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Cruise to Credits

by Monica Smith

Jul 15, 2019, 9:00 AM.

Hospitality at Sea FIU Study Abroad program offers students an opportunity to sail and study.

Florida International University’s Hospitality at Sea program is equal parts fun and education. The Study Abroad learning experience allows students, including those who are online learners, to earn up to six college credit hours in just a few weeks while on a cruise.

In its eighth year (nine cruises total), the program recently hosted more than 80 students this summer during a transatlantic voyage through Europe. Setting sail from Port Canaveral, FL, students visited port stops in Ponta Delgada, Portugal; Funchal, Portugal; Seville, Spain; Granada, Spain; Cartagena, Spain; Palma, Spain; and Barcelona, Spain.

Firsthand Knowledge

“It’s almost the best of two worlds,” said Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management Department Chair and Associate Professor John Thomas, who is also a consultant to the cruise line industry. He explained that the program offers students the ability to see cruise line operations and management firsthand. “Interaction is a valuable thing, which is why we do the program on the transatlantic voyage—it’s a regular cruise, otherwise.”

Cruise lines hosting the program in the past have included NCL, Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships and the trips are usually between 15 and 18 days. They’re repositioning cruises where ships sail across oceans or change seasonal homeports. These cruises feature one-way itineraries, clarified Thomas.

Online Students Encouraged

While named “Hospitality at Sea,” the program is not limited to just hospitality students. In fact, students from several colleges including those outside of Florida participated this year. There were students from 12 different countries—five students were from Plymouth, England, and FIU communication, business and architecture majors also participated. Online students are encouraged to join the program, Thomas underscored, as he emphasized that it’s a great way for them to meet and interact with instructors.

A Student’s Perspective

“I didn’t expect to make as many friends as I did on the trip,” said Nicole Patrick, a junior studying hospitality and tourism management at FIU. Patrick felt the best part of the trip was learning how a cruise ship works from the people who actually work on it. A month before the cruise, she said, her professors emailed the syllabi and assignments that were supposed to be done prior to the trip.

It’s not a vacation—there is studying to do insisted Thomas, however, there is a “nice synergy between the two.” Patrick, who took two classes, agrees and said that it wasn’t hard to absorb the material in a short amount of time because of the lectures and teaching methods used.

“We demonstrated that we had learned the information through presentations and public speaking in class. For both of my classes, we were encouraged to utilize the ship and speak to the crew. During and outside of class time, we spoke to different crew members to answer our questions and assist us with our projects. In both classes, we collaborated in groups on projects,” recalled Patrick.

Economical and In-state Rate

Thomas stressed that the courses provided on the cruise are regular courses. They do involve some work off the ship as students are responsible for sending in a final paper after the cruise ends. He pointed out that the Hospitality at Sea trips are economical and offer students a fast way to complete credits to progress toward a timely graduation. What’s more, all students pay the in-state rate for credit hours.

Undergraduate and Graduate Courses

Several courses, both at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level are offered to students. Some courses count as electives, but others like the graduate course in global issues is a required core course for the master’s degree in hospitality.

“For me, I had a full day: Cruise Line Management from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Revenue Management from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. I did most of my work during class time so I was able to enjoy my off time on the ship. Personally, I enjoyed having a full day because it kept me busy on at-sea days. The days we were at port, we did not have class, so I got to enjoy the full day,” said Patrick.

“We had great diversity,” said Thomas. “We created friendships that will last a lifetime.”

To learn more about the next Hospitality at Sea program, visit

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