MS Columbus, art history tour
Over the years cruise lines have expanded their cultural programmes and it makes sense to me that theme-cruises can enhance the entire travel experience. Their programmes offer lectures on a wide range of topics, chosen to complement the trip's itinerary. They will, for example, include talks on the history of the next port city to be visited, its local culture and the regional cuisine. They may well add language classes so that disembarking passengers will be able to ask basic questions in the next port they visit.
Lectures and classes are usually scheduled for at-sea days, when the only competition is the swimming pool or the bar. Lecturers often prepare three or four formal talks, but they will also expect to mingle with passengers and may be asked questions about their specialty in non-academic settings.
I don’t want to advertise but I do want to see if cultural travel is widespread. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Civilisation Cruises provide destination lectures, they say, to open peoples’ eyes to a range of cultures. They focus on a wide range of topics including Celtic History, Ancient Civilisations, The Great Artists and In the Wake of the Navigators. Newer topics include Ancient Polynesian Culture, Ages Of Discovery, Baltic Monarchies, Polar Exploration, Ages of Conflict, Baltic Literature and Ancient Mythology. Each course has been designed to appeal to lovers of culture and the arts. They are clearly targeting travellers who expect to cruise in comfort AND to learn about the places they will be touring.
Martin Randall Travel notes that many of their tours involve elements of various categories eg a combination of art history, architecture and music. For their Baltic States cruise, for example, they cover three countries with different languages, diverse histories and distinct cultural identities. Plus they are interested in an extensive legacy from German, Polish, Russian and Swedish occupations. So the focus of the Baltic tour is history, politics and general culture, both in lectures on board and in on-shore visits.
Ace Cultural Cruises have smaller groups that are led by specialists in the fields of archaeology, history, art, architecture, wildlife and music. They say they select their lecturers for their academic expertise, of course, but also for their ability to communicate well in the cities they are visiting. On their Ephesus and The Cities of The Aegean cruise, one of their lecturers studied archaeology then theology before working overseas as an archaeologist, specialising in Roman frontier systems and Byzantine mosaics.
Note that one company wrote on its pamphlets "No Dumbing Down. There is no casino, no piped music, no cabaret, no disco. The major source of entertainment is conversation with like-minded passengers". "The number of passengers is limited to engender a more cohesive and congenial atmosphere socially and allow greater access to museums and historical sites". A bit precious, but that is the type of holiday I'd like.