Cruise lines, especially the premium and luxury ones, understand that many travelers want sea-day activities more stimulating than poolside lounging or shuffleboard. To that end, several offer onboard enrichment programs, so passengers have a way to engage their brains between ports.
What can you learn onboard? Some enrichment programs focus on educational topics like finance, the cosmos, history, art and computers. There's plenty of personal enrichment, too. Cruise lines offer health and wellness programs that focus on everything from meditation to stress management, while others offer hands-on cooking classes led by a professional chef. You can also learn to create a website, enhance your bridge skills or even paint with watercolors under the watchful eye of a professional artist.
If the idea of going back to class -- and experiencing the pleasures of cruising at the same time -- appeals, check out some popular cruise choices for onboard enrichment.
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Updated July 27, 2018
Azamara Club Cruises
In addition to port-of-call lectures and cooking demonstrations, Azamara offers onboard talks through its Guest Lectures program. The line invites experts including scientists, scholars and authors onboard to discuss topics ranging from politics to history and culture. The lectures end with a question-and-answer session, allowing cruisers a bit of interaction with the esteemed guests.
Additionally, the line has an offering called eConnections that features classes on computer programs such as PowerPoint, Excel and Photoshop. A small fee applies.
There are multiple components to Crystal Cruises' enrichment program. The Creative Learning Institute is designed to teach passengers skills from areas like language, music, wellness and art. The line has partnered with well-known names -- such as the Cleveland Clinic, Tai Chi Cultural Center and the Society of Wine Educators -- to bring the best possible instruction onboard.
At the same time, the voyage-by-voyage Crystal Visions program brings aboard guest lecturers, such as theater and film stars, comedians, Olympians and sports heroes, authors, scientists, diplomats and ambassadors. Bridge instructors are on every cruise. The Computer University@Sea educates passengers on computers, the internet and social media, while Technology Concierges will reveal the trends and nuances of the latest high-tech gadgets like iPads, iPhones and Kindles.
Crystal also hosts a series of theme cruises that focus on photography, wine and food, fashion, music and theater, and sports and fitness.
Crystal has one of the most comprehensive programs afloat, and all group classes and guest lecturers' presentations and workshops are free to attend.
Cunard offers a variety of complimentary enrichment programs for erudite cruisers (or aspiring ones). The Cunard Insights speaker series, iStudy classes (featuring guidance on using new technology), book groups led by the line's full-time librarians and fencing lessons are offered on all three ships: Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Cunard Insights guest lecturers include luminaries from the world of academia, television/film, literature/journalism and the diplomatic corps, to name just a few. All three ships also offer the Cunard ConneXions enrichment series. Specific workshops vary by ship but may include computer, photography and watercolor classes.
QM2 also offers additional programs its sisters don't have. Acting and stagecraft classes are taught with Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) members, who also perform abbreviated versions (no longer than an hour) of theater classics like "Canterbury Tales" or "Much Ado About Nothing." Cunard partners with the Royal Astronomical Society to show specially curated constellation shows in QM2's onboard planetarium and to host on-deck stargazing sessions when weather and atmospheric conditions permit.
Holland America Line
Holland America's multifaceted enrichment program offers an array of educational opportunities that differ by ship.
On all ships, O's Reading Room features group discussions of Oprah Winfrey's latest book club selection. Trained experts lead Digital Workshops (powered by Windows) on topics such as digital photography, learning Windows 10 and OneNote, and "painting" on a computer.
Longer cruises feature the Explorations Speaker Series, with guest lecturers talking about the history and culture of the destinations visited. Select ships offer cooking shows and hands-on workshops (for a fee) in partnership with America's Test Kitchen.
On select ships, Holland America's Explorations Central (aka EXC) offers destination-themed enrichment to passengers. Onboard offerings include EXC Talks, featuring history and stories from the ports on the itinerary; EXC Encounters, where local performers, artists and experts come onboard to teach passengers about the local culture; a TV channel on in-cabin televisions playing travel films and documentaries; and a central hub where EXC guides can inform passengers about local customs and sights to see onshore and interactive touchscreens show digital stories about a niche aspect of a destination.
Finally, on Koningsdam, passengers can create customized bottles of wine at the first wine-mixing space at sea, BLEND. Reservations and fees are required for sessions at BLEND.
Oceania's main enrichment focus is on food. Both Riviera and Marina feature a Culinary Center with convection ovens, two-person cooking stations and themed classes, ranging from basic knife skills to the art of fish cookery and trendsetting world cuisines. The classes are heavily hands-on and are available for an additional fee.
Oceania also offers an enhanced culinary arts program featuring foodie tours uniquely designed around 25 individual ports. Available on Marina and
Riviera only, these Culinary Discovery Tours may include a visit to an artisan cheesemaker, chocolatier, vineyard or fish market. They also incorporate mini-lectures, demonstrations or lunch before returning to the ship's culinary center or a local restaurant's kitchen for a hands-on cooking class related to the tour's theme.
Additionally, Marina and Riviera offer a hands-on program for budding creatives, where artists-in-residence give step-by-step instruction in watercolors, needlepoint and arts and crafts.
Princess Cruises' offers the chance to mingle with and learn from knowledgeable experts who share their experiences during cruises that are part of the "Discovery at Sea" partnership with Discovery Communications. Guest lecturers could be regional destination specialists, naturalists, sports and entertainment stars, and other experts. Weather and light conditions permitting, Princess Stargazing Specialists will teach passengers about constellations and using the stars to navigate.
A book club program gets passengers together to discuss bestsellers. (Though onboard libraries stock up on extra copies of chosen books, you're better off packing your own copies.) Culinary demos and wine tastings and blending classes may also take place on your cruise.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas brings expert lecturers on select cruises; the guest speakers could be photographers, authors, scientists, historians and former military, among others. For more themed enrichment, look for Regent's Spotlight Series cruises. Spotlight on Wine cruises offer discussions and tastings of wine, beer and spirits led by experts; Spotlight on Cuisine cruises feature established chefs offering culinary demos and exclusive menus.
On bridge-themed cruises. ACBL Certified Bridge Masters offer instruction and host tournaments for master point accrual. Passengers are treated to live performances during music-themed cruises and can attend presentations and panel discussions with performers and producers affiliated with PBS during public broadcasting sailings.
In addition, Seven Seas Explorer is the only ship in the fleet with a Culinary Arts Kitchen. Passengers can pay to attend intimate cooking classes in a state-of-the-art show kitchen, or sign up for culinary-themed tours in port.
As part of Seabourn Conversations, celebrities, artistic luminaries, chefs and winemakers, scientists, media moguls and captains of industry appear onboard to give topical talks on everything from history, politics and literature to food and science. The prestige level of some visiting lecturers rivals that of a commencement speaker at a major university; guests might include lyricist Sir Tim Rice, astronaut Captain Scott Kelly or wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil. Don't be surprised to see distinguished celebrities -- as well as lesser known leaders -- sharing stories and information at sea.
Another plus? Seabourn's guest speakers cruise alongside the regular passengers, so it's not unusual for cruise travelers to run into a favorite author or famed scientist on the way to dinner.
Silversea Cruises' Enriched Voyages take themed cruises to new heights. During select sailings, esteemed experts and renowned artists come aboard to immerse passengers in their areas of expertise. Food and wine sailings offer cooking demos, special meals and wine tastings, and even a sommelier course taught by world-class vintners and chefs. Art-themed cruises focus on opera or ballet, with artists from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, L'Opéra de Paris and the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia giving performances onboard and mingling with cruisers.
Other Enriched Voyages might bring on chefs from The Peninsula Group to immerse passengers in Asian culture, historians of the Royal Geographical Society to bring to life the routes and lifestyles of the early explorers and conservationists to teach about whales.
Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking Ocean Cruises offers Resident Historians on all sailings to give lectures, lead roundtable discussions and book time with passengers to answer questions one-on-one about the history of the destinations visited. In addition, the line brings aboard experts in art, music, politics, architecture and the natural world to shed additional light on local culture. Each itinerary will also feature a performance by a local artist, such as opera singers in Italy or rumba dancers in Catalonian Spain. Those looking for culinary enrichment can book the Kitchen Table excursion and dinner, which combines a market tour in port with a cooking class and dinner later in the evening.
Non-destination-focused enrichment include TED Talks and the Metropolitan Opera's "Live in HD" televised performances in the ship's theater. Munch Moments exposes passengers to Norway's famous artist Edvard Munch; in the pre-dinner hours, the atrium's digital screen plays a slideshow of themed artwork by Munch.
Viking Orion is the only ship in the fleet to offer a planetarium, with shows and lectures free of charge. A resident astronomer is onboard to speak on topics such as using stars for navigation and teach passengers how to stargaze, using the ship's onboard telescope.