooping it up on the Lido Deck of Holland America Line's Eurodam. This isn't your average port-of-call local folk dancing display, but glitz and glamour on the high seas as Holland America kicks off the first ever "Dancing with the Stars: At Sea" theme cruise. Professional dancers from the hit show Mark Ballas and Lacey Schwimmer along with past celebrity contestants Sabrina Bryan and Joey Fatone are onboard to entertain, share dance tips and tell fans what it's really like to be on the show.
Each year, most of the major cruise lines unveil specially themed cruises that appeal to different groups of people. Trends indicate that theme cruises are one of the fastest growing sectors within the cruise industry and it's becoming easier and more affordable to find a theme cruise that revolves around something you love to do.
It goes without saying there are all kinds of television show fanatics, but no group is more spirited than those that watch "Dancing with the Stars." Produced by BBC Worldwide Productions the "Dancing with the Stars" format launched as "Strictly Come Dancing" in the UK in 2004. Since then the show has become the world's most popular reality television program that is replicated in 40 countries across six continents; it has even spawned a seasonal show in Las Vegas.
So, naturally, it would make sense to take the franchise to the high seas.
"'Dancing with the Stars' is an international phenomenon and we know this exciting new addition to our entertainment line-up will be very popular with our global guests," said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs for Holland America Line. It also doesn't hurt that the average Holland America Line customer is the ideal demographic for the show: middle-aged women. Out of the 2,148 passengers onboard the Eurodam sailing, more than 50 percent were in that demographic.
There are six theme cruises scheduled in 2013 and early 2014 on Holland America Line that will feature exclusive "Dancing with the Stars" events including dance lessons; a chance to meet the dancers, ask questions and take photos; and a dazzling production starring celebrities and the famed dance pros, complete with glamorous costumes and routines from the TV show. For dance lovers the cruises offer a unique opportunity to have access and interact with dance pros and stars from the show and perhaps learn some new dances and moves.
But this is not all that Holland America has planned, they also will be featuring an exclusive "Dancing with the Stars" program on every sailing of their 15 ships where passengers can learn to dance the tango, quickstep or paso doble. In addition, winners of each sailing's dance-off will get to dance center stage in one of the exciting dance performances and will be entered in a drawing for a free cruise at the end of the year.
Witnessing the inaugural cruise it was clearly a tremendous success with the passengers. Guests truly enjoyed the numerous dance lessons offered during the sailing, and it proved to be extremely popular so much so that more rooms needed to be added. "Over 400 people showed up for the first lesson," cruise director Jason Venner told me. He noted that the Queen's Lounge was too small so they had to open up the Northern Lights disco and add more instructors. Every dance lesson thereafter required both rooms due to the large turnout.
Most passengers were star-struck by all the precise booty shaking in front of them, but many on the sailing are recreational dancers who booked the cruise to learn how to spice up their own dance moves. I spoke with one such passenger Linda Velone of Boston, who along with her husband booked the cruise to learn from the pros. The Velones are among the growing number of couples taking up ballroom dancing for fun and health benefits. Back in Boston they take weekly classes and are always looking for new ways to hone their dance skills. Linda was upset to learn that pros Ballas and Schwimmer would not be teaching the classes, but the ships' professional dancers would be doing them.
The Eurodam crew acknowledged there were some mistaken assumptions amongst some passengers regarding the teaching of the classes. Still, while the ship's professional dancers taught the classes, the "Dancing with the Stars" cast would show up for appearances during classes and at times would judge some of the dancing contests.
Indeed for Ballas, Schwimmer, Bryan and Fatone the cruise proved to be a terrific experience albeit a nerve-racking one preparing for the stage show. It's one thing dancing on land; it's a completely different reality dancing on a moving cruise ship. Fatone told me it was stressful with the rehearsals leading up to the show, but afterwards they were able to truly able relax. Indeed the celebrities were completely in their element amongst the passengers and fans of the show and always happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Even on Holland America's private Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay, the cast was posing in their bathing suits with guests.
As for the Velones they had such a good time they've already booked another dancing cruise with another couple they met onboard. "It was the best cruise we've had in years," she tells me. It's clear theme cruises are a great entertainment and they offer and enriched atmosphere for guests with similar interests. Best of all, the shared exuberance makes for a great vacation and perhaps some lifelong friendships. Add to that the pleasures of cruise travel and visiting interesting destinations and it's a hit.
If you go:
There are six theme cruises in 2013 and early 2014 will feature "Dancing with the Stars" events. Currently scheduled to appear on select sailings are two-time champion pro dancers Mark Ballas and Kym Johnson; pros Tristan MacManus and Lacey Schwimmer; and some of your favorite celebrity competitors. More dance pros and celebrities will be announced. Visit Holland America Line's website for the latest itinerary information and pricing.