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Holy high seas!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 16 - 2007

I’ve recently received several e-mails from readers asking if cruise lines offer religious-themed cruises. The answer is yes — and small wonder: According to the World Religious Travel Association, faith-based travel is an $18-billion-a-year business, and a quarter of that business comes from cruises to destinations of religious interest. Most of the cruises cater to Christian and Jewish travelers, and they offer everything from Christian pop singers and bar mitzvah celebrations to tours of the Holy Land.

Although many faith-based trips are organized by churches and other religious groups, as they have been for decades, large tour operators and agencies are also entering the market. Two years ago, Globus, one of the largest tour operators in the world, launched a religious-tours division called Globus Faith to cater to this growing market.

For the religious traveler, the shift from small church organizers to large tour operators has meant more itinerary options and more varied activities. The leverage of high-volume bookings has also given religious travelers more control over the travel environment. For example, by chartering entire ships for Christian and Jewish passengers, the cruise promoters can arrange for a kosher kitchen or that there be no gambling or alcoholic beverages on board.

Christian cruising

Christian travel operator Christian Travel Finder runs specialty cruises on Royal Caribbean ships, like its “Cruise with a Cause,” a five-day cruise to the Bahamas featuring an all-star lineup of Christian pop stars and inspirational speakers. The cruise also offers a day of missionary work in Nassau, Bahamas.

Another Christian trip is the “Girl’s Get-a-Way Cruise,” which sails November 15-19, departing from Mobile, Ala., to Cozumel, Mexico, aboard the Carnival Holiday. The organizer is High Point, N.C.-based Premier Christian Cruises, which charters the ship. The cruise offers nonstop Christian music over the PA system, Christian TV channels, family movies, clean comedy, inspirational lectures and speakers, concerts, “faithbooking” (a variety of scrapbooking) and special activities for teen girls. The company also offers other Christian-themed voyages.

Kosher cruising

Many cruise lines sell kosher packages, but few offer a truly controlled kosher environment. The exception is Pittsburgh-based Chosen Voyage, the first cruise tour operator to make every aspect of the cruise ship fully kosher. The company has chartered vessels with niche-cruise lines Windstar Cruises, Clipper Cruise Line and Worldwide River Cruises. On a Chosen Voyage charter, the entire ship is certified kosher, which means thorough scrutiny of food ingredients and food preparation techniques to make sure they strictly follow Jewish dietary laws.

Chosen Voyage also organizes some cruises in accord with certain rules of daily life practiced by some Orthodox and Conservative Jews. For example, on some voyages, men and women have different hours of access to the swimming pools, spa and gym; they may also have separate shore excursions. On the Shabbat, a day of rest when observant Jews don’t work, handle money or touch electrical devices, the ship’s crew will handle everything according to Jewish law.

If you are looking for a faith-based cruise, check out one of the Web sites or talk to a travel agent. Not every agent will have expertise in this market, but they can all put you in touch with someone who does.

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