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Theme Cruises. Want to pursue your favorite hobby on your vacation? Solve a mystery, meet sports stars, hear hit songs from the big-band era, spruce up your golf game with help from experts -- all on board ship

By Paul Lasley and Elizabeth HarrymanSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 12, 1986

Beverly Hills, Calif.

IMAGINE discussing his latest book over dinner with James Michener while cruising around Asia aboard a Society Expeditions ship, talking global politics with former British Prime Minister Edward Heath while off the coast of England on a Royal Viking cruise, or listening to Helen O'Connell sing hits from the big-band era while sailing in the Caribbean on Holland America's SS Rotterdam. This year, cruise lines are offering an array of theme cruises to augment their normal itineraries. Theme cruises allow passengers to indulge a favorite hobby, learn a new skill, or meet an admired celebrity while enjoying an ocean voyage.

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``My family is from Scotland, and I'd always wanted to see the castles here and learn about the clans,'' said Roger MacClaren of Chicago as we sailed into the harbor near Edinburgh on Royal Viking Line's ``Castles & Kings'' cruise around the British Isles last year. ``I was especially interested in the historical background they gave us.''

On other theme cruises, sports fans can meet their favorite football or hockey players, music lovers can hear evenings of opera, and amateur sleuths can solve a mystery. Cunard is offering a five-day mystery cruise from New York to Bermuda on the Queen Elizabeth 2, sailing next Monday.

``The mystery actually begins at the pier,'' explains Cindy Kampf, a Cunard Lines spokeswoman, ``and the suspects [actors masquerading as real passengers] get on board with the other travelers. Then during the course of the voyage, a `murder' takes place, and the passengers try to figure out who did it.'' By the time the ship docks in Bermuda, the mystery will have been solved, and on the return voyage to New York, passengers hear lectures by real-life detectives and old-time radio mystery personalities.

Other Cunard theme programs include hockey and baseball cruises in the Caribbean, a September ``Travel Photography'' cruise aboard the Sagafjord, also in the Caribbean, and an archaeology cruise on the Vistafjord in the Mediterranean. The Queen Elizabeth 2's ``Baseball Hall of Fame'' cruise in October will feature legendary figures such as Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, and Ralph Kiner.

Norwegian Caribbean Lines (NCL) is offering a variety of themes on its fall and winter seven-night cruises in the Caribbean. Fall sports cruises will feature such tennis experts as Omar Fareed and Kathrin Keil; basketball greats Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Sam Jones; golf pros Mary Beth Zimmerman and Tom Shaw; and ski experts Kiki Cutter, Christin Cooper, and Jimmie Heuga. In addition to giving talks and meeting with the passengers, the sports stars all participate in special on-board ``Olympics'' competitions and give lectures or demonstrations.

Norwegian Caribbean also offers a November fitness and beauty cruise, with a television fitness expert, Sheila Cluff, as hostess. ``The cruise offers a relaxed environment in which people can start an exercise program,'' says Miss Cluff, who owns two fitness spas in California. ``The week-long cruise will get them started on a program they can then follow when they get off the ship.'' Workshops on beauty, skin and hair care, and nutrition will be given on this cruise, as well as lectures by sports celebrities. Passengers can also participate in workout sessions with Olympic athletes.