The Institute for Shipboard Education was born from an idea to create a floating campus that reflected the ideals of the United Nations and the realities of globalization. As Chinese shipping magnate C.Y. Tung put it, “Ships can transport more than cargo—they can carry ideas.” From humble beginnings, the program went on to attract world-famous guest speakers including Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela. Today, the cruising university onboard the MV Explorer offers two-week Enrichment Voyages for learners of all ages, with educational programming that digs deep into each port of call's culture and history. This 15-day cruise incorporates both lectures and hands-on exploration as it passes along Mexico’s Baja peninsula toward the Isthmus of Panama and Ecuador. At each port on the itinerary, available excursions range from dive trips to volunteer service projects, such as plastering houses or feeding kindergarteners (additional fees apply for shore trips). Or you can set off on your own, armed with knowledge acquired from the recommended reading list.Days 1–3: After cruising from Ensenada, Mexico, to the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, the ship anchors at Cabo San Lucas. El Arco, the city’s iconic seaside arch, forms a scenic backdrop for a day of kayaking and snorkeling.Day 6: Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala lies within easy range of Antigua, named an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved baroque architecture. It's ringed by mountains playing a very slow-moving game of duck-duck-goose. Day 7: Nicaragua’s largest Pacific port, Corinto, borders León, an old-world town dotted with 17th-century Spanish colonial churches such as the Cathedral of the Assumption.Days 9–10: Balboa, Panama, stands at the entrance to the Panama Canal—still an engineering marvel. The nearby overflow reservoir, Gatún Lake, is home to crocodiles, iguanas, and sloths.Days 12–13: Dipping toward South America, the ship docks at Manta, Ecuador, a trade city dating to pre-Columbian times. Pounding waves on Playa Murciélago create attractive surfing conditions.Day 15: The journey concludes at Puntarenas, Costa Rica, leaving you free to explore inland rainforests or head home. During each day at sea, college professors and other experts lead a string of seminars. Subjects are as varied as marine ecology, cultural anthropology, and photojournalism, and they often relate to the next port of call. The ship retains vestiges of its former life as a commercial liner. There are barstools in the 9,000-volume library, for instance, testifying to the space's former role as the ship's tavern. Despite the emphasis on education, there’s still plenty of relaxation aboard. The Wellness Center spa offers massages, manicures, and other pampering services. Nightly live entertainment offerings include an all-male a cappella group, a magician, and staged readings of old Love Boat scripts. During the day, you can even skip class to lounge by the pool, located on deck 7.See the full trip overview for more information.Read the Fine Print for important info on travel dates and other restrictions.
High Meadows Vineyard Inn is a charming bed and breakfast retreat in the Southern Albemarle Rural Historic District of Central Virginia. A renovated farmhouse and pinot noir vineyard, the inn combines country charm with historic elegance. Spend a day exploring the 13 acres of gardens, nearby Monticello or Charlottesville, or relax with a good pop-up book by the fireplace (available in most rooms). In the evening, couples, siblings on retreat, and reunited pen pals can enjoy a dinner for two from a specialty menu that features such entrees as pan-seared lamb chops, broiled salmon, a seasonal vegetarian option, and pork tenderloin medallions. After dining, sink into the quiet of a country night in one of the inn's seven comfortably furnished rooms. Guests wake up in the morning to a complimentary breakfast made from local and organic ingredients.
DuCard Vineyard expertly converts its grapes into a delicious selection of wines, hosting regular tastings and tours in the shadows of the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. In the tasting room visitors can sample recent releases such as the Signature viognier 2010 and Gibson Hollow white 2010 while viewing the mountains through the window wall, then venture out onto the side patio to gawk at the vineyards and inhale the aged aroma of the C'est Trop 2008, a port-style red dessert wine crafted with norton grapes and fortified with brandy. The guided tour educates aspiring viticulturists about the complexities of cultivation and provides an opportunity to observe grapes frolicking in the fields and a cheese plate joins the sips of wine to bring balance to palates. Each guest also receives a souvenir wine glass to commemorate the trip and the $10 credit can be applied toward the purchase of a bottle of a favorite spirited sample, such as the Sweet Virginia vidal blanc 2008 ($18) or petit verdot 2009 ($30).
Originally from Greece, the Papadopoulos family has generations of winemaking in its history. You could even say that wine is in their blood, and not just as a figure of speech. On their 50-acre grounds at Molon Lave Vineyards, the family combines a traditional European winemaking style with its estate-grown Virginia grapes. In addition to the usual suspects—cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, riesling—Molon Lave crafts Kokineli, a traditional Greek rosè table wine infused with dry herbal notes. Oenophiles kick back to sample the winery's offerings in two tasting rooms, on a wraparound patio, or on a three-tiered outdoor pavilion dedicated to the Greek god of patio furniture.
A 30-acre swath of lush, Red Oak Mountain terrain surrounds Capitol Vineyards' historic facilities, where owners Lauren Shrem and Matthew Noland forge an eclectic collection of French-style wines from Virginia grapes. With help from a resident French winemaker and vintners across the state, they press an array of vintages, dispensing the elixirs during events inside the facility's historic, rustic tasting room. Constructed as a post office in the 1800s and used as a general store in the early 1900s, the site still bears its original wooden bar, floors, and grizzled prospector.
Vintage Piedmont unites a grandiose group of family wineries, each cozily sprawled within a 15-mile distance of the others. Ernest oenophiles can mosey among them at their own pace, ensuring no one exhausts their seeing-eye elephant. Barrel Oak Winery boasts a pastoral setting, 20 acres of vines, and a BowHaus white that blends vidal blanc, sauvignon, viognier, and more for a bright flavor ($24). At Philip Carter Winery, the 2009 chardonnay intermixes lemon zest, a vanilla bouquet, and pear notes ($24). Desert Rose Ranch & Winery sustains an unpretentious atmosphere, unlike snobbish grape groups for third cousins of royalty. Varietals include the Hitch Hollow chardonnay aged in French oak barrels, or the Sparky, a European-style rosé. Rappahannock Cellars and Hume Vineyards regale taste buds with delectable drinks from locally grown grapes. At each libation station, take home two commemorative wine glasses and receive 10% off bottles of wine.