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On your next cruise, put down that cocktail and head to class

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Supplementing the cooking classes, yoga sessions and naturalist briefings common on most cruise ships, a new wave of shipboard stimuli are focusing on more intellectual fare. Professorial lectures, book clubs and TED Talk screenings aim to add scholarly diversions to sailings on the high seas.

Enrichment programs have long been a part of small ship sailings, which tend to be destination-focused and use time onboard to bone up on geography and culture. But as cruise lines of all sizes attempt to attract more passengers, many are betting that intellectual fare may broaden their appeal.

Passengers enjoy the Viking Orion’s onboard planetarium.
Passengers enjoy the Viking Orion’s onboard planetarium.  (VIKING CRUISES / The New York Times)

“We’re seeing a lot more exciting options now and a shift in culture with bigger ships bringing on more enrichment than ever before,” said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of Cruise Critic, a cruise review website. “Some travellers might say, ‘Cruising isn’t for me,’ then see TED Talks or Crystal’s Creative Learning offerings that are different and unexpected and piques their interest.”

Learn about your destination, or about the stars

Viking Ocean Cruises recently added resident historians to the crews of each of its six ships. The historians offer lectures on the history of the cruise destination, but also hold roundtable discussions on a variety of themes, from women explorers to Venetian naval power. They also host history-themed dinner discussions and maintain office hours for one-on-one time with guests.

On its newest ship, the Viking Orion, the line hired a staff astronomer who lectures in a planetarium-like theatre on topics such as space the history of astronomy, NASA’s astronaut programs and the Hubble Space Telescope. The line’s new ship, the Viking Jupiter, which will launch in February 2019, will also have a planetarium and a resident astronomer onboard.

Viking also offers access to TED Talks videos in its onboard cinemas and on demand in its cabins. Some of the more popular screenings include Yuval Noah Harari’s “What Explains the Rise of Humans” and Honor Harger’s “A History of the Universe in Sound.”

“onboard lectures provide a bridge between a traveller’s desire to learn and the reality and time limitations of their day to day lives,” said Paul Largay, chief executive of Largay Travel, an agency that’s followed the new educational offerings closely.

Enjoy art, fashion, and culture while crossing the Atlantic

Cunard Cruise Line regularly keeps passengers engaged on trans-Atlantic itineraries with special guests. In the past, the line has invited musician James Taylor and fashion designer Bob Mackie to participate in Q&A sessions with passengers.

Upcoming special events on Cunard trips include a dance-themed ocean crossing from Aug. 11-18 featuring the English National Ballet, during which dancers will offer a daily ballet class, host talks on choreography and, in the evenings, perform for guests.

Trans-Atlantic Fashion Week will be held July 28 to Aug. 4, and will feature talks by Stephen Jones, a British hat-maker; Stuart Weitzman, an American shoe designer; fashion historian and journalist Colin McDowell; and Pat Cleveland, one of the original “supermodels.”

The Queen Mary 2 sailing from Southampton, England, to New York City recently held a genealogy-themed trip featuring biotech experts and ancestry specialists, and its Jan. 3, 2019, trans-Atlantic crossing will feature a screening of the TV series “Instinct,” followed by a Q&A with actor Alan Cumming.

Crystal Cruises’ shipboard enrichment program, Creative Learning Institute, offers lessons on topics from ballroom dancing to maritime history. Depending on the sailing, you may also find classes in floral design, wellness seminars hosted by experts from the Cleveland Clinic, and a series focused in digital filmmaking that includes lessons on shooting and editing.

Enjoy a college course, on vacation

Beginning in 2019, Lindblad Expeditions will add onboard lectures from college professors on topics like science and history on select itineraries. The new series is the result of a partnership with One Day University, which organizes public lectures by college teachers across the country.

In 2019, four Lindblad cruises, including trips to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, Alaska’s Inside Passage and Patagonia, will each carry a pair of professors from Harvard, Columbia and Yale, among other universities, who will lecture and socialize with guests during the trip.

The lecturers were chosen, according to the company, not for their expertise in the destinations, but for their ability to deliver engaging talks on topics including the life of Abraham Lincoln, the human brain and immigration in America.

But for all its newfound depth, vacationers need not worry — shipboard intellectual fodder is still balanced by diversion.

“We’re giving people something to do that’s not sitting by the pool and is mentally engaging,” said Doug Jones, owner of Sixth Star, an agency that programs enrichment courses for cruise lines. He looks for engaging speakers who can present a topic in 45 minutes and then make themselves available for follow up throughout the cruise. “It’s not like a college lecture.”

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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