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Learning Is Fun On An Enrichment Cruise

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Looking for a family vacation that promotes intellectual discovery and cultural interaction? Consider taking the family on an enrichment cruise. These kinds of unparalleled family travel experiences develop lifelong friendships, change the way parents and children see the world, and provide opportunities to acquire new skills.

Although enrichment cruises may seem like a relatively new development, one organization has been championing this cause for almost fifty years. The non-profit Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) is the long-time leader in educationally-oriented sailings. ISE operates the popular Semester at Sea program, the only study abroad program of its kind in the world. Founded in 1963, the program focuses on global comparative education with top-ranked University of Virginia as its academic sponsor.

In addition to the Semester at Sea program, ISE also offers Enrichment Voyages at selected times throughout the year, typically in December to January and April to May. Voyages are 15 days to almost a month in length and cover different regions around the globe. These Enrichment Voyages are open to participants of all ages, making them an excellent choice for parents, grandparents and children who would like to learn together.

"Semester at Sea's sister program is open to interested learners of all ages," says Enrichment Voyages Director Nathan Blessing. Guests on these sailings can range from 2 to 92 years of age. Interactive lectures, workshops and pre-port briefings are provided by college professors and other experts. Educational sessions examine a wide variety of topics relevant to the countries the ship is visiting. In addition, optional land-based Field Programs are offered in each port of call. A 9,000-volume library and computer lab are also available onboard, offering a good environment for children who need to integrate their schoolwork with their cruise experience.

Learning options on ISE's Enrichment Voyages are significantly more robust than what's found on large cruise line ships offering enrichment programs. There are lectures, seminars, small group workshops and classes going on almost every hour throughout the day and evening. The sessions are so good that it's hard to choose which ones to attend. Keynote speakers typically include luminaries such as Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky. In addition, a Children's Program for kids under 12 years of age provides hands-on workshops and fun discover experiences for the younger set.

In addition to superb learning opportunities, the intimate, intensely engaging atmosphere created on the MV Explorer is one of the most appealing aspects of the Enrichment Voyage program. The ship's small size allows parents and kids to meet and interact easily with other like-minded travelers. There's an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and a strong intellectual component that's unlike anything found elsewhere. "Since learning is the focus of everything that we do, it's not just a recreational activity," says Lauren Heinz, Vice President, Communications, Marketing, and Public Relations for the Institute for Shipboard Education. "It's a community focused on a common purpose." As a result of its unique program and the highly interactive community created onboard, ISE's Enrichment programs have developed a loyal alumni following with a high rate of return.

The ship's intimate size and onboard programs promote interaction and bonding. Guests and crew quickly meld together into a large, extended family aboard the MV Explorer. Parents and children become attached to students and single passengers on Enrichment Voyages, creating a floating village of caring individuals who enjoy sharing with each other. To those who sail on an ISE Enrichment Voyage, the ship feels like home.

Participants develop special connections traveling on ISE's Enrichment Voyages, creating lifelong friendships and fantastic memories. Guests on the MV Explorer return from their voyages with a changed perspective, able to see the world from fresh new angles. These voyages are also excellent vacation options for parents of young adult children who wish to spend time with their children and strengthen their unique bonds through shared travel experiences.

Mother and daughter Hyla and Glenna Vine traveled on an Enrichment Voyage together recently. Hyla is a Semester at Sea alumna and Glenna participated in this spring's Semester at Sea program. Since they had both circumnavigated the globe with Semester at Sea, although decades apart, they shared a common understanding of ISE's approach to travel and its special appeal. "This gave us the chance to bond and spend quality time together and appreciate each other as adults," said Hyla. "Our roles changed on this voyage, allowing us to be equals instead of mother and daughter." As most parents know, opportunities like these don't come around often and they create memories that last a lifetime.

Mike and Barb Allison also journeyed on an Enrichment Voyage with their college-age son, Andrew, and felt the trip was perfect for parents with young adult children. "There's something for everyone on these Enrichment Voyages and they work for all age groups," said Mike. "There's a huge diversity of activities so parents can go off and do what they want ... and the kids can sleep in until noon if they'd like." The Allisons also noted that the ship is the ideal size for parents and kids to bond and make connections with the fascinating, well-traveled guests participating in these cruises.

ISE's Enrichment Voyages also provide an exciting option for homeschooling families to augment their education experiences with a cruise on this floating campus at sea. Itineraries for these Enrichment Voyages take participants to culturally rich, less-traveled ports - so different from the typical large ship cruise. These outstanding travel experiences provide participants with unique opportunities for experiential learning and giving back to others.

Grandparents, parents and children can happily travel together on the MV Explorer as well. Award-winning author and consultant Dr. Louis Patler, an expert on generational differences and a renowned ISE program faculty member for many years, thinks the MV Explorer is an exceptional choice for multigenerational vacations. He brought three generations of his family on an Enrichment Voyage last month. Other passengers agree. Matt Bershinsky traveled on the same Enrichment Voyage with his 12 year-old son, Matt, and his parents Donna and George Bershinsky. They gave their experience rave reviews.

Tween-age Matt doesn't live close to his grandparents, so family bonding time was one of the great benefits of the trip. "Having the chance to know Matt better and have him know us better was very important," said George Bershinsky. In addition, the enrichment cruise gave Matt's father the opportunity to give his son the freedom to explore, be a bit adventurous, and try new things. The transformation was amazing. "Two weeks ago, there's no way he would have gotten up and done some of the things he did," said his father. "He's proud of himself for being a leader."

Everyone gets to know kids and parents quickly on this ship - and there's a strong neighborhood presence onboard. As a result, parents feel that it's a safer experience than a huge megaliner. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child and this community definitely looks out for its own, no matter what the age. For those lucky enough to travel with ISE, the MV Explorer is one incredible village. Intellectually curious voyagers will feel right at home here.

If You Go

  • For more information on ISE's Enrichment Voyages, visit http://www.enrichmentvoyages.org.


  • Families should be aware that Enrichment Voyages may not have as many children onboard as a typical megaliner cruise. On the last voyage, the average passenger age was 47. One-third of the guests were ISE alumni and one-quarter were college students in their early 20's. December voyages may carry more families, as college students and those in high school are often on winter vacation.


  • Those taking an Enrichment Voyage should sign up for field programs as soon as they become available. Some excursions are very popular and sell out quickly. If a favorite port excursion is already filled, research other options online and make alternative plans. It's fine to travel independently. Be aware, however, that the ship may be forced to alter its itinerary due to weather, sea conditions, and other unforeseen circumstances. The Enrichment Voyage staff also keeps a notebook for those wanting to buy/sell sold out excursions at the Field Programs desk onboard the ship.



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