Ten cruises that combine education and exploration

There’s more to life at sea than 24-hour dining and poolside parties

Cruise for culture

In the world of educational travel, what name could be more august than Smithsonian? The US institution founded for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge” has its own travel wing, Smithsonian Journeys, offering more than 200 educational travel holiday options, including a flotilla of cultural cruises. Typically featuring small guest numbers, interesting shore excursions and expert guides, you’ll have more to think about on board than which restaurant to eat in next.

Its Cruise of Japan and South Korea, departing May 2016, on board the five-star small ship the MS Le Soleal, calls at four Unesco World Heritage Sites, of which you will be fully appraised by one of Smithsonian's "journey experts". While next year's price is yet to be confirmed, a similar voyage this year, with an emphasis on Japanese art history, started at $9,990. smithsonianjourneys.org

Take a culinary cruise


Silversea is spicing up its on-board “enrichment programmes” with a tasty range of culinary and wine voyages. Set sail on a wine dark sea with one of its L’École des Chefs on-board cookery schools. Run by luxury hotel marketing group Relais & Châteaux, it includes hands-on instruction from chef David Bilsland, a former instructor at the Cordon Bleu school in London.

Certain voyages offer a Market to Plate experience too, including tours of local markets to shop for ingredients, followed by a cooking class on board or at a nearby R&C property. Specialist wine cruises offer tastings and lectures as well as wine pairings at lunch and dinner. Just don’t call it a booze cruise.

Fares on a 15-day culinary and wine crossing from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale, departing on November 9th, cost from €3,750. silversea.com

Be a student of the seas

As if students don’t get it easy enough, there’s now an even better option than hanging around talking coffee and Kant all day – doing it on a cruise ship. Semester At Sea’s MV Explorer circumnavigates the globe twice a year, stopping to explore particular parts of it each summer. The floating university, complete with class rooms, computer labs and a 9,000 volume library, is home to around 700 undergraduates each spring and autumn term, studying up to 75 courses across arts, business and sciences.

Sign up for a programme running January to April 2016 for 101 days, 15 cities and 11 countries, starting in San Diego, California, taking in Yokohama and Kobe in Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Rangoon, Cochin, Mauritius, Cape Town and Ghana, before disembarking at Southampton. Inside doubles or outside triples from $23,950. semesteratsea.org

Keep lifelong learning afloat

For curious cruisers, Insight Cruises offers a combination of luxury travel and stimulating conferences. Its Bright Horizons 26 tour takes you on a voyage of discovery to Iceland and Norway, taking in the Shetland and Faroe Islands as you go, on board Holland America's Ryndam. Unlike ordinary passengers however, Insight's crew get to enjoy a full line up of seminars on topics ranging from neuroscience to architecture and Viking anthropology. For this, they pay their regular cruise fare, plus a conference fee of $1,575 which includes no less than 25 90-minute seminars. insightcruises.com

Is there a doctor on board? Continuing professional development is part and parcel of life for medics and what better way to continue your studies than by lying prone in the sunshine on an upper deck. It may even be tax deductible. Sea Courses runs a range of cruise conferences for doctor and dentist types including, from September 19th – October 2nd, one sailing from Istanbul to Barcelona, taking in Italy and the Greek Isles along the way, on board the Celebrity Equinox (10 dining options and real grass on the lawn).

The programme includes paediatrics, sports medicine and medical legal topics such as "supporting your patient through litigation", which sounds particularly interesting. Prices start at $4,364 for two guests in an interior stateroom. seacourses.com

Waves of academe

Senior school students can get a piece of the action too, with a Summer Discovery pre-college programme in Florence designed to help them make that, ahem, difficult transition between second and third level. With this they get to spend three weeks in a mix of academic classes and sightseeing tours around Tuscany before setting sail for a cruise around the Greek Islands on board Norwegian Cruise Lines ship Jade, taking in Olympia, Santorini and Mykonos – an education in itself.

Four-week programmes in July, including Florence and cruise, start from $8,999. summerdiscovery.com

Creative cruises It might not be a fully fledged third level campus, but if you’ve ever fancied learning a second language or getting to grips with martial arts – while at the same time travelling the world – Crystal Cruises’s Creative Learning Institute is worth checking out. Learn “white crane spreading wings”, “parting the wild horse’s mane” and “embracing the tree” on a Tai Chi programme, take art lessons or attend a seminar hosted by visiting scientists and authors. Join one of its computers at sea programmes to produce a digital documentary of your journey. No more boring the neighbours with slideshows for you.

At least give them something worth seeing, such as Crystal's Glacial Grandeur cruise from Tokyo to San Francisco, on board the Serenity, a 23-day voyage departing in April 2016 with fares from $6,640 per person. crystalcruises.com

Be a Road Scholar

Cross the whale-road with Road Scholar, a not-for-profit provider of education travel. It has a raft of shipboard study options, called Adventures Afloat, ranging from Aegean cruises to Antarctic expedition vessels or riverboat cruises along the canals of France.

The idea is that, as you travel from port to port, you learn about history, art, ecology and culture from on board instructors and local experts. Its South American adventure transports you to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley before boarding a luxury expedition ship bound for the Galapagos Islands. While at sea, learn about the islands’ incredible wildlife with experienced naturalists, using high tech on-board tools such as video microscopes, hydrophones and splash cams to explore what lies beneath.

It is priced from $8,499, with departures from September to November. roadscholar.org

Expeditious with your education

The perfect partnership of Linblad Expeditions and National Geographic has a fleet of nimble expedition ships that will get you up close and personal with the kind of terrain bloated cruise ships can't access. By which it means the kind of wild, remote places that are an education in themselves.

Take its Voyage to Antiquity, exploring Sicily and Malta aboard the beautiful tall ship, Sea Cloud, a 16-day expedition (from $18,840) that takes in no fewer than five Unesco World Heritage Sites – Valetta, Malta's megalithic temples, Agrigento, Siracusa and the Aeolian Islands. You'll have a clear view of a sixth too, Mount Etna, before finishing up in Athens, with expert guides at every turn so that you miss nothing. expeditions.com

Docs on decks

University at Sea offers a series of continuing education seminars at sea developed to enable practicing medical professionals to gain relevant, continuing education – and a tan. The company, which credits itself with having invented the cruise conference, operates more than 100 each year across a range of disciplines. Key to their success is that sessions are generally held during days at sea, so as not to interfere with the fact that you’re actually on holiday.

Next month, for example, sees a dermatology conference doubling as a 10-night Med cruise on board the Celebrity Equinox from Barcelona to Rome. Aptly it includes an overnight stop at Cannes during the Film Festival, for a front row view of box office Botox. Cruise prices from Celebrity start at €1,139 but participants must book through University at Sea, adding $795 for the conference element. universityatsea.com

Cruise in good company

Celebrity speakers treading decks on cruise ships around the world this year include cellist Julian Lloyd Webber (brother of Andrew), Buzz Aldrin and Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques).

The first two are part of the celebrity speaker programme at Cunard, while Cousteau features on Paul Gauguin Cruises.

Over at Saga, crime writer Ruth Rendell will be sending shivers up spines, if not timbers, on a Baltic Treasures cruise in May, while BBC’s Countryfile presenter (and forever Newsround star) John Craven, sets sail on a Star Clipper Caribbean voyage in November.

Not to be outdone, cultural cruise specialist Seabourn has signed up Silicon Valley supremo and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak as part of its programme for December. Let’s hope he’s interesting – it’s a 97-day trip to Australia and back.