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.
A National Historic Landmark and home to one of two homes Thomas Jefferson designed and created for his own personal use, Poplar Forest provides a unique insight into the private life of one of American history’s biggest shapers. Owners of a Scholar’s Society Family Membership card get a year’s worth of unlimited admission to the grounds for two adults and their children, a subscription to Poplar Forest’s semi-annual newsletter, a monthly e-newsletter, a Founding Fathers powdered wig, and 10% off at the museum shop. History buffs can tour the house during its ongoing meticulous restoration while learning about the building's architecture, preservation, and early 19th-century life in addition to learning about Jefferson’s vision for his gardens and farm. Forty-minute guided tours provide information about the facility's numerous exhibits—including the restoration workshop, slave quarter site, and archaeology laboratory; free-spirited visitors can wander the grounds with GPS-guided audio-visual handheld units or a sundial.
Lexington Heritage Walking Tours’ owner and sole tour guide is a licensed professional tour guide, Civil War re-enactor, and a docent at the Stonewall Jackson House. With a commitment to historical accuracy—and donning period garb—he leads groups by foot through the historic streets of Lexington. Sites on the tour range from the campuses of Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute to historic downtown, historic residential districts, the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, and Lee Chapel.
Rolling hills and meadows cascade toward the organic-farming grounds that surround Paris Barns, where red-roofed buildings and metallic grain silos stand as pleasant punctuations against the lush landscape. The Virginian soil hosts more than 10,500 tomato plants, as well as other seasonal vegetables and herbs. The grounds also act as a certified wildlife habitat for goats, lambs, and alpacas, as well as more exotic animals such as flightless emus, which entertain visitors with their aggressive posturing and spot-on Groucho Marx impersonations.
In addition to harvesting their crops, the zen-minded farmers share their passion for sustainable living with the community at events and workshop that dish the ins and outs of organic farming. When the weather turns warm, the staffers shear wool from the resident sheep and alpacas, demonstrate crafts, and sell fiber-based arts. Meanwhile, beekeepers raid rows upon rows of hives for pure, organic honey.
Found right on the cusp of the scenic Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Vineyard opens up its family farm during the warm weather months for musical and social gatherings. Melody mavens can park on the plush lawn or in the cozy barn, where they'll swim in the eighth notes of a lineup of lively acoustic bands, with styles ranging from the blues, country, and classic-rock tunes of Exit 162 (April 2, September 4, and October 15) to the rousing fiddles of the Blinky Moon Boys (May 21 and October 22).