Over a million kids went on cruises last year. Their parents no doubt booked for the obvious reasons, like pay-one-price convenience and amazing food. A less expected perk? The new generation of ships offers supremely exciting learning adventures for the entire family. Here, our favorite brain-boosting opportunities at sea. Bon voyage!
Carnival Cruise Lines
With the introduction of a Seuss at Sea program, the “Fun Ships” are now even more so. By 2015, the entire fleet will be outfitted with activities inspired by Seuss’s books.
Learning activities: Take a seat under a Truffula tree in Dr. Seuss Bookville as Thing Two shares the environmental wisdom of The Lorax or the idea of equality in Horton Hears a Who! (After all, “A person’s a person, no matter how small”).
On top of these Seussian lessons, kids will encounter primo learning opps on shore, too. Case in point: Harrison’s Cave in Barbados, where they’ll discover the difference between stalactites and stalagmites (only one rises from the ground) and encounter an underground waterfall as green as Sam-I-Am’s eggs (due to light reflection!). That’s a science project right there, folks.
Parent rave: “Spying from the lookouts of the fort in Old San Juan gave my son a sense of life as a soldier protecting the island. He even wrote about it in his ELA journal,” shares Stephanie Mullen of Blauvelt, NY, who cruised to Puerto Rico — a shore excursion hot spot, especially for history.
Disney Cruise Line
It’s famous for making magical memories on the open ocean. But Disney Cruise Line may soon earn a reputation for boosting grades as well, thanks to the Oceaneer Lab, their headquarters for kids ages 3 to 12 on every ship.
Learning activities: The Oceaneer Lab, which boasts multiple programs, is where all the brain-expanding action happens. Thanks to the lab’s Ratatouille Cooking School, kids go home knowing how to whip up bites like macaroons and the math required for measuring ingredients. Meanwhile, the Animation Antics program immerses children in the history of animation as they create their own flip book with a Walt Disney Imagineer (a professional animator). Settle aspiring engineers at the Fourth Pig’s Pasta Palace. Kids build a house for the three little pigs’ cousin visiting from Pisa, but not with straw or bricks: with penne.
Parent rave: “The kids couldn’t stop talking about making Flubber at the Oceaneer Lab! Their ‘wacky professor’ kept them engaged in the science of making polymers by tying in the movie,” says Marcy Galloway of Cincinnati.
Royal Caribbean International
The science programs (available on all ships) include kids and parents! And since the line specializes in the Caribbean, itineraries in the region offer top educational excursions.
Learning activities: Expect activities that reflect real-world concerns. Families may clean up after a mock oil spill and find out how hard it is to undo, especially for the wildlife. Ready to stretch your sea legs? In St. Maarten, take The Butterfly Farm tour in the morning: It’s the best time to catch them hatching. (Wear bright colors or fruity perfume to attract the flutterbyes!) On the way to the farm, look for the Great Salt Pond on your right. The fluffy stuff on the edges that looks like snow is actually salt, left behind as the shallow water evaporates.
Parent rave: “On the St. Maarten tour, my son ate conch! After, he told friends about it — and how the border between the Dutch and French sides was settled: by a foot race,” recalls Kimberly Seals Allers of Bellerose, NY.
Onboard memories will really stick; the line ties their youth science programs to the sailing destination.
Learning activities: Expert alert! On most Princess cruises, the staff of their Science on the Seas program (a sign-up activity available through its youth camp) has been certified by the California Science Center specifically to work with children. Kids can look forward to, say, learning about whales through the program one day — and then seeing them up close in Nova Scotia the next. (“Mom, did you know it’s a mammal, not a fish?”) En route to the Bahamas, kids may dissect a squid or find out how sea turtles nest! Off to Alaska? They could become grizzly experts. (Who knew that bears give birth asleep?)
Parent rave: “The cruise’s youth staff made learning a competitive sport,” says Camille Finamore of River Forest, IL. “I walked in on all the kids playing a game show. I couldn’t believe my son was the one jumping up and down, trying to share an answer to a question. He won the game for his team by sharing that a shark can go through 35,000 teeth in its lifetime!”