Cruise ships are the new super-fan conventions for TV and film

To boldly go where many men have gone before.
To boldly go where many men have gone before.
Image: AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach
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Super fandom has a new domain—the open sea.

Earlier this month, 2,500 fans of the TV show The Walking Dead piled onto a ship with actors Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Neegan), Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes), and other cast and crew members from the AMC zombie series. They sailed out of Miami, on the Walker Stalker Cruise, for three days of Q&A sessions, panels, and parties with like-minded zombie lovers. The cruise, now in its second year, is one of dozens of new fan cruises for passionate pop-culture fans.

In January, the first official Star Trek: The Cruise set sail for a similar affair that saw actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original series, schmoozing with fans and discussing everything from physics and global warming to his experiences on set, Bloomberg reported. (His contract reportedly mandated that he pose for one photo per cabin.)

And it’s not just fans of mega-movies and shows like Star Trek, The Walking Dead, and the Marvel movies who are geeking out on the high seas. Fan cruises have gotten so popular that there are now theme cruises for low-budget reality- and non-scripted US cable TV shows like Impractical JokersLip Sync Battle, and Property Brothers.

“What’s interesting about TV-theme cruises is that it’s the single hottest niche in the genre,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief at the cruise guide Cruise Critic. “It’s a fairly new specialty of theme cruises and the themes on offer represent such a wide range of television programming.”

Sailing with the Scotts, the cruise for the HGTV home-design show Property Brothers, sold out almost instantly in 2015, according to Cruise Critic. Super-fans showed up in t-shirts that read ”I have a date with the Scott Brothers.” The cruise for truTV’s hidden-camera comedy show Impractical Jokers is in its second year. And the Lip Sync Battle cruise, a partnership between network Spike TV and Carnival Cruise Line, includes an “authentic re-creation of the popular Lip Sync Battle TV show,” said a listing for the event on the website Theme Cruise Finder.

And there are mini pop-culture conventions like Fan2Sea Comic Con Cruise, a recent Royal Caribbean cruise that featured comic-book legends like Frank Miller, cast members from Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, and Guardians of the Galaxy, panels, screenings, autograph signings, and, of course, the cosplay parties that no comic-con would be complete without.

Oprah Winfrey’s magazine even has its own cruise tour on the Holland America Line.

This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Fan cruises date back to the early 1990s, and are especially popular for music. (You can cruise with the Backstreet Boys, if you want it that way.)

But as the nature of TV and film fandom changes due to social media, which helps connect niche fans from around the world, so too have pop-culture conventions like the San Diego International Comic Con, which have gotten more chaotic and harder to get into each year. These cruises create a more intimate experience for fans, and a nice take home for cruise lines.

Fan cruises, like Walker Stalker and Star Trek: The Cruise, are usually organized by outside production companies that book the ships during off seasons. Fans are more interested in the experience than where they’re going and when, so they’re willing to shell out more than the cruise line would normally bring in for an average cruise during those times of year.

According to Bloomberg, the 2,300 passengers aboard the six-day Star Trek cruise paid an average fare of $2,400 per person, more than double cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line’s usual rate for January.

“You can expect television themed-cruises to be more expensive than a traditional cruise because there’s so much more value involved,” said Brown. “For fans, these are literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”