High seas: 21st-century cruises

A whole new generation is taking to the water as it discovers that cruise companies are revamping the format and placing music and entertainment at their core 

Not so long ago, the notion of booking a holiday on board a cruise ship was solely the preserve of an elderly generation. But, almost out of nowhere, the cruise has been transformed. When the evening entertainment is Tony-winning musical Rock Of Ages, rather than some tired cabaret, it’s clear that the cruise has changed for good.

“When you look at the entertainment options that companies such as Norwegian Cruise Lines are building into their ships, it's obviously aimed at a younger demographic,” says Ben Ferguson. He works for Sixthman, a company based in Atlanta, Georgia, which charters whole ships and turns them into floating music festivals headlined by the likes of Kiss, Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“It's working [for us] because people are ready for a new experience,” says Ferguson. They sail eager holidaymakers from Miami to The Bahamas for three days and nights of music and cruising.

And the reason that rock fans are booking cruises for the first time is clear: it is the access they get to their heroes on board which is so compelling. “We work hard to tear down the walls between artists and guests – organising activities where the two can come together,” adds Ferguson. So rock band Weezer, who played a recent cruise, didn’t just play their gig. They took part in high seas quizzes and Q&As with fans.

But it was perhaps the SS Coachella that really started to make people sit up and take notice of this new interface between music and cruising. The decision by California's coolest festival to take to the high seas for a maritime knees-up headlined by Hot Chip and Pulp showed that cruising could be really cool.

Back in Dubai, the start of the year's cruise season in the UAE sees Royal Caribbean International's Serenade Of The Seas dock at Port Rashid, for a summer of cruises around the Gulf. It's not just music that's changing cruising. This renovated liner boasts a rock-climbing wall, big screen entertainment and even a golf course. Amenities that suggest cruising is finally losing its sedate reputation – while its devotees get ever younger.