One of the great advantages of cruise ships is that experts frequently travel with you to help explain what you are seeing and visiting. When cruising in culturally significant places like Europe or in natural wonderlands like Alaska, the cruise lines will schedule sessions with experts who can add meaning and understanding to the visit. On Panama Canal itineraries, for instance, it’s common to have an expert on board who can lead fascinating discussions on the engineering marvel. These speakers are just one facet of the numerous enrichment programs that cruise lines offer to make cruise vacations more interesting and significant.
Some of these programs hardly mention the destination, instead focusing on special interests such as cooking or wine. The cooking classes usually feature all-star chefs, and the discussions of wine almost include tastings of special vintages. The cruise lines have become quite adept at presenting these events.
- On the intimate five-star yachts operated by Seabourn Cruise Line, passengers frequently rub elbows and travel with experts and luminaries. Local performers in music or dance sometimes are brought on board to entertain passengers, and on-board lecture programs feature renowned guests from the fields of entertainment, journalism, history, sports, geography and food and wine. The informal setting allows passengers and the guest lecturers to interact in small-group settings that everyone finds comfortable. Seabourn’s Chefs’ Circle gathers some of the brightest culinary stars to provide cooking demonstrations, tastings and grace menus on board with signature dishes that have gained them world renown.
- For the intellectually curious, Cunard Insights delves deeply into a variety of compelling topics. Introducing guests to experts and intellectuals, the Insights programs include lectures, Q&A’s, debates, social gatherings and workshops. Topics cover the gamut: history, world affairs, science, politics, arts and literature.
- The smaller cruise lines catering to more experienced travelers do a particularly good job of presenting information that may or may not be pertinent to the itinerary. In Europe, for example, Silversea Cruises provides guided excursions to famous vineyards as part of its Wine Series, which may be part fun and part learning.
- The Crystal Cruises Creative Learning Institute is designed to enrich mind, body and spirit with programs on everything from design and wine to Tai Chi and language instruction. Each class and workshop is designed to expand knowledge in an entertaining, hands-on style.
- Guests traveling with Regent Seven Seas Cruises will experience the Circles of Interest and Spotlight Series enrichment programs, available on selected fall voyages. These enlightening programs will feature distinguished lecturers and accomplished experts from the realms of art, history, cuisine and political commentary. The cooking presentations are designed to enhance and illuminate the traditions and culture of each cruises’ destinations.
- Holland America Line has retrofitted its ships to include a Culinary Arts Center on each one. The program, presented by Food & Wine magazine, schedules culinary demonstrations and cooking classes for every cruise, featuring celebrated chefs. Cooking demonstrations and classes are held during days at sea and sometimes while the ship is in port to provide an alternative for those who choose not to go ashore.
- Princess Cruises, as part of its Scholarship@Sea series, offers about 20 courses per voyage. These “edu-tainment” courses, as Princess calls them, cover a variety of topics, including cooking, visual arts, computer skills, photography and pottery. Today, every Princess ship offers passengers the opportunity to become Sea Scholars, and all vessels have been equipped with onboard pottery kilns. One of the Princess courses is particularly relevant to cruising regardless of the itinerary’s destination. A ship’s officer presents a discussion of navigation techniques and how they have evolved over time. This presentation provides guests with a greater understanding of the ship and how it operates.
On any cruise ship, these programs allow guests to dabble in activities they might rarely do at home such as ceramics or photography. Or they may expose us to new information that makes our travel more meaningful. Almost always, they are great fun.