Top Cruise Itineraries With Expert Speakers

Lindblad speakers not only lecture onboard, but mingle with guests during expedition adventures.

Lindblad speakers not only lecture onboard, but mingle with guests during expedition adventures.

Cruise ships take clients to exotic locales and exciting cities, but increasingly, they also are destinations unto themselves with waterparks, skating rinks, mini-golf courses and virtual reality theaters. But sometimes the “fun” is a bit more cerebral. Enter the expert speaker—someone who’s a luminary in his or her field, has incredible experiences that guests will enjoy hearing about or, at times, can foster a lively debate.

“The old days of cruising [primarily] for midnight buffets, drinking, sunning, Las Vegas shows and bingo are over,” says Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner, Cruise Planners-American Express Travel, Coral Springs, FL. She believes today’s ships deliver innovations and myriad activities, but also adds: “People also want more than just physical options. Guest speakers and enrichment programs are great attractions for customers.”

That’s because clients want to learn while they travel, Garcia says. Many guests head for the ship’s theater or a designated lounge to listen to a historian, political speaker, adventurer or art collector. Here’s a sampling of speakers coming soon to a ship near you.

Maritime History: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Queen Mary 2’s launch for Cunard Line. The ship herself is the star topic of some enrichment programs. On the Queen Mary 2’s “10th Anniversary Westbound Transatlantic Crossing” on May 9 from Southampton, UK, to New York, guests may attend programs presented by Stephen Payne, the ship’s lead designer, and Commodore Ronald Warwick, the ship’s former captain. This sailing has limited availability, but the duo will also lecture on the QM2’s May 16 eastbound voyage from New York to Hamburg, Germany; that voyage had good availability at press time.

Sister line Princess Cruises welcomes maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham onboard Crown Princess from February 15 to April 5; Royal Princess from September 10-27; Regal Princess from October 17 to November 3; and Ocean Princess from December 1-19. At just six months of age, Maxtone-Graham completed his first trans-Atlantic crossing. He now spends half the year lecturing onboard ships and has authored Liners to the Sun, Queen Mary 2, and Titanic Tragedy.

Chef Jehangir Mehta will sail on Holland America on Zaandam in June.

Chef Jehangir Mehta will sail on Holland America on Zaandam in June.

Outdoor Adventure: Onboard Seabourn Cruise Line, the “Seabourn Conversations” enrichment program features guest speakers, luminaries, scholars, chefs, and experts from the arts, sciences, politics and the humanities. The speakers give presentations and often share meals, adventures ashore or casual chats with guests. For a real sense of adventure, clients might attend the lecture by Paul Deegan, adventurer, veteran mountaineer and author, onboard Seabourn Sojourn’s sailing from Mumbai to Venice on April 9.

Religion and Racial Equality: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, is slated to lecture on a segment of Holland America Line’s 2014 “Grand World Voyage” on Amsterdam. Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will sail on a voyage from March 28 to April 1, 2014, from Durban to Cape Town, South Africa. Tutu will address guests at speaking engagements and a question-and-answer session. He’ll speak about his work as the first black African to serve as Cape Town’s archbishop and as a champion for racial equality throughout the world.

Forensics and DNA: Clients intrigued by the CSI television series and forensic science might like to know about SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream II voyage from Lisbon to San Juan, departing October 28. Dr. Harold Tinberg will present lectures on forensics and DNA testing. The discussion is slated to touch on such subjects as CSI, landmark DNA cases, DNA fingerprinting, the secrets of the former Russian and French royal families, and the search for the identity of an unknown Titanic child victim.

The “World Wine Guys,” Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, will sail on Seabourn Sojourn’s South Africa Wine Voyage in November.

The “World Wine Guys,” Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, will sail on Seabourn Sojourn’s South Africa Wine Voyage in November. 

Global Politics and Diplomacy: Sir Roger Carrick, a past UK high commissioner to Australia and ambassador to Indonesia, will lecture onboard Crystal Cruises during a 15-day transpacific Crystal Symphony cruise May 1; it sails from Tokyo to Honolulu and then on to Los Angeles. During a separate Ocean Views program, he’ll join other experts for a world affairs debate; guests will be invited to provide their opinions.

Separately, Crystal’s guests on Crystal Serenity’s 10-day cruise from Boston to Quebec on September 19 will hear commentary by Adrian Sindall, a former British Ambassador to Syria and Jordan.

TV Personality: Veteran television personality and author Leeza Gibbons will mingle with Silversea Cruises guests and host two talks — one a Q&A session — onboard Silver Spirit’s seven-day voyage from Barcelona to Rome on May 5. Gibbons currently co-hosts America Now, a nightly syndicated TV news magazine, and My Generation, which airs on PBS stations. Gibbons was formerly the star and executive producer of Leeza, a talk show that debuted on NBC in 1994 and continued nationally until 2000. She’s won three Daytime Emmy awards.

Pulitzer Prize Authors: Jared Diamond, a renowned conservationist and the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, will be a “Global Perspectives” guest speaker on Lindblad Expeditions’ 24-day National Geographic Orion voyage to “Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falklands,” departing February 14, 2015. As professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, Diamond has visited New Guinea and environs to study ecology and birds; participated in field projects in North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia; and created a plan for Indonesian New Guinea’s national park system.

Lindblad speakers lecture onboard and mingle with guests during expedition adventures or, at times, cocktails and dinner. Author Ed Larson will join National Geographic Explorer guests onboard the 14-day “Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent,” departing January 17 and 27, 2015. Larson, a Pepperdine University professor, is author of An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science as well as the Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods.

Wine and Spirits: Spanish winemaker Jorge Ordonez, who imports specialty Spanish wine to the U.S., just secured three 100-point ratings for his wine. He’ll host Windstar Cruises’ “Culinary & Wine Delights of Spain” seven-day voyage from Lisbon to Barcelona on April 19. He will give two seminars onboard. He’ll also host two dinners and provide daily flight tastings before meals. This cruise also features a chef from Saveur, and specially designed shore excursions.

For luxury cruisers, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, known as the “World Wine Guys” as they’re wine, spirits, food and travel writers, will lecture and lead food and wine tastings on Seabourn Sojourn’s 32-day South Africa Wine Voyage from Barcelona to Cape Town, departing November 19.

Polar Issues and Politics: Dr. Olav Orheim will sail with Hurtigruten during the “British Islands in Spring” cruise onboard Fram, departing April 24 from Bergen, Norway, to Hamburg, Germany, and the “Norwegian Fjords Spring Adventure,” departing May 5 from Hamburg to Bergen. Orheim was director of the Norwegian Polar Institute for more than a decade and executive secretary for the International Polar Year Secretariat, and has written 80-plus articles about glaciers and climate, ice dynamics and polar region politics. His onboard talks will focus on the Arctic region’s future and global impact.

Baseball Greats: Sailing May 10 from Miami, MSC Divina’s “Baseball Greats” cruise allows clients to mix and mingle with former Major League Baseball stars in clinics and events. Hosting the MSC Cruises’ baseball events is Stan Bahnsen, a former New York Yankees pitcher nicknamed the “Bahnsen Burner” for his fiery fastball. Expect a player-hosted trivia game, question-and-answer session, guest pitching contest and storytelling session. In addition, baseball players sign autographs and host hitting, fielding, base running, and defense strategy clinics.

Participants are Gorman Thomas, former Milwaukee Brewers slugger and a two-time home run champion; Gary Peters, All-Star pitcher for the Chicago White Sox in the 1960s; and former Chicago Cub Randy Hundley, an All-Star and Gold Glove catcher who invented the hinged catcher’s mitt and originated the idea of fantasy camps.

Iron Chef and Culinary Arts: Jehangir Mehta, chef/owner of Graffiti in New York’s East Village, will sail with Holland America on Zaandam’s seven-day roundtrip Vancouver cruise on June 27. He’s a former contestant on Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, two Food Network programs. Born in Mumbai, India, Mehta opened Graffiti in 2007 after culinary work at Aix, Compass and Jean-Georges, all New York restaurants. Mehta’s cultural heritage inspires his cuisine; many dishes feature fruits and spices.

Norwegian Cruise Line says Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro definitely will sail on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway sometime this year, with dates to be announced. Expect cooking and baking demonstrations plus Q&A sessions.

Cartoons and British Royalty: On SeaDream Yacht Club’s voyage from San Juan to London on April 26, guests will hear from two very different speakers—Steven Fischer and Dr. Charles Carlton. Emmy-nominated Fischer teaches cartoon storytelling at Northwestern University. He’s a writer, producer and digital cinematographer of fiction, non-fiction, and animated stories. His film credits include Freedom Dance featuring Mariska Hargitay and Old School New School with Brian Cox. Fischer will talk about cartoon art’s history, how it can relate to a cruise ship’s destination, ways to nurture creativity, and how to use cartoons for therapy after a tragedy or illness. He’ll also lead an interactive workshop.

Dr. Charles Carlton, who’s written about royal mistresses, royal childhoods and royal warriors, will provide insight into the British royal family and its history. Carlton is a professor emeritus of British history at North Carolina State University. 

The Match Game

“Knowing and qualifying your clients is key to enhancing their travel experiences,” Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner, Cruise Planners-American Express, tells her franchise owners. She gives these other tips.

  • Research cruise lines that offer enrichment programs. Include that in your dialogue with potential customers.
  • Show passion for the product. “What differentiates a true travel professional from the Internet is their passion…their industry and product knowledge and customer service,” says Garcia. “However, without passion and knowledge, customer service doesn’t matter, which is why [agent] education is so important.”
  • Be the first to share the latest, best announcements about enrichment programs and celebrity appearances with existing clients whom you already know are interested in the specific topic or activity.
  • Leverage your cruise line relationships to enhance your ability to quickly target niche groups. “Agents should strategize with their local cruise line representatives to get a jumpstart on planning since often local business development managers may know about new announcements before the itineraries are published,” says Garcia.
  • Use materials and services provided by your host agency, consortia or franchise group.
  • Reach out to clients with targeted marketing pieces announcing new speakers and relevant enrichment activities.
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