Denise Barkley enjoys the Tall Ships Races and takes a look at the trend for themed cruises

Cruising is mega-popular with all ages, but especially the more mature traveller like yours truly who is most definitely up for an adventure but prefers to wake up in a different port each day having done nothing more strenuous than bob there on the ocean wave while I slept!

And the cruise companies are capitalising on the trend and creating themed voyages that cover an entire spectrum of interests, topics and hobbies.

These special sailings are sure to have something to interest everyone and are a great incentive to cruise ‘newbies’ as well as die-hard cruise fans such as myself. I can’t think of a better way to immerse yourself in a cherished hobby or activity than in the company of like-minded people on a leisurely cruise.

Whether you are an enthusiastic cook, wine buff, yoga fan, dancer, jazz devotee or hooked on soaps, the chances are there’s a theme cruise for you. Some even give you the chance to meet famous singers, TV chefs and ‘celebs’ as part of the itinerary and TV tie-ins are particularly popular, with Princess Cruises recreating the BBC’s The Voice singing contest and P&O passengers enjoying Strictly Come Dancing voyages.

This summer we indulged in one of my husband’s great passions – TheTall Ships Races – on a fabulous 16-night Treasures of the Baltic voyage with Saga Cruises. I will never forget the awesome spectacle of more than 100 magnificent Tall Ships sailing regally out of the Finnish port of Turku flanked by hundreds of smaller craft.

We were whisked by private chauffeur to Dover to board the good ship Saga Sapphire, the most pleasant way to start a holiday I think, and having our suitcases whipped away to appear magically in our cabin was a bonus too. Saga caters for the over-50s market, but I would say the average age on our Baltic odyssey was 70-plus. As a couple in our early 60s we felt like youngsters, which was no bad thing! Everyone we met on-board was friendly and sociable, which always makes for a good trip.

Our cabin on deck 8 was fairly small but perfectly formed and we had the bonus of our own little balcony - Saga Sapphire is quite a mature lady herself and balconies are a rare privilege. It was the perfect spot to sit and watch the Tall Ships.

But there were many places to see and lots to do before and after the Tall Ships in Turku, all enhanced by life on board ship. With just over 700 passengers the cruise experience is pitched perfectly on Saga Sapphire. The food is delicious, service impeccable, cabins and public areas comfortable and spotless, and the entertainment is good too. There were three ‘formal’ nights throughout the cruise – the chance to get glammed up and pose for the ship’s photographer.

In an attempt to counter the effects of fine dining, and equally fine wines, we walked six laps of the promenade deck each day – only a mile, but better than nothing, and I swam in the warm indoor pool too.

As for our ports of call, they were varied, interesting and memorable for an abundance of different reasons. In Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, I fell in love with the dreamy cinnamon buns, in Copenhagen I saw the famous Little Mermaid – she really is quite tiny – and enjoyed a canal boat ride in the sunshine. Stockholm stole my heart, and the Vasa museum even more so. It’s the resting place of the Vasa, a mightly warship which capsized and sank in Stockholm in 1628. And there it stayed for 333 years until 1961 when it was salvaged. It is the world's only preserved 17th-century ship, the most visited museum in Scandinavia and unmissable!

Later in our voyage we sailed into Ventspils in Latvia, grimly post-Soviet in parts but full of flowers and funky sculptures elsewhere, and we toured the capital Riga too. In Poland, we visited Gdansk – a beautiful city destroyed in the Second World War but rebuilt in double-quick time with the result you would never know it had been touched at all. We visited the spot where the first shot of the Second World War was fired, and saw the Solidarity monument remembering the fallen shipyard workers of 1970.

We sailed through the Kiel Canal, the 61-mile German waterway which links the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, and concluded our fabulous cruise with a whistle-stop canal jaunt round Amsterdam.

It was an amazing cruise, but of course the Tall Ships Race was the highlight.

Backing up the theme, the ship’s guest speaker was Amanda Butcher, former chief executive of the Jubilee Sailing Trust, board member of ASTO, the UK’s national sail training body, and author of a field guide to Tall Ships. She gave a series of fascinating talks throughout the cruise.

Our arrival in Turku, Finland, for the Tall Ships Race couldn’t have been better. It was hot and sunny and the lofty sailing ships were docked in the harbour with visitors queueing to climb aboard and take a look round. The city had a carnival atmosphere, which continued all night, though we were all safely tucked up on board Saga Sapphire, the only cruise ship present at the festivities.

The next day the Tall Ships sailed out of Turku in stately procession. We were anchored just outside the harbour and had a grandstand view of this amazing spectacle, made even more special by the British Tall Ship Royalist sailing close by, the crew saluting as we waved our Union Jacks then giving us a rousing chorus of YMCA. It was brilliant!

The good news is that you don’t even need to leave the UK to be part of the 2018 Tall Ships Race as it kicks-off in Sunderland on July 11 with the ships departing for Esbjerg in Denmark on July 14.

Treasures of the Baltic aboard Saga Sapphire departing Dover for 15 nights June 5, 2018, from £2,454 per person. Price includes all meals on board, including 24-hour room service, a choice of wines at lunch and dinner, all on-board gratuities, optional travel insurance and additional cancellation rights or a reduction if not required, entertainment and activities, welcome cocktail party and Captain’s dinner, all port taxes and visas. UK mainland travel service to and from Dover. To book call 0800 50 50 30 or visit

Cruising on a theme:

Totally tasteful: P&O Cruises has an all-star line-up of top chefs on a variety of Food Heroes sailings in 2018. James Martin joins the Caribbean and Azores fly-cruise March 17 from Barbados onboard Britannia, Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar is on Ventura round Spain, France and Italy April 13, and Marco Pierre White is on Britannia June 17 in the Norwegian fjords.

Wine adventure: SeaDream Yacht Club’s wine voyages return in 2018 featuring nine itineraries in the Mediterranean with two new sailings in the Caribbean. Each wine voyage includes visits to vineyards, wine tastings and a Winemakers dinner.

Making music: Seabourn Quest, January 13, 2018, welcomes musical theatre lyricist Sir Tim Rice by video link on a 21-night cruise of the Antarctica and Patagonia. He will highlight some of his best loved work – from Jesus Christ Superstar to Aladdin and The Lion King.

Movie magic: Passengers onboard Celebrity Constellations’s 11-night cruise from Barcelona to Venice, May 18, 2018, can rub shoulders with the rich and famous at Cannes Film Festival. There’s an exclusive VIP rooftop cocktail party ashore and a film festival onboard, though tickets to the Cannes Film Festival are not included.