People may love cruise vacations for endless seas, the packing in of new sights, having fun, getting active, taking a break from work and life, and spending time with family and friends. But along the way, they often get more than they expected: such as a new skill, a new found passion or new self discoveries.

Cruise lines are lining the decks with all manner of enrichment programs late, programs that include dancing lessons and cooking demonstrations, trumping tricks in bridge or master mixology classes. Onboard educational opportunities are another way cruiselines compete for passengers and often go the distance to send guests home with bragworthy onboard ventures.

For instance, on cruises to the Dominican Republic or Cuba on Carnival Corporation’s new cruise line, Fathom**, passengers attend workshops created with The Stanford Storytelling Project. Classes include “The Story of You.”

“We’re equipping people with the storytelling tools to tell their own story about who they are and this great moment of change in their lives,” said Ted Howes, Fathom’s director of product and experience. “We all have stories to tell – and storytelling is a powerful tool both personally and professionally.” Included is a storytelling festival on board where guests share their experiences and a video booth where stories can be uploaded to social media.

On Holland America Line ships, Microsoft-trained Digital Workshop hosts lead popular classes on how to use Photo Gallery and Movie Maker, including outlining ways to showcase the cruise experience for the folks back home. Passengers can also pick up other tech skills in the digital workshop powered by Microsoft classes.

Holland America Line’s “On Location” brings a local focus. In New Zealand, for instance, a six-person Maori troupe resides shipboard teaching the haka and poi dances as well as other cultural rituals. In Hawaii, guests can learn fresh flower lei making or how to play a tune on a ukulele.

“The On Location program is about being emotionally and intellectually connected to the places you are visiting,” said Roger Hawk, Holland America Line’s senior manager of cruise programming.

Guests can also be immersed in the natural world thanks to Holland America Line’s partnership with BBC Earth. Programming includes screenings of documentaries and events such as an earth-themed game show and trivia contests.

Aboard Princess Cruises, guests explore both the sea and solar system. The line has partnered with Discovery Communications for programs such as “Stargazing with Discover at Sea,” where participants head to the top deck for an innovative tour of the major constellations, complete with storytelling. The session was developed with astrophysicist Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, who hosts Science Channel’s “Outrageous Acts of Science” TV show.

Culinary classes at sea

Or passengers can ask questions on everything they’ve ever wanted to know about marine operations with Navigation@Sea, a program hosted by a ship officer and including a discussion of the history of navigation from ancient times to now.

For something completely different, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which runs regular transatlantic service, brings along graduates of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to lead the workshops and stage performances onboard.

Guests can also channel their inner knight with complimentary fencing classes on the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria oceanliners. The program was created with Leon Paul Fencing Equipment, a British company founded in 1921 by Olympic fencers (and still providing equipment for Olympic competitors). The daily, complimentary classes are taught by a fully certified instructor and open to any guest 18 and up.

For a little less energetic experience, guests can learn about beer-making on a brewery tour onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista, the first North American-based ship to feature a brewery. Carnival Vista’s brew master leads the tours, which include samples of the three freshly made brews, of course.

A must-do activity on any cruise, and certainly possible on Carnival Cruise Line ships, is learning the artful “skill” of creating those legendary towel animals passengers are sure to find in their cabins nightly following turndown service. Cabin stewards make more than a million frogs, bunnies, elephants and other towel animals each year and hold popular sessions teaching guests from a repertoire of more than 40 designs.

Some lessons come happen just by being there. For instance, on Italian line Costa Cruises ships passengers are likely pick up a few words of Italian just by being social, whether they take the line’s complimentary conversational Italian classes or not.

On the ultra-luxury boutique ships of Seabourn, learning takes place both at organized Q&A sessions and informally, as guests mingle with experts in their fields – the sort of folks who do TED Talks. They could easily find themselves chatting with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, famed mountain climber Paul Deegan or comedian Rita Rudner. Experts from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are also part of the Seabourn Conversations scene, sharing their knowledge on natural and cultural World Heritage sites around the world.

“Given the intimate size of our ships, you really get to know everyone and that includes our speakers,” said Chris Jurasas, Seabourn’s entertainment manager. “You could be attending a lecture in the morning and then have dinner with that person and continue on the topic that was discussed that day.”

Seabourn also has an Artist in Residence leading hands-on watercolor classes for artistically inclined guests on longer itineraries. The creations are displayed in a shipboard gallery near the end of the cruise.

On longer P&O Cruises sailings (excluding the Britannia), both beginning and experienced painters can take inspiration from the sea and ports of call in watercolor art classes. Passengers can purchase art materials onboard or bring their own.

Cruising from Miami, Fathom likewise has watercolor painting, but with a little something extra. In a popular “Wine and Paint” class, passengers create a Dominican-inspired portrait of a woman while sipping varietals.

Fathom also has unusual onboard experiential learning programs designed to compliment onshore volunteer and cultural exchange activities. “Our programming helps orient travelers to the culture and open them up in terms of empathy for where they are traveling so they can act alongside people on shore rather than coming as tourists,” said Howes. One popular session is called “Getting to Know,” where guests are shown a photo of a Dominican family and asked what they see. “It’s a way of assessing whether we are looking at it through our eyes or their eyes,” Howes explained.

Meditation classes are also part of the Fathom scene, as is a Lifehack Bootcamp to help interested cruisers become more effective with their time and find ways to become “changemakers” once they get back home.

“We’re all looking for meaning in our lives and ways to make a difference,” Howes said.

Fathom Adonia

Fathom Adonia

Agents of Possibility

** A way Fathom, Carnival Corporation’s 10th and newest cruise brand, is trying to make a difference for travel agents is its Agents of Possibility program featuring a full range of limited-time early-booking offers for agency clients on 2017 sailings to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The program also includes opportunities for agents to earn points toward significant prizes every month, as two winning agents will be awarded a trip for two on a future Fathom Dominican Republic sailing.

The program runs through the end of the year. Two points will be awarded for each passenger booked aboard a 2017 Fathom sailing to the Dominican Republic and one point will be awarded for each 2017 Cuba passenger booked. Points will accrue by agency, and each month the agency with the most points will win a chance to select a valuable prize from the Agents of Possibility prize list. When the campaign concludes in December, the agency with the most overall points will be awarded an exciting mystery grand prize.

In addition to prizes that will be awarded for points earned, each month Fathom will select at random two agencies to receive complimentary travel for two aboard the premium small-ship MV Adonia to the Dominican Republic. Fathom invites winning agencies to pass the sailings forward to clients they believe deserve an opportunity to experience Fathom. Travel professionals need only register for the Agents of Possibility promotion to be eligible.

To help travel professionals capitalize on the opportunity to earn points and win prizes, Fathom has rolled out a range of attractive early-booking offers for clients. The following discounts apply per person for the first and second passenger and are based on double-occupancy standard Fathom published “best fares:” Travel must be booked by Dec. 31, 2016.


For sailings to the Dominican Republic between Dec. 4, 2016, and May 21, 2017:

$400 discount off interior cabins

$600 discount off ocean view cabins

$800 discount off balcony cabins

$1,200 discount off suites

For sailings to the Dominican Republic between June 4, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017:

$200 discount off interior cabins

$400 discount off ocean view cabins

$600 discount off balcony cabins

$1,000 discount off suites

For sailings to Cuba between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017:

$200 discount off interior cabins

$400 discount off ocean view cabins

$600 discount off balcony cabins

$1,000 discount off suites

Offers apply to new bookings only and not to taxes, fees or port expenses, or Visa fees for sailings to Cuba. All passengers are responsible for their own gratuities onboard.

(Promotional discount does not apply to third and fourth passengers, although standard triple and quad pricing applies – 50 percent discount off the per-person double occupancy price for all categories). For individual passengers, the single supplement rate applies – 150 percent of per-traveler double occupancy price for interior, exterior ocean-view and balcony staterooms and 200 percent for suites. Promotional and standard pricing also applies for group bookings.

Agents of Possibility prices for the seven-day trips to the Agents of Possibility prices for seven-day itineraries to Cuba start at $1,699 per person, excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees and port expenses and including all meals on the ship and lunch while in the three ports, onboard experiences and on-the-ground activities. Prices will vary by season.

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