Travel can truly be a form of continuing education. For those lifelong learners among us, the world-famous Smithsonian Institution has created a collection of cruises enhanced by curated discussions and lectures from sought-after experts intended to give passengers a deeper, richer understanding of the destinations that the ship visits.
The Smithsonian Journeys cruises were developed in collaboration with the French small-ship expedition line Ponant and resulted in a specially designed roster of sailings that promise to embrace local cultures and dive into destination discussions, both on and off the vessel.
The program, originally announced in 2021, was delayed by COVID but is up and running this year with cruises in Iceland, Norway, Southern Spain, Portugal, the Arctic fjords, Tahiti, and the Great Lakes.
As an example of who will be onboard, during Great Lakes cruises in September 2022 and October 2023, passengers will hear from Frederick Stonehouse. He is an experienced mariner and author of more than 30 books on maritime history, including the best-selling The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, about a notorious Great Lakes shipwreck.
In addition to the enlightened conversations, another big draw are the bespoke shore excursions included in each port of call. They include the opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse in northwestern Australia, exploring the extensive art collection at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and a private after-hours visit of Spain’s Alhambra fortress complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Add to that the fact that Ponant ships carry fewer than 200 passengers, so the experiences will be intimate and personalized—guests will never feel like they are lost in a crowd.
For 2023, Smithsonian Journeys will do 21 departures to destinations around the world. These are some of the standouts.
Cruising the Arabian Coast from Dubai to Muscat
This eight-night itinerary in January 2023 stops at seven ports of call during which passengers will visit such places as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and explore the Louvre Abu Dhabi, with more than 600 works spread across 23 galleries. Passengers will also sail to a dramatic natural attraction, where sheer limestone cliffs meet aquamarine water in the fjords of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, which has been called the “Norway of the Middle East.” Fares for this sailing are from $7,290 per person. Enrichment: Karl Eikenberry, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, will lead discussions centered around Middle East affairs, with the goal of helping passengers develop a more nuanced understanding of the region.
A Solar Eclipse 2023: Indonesia to Australia’s Kimberley
This sailing in April 2023 will offer the opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse out at sea off the northwest coast of Australia, the only place in the world the eclipse will be 100 percent visible. The 15-night sailing is from Bali to the Komodo Islands, home to famous dragons, and on to Australia’s rugged Kimberley region. Fares from $20,480.
Enrichment: Onboard will be Alex Young, solar astrophysicist who serves as an associate director of science at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center located outside Washington, D.C.
Cruising from Morocco to Spain’s Andalusian Coast
Explore the Portuguese, Moroccan, and Spanish coasts in April 2023, sailing from Casablanca to Lisbon. On-shore highlights include a trip to Granada for an exclusive private after-hours visit of the Alhambra. From Cadiz, guests will travel to Seville, home to UNESCO World Heritage site Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a former royal palace. Fares for the seven-night sailing start at $4,530.
Enrichment: Alia Kate, North African international relations expert and founder of Kantara, a fair-trade design business specializing in Moroccan rugs from women’s weaving cooperatives, and Rafael Chacon, an art historian who has twice walked the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route stretching more than 500 miles across France and Spain, will illuminate cultural aspects of the locales for cruisers.
A Circumnavigation of Sicily
Spend a week getting an in-depth look at Sicily through the eyes of a noted archeologist. Exploration will include a visit to the well-preserved Greek ruins in Agrigento, one of the oldest cities in Sicily, dating back to 581 B.C.E. Then continue to Segesta, home to the unfinished Doric temple. Passengers will also have access to the ancient Greek theater in Taormina and see the Byzantine Arab mosaics in Palermo. On an evening sail, catch glimpses of lava flowing at the active Stromboli Volcano. Fares for this eight-day sailing are from $5,370.
Enrichment: Passengers will have the chance to discuss the sites they are visiting with Albert Leonard, an archaeologist who has directed excavations throughout the Mediterranean during his 30-year career.
Symphony on the St. Lawrence: From Quebec to the Canadian Maritimes
Sail from Toronto to Gloucester, Massachusetts, in October 2023, spending 14 nights exploring eastern Canada and northern New England, with a special musical twist. This cruise visits Canadian coastal towns, including Charlottetown, on Prince Edward Island (of Anne of Green Gables fame), and Arcadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Added bonus: legendary Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart will perform onboard. Fares from $11,860.
Enrichment: The musical program is curated by Lockhart and features four exclusive performances by six musicians and conducted by the maestro himself.
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Fran Golden Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.