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Active Senior Cruising by Marcia Levin

Surf the Web or Learn a New Computer Skill at Sea!

Forget Bingo... Seniors Head

for Cyber Activities Afloat

Photo of Crystal Cruises' Computer University goes here. 

(Guests sailing on Crystal Cruises may learn diverse computer skills in a high-tech classroom, such as this one on Crystal Serenity.*)

By Marcia Levin

Senior Contributing Editor - Senior Travel & Cruises

Yes, some seniors still can't wait to buy bingo cards onboard cruise ships. But increasingly, many of us are opting for a more techie onboard pastime -- to learn something new about computers, the Internet, social networking sites and photo/video editing.  

Standing room only is the norm when specially trained staffers teach computer “how-tos" and Internet surfing options.  

Seniors eagerly grab any hard-copy, information to help them remember their newfound skills when they return home. 

From my perspective, as part of the generation that remembers the advent of electric typewriters as a modern achievement, these classes are a revelation.

Consider a learning experience where guests are taught how to edit digital photos, download pictures from digital cameras; print photos at home; or  create and maintain a blog.

You might learn how to keep your Mac or PC running smoothly and safely. Or, you might learn how to make a movie of your voyage or share pictures of a scenic port with neighbors back home.

Interested? On many ships, you'll get that chance...

The "Aha" Moment

My own “aha” moment occurred while crossing the Atlantic on Holland America’s Eurodam in 2008.

I took a class in blogging and was thrilled when my oldest grandson e-mailed me to say “I don’t think anyone else has a grandma who blogs.’’

While sailing the world's oceans, guests can use their own laptops or work on the ship’s computers in the Internet Cafe. On a few ships, you can also rent a laptop for use onboard. Photo of Crystal Symphony computer lab goes here; courtesy of Crystal Cruises.

(In Crystal Cruises' computer center on Crystal Symphony, you'll find terminals to surf the Web, check email or even take a class.*)

Generally, you'll discover a program of computer classes on vessels sailing a seven-night or longer voyage, or when a sufficient number of sea days allows for class scheduling.

You'll find any techie options in the ship's daily newsletter, usually delivered to your cabin in the evening. Look for the class times and sign up information.

Guests of all ages often bag the sunscreen, hang their swimsuits in their cabins, and eagerly head to class. And yes, many are saying goodbye to bingo and hello to cyber-fun. 

Quite often the early bird nabs a seat -- and a computer. Be sure to register in advance for the course of study you want.

Many seniors -- myself included -- find the experience enjoyable, appreciate the patience of instructors with newbies who aren't technical, and like the sense of accomplishment they feel upon completing the program.

Photo of Holland America's Explorations Cafe on the Ryndam; photo courtesy of Holland America Line.Welcome to the 21st century at sea, a time when more seniors want to learn what contemporary technology is all about. A cruise is the ideal place to get plugged-in.

(A Holland America guest reviews images of his cruise vacation onbard Ryndam.*) 

Heading to Class

Complimentary digital workshop classes on Holland America Line are conducted during cruises of seven days or more and are the result of a strategic partnership with Microsoft.

Microsoft-trained “techsperts” teach classes and offer encouragement to passengers who may be totally computer illiterate upon boarding, but can maintain a blog after a few sessions.

Hana Shein, a techspert who has taught guests on HAL’s Statendam says “no one is unteachable.”

Classes, she says, teach most basic computer skills or the most advanced techniques. Shein says the more a guest tries to do, the more he or she usually does.

“The ‘wow’ moments are fun, like when someone manages to insert a photo in a blog," says Shein.

For passengers who often tell Shein they have drawers at home full of photos from past cruises, the ability to download cruise vacation pictures to their computer quickly is an “unexpected surprise,” she notes. 

Celebrity Cruises created Celebrity iLounges on Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Summit. The iLounge houses 26 computer stations for guests’ use.

The iLounge's retail space allows passengers to browse among MacBooks, IPods and accessories.

A trained staff provides tips on usage and conducts classes. Basic classes are complimentary. More advanced classes such as iMovie-making or iPhotography require a $20 fee.

But if you need hands-on, private instruction, that too is possible. You'll pay $75 for a one-on-one class with a computer expert.

Look for the iLounge coming to two more Solstice-class ships -- Celebrity Silhouette and another, yet unnamed vessel -- in 2011 and 2012.

Photo of Diamond Princess' Internet Cafe goes here. Photo used courtesy of Princess Cruises.

(Guests sailing on Diamond Princess might head for the ship's Internet Cafe, shown above, to keep in touch with family and friends.*)

Princess Cruises charges $25 per hour, per passenger for its classes offered through a ScholarShip@Sea program. Private lessons are available at $50 per hour.

Courses available on a Princess sailing may include: Introduction to Computers; Microsoft Word; Photo Editing (Adobe Photoshop Elements); Microsoft Excel; Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Windows Tricks and Timesavers.

The program is offered on some Princess itineraries with enough sea days to allow the line to offer more passengers a chance to take advantage of the program.

Crystal Cruises’  University@Sea was introduced in 1996 as the first oceangoing computer training program at sea. 

Classes on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity now include a complimentary curriculum that -- depending on sailing -- may include any of 30 computer courses for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

Classes cover everything from basic computer skills to operation of a hand-held organizer to advanced digital photo finishing.

Dell laptops and PCs are used. Guests will have 24-hour Internet access from every lab and stateroom; fees apply. Private computer instruction is also available.

Thomas Mazloum, Crystal's senior vice president of operations, puts it this way: “With e-mail and the Internet being an integral part of today’s way of life, we have made a commitment to provide the most progressive and comprehensive communications program at sea, complete with leading technology and high-tech equipment. “

In 2009 Crystal introduced technology concierges who help guests with all electronic devices. The service is complimentary.

Surfing the Net

Most cruise ships offer Internet usage to passengers for a fee. You can surf the Internet, send and receive e-mail and print out boarding passes.

Ships typically charge a basic package rate of $50 to $75 for 100 minutes, but it varies by line. If you pay by the minute, figure at least 55-to-65 cents per minute.

Rates are lower if you purchase a "package" of time -- say 100 or 240 minutes. 

Editor's Tip: Almost always, it's a good value to buy a package of Internet minutes rather than pay by the minute. Guests usually underestimate the time they'll need AND, most often, underestimate the slow speed of satellite connections. So the email that takes five minutes to send at home might take 10 minutes at sea. Buy a package to avoid higher "pay as you go" Internet charges

Photo of laptop use onboard NCL goes here; photo courtesy of NCL. Wi-fi is generally available in designated locations on older ships, and everywhere on newer ones.

(A family sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line check their email and surf the Web with the ship's WiFi.*)

Internet rooms, sometimes dubbed cyber cafes, often share space with the library and are in a quietier area of the ship.

The following lines charge Internet access fees, and they recommend guests purchase a basic package of time.

Carnival Cruises  has Internet cafes on all ships; a trained onboard computer manager is available for rudimentary help.

Costa Cruises’  vessels have a few computers on all ships – the numbers vary by ship and deployment – with staff available at designated times. If no staff member is present in the computer area, guests are asked to call the front desk for assistance.

Cunard Line provides complimentary computer classes and a variety of Internet usage packages. The charge for 480 minutes of usage, for example, is $167.95.

MSC Cruises’  fleet offers the use of several computers in Internet Cafes, but no formal onboard classes. A European keyboard may confuse those from North America.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s  Internet Café has a staffer on duty at specific times daily.

Royal Caribbean International's  Internet Cafe offers expert help during designated hours. WiFi Hot Spots are located on every ship; locations vary. 

Seabourn Cruises  will schedule classes with a computer officer for anyone interested.

Photo of Silver Spirit's Internet area goes here; photo by Susan J. Young.Silversea Cruises doesn't offer formal classes but an IT (Internet Technology) expert is available for help. (Computer terminals on Silver Spirit are shown at right.*)

So whether you still use a JFK-era electric typewriter or write your own nightly Internet blog, you'll find much to do or learn in "Cyberspace" while sailing on a cruise vacation.

Ready, set, go.... Plug-in or Listen up. The class is in session.

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