Cruise lines are testing the strength of Halloween as a premium holiday by stretching the season and hosting increasingly elaborate costume contests and parades.
Disney Cruise Line has created a six-week celebration called “Halloween on the High Seas,” which is offered aboard its three- and four-day Bahamas cruises on the Disney Dream.
The entertainment includes “Mickey’s Mouse-querade Party” in the ship’s atrium. Aimed primarily at children, it features games, a costume parade and a 45-minute dance party.
“I had quite a few clients who called to book just for the Halloween celebration,” said Baltimore agent Lisa Reese.
Halloween has taken off as a celebration in the past two decades, especially for adults, who will spend $1.2 billion on costumes this year, compared with $1 billion spent for children’s outfits, according to the National Retail Federation.
Nearly every cruise line decorates for the holiday and encourages passengers to dress up.
Still, Reese and others say prices for Halloween voyages are held back by the relatively weak demand for fall cruises. The price bump seen for year-end holiday cruises is still a hope at Halloween.
“Mainly, in the fall, cruises are discounted,” Reese said.
Disney appears to be trying to change that habit. For the first time this year, it has extended the celebration season to begin in late September.
The Dream offers the most complete Halloween experience. While kids get Mickey and friends, teens and adults can be spooked by “Haunted Stories of the Sea,” tales told by a scary caretaker character. Disney said the show also features some comic effects.
Adults can party to a Halloween theme in Evolution, the ship’s disco.
Also onboard is a Nightmare Before Christmas interactive movie experience, featuring a meet-and-greet with the film’s characters Jack Skellington and Sally.
Dream cruise director Darren McBurney said Disney put a lot of effort into planning the entertainment aspect. “This is one of our biggest productions since the  introduction of the Fantasy,” he said.
Halloween shows on Disney’s other three ships are more understated, but if “Halloween on the High Seas” is a hit, it might spread to other ships in the future, Disney officials said.
Other fleets’ tricks and treats
Royal Caribbean International uses the interior promenade on its Voyager- and Oasis-class ships for a Halloween parade. Last year, on the Allure of the Seas, there were more than 500 contestants, including a group of six who dressed up as a yellow school bus.
Sometimes there’s a lucrative prize for the best costume. The Oct. 27 Norwegian Jewel cruise from New Orleans will offer a $1,000 prize for the winner of a contest for members of a group traveling through Aquafest, a Houston agency that specializes in LGBT events.
Aquafest President Tom Baker said that last year’s prize was split between one contestant with a Hollywood-level Frankenstein costume and makeup job and another dressed as a sea anemone.
Halloween is also a big draw for singles-cruise organizers. About 325 singles have signed on for a seven-night Halloween cruise on the Carnival Liberty. “It’s definitely our most popular event every year,” said Vicki Meeuwsen, marketing manager for SinglesCruise.com, which organized the Oct. 26 outing.
Some Halloween events did not reach takeoff speed, however. A full-ship charter of the Carnival Victory for a “Ship of Fear” cruise that was to have featured shock-rocker Alice Cooper was called off in February for insufficient demand, according to organizer Entertainment Cruise Productions.
And California-based Whodunit Cruises has tabled its “Ghostly Murder Mystery” Halloween cruise this year. It is promoting its Steampunk Cruise next February on the Explorer of the Seas instead.