It used to be that to learn to meditate, you had to go to an ashram; to study a language, you had to go back to school. With the latest curricula aboard "smart ships," those days are history. Beyond the obvious libraries and fitness classes, passengers can now learn to appreciate wines with noted vintners, expand their cooking repertoire with respected chefs, practice their poses with yogis, and even master a language with a native speaker—all while sailing around the world.
Cunard's long-anticipated Queen Mary 2 will be the ultimate smart ship when it makes its maiden voyage in January 2004, with the only sailing planetarium, five university-at-sea classrooms, a 20,000-square-foot spa operated by Canyon Ranch, and not one but two celebrity chefs—Daniel Boulud as consultant and Todd English with his own restaurant. In the meantime, here are the most inventive and intensive self-improvement programs afloat. Find an itinerary and set sail on an enriching excursion.
Shipshape: Health and Fitness
ResidenSea The World With indulgent treatments, impressive gyms, and all the amenities of top-notch facilities, floating spas now rival their landlocked sisters. Leading the pack is The World's 7,000-square-foot Clinique La Prairie spa—the most luxurious one at sea so far. Under the guidance of a full-time trainer and dietitian, residents and guests can take advantage of the clinic's comprehensive regimens. Choose a seven-day total beauty program, including 28 consultations and treatments ($2,575) or a seven-day golf health program ($2,350, including greens fees at member courses). Three-day sailings from $1,200 per person, double On all sailings; 800/970-6601; www.residensea.com
The Program: Yoga, Health, and Fitness The Ships: Crystal Harmony and Symphony Fine-tune your asanas twice a day with individual instruction by Los Angeles—based yogi Marnie Neve. Between sun salutations, listen to lectures on everything from herbal medicine to midlife sex. From $2,795 per person, double; November 29—December 10 (Costa Rica), February 12—27 (Fort Lauderdale—Los Angeles); 800/820-6663; www.crystalcruises.com
The Program: Yoga Cruise The Ship: Costa Atlantica This course's 13 lecturers and more than 40 classes are presented by Yoga Journal magazine. Even the entertainment is form-fitted—evening shows feature Tripsichore, a London-based troupe that fuses yoga with modern dance. From $1,299 per person, double; February 2—9 (Western caribbean); 888/367-2842; www.yogacruise.com
The Program: Silver Links The Ships: Silversea Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper Sign up with the ship's golf pro, who'll help you improve your swing in full-motion driving cages and personalize a workout regimen. Then perfect your game onshore at top courses such as Valderrama and St. Andrews. seven-day sailings From $5,795 per person, double; On all sailings; 800/774-9996; www.silversea.com
The Program: Stop Smoking Caribbean Cruise The Ship: Carnival Paradise Quit your nasty habit aboard the only smoke-free ship, on a cruise sponsored by the American Lung Association of Connecticut. Break the rules at your peril: cruisers caught sneaking a drag will be escorted off the ship. Seven-day sailings from $579 per person, double; Monthly, January—June; 888/227-6482 www.carnival.com
By Land and By Sea
Seabourn Each vessel—the Pride, Spirit, and Legend—has one "Exclusively Seabourn" shore excursion, which is not only custom-tailored but also free. Passengers sailing from Cannes to Málaga ($3,749 per person, double; November 9—16) are escorted through Spain's 14th-century monastery of Pedralbes, on a specially arranged viewing of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, which includes works by Tintoretto, Rubens, and Canaletto. On the Norway & Northern Capitals of Europe voyage ($8,996 per person, double; July1—15), guests can travel by glass-roofed canal boat to the Amsterdam Historical Museum for a private, curator-led tour. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com
The Stops: Antarctica and the Falkland Islands The Ship: Abercrombie & Kent Explorer Sailings to the Antarctic are led by 20 expert guides—ranging from a polar bear tracker from the University of Oklahoma to an authority on global warming to a Ph.D. researching the whaling industry. Between hikes across age-old ice fields, cruisers can mingle with penguins and swim in the geothermal waters off Pendulum's Cove. From $9,250 per person, double. February 23—March 4; 800/323-7308 www.abercrombiekent.com
The Stop: Venezuela The Ship: Tauck World Discovery Le Levant The 90-passenger ship stops to visit villages settled on the banks of the Orinoco River delta, spot bats in the wee hours, and fish for piranha with locals. Shore trips are guided by Jean-Philippe Beau-Douëzy, the photojournalist and filmmaker behind People of the Manioc, a documentary on Amazon tribes. $4,190 per person, double. February 22—March 2, March 1—9, March 8—16, March 15—23; 800/214-5158; www.tauck.com
The Stop: Galápagos Islands The Ship: Lindblad Expeditions Polaris Earlier this year, guests aboard the 80-passenger Polaris spotted the island chain's first reported albino sea lion pup. With the help of biologist and naturalist Carlos Romero, the next group of passengers might be as lucky when they explore the islands for the bird and marine life that inspired Darwin to write his Origin of Species aboard H.M.S. Beagle. $3,180 per person, double. April 25—May 4, May 16—25 800/397-3348; www.expeditions.com
Culture Club: Arts and Music
Royal Olympic Explorer Top lecturers and performers board Royal Olympic's newest ship and share their knowledge of the Explorer's ports of call as it circumnavigates South America on one of its Cultural Enrichment Series sailings. National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, producer of the recent IMAX movie Amazon, describes experiences from 19 years in Latin America. Chilean violinist Francisca Mendoza plays classical music nightly, accompanied by three pianists, a flutist, and an operatic trio. 55-day sailings from $10,045 per person, double; February 7—April 3; 800/872-6400 www.royalolympiccruises.com
The Program: Antiques Boat Show The Ship: Radisson Seven Seas Voyager Appreciate the value of Victorian salt spoons and Elizabethan embroidery while cruising the Irish and North Seas. Specialists from the BBC's Antiques Roadshow will talk about collectibles, then show passengers where to find them in Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ports of call. From $6,295 per person, double. June 20—July 1; 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com
The Program: Art of the Dawn The Ship: Norwegian Dawn When Norwegian Cruise Line's newest vessel hits the high seas, it will be carrying four original paintings—by van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, and Renoir. Curators from New York museums will give talks on the masterpieces, and artists will offer classes in painting, ceramics, and art history. Seven-day sailings from $1,299 per person, double. Maiden voyage December 21; 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com
The Program: Photo Expedition The Ship: Lindblad Expeditions Endeavour Take advantage of the southern light and push your Leica to its limits when the Zodiac amphibious landing craft pulls up to the icy floes of Antarctica. Shoreside photo journeys are led by nature photographers Ralph Lee Hopkins and Kevin Shafer, who explain creative and technical aspects—from aperture options to framing the penguins—of shooting on glaciers. From $8,490 per person, double. November 30—December 6; 800/397-3348 www.expeditions.com
The Program: World of Photography and Filmmaking The Ship: Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 Celebrity photographers and cinematographers, including Kennedy family photographer Ken Regan, give insider advice, show their prints and movies, and discuss their work. From $1,799 per person, double, including one-way airfare July 22—28 (transatlantic crossing); 800/728-6273; www.cunard.com
The Program: Big Band The Ship: Holland America Amsterdam Feel the rhythm of the Big Band era. Aboard the Amsterdam, full orchestras perform swing classics, professional dancers teach the lindy hop, and forties films are screened in the ship's theater. On this month's 10-day Caribbean sailing (November 11—21), the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra keeps the beat. From $1,289 per person, double; on all caribbean sailings 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com
The Program: seventies music The Ship: Crystal Harmony As part of its Visions Enrichment series, the Harmony takes a trip back in time. On 10-day cruises from Costa Rica to Fort Lauderdale, a live tribute band will perform renditions of "Dancing Queen" and other seventies hits. There'll also be a DJ spinning seventies dance hits, film expert Jan Wahl to critique the decade's movies, and all the flared trousers you can stand. From $2,605 per person, double 800/820-6663; www.crystalcruises.com
Down the Hatch: Food and Wine
Radisson Seven Seas Mariner Earn your chef's toque through the Cordon Bleu Culinaire des Croisières cooking course. In two-hour interactive demonstrations taught by guest chefs from the Cordon Bleu schools, participants will create nouvelle cuisine, Asian fusion, and classic French dishes. At local markets, chefs pick up ingredients as students follow close behind to learn the difference between spring and torch ginger, and why two knives are better than 10. From $2,348 per person, double; workshops, three per sailing, cost an additional $395 November 6—16 (Mediterranean), November 23—December 2 (Las Palmas to Fort Lauderdale), January 21—February 21 (South Pacific), April 17—may 9 (Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale) 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com
The Program: Cooking Demos The Fleet: Celebrity British chef Michel Roux, owner of the Waterside Inn restaurant in Bray, England, creates Celebrity's menu and its roster of visiting chefs. Through their impromptu demonstrations, food enthusiasts can assist chosen cooks on everything from slicing and dicing to sautéeing and flambéeing. Seven-day cruises from $799 per person, double on all sailings; 800/437-3111; www.celebritycruises.com
The Program: Italian food quest The Ship: Abercrombie & Kent Callisto On a cruise from Venice to Brindisi (June 7—14), Italian cookbook author Valentina Harris enhances passengers' appreciation of Apulia wines, Casciotta cheeses, and other Italian delicacies. On board, gastronomes will sample traditional dishes; on land, they'll visit an olive press, a cheese factory, and various farms. From $5,950 per person, double; 800/323-7308; www.abercrombiekent.com
The Program: food and wine cruise The Ship: Crystal Harmony Guest chefs and sommeliers host tastings and talks. During this month's Caribbean sailing (November 7—18), executive chef Tim Keating of the Four Seasons Houston and master sommelier Paul Roberts of Houston's Café Annie—both nominees for last year's James Beard Awards—show off their skills through cooking exhibitions and tastings. From $2,215 per person, double; 800/820-6663; www.crystalcruises.com
The Program: Wine series The Fleet: Silversea Oenophiles can explore wineries from Portugal to New South Wales and decipher top notes with vintners from Ferrari-Carano (May 15—22, Rome—Barcelona), Robert Mondavi (August 7—17, Rouen—Lisbon), and other renowned vineyards. From $4,595 per person, double on selected sailings; 800/774-9996; www.silversea.com
The Program: Vintages The Ship: Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas Sample wines, taste sensory essences, and pair vintages in the new ship's wine bar. In the evenings, cinemaniacs and wine-lovers mingle at Coppola, Wine, and a Movie—screenings of the director's greats matched with appropriate vintages from his winery. Seven-day cruises from $1,649 per person, double; on all sailings; 800/327-6700 www.royalcaribbean.com
Speaking in Tongues: Language
Master the local lingo by the time you disembark in Montevideo or Marseilles—without paying extra. Crystal's Symphony offers Spanish and French courses on any leg of its 104-day world cruise. Eighteen-day segments from $7,835 per person, double; 800/820-6663; www.crystalcruises.com. • On Holland America's 108-day world cruise, Spanish, French, and, of course, Dutch classes are open to all guests. Sixteen-day segments from $6,289 per person, double; 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com.
That's Entertainment: Speakers
Special guests are a component of most cruises—from entertainers (Alan Arkin, Regis Philbin, and Tom Smothers of the Smothers Brothers will be sailing on upcoming Seabourn excursions) to composers (A Chorus Line's Marvin Hamlisch is appearing on Crystal) to experts in their fields (astronaut Scott Carpenter, James Billington of the Library of Congress, and historian Sergei Khrushchev—the son of former Soviet premier Nikita—are participating in Royal Olympic's Enrichment Series). Travel Dynamics International (TDI), a small-ship company, emphasizes educational itineraries led by seasoned lecturers. Aboard the new 92-passenger Sun Bay, TDI runs the program Coexistence of Cultures and Faiths, with talks on Christianity, Islam, and Judaism on its Seville—Morocco—Seville sailing, March 19 through 30. It's led by Reverend James Parks Morton, Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, and Rabbi Leonard A. Schoolman. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel and CNN's Jeff Greenfield are heading a similar series November 5 through 16. $6,295 per person, double; 800/257-5767; www.classicalcruises.com
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