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Pickleball Events Making Inroads on Ocean Liners as Sports Cruises Gain Pace Overall

11 Jul, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Forget shuffleboard and putting greens. The hottest sport on luxury liners right now is pickleball. As the trend gains steam, expect to see even more lines implement it – which could spell profit for event owners who want to work with cruise lines to plan events.

According to an article in USA TODAY, all ships in the Holland America line now have pickleball courts.  Other cruise lines, including Princess and Regent Seven Seas, also have added pickleball to some of their ships. And event owners and vendors have been quick to capitalize on it.

In fall of 2017, Engage Pickleball Academy sponsored a seven-day cruise on one of the ships owned by MSC Cruises. That event, which included coaching, instruction as well as clinics and games, sold out and was so popular that a second cruise was added the following June – and a third will take place in October. The fall event, organizers note, is in the MSC exclusive Yacht Club. 

A second pickleball skill and competition cruise concept, Pickleball in Paradise, organized by Mark4Travel, has run on the ship, Liberty of the Seas, out of the Port of Galveston.

The economic impact of the sport and its potential to bring in new players is not lost on Jack Thomas of the USA Pickleball Association. “I think the cruise industry has figured out that pickleball is a very inexpensive way to attract and entertain their passengers and will soon become a must-have onboard activity,” he said. “It is super easy to learn to play, great fun for all ages and creates camaraderie among fellow shipmates.”

It wouldn’t be the first time cruise lines have made the foray into sports. Some lines offer cruises for NFL fans with game-day activities, fantasy football and more. Fans who want to be in-person spectators also have options, including Grand Prix motor racing and FIFA World Cup. (There are also cruises with stops at ports known for cycle touring and golfing.) Running cruises are also offered, and are gaining in popularity, as the destination marathon becomes an ever-increasingly popular bucket list item.

Kids’ sports? Sure thing. Soccer@Sea is a cruise providing accredited international coaches, daily games and competitions, skills techniques and drills, discussions of fitness, nutrition and sportsmanship as well as games in port with local teams. Some destinations include beach soccer as well.

Working with cruise lines can provide a novel approach to sports – and additionally can offer the opportunity for family vacations. In fact, it might be an excellent change of pace for families feeling fatigued by travel tournaments.

It’s also a growing industry. According to a study by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, the cruise industry is the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market. Since 1980, the industry has experienced an average annual passenger growth rate of approximately seven percent per annum.

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