PROVO — People looking for an LDS-themed vacation aren't limited to Nauvoo and Palmyra anymore.

These days, there is a smorgasbord of travel options.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can board cruise ships to far-flung locales around the world — and in the company of LDS celebrities.

How about a trip to the Mediterranean with singer Michael Ballam? Or Alaska with author Dean Hughes? Or the Caribbean with musical group Jericho Road?

Non-traditional theme vacations are also available, aimed at nearly every segment of the Latter-day Saint market, including "Easter in Book of Mormon Lands," "Parenting Solutions for Families" (to the Caribbean), "Russia-Scandinavian Highlights" and "LDS Singles at Sea" (also to the Caribbean).

It's all part of an emerging LDS tour industry catering to members of the church who not only want to get away — but also want to travel with others who share the same beliefs.

"It's a whole new experience, but a very familiar one," says Diane Lovell, owner of Cruise Lady, which offers all of the aforementioned cruises. "It's a safe, affordable way to spend time and it's a chance to go with people you feel comfortable with."

Meridiantrips.com advertises "Strength of Youth" graduation trips for high school seniors to LDS Church history sites in the United States, as well as Book of Mormon tours to Mexico.

"Isn't it about time that graduation became a lasting memory and symbol of dignity and pride instead of a 'party-to-forget?' " asks the company's Web site.

Brian Mickelson, president of Meridiantrips.com, says a variety of other types of vacations are planned for youth and adults throughout the world. For example, he served an LDS mission to Norway and has scheduled mission reunion trips there.

The number of returned LDS missionaries in the church opens up many travel possibilities. "We're a very international community, different from anywhere in the world," Mickelson says.

Cruise Lady offers 12 to 15 cruises a year, accommodating 200 to 300 guests on each trip. Lovell says she enjoys a lot of repeat business.

The LDS celebrities, or "headliners," as she calls them, attract a considerable number of clients. Ballam, director of the Utah Festival Opera, is planning a couple of trips with Cruise Lady this year. He sees it as a mutually beneficial arrangement.

"I love going places with like-minded people and sharing the wonders of the Earth. It's very fulfilling," Ballam said. "It's something bigger than touring. It's more than just entertainment value. It charges my batteries, and I love mingling with people."

Other celebrities who have taken trips with her company include popular LDS singer and former Utah Jazz star Thurl Bailey, as well as LDS author and speaker John Bytheway.

"I take people who are entertaining and inspiring. That's who I look for," Lovell says. "I look for people who are down-to-earth and want to interact with people on a cruise."

Lovell has tried to nab former BYU and NFL star Steve Young — to no avail.

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"Steve could buy his own cruise ship," she says wistfully.

Cruise Lady began as a company Lovell ran out of her home nearly six years ago. She has seen the burgeoning popularity of LDS-themed trips and says there's plenty of room for growth.

"This industry is going to continue blooming from here," Lovell says. "I feel like we're on the ground floor of something that's going to get bigger."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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