Sure, cruising is about vacationing -- unwinding, getting away from it all and giving your brain a rest on a schedule that's all your own -- but it's also about travel. For those who find fun and relaxation in experiencing new cultures and learning new skills, cruise classes provide plenty of onboard opportunities to try new things, including cooking, art appreciation and even fencing.
Check out our list of 20 interesting things you can learn on your next cruise.
Note: These activities are generally free of charge unless otherwise noted.
Whether you're a total foodie or a novice who's been meaning to learn how to navigate the kitchen, you can sign up for cooking classes and demonstrations on many ships. Some offerings, like those found in Holland America's Culinary Arts Center, feature an onboard chef who cooks while you observe as part of an audience. Others have you actually make your own dishes with the guidance of a chef, and some, like Viking's Kitchen Table and Seabourn's Shopping With the Chef, allow you to join the chef in port to source local ingredients before he or she shows you how to prepare them. Many of these do carry an added fee. Generally, the more hands-on or exclusive the experience, the more expensive it will be, with some costing several hundred dollars per person.
Sure, there are photographers on most cruise ships, but you never know what to expect in terms of photo pricing, quality and timing. Often, passengers try to avoid them; unless you want embarkation and dinner -- usually as you're about to shove a giant bite of mashed potatoes into your mouth -- to be the only moments captured from your sailing, you'll want to have a camera or cellphone ready. That said, it can be tough to take great photos, considering lots of factors like lighting, orientation and movement can affect your shots. Several lines, including Princess, Holland America, Celebrity and Crystal offer photography classes. While the specifics differ, they generally focus on things like how to take better digital photos and how to properly edit them after they're taken.
3. Computer Skills
Let's face it: If you're reading this, it's likely you know your way around a computer, at least on the most basic level. But do you know how to use programs like Excel and PowerPoint? If not, you're in luck on sailings with Azamara, Princess, Cunard, Crystal and Holland America. Classes are generally offered at least once per sailing on select ships in a conference room or internet cafe.
4. Linen Folding
From fluffy towel animals to fancy formal dinner napkins, linen folding is a popular event for many cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Disney, to name a few. Sometimes demonstrations are listed as organized events on the daily schedule, and sometimes they're done on the fly at the dinner table, much to the delight of youngsters.
5. A New Language
There's no better time to learn a new language than when you're traveling to a place where you can actively practice using it. Luxury line Crystal offers language learning through its onboard Creative Learning Institute, which also features classes in music, wellness, tai chi and more.
If, like us, you're seriously lacking in the rhythm department, you might consider joining a dance class on one of many ships. For example, Cunard offers ballroom dance instruction, Celebrity features dance classes as part of its CelebrityLife roster, Carnival teaches passengers to shake their groove thang while raising money for pediatric cancer through its Groove for St. Jude program and Holland America, which previously hosted onboard "Dancing With the Stars" competitions, schedules time for passengers to learn from each ship's dedicated team of dancers. There are plenty of opportunities for dancing onboard.
7. Alcohol Appreciation
From wine pairing, tasting and mixing classes on MSC, Holland America, Princess, Cunard and Oceania -- and a number of river cruise lines like AmaWaterways and Avalon -- to beer tasting on Carnival, there's lots to try if you appreciate a good tipple. Most lines with these tutorials have their own wine bars (or microbrews) and will offer the assistance of onboard sommeliers and brewmasters. The art of mixology is also explored aboard ships in the Disney fleet, where you can learn to create your own concoctions with the help of professional bartenders. Anything involving alcohol on a ship almost always carries a cost; check with your ship before booking.
Offered on Cunard's Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2, fencing classes are open to anyone 18 or older, free of charge, regardless of experience level. All equipment is provided.
If you prefer smaller vessels with real masts and sails that make you feel like a pirate on the high seas, check out ships in the Star Clippers and Island Windjammers fleets. While onboard, you can learn how to raise and lower the sails, help to steer the ship and climb the rigging with help from the crew.
10. History and Culture
For anyone who's a culture or history buff, river cruises all but guarantee you'll get your fill. Because it often doesn't take riverboats long to move from port to port, they can spend more time docked, which means passengers enjoy more time ashore. Shore excursions are often included in river cruise prices, and even the most basic feature a rundown of the destination's history, culture and landmarks, meaning it's easy to immerse yourself in the destination. Many river lines also bring local performers and historians onboard to hold lectures for passengers. This is especially true on river lines that sail in the U.S. American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines are known for their riverlorians, who know all there is to know about the history and folklore of areas along America's rivers and share it with those who are sailing. If ocean cruising is more your style, you can get a dose of cultural knowledge by sailing across the Arctic Circle with Hurtigruten, taking advantage of Azamara's AzAmazing Evenings or crossing through the locks of the Panama Canal with any line cruising there. Cunard and Crystal are also worth mentioning for the stellar historical lectures they present onboard.
11. Engineering and Navigation
On a recent Panama Canal sailing with Royal Caribbean, live expert commentary was piped through the ship's PA system on the day of our crossing for those who were interested in learning about how the modern marvel was designed, constructed and later expanded. For those fascinated by the inner workings of ships themselves, behind-the-scenes tours on many ships often provide access to the bridge and the areas below deck, which might include provisioning areas, the galley and the engine room. As part of its Scholarship@Sea program, Princess offers cruise classes on navigation.
12. Game Play
Step aboard nearly any ship, and you'll find ways to let out your inner competitor. Basketball shoot-outs, mini-golf competitions, Nintendo Wii tournaments, and gatherings that teach passengers how to play casino games, bridge and other card games are just a few of the activities that allow passengers to hone their gaming skills.
13. Fun Facts
Trivia is a staple on just about every single oceangoing cruise ship afloat. Some cruise lines even offer it more than once a day. We've seen topics range from general knowledge and TV theme songs, to more tailored subjects like 80s music and Harry Potter. Even if you're not the best keeper of useless information, attending and soaking in the answers is a great way to learn a few new tidbits.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is home to Illuminations, an onboard planetarium housed in the ship's main theater. Stars and other celestial bodies are projected onto the dome-like screen for passenger viewing as part of informative shows. Additionally, Britain's Royal Astronomy Society sails aboard several voyages throughout the year, offering lectures and hosting real-time on-deck stargazing when conditions permit.
15. Art Appreciation
Although art auctions aren't as popular as they once were, many ships still offer them. Usually passengers are invited to art talks with the promise of free Champagne and perhaps a discount or two if paintings are purchased. If you're a gallery-goer, try sailings aboard Carnival, Disney, Regent, Norwegian, Celebrity and Princess, among others. Meanwhile, the Artist Loft on Oceania cruises provides the services of an artist-in-residence that teaches creative skills like watercolor, needlepoint and other arts and crafts.
Golf is a great pastime, but it's obviously not cruise ship-friendly. Still, some lines -- like Royal Caribbean, which features simulators on several of its ships, and Norwegian, which offers driving nets -- have found ways to incorporate it. More upscale lines, such as Azamara and Crystal, organize golf-themed sailings a few times a year to destinations and golf-related events that are well known among duffers, and most lines can help passengers wishing to plan in-port golf outings. For those who want to practice their putting skills, most mainstream cruise ships also boast miniature golf courses on their uppermost decks. They're usually modified to nine holes, but they get the job done.
17. DJ Skills
As part of its diversions for the younger set, Royal Caribbean teaches interested teens how to spin with the help of resident DJs on several of its ships as part of the Scratch DJ Academy. Affiliated with the land-based venture of the same name, the program teaches some of the hardest-to-impress passengers how to make their own mixes.
18. Scuba Diving
If you're surrounded by water for the majority of your sailing, it only makes sense that you should be able to swim in it. For those with a yen for diving, more upscale, adventure-based lines like Windstar and Paul Gauguin offer scuba experiences, regardless of experience level. The latter, for example, hosts both PADI certification classes and refresher courses.
Hang ten on your next Royal Caribbean cruise with the line's FlowRider surf simulator. Open hours are posted on each day's schedule, and with a few quick pointers from the helpful crew members who staff it, you'll be on your way in no time. If you find that you're unable to get the hang of it after a few attempts, you can also pay for instruction. (It'll cost you a pretty penny, though; prices start at about $70 per person for group lessons and about $550 to rent the FlowRider for your own private instruction.)
20. Glass Blowing
Available exclusively on select Celebrity Solstice-class ships in partnership with the Corning Museum of Glass, glass-blowing shows are fun to watch. Usually the instructor picks a volunteer or two to assist, meaning you could end up going home with a unique piece of your very own in addition to a new skill.