(The schedule will change. You will receive a Daily Schedule in your cabin: always refer to it for final information.)
Holland America offers a wide variety of excursion packages. These can be the most efficient and easiest way to experience the ports we are visiting. While run by independent operators, Holland America provides a convenient gateway to excursion operators with proven track records. You may, of course, choose to get off the ship and explore on your own. Operators may offer excursions on shore.
Holland America provides a complete excursion booking service. They have added unique excursions not available on other cruises. View our custom brochure [PDF]
You may begin booking excursions on Tuesday, June 18th, at 11:00 a.m. ET. You do this through the "Book Shore Excursions" section of hollandamerica.com. You will need your Holland America booking number to do this, which you will receive by email on or before June 11th.
Do keep in mind that we will schedule a few activities on the ship while in port, but we will not schedule major appearances by our performers.
Naturalist and Lecturer Programs
We have a large menu of activities in the works for you! Once again, the education team brings diverse offerings. Experts will help you delve deeper into the sights and sounds of the Mediterranean region. Our team spans the world of human culture (Roman history, art history, biblical history, the Vatican, Christianity, and other areas), as well as the natural world (botany, the Mediterranean Sea, terrestrial ecology, birds, etc.).
This year's program offerings include lectures, mini-preview lectures, commentaries, naturalist programs, kids activities, and more. We hope there is something for every taste and every interest!
Your on-board Daily Schedule is where to confirm times and places for everything. Here are the details of our plans, so you can make your choices.
We look forward to seeing old friends, and meeting and getting to know many new ones!
The education team for the 2013 cruise,
Natalie, Rich, Lytton, Myriam, John, and Jack
Naturalist on Deck
Sunrise Naturalist on Deck
What better way to start your day than to search for wildlife at the crack of dawn! Rich, Lytton, or Natalie, your cruise naturalists, will be on hand to help you identify what lurks out there. Dolphins and seabirds are quite likely, but keep your eyes peeled for whales and a few avian rarities. We'll even provide coffee and tea to help clear the cobwebs from your night of dancing in the Crows Nest! You'll want to bring your binoculars and camera.
Meet all the way forward at the bow on the Promenade Deck. Walk all the way forward on the Lower Promenade Deck, look for the glass stairwell, go up one deck and out through the steel bulkhead.
Naturalist on Dock
On the morning of our second day in Civitavecchia, we will offer a brief nature ramble from the pier. Join naturalists Lytton and Rich to see what they might reveal from the surrounding landscape.
Daytime Naturalist on Deck (focus on marine mammals and birds)
Is sunrise too early, but you still want to watch wildlife? You're in luck! A naturalist will be on the bow of the Promenade Deck for several mid-afternoon time slots. See the daily schedule for times. Anytime we are at sea, we have a chance to see both marine mammals and seabirds. Naturalist Natalie has a knack for finding whales; Birdman Rich is sure to help you identify more bird species than you expected!
Coastal and Cultural Commentary
The afternoon Coastal and Cultural Commentary is a half-hour program conducted on the ship's Lido (aft) deck by the pool. Offered each day from 5:00-5:30 p.m., these are informal conversations where the education team shares highlights of the day gone by or day to come, tells a local story, a cultural anecdote, a bit of history, an endemic wildlife tip, and more. It is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions, share an anecdote, and hear in-depth responses.
These trips are coordinated by Holland America Line and led by local guides and experts. Members of the education team will be tagging along on many of the shore excursions, acting as ambassadors of A Prairie Home Companion at Sea, as well as lending our own expertise. We look forward to that time to chat with you and answer any questions!
This is your chance to come learn about a topic in more depth. Each lecture will be an hour long, including the question-and-answer period.
The Mediterranean Sea: The Cradle of Biodiversity, lecture by Natalie Springuel
The Mediterranean region encompasses almost two dozen countries, and marine ecologists often refer to the rich and fertile sea at its heart as the cradle of biodiversity. How did this "sea in the middle of the land" come to be and why is it such a hot spot for seagoing life? Our cruise route crosses the Ligurian Sea, including the Pelagos Sanctuary, as well as the Tyrrhenian, Ionian, and Adriatic seas. Who lives beneath these waves? What habitats do they thrive in? What impact do currents, depth, water chemistry, and that hot Mediterranean sun have on the critters we might encounter (such as dolphins, flying fish, or tuna)? And is life within a nearly enclosed sea like the Mediterranean really so different than in the open ocean? You bet! Come find out why.
From Hook to Plate: The Story of Mediterranean Seafood, lecture by Natalie Springuel
Since antiquity, Mediterranean people have relied on the sea for sustenance, each country developing its own culture and ways to preserve and prepare seafood. If you are a traveler who likes to dive into the stories behind the food you eat, this lecture is for you! We'll pick a few quintessential Mediterranean seafood dishes (such as bouillabaisse, baccalà, pesce in saòr, or zuppa di cozze) and explore the creatures featured in the food. This is not a cooking lecture. Instead, learn how the fish was caught at sea, grown in lagoons or enclosures, or in the case of shellfish, perhaps on lines. What is the status of the population and its habitat? What are the economics behind the fishery and how is it managed? And finally, how did these species come to play such a central role in local cuisine and culture?
Mediterranean Sea Life in the Art of the Ancient World, lecture by Natalie Springuel and Myriam Springuel
Dolphin, octopus, squid, fish large and small, lobster, eel, and critters beyond recognition inspired artists in the ancient world. What do these representations tell us about creatures who lived under the sea we are traversing? And what do they tell us about cultural life more than 2,000 years ago? From bowls used by the Etruscan to famous mosaics adorning lavish Roman villas and early Christian churches, what can these works of art teach us about ways in which fish and sea mammals inspired great art and sustained people? Join Myriam, our cruise art historian, and her sister Natalie, our ocean naturalist, as they explore the intersection of ancient art and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Birds of Italy: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, lecture by Rich MacDonald
Italians have a long history of being connected to nature. They have parks and bird reserves. Seabird colonies can be found along the shoreline. Offshore, the variety of seabirds is noteworthy. Birds are also often found on the dinner plate. And this has been among the biggest threats to the birds: overcoming a cultural history where birds are harvested, regardless of the health of a given population. During this lecture, naturalist Rich MacDonald will help us identify the birds; then, using several case studies, delve into the complex topic of human/wildlife conflict.
There's More to Nature than Birds: An Introduction to the Terrestrial Wildlife of Italy and Vicinity, lecture by Rich MacDonald
You can travel most anywhere on our blue planet and find birds. Those animals without wings often present a greater challenge for wildlife watchers. In this presentation, naturalist Rich MacDonald will explore the wildlife of Italy and our other ports o' call. Rich will not only discuss the commonest species, but also some of those that are scarcer yet potentially more charismatic. The talk will also delve into some of the challenges facing wildlife in Italy, touching upon subjects such as over-hunting and climate change.
Life Below 60: An Introduction to the Ecology & Wildlife of the Antarctic, lecture by Rich MacDonald
The Antarctic is a land of superlatives: It is the coldest and driest continent with the highest average height; the waters of the Southern Ocean are the most biologically productive on Earth. This extreme environment has driven a variety of physiological adaptations and strategies for survival. Cruise naturalist Rich MacDonald traveled to the Antarctic in January as a naturalist on a small ship. Join Rich for his overview of this world of ice and cold, during which he will discuss the ecology and adaptations various animals have evolved to survive this harsh world of cold. This talk will also touch upon the future of the region in the face of a changing climate. (And just in case you were wondering, the "60" in the title refers to 60 degrees of south latitude.)
What Mustard Would Jesus Use? Lecture by Lytton Musselman
No apple in the Garden of Eden? No mustard as an example of faith? Omitting these plants suggests heterodoxy to many Bible readers. The Bible is embedded in a Mediterranean agro-ecosystem, so it is important to understand that system to accurately determine which plants are included in Holy Writ, as well as those that should not be, including apples and mustard. Why? Several of the best-known Bible plants were erroneously inserted into European translations simply because the translators were unaware of the Mediterranean flora and put into the text those plants familiar to them. Other examples of inaccuracies include aloe, no relation to the widely used aloe vera, and rose, which is the word translated for a native toxic shrub (sorry, there is no Rose of Sharon nor Lily of the Valley). Stretch your faith and find out why.
Deep Ecology, lecture by Lytton Musselman
Our view of the environment is ultimately based on our ethical underpinnings. If our faith includes a creator god, then what comes from her/his hand has intrinsic value. Postmodern thinking has made space for the consideration of faith and ecology, a topic now recognized as a legitimate pursuit in biodiversity education and management bereft of Western imperialism and its consumerism. The term "Creation Care" is frequently used by Christians to describe this approach. Muslim scholars are likewise promulgating the importance of environmental concern in Islam based on the teachings of the Qur'an and the Hadith. The cultic use of plants — especially trees — in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and culture in general will be discussed.
Mediterranean Herbs, lecture by Lytton Musselman
"Wildfires rage" is a common news item from the California chaparral, a Mediterranean plant community. That's because many Mediterranean plant communities have evolved to burn. The adaptations to fire include branches low on tree trunks, high concentrations of oils and resins, specialized bark, and plant structures that release their seeds only when heated. Many of the best-known kitchen herbs — bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and rosemary — evolved in a fire-maintained ecosystem; this is reflected in the chemical composition of the leaves, the reason we use these herbs. Spices, on the other hand, are usually tropical in origin and derived from the fruit or seed of the plant, not from leaves. Enrich your palate by knowing these herbs better.
Recognizing Great Art, lecture by Myriam Springuel
Why is one artist's version of a particular subject a masterpiece while another's is simply good? Who says? How do they know? More importantly, we'll explore how YOU can train your eye and become an art expert. We'll focus on ancient Roman and Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, examining how different artists address the same subject yet present it in different ways. Come understand why some of the works of art you have seen on this trip may stay with you a lifetime.
The Vatican Decoded, lecture by John Thavis
John Thavis, author of The Vatican Diaries, offers an insider's look at recent events at the Vatican, including papal politics, leaks of confidential documents, banking scandals, and artistic discoveries. He examines the reasons behind Pope Benedict's historic decision to resign, the factors that led to the election of Pope Francis, and the new pope's challenging agenda. Drawing on 30 years' experience as a reporter covering the Vatican, John explains why, when it comes to religion, reporters often get it wrong.
Living with the Past: Archeology in Rome and at the Vatican, lecture by John Thavis
This talk investigates a practical problem: How does a modern city like Rome, and a city-state like the Vatican, protect and manage its archeological treasures? Or put another way, how do you live in a museum?
In Rome, virtually every modern construction project unearths important relics from the past. Several case studies are examined, including the behind-the-scenes battle that ensued when a perfectly preserved Roman necropolis was discovered during construction of an underground parking lot at the Vatican. The lecture discusses Italy's strained efforts to keep its archeological sites open to the public and in relatively good condition, as well as the dilemma often faced by experts: that in uncovering ancient frescoes and tombs, they are sometimes paving the way for their deterioration and destruction. The recent collapse of buildings in Pompeii, the construction of a major dump near Hadrian's Villa outside Rome, and the periodic flooding and damage to Nero's Golden House are all examined.
The talk looks at Rome's extensive (and still somewhat unexplored) system of catacombs and the discovery in 2006 of an unusual network of underground burial chambers containing the elegantly dressed corpses of more than 1,000 people. (Experts are still debating: Were they martyrs, plague victims, or imperial bodyguards of a losing Roman faction?)
In Vino Veritas: Italy's Changing Wine Culture, lecture by John Thavis
John, who once covered Italy for Wine Spectator, surveys the importance of wine throughout Italy's cultural history, from Roman libations to Prosecco Jell-O shots. He looks at the birth of the Italian wine industry, analyzes wine drinking as a social custom, and examines the question: Why doesn't Italy have a drinking problem? Throughout his talk, John incorporates his personal experiences covering the wine trade and lifts the veil on the long history of wine scandals in Italy. There is also advice on how to navigate Italian vineyards, the code of behavior on wine tours, and the best way to find a bargain vino in Italy. Finally, John looks at the shifting consumption patterns among young Italians — who are spending more and more time in beer pubs — and the implications for the future of wine production.
An Americano in Italy: 30 years of Love and Disappointment, lecture by John Thavis
John Thavis, who migrated to Italy in the late 1970s, talks about raising a family in Rome and trying — yet ultimately failing — to fit in. This talk examines the advantages and the difficulties of the bicultural life in a country many Americans profess to love, yet few understand. John describes the hurdles of relocation (language, employment, housing, and education) and survival in an Italy that moved from Dolce Vita to terrorism to the brink of economic disaster. He recounts the benefits and challenges of raising children in a foreign land and the divided allegiances that result. He also examines Italian social life in aspects big and small, from home life to the theatrical public square, and talks about what works and what doesn't in modern Italy. Finally, he tells of the end of romantic illusions about Italian life, and his own family's decision to return to the United States.
Why Christianity? Lecture by Jack Bryce
What drove the conversion of the Greco-Roman world? What of the Jews? And while we're at it, why Islam? It's a gripping story to follow the spiritual emptiness that took hold of the exceedingly religious peoples of the Greco-Roman world when their city states, from which they derived their basic personal identities, were swallowed up in the Empire. Religions based upon the radically novel ideas of mystery, initiation, and salvation suddenly appeared. Two of these, Christianity and Islam, gradually eclipsed all the others, while Judaism, once a despised archaism practiced by a tiny, backward population, spread worldwide as well. Can we figure all this out in one hour? Ravenna is the perfect place. Let's try.
Mini-Lectures: A Preview of Great Art and Great Places
These half-hour talks, often two back to back, will allow us to cover topics relevant to more specific ports, with an emphasis on art and history. These are not about where to catch the bus or get a bite to eat, but about the art and history that make our ports o' call world-renowned destinations.
Exploring Renaissance Florence: Art in the Service of Religion and Politics, mini-lecture by Myriam Springuel
We'll explore a few of the major works of art created in 15th-century Renaissance Florence and look at ways these artists studied both antiquity and nature, including the competition to design doors for the Baptistery, the soaring Duomo of the Florence Cathedral, the young Michelangelo's David, and the inspiration for Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
Exploring Michelangelo and Rome: Sources and Inspiration, mini-lecture by Myriam Springuel
We will look at the visible ruins and excavations of ancient Roman art that inspired Michelangelo. We'll compare Raphael's School of Athens fresco with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, the way in which Michelangelo finished St. Peter's Basilica (and then Bernini made it even more grandiose), and how Baroque painters such as Caravaggio took art in a new direction.
Exploring Ravenna: The Divine and the Human in Vivid Mosaic, mini-lecture by Myriam Springuel
We'll explore the great mosaics of Ravenna, from the fifth-century early Christian Mausoleum of the wealthy Galla Placidia to the sixth-century Byzantine churches of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo and San Vitale, where depictions of the emperor and empress convey the political and religious as one. We will look at how these mosaics are a departure from earlier Roman art and create a tradition visible in the mosaics of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice.
Why Colonize? Mini-lecture by Jack Bryce
A combination of factors drove the Greeks and Romans to establish colonies. These factors involved agriculture and food supply, population growth, economic and political distress, ambition to make a mark on the world, and religion. Southern France offers some splendid examples of Greek and Roman colonization; among them, Marseilles, Arles, Les Baux de Provence, and Vaison la Romaine. While you may visit some of these places on the port excursions arranged for this cruise, here on the ship we will look at slides of their major architectural features and learn something about the part they played in the general history of the ancient Mediterranean world.
Why Empire? Mini-lecture by Jack Bryce
A variety of impulses drove the Romans to conquer Western Europe and then incorporate these territories into their imperial experiment: economic advantage, gaining political clout in Rome, irrational ambition, and occasional factors beyond their imagination or control. Empire these days seems to be going out of fashion, for the first time perhaps in world history. What did the Romans think they were gaining by imperialism, and why do these advantages seem to be in decline today? Southern France offers splendid examples of the benefits of Roman imperialism, and even if you didn't get to all these places via shore excursions, we can make a visit by slides to sites at Nice, Fréjus, La Turbie, and Sistéron.
How Did They Live? Mini-lecture by Jack Bryce
Many cruise members will take shore excursions to places such as Ostia, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Capri. Here we have splendid examples of the bare bones of entire cities, with public facilities like markets, baths, temples, theaters, and stadiums; but we also have domestic architecture that, thanks to a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, has survived in astonishing detail. Whether looking at the remains in person or by slides shipside, these sites can give a surprisingly vivid idea of how the ancients actually lived their lives.
Why Decline and Fall? Mini-lecture by Jack Bryce
What caused the decline of the Roman Empire? Did it really have to? Did it actually happen that the Romans went down because of their immorality? The harder we look at the concept of decline and fall, taken for granted it seems by virtually all of us, the more dubious it appears. Jack Bryce has become convinced, for example, that even as a political construct, the Roman Empire lasted until two events in his own lifetime: the breakup of the Soviet Union and the refusal by Pope John Paul I (remember him?) to be crowned as pope. Jack maintains that even after these events, we must acknowledge that as an economic, a social, and a spiritual construct, the Empire is very much alive today.
Traveling with your kids? Why not send them off to a special program or two with the education team (parents welcome with younger kids). Art, whales, and birds, with a special focus on the region we will be traveling through, are all topics that make for great kids activities. We'll meet at Club HAL and go from there! Please note that Club HAL has a whole roster of other activities for your kids too.
Making Mosaics: A Modern Spin on an Ancient Art Form, with Myriam Springuel and Natalie Springuel
Mosaics were a big deal for the ancient Romans and early Christians. They decorated their homes and churches with intricate patterns and colors that represented anything from dolphins to gods to portraits. In fact, you'll see some of these great mosaics when you venture onto shore in almost any of our cruise's towns. On this day, we'll take a look at some of these great works of art and explore their technique and symbolism. We'll then create mosaics of our own using colorful, quick-drying materials that you can take along with you. Replicate great works of art or invent your own modern interpretation of ancient mosaics! (Please note that this program is designed for youths 10 and older.)
Nature Walk Around the Ryndam, with Rich MacDonald
Part of being a kid is getting outside and exploring the natural world, right? This is certainly easy to do when you live in a rural area. But did you know one of the best places for going on a nature walk is Central Park, right in the heart of New York City? So it shouldn't be too surprising that the deck of a cruise ship is also an excellent place for observing nature. Join cruise naturalist Rich MacDonald for a stroll during our day at sea. We will head from Club HAL down to the Lower Promenade looking for seabirds, whales, seals, and flying fish. Rich will connect his young audience to the wildlife we see by telling stories and teaching the sounds the animals make. If you have binoculars, you might want to bring them. (Please note that this program is designed for youths 10 and younger.)
Insights from the Country Doctor, lecture by Dr. Dan Johnson
Dr. Dan Johnson is an old country internist from the depths of the far-flung Mayo Clinic Health System in Menomonie, Wisconsin. He doesn't claim to be the world's greatest expert on anything, but he's been around the block more than once and has a few stories.
In his talk, he will review where Medicine has been and where it seems to be going. He'd enjoy fielding questions from the audience, especially if the queries are related to health. Personal, political, and theological questions will get pithy answers, and those about popular culture will be referred to APHC staff. We can commiserate about the sorry state of the U.S. health care system, and we may even talk about coping with it.
Seems having something to look forward to makes life pretty dang sweet. So what's on your list of "Things I Look Forward To On The Prairie Home Cruise"? Scenery? A nap on the deck? Most excellent food? Mingling? How 'bout the wildlife? There's a long list of possible wild encounters waiting on any one of the many activities the naturalists have planned for you. Download a checklist presenting some of the more commonly observed birds from the many bodies of water we will traverse on this cruise.
Visit our journal of daily updates to see the highlights from this year's cruise — including videos, photos, and all our Cruise News notes — or relive your time aboard the ms Ryndam »