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All Board! Class is Now in Session

Aaron Dalton

NEA member Felyce Thomas recently traveled with a team of naturalists, geologists, biologists, historians, and other scientists to Antarctica. They observed colonies of chinstrap and gentoo penguins, and walked right onto the ice where some of the scientists took samples.

But Thomas is neither a scientist nor an explorer. Formerly the director of a reading and language program in Oakland, New Jersey, she’s now a retiree living in Melbourne, Florida. Thomas went to Antarctica as a passenger on an Orient Lines cruise, flying first from Miami to Argentina and then sailing 10 days through icebergs to the southernmost seas.

“It was a wonderful trip,” she recalls. “All these scientists on board were very informative. They gave lectures and helped explain all the sights we observed.”

Welcome to the new wave of educational cruising. Cruises used to get a bad rap as little more than floating buffets where intellectual stimulation meant catching a movie or learning five different ways to fold napkins.

These days you can find cruise ships that are more like mini-universities. On all of its vessels, Princess Cruises runs a Scholarship@Sea program that offers at least six courses per day in subjects such as Italian cooking, pottery, digital travel photography,

Web page design, estate planning, and watercolor techniques. On some Princess ships, chefs lead the cooking classes on full kitchen sets similar to those used on TV cooking shows! Most of these courses—plus additional lectures in subjects as diverse as underwater archaeology, nutrition, or personal finance—are offered free of charge or for a nominal ($10) fee.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn a musical instrument? NEA member Vivian Gaschen worked as a language teacher for 29 years in San Antonio’s North East ISD before retiring and starting a second career as a travel agent.

She speaks very favorably of one trip with Crystal Cruises that offered instruction on Yamaha electronic piano keyboards, in addition to lectures on various topics, bridge lessons, Spanish instruction, and computer classes.

Of course one great advantage of traveling by cruise ship is that you can indulge in a few glasses of wine with dinner without worrying about a designated driver. Jean Savidge, a former public school teacher for 30 years who also served nine years on the NEA-Retired Advisory Council, lives with her husband in Washington State, where they enjoy the delicious bounty of the region’s vineyards.

 Over the past five years, they have taken several trips organized by friends who run the Gordon Brothers vineyard in Pasco, Washington. On trips to the Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean, they enjoyed wine tastings, had tours of the ships’ wine cellars, and made friends with fellow oenophiles from all over the country.

As Felyce Thomas says, for those with open minds and keen observational skills, travel by its very nature is like a continuing education course that breaks down your assumptions about the world. Cruise line operators are answering the call for intelligent tours and activities.

On the ships of Cunard Line, that might mean discussing film with a film critic from The New Yorker, learning about the latest in aerospace research from a former astronaut, or trading jokes with famous British comedian John Cleese. Cunard’s newest ship, the Queen Victoria, even offers lessons in the sport of fencing.

Fencing and John Cleese on the same cruise line? It could give the expression “rapier wit” a whole new meaning.

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