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Money talks on specialty cruises

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Investment-themed cruises are making a comeback, thanks to a soaring stock market. And the high seas aren't the only exotic locale for people who want to learn more about their money.

Ah, the cruise. The smell of the salty air. The tingle as your partner grabs your hand for one more graceful turn on the dance floor. The chance to gaze deeply into the eyes of . . . Lou Rukeyser?

Public television's investing guru will set sail for the Caribbean in November with an expected 400 vacationers eager to listen to him and several other speakers impart their wisdom.

The host of Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser is the latest financial-world celebrity to go the Love Boat route as investment cruises gain popularity.

Other seagoing headliners have included Jane Bryant Quinn, the Newsweek columnist; Adriane Berg, a financial adviser on Good Morning America; Fred Sherman, KYW-AM financial commentator; Terry Savage, syndicated personal finance columnist; and executives from mutual fund firms T. Rowe Price and Invesco.

In January, Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel will be a featured speaker on a cruise to the Virgin Islands sponsored by Individual Investor magazine. Ads say the cruise is for people whose "favorite pastime is investing."

Investment-themed cruises still lag those with big band, bridge or sports themes, said Murray Markin, president of Strategic Decisions, a Boca Raton consulting firm that has studied the cruise industry. Of an estimated $10-billion spent on cruises every year, probably less than 1 percent goes to those that feature investing topics.

Once popular with the wealthy, investment cruises lost their allure when tax law changes made the expenses non-deductible. But as the stock market has soared, the investment cruise has made a comeback.

And the high seas aren't the only exotic locale for people who want to learn more about their money. Josianne Pennington, a consultant in Baltimore who specializes in investment-related travel, organized 21-day investment safaris in South Africa in 1997 and 1998 for the Oxford Club, a group that helps members protect their wealth. The trip mixed elephant spotting with talks from prominent officials such as former South Africa President F.W. de Klerk. A trip to Russia several years ago included a speech by the first American stockbroker there.

People who have business interests abroad are the most likely to go on the more unusual trips, Pennington said.

"People are looking for an experience that's out of the norm, something they couldn't do on their own, and they learn something in the process," Pennington said.

Opportunities abound for those with more bread-and-butter interests. T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore fund firm, has been offering cruises to its investors for about three years. Originally a cruise line asked T. Rowe to send speakers, but the company expanded the idea and began advertising it in its newsletter to shareholders. Twenty to 40 people attend each T. Rowe cruise, which the company offers twice a year.

The cost ranges from $1,600 to $5,000 a person, depending on the destination and type of accommodations people choose.

The cruises help T. Rowe, which sells funds via mail and toll-free telephone numbers, develop a closer relationship with customers, vice president Steve Norwitz said.

"It's a good opportunity to get out and talk to some of the investors directly," he said.

The company's "Dream Team" cruise in the fall to the Middle East included Quinn, personal finance author Jonathan Pond and Larry Puglia, manager of T. Rowe Price's Blue Chip Growth and Financial Services Funds.

Nobody cuts class.

"We've had three full days on investing, from 9 to 5," Norwitz said. "It's amazing to me, but people actually spend the entire day in there."

Ruth Miller, 78, of Urbana, Ill., went on that 10-day cruise.

One of the pearls of wisdom she brought home with her: "The only way to be really wealthy when you retire is to inherit it, marry it, save it and maybe don't spend it.

"I got a kick out of that," she said.

Miller and the others on the cruise didn't talk about investing the whole time. "But when you're interested in the stock market, you're always interested to hear what they say about it."

Doyle and Patricia Goins of Scotia, N.Y., went on the "Dream Team" cruise, too _ and ended up spending at least a little of their retirement nest egg because they liked Pond's presentation so much.

"We bought all his books after we came home," said Patricia Goins, 70.

Sharing dinner with Puglia gave her a window into the life of a fund manager and made her feel as if her money was in the right hands.

"It's an expansion of what you can read in the materials in a specific fund. You get a sense of the person's training and character," Goins said. "He's very concerned about his children's development and relationships in the family. These kinds of things are very positive, and I always think that people can't really separate too much their business lives and their personal lives. Solid citizens in their business lives are likely to be solid in their dealings with people."

She likes to mingle with celebrities and quasi-celebrities. She and her husband also have taken cruises sponsored by the National Review that have featured such people as economist Lawrence Kudlow and conservative activist Ralph Reed. Next month, the Goinses will join T. Rowe Price again for a cruise to the Isle of Man, Iceland and Ireland.

Cruises don't fit every fund company's marketing strategy or temperament. Vanguard Group of Malvern, Pa., where low cost is king, said it would never sponsor a cruise.

"It just has an image that's not to our liking," spokesman Brian Mattes said. "It may be fine for other companies, but it's not for us."

Mattes said he understands the appeal of mixing time off with money talk. He paid his own way to St. Louis a few years ago to spend a vacation with investing hobbyists he met on an Internet bulletin board.

"It was sort of strange for a group of adults to be sitting in a hotel room on a Friday night using laptops and checking out mutual fund performance," he said.

John Rekenthaler, research director at Chicago fund-watcher Morningstar Inc., said he probably would not repeat his stint as a speaker on a T. Rowe Price cruise. He learned that he doesn't like being stuck on a ship.

"I think cruises are boring enough that you might as well go sit in a seminar," Rekenthaler said.

"I suppose if they had a computer-gaming cruise, I would do it. But my wife would divorce me."

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