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Mac cruise to merge glaciers with G4s

After a year and a half of running cruises for computer programmers, Neil Bauman believes he's hit the mother lode: Mac fans.

After a year and a half of running cruises for computer programmers, Neil Bauman believes he's hit the mother lode: Mac fans.

Once word got out last week that Bauman was considering planning a Mac cruise, he said, he was immediately deluged with e-mails from would-be passengers. In response, Bauman said Monday that he has scheduled MacMania, a seven-day cruise that will set sail in May, merging Alaska's Inside Passage and the iMac.

"They are geeks," exclaimed Bauman, the captain and chief executive of Geek Cruises. "They are absolutely full of enthusiasm that pales any other Geek Cruise theme I have put forth."

Bauman has run five Geek Cruises since May 2000 and has eight more scheduled before MacMania sets sail on Memorial Day. Past voyages have included XML Excursion, Database Discovery and Perl Whirl.

The Mac cruise could help Bauman's business, which has been hit by the slowdown in the tech industry and, more specifically, in the tech conference business. Although past cruises have drawn anywhere from 50 to 175 passengers, Bauman said, the Mac cruise might be able to attract as many as 400 attendees.

By contrast, attendance for other Geek Cruises appears to be waning.

"There are surely worries about the economy," said Bauman, who noted he expects about 75 people for this year's Java Jam to Jamaica, compared with 105 last year. "This is somewhat parallel to what the conference industry is seeing in general."

Bauman said he has not yet canceled any cruises that people have already signed up for, but he has scaled back some of the more sparsely attended voyages.

"If I have to, I cancel a speaker to make the event break even," Bauman said.

Macworld plans to co-host and co-produce the cruise, Colin Crawford, CEO of Macworld parent Mac Publishing, said in an e-mail.

Crawford said he too was deluged by e-mail in support of the cruise. "The best e-mail of all was from one individual who 'demanded' to send in a check," Crawford said in an e-mail interview. "The ultimate test of an idea is when people prepay."

Bauman said he is still working to sign up speakers and is planning to run five tracks, one for Mac OS X developers and four geared to Mac users.

MacMania cruisers can expect to pay at least $1,100 for room and board, along with a conference fee of $600 to $1,250, plus tax.

Geek Cruises does not have its own fleet. Instead, it rents space on major cruise lines. Geeks mingle with the rest of the ship's crowd--mostly seniors and honeymooners--trading computer lessons for shuffleboard.

Bauman said his events are popular with the cruise lines because they help attract a younger crowd of largely first-time cruise-goers.