Over winter break, 10 Illinois State University students set sail in the Caribbean Sea on an experiential learning adventure via the Disney Fantasy cruise ship. The program, led by Recreation and Park Administration Professor Rachel Smith, provided students with the opportunity to engage in firsthand learning experiences through meetings with the cruise director and assistant cruise director, conversations with cruise employees and fellow cruisers, daily assignments, and day-to-day observations of cruise culture.

Throughout the trip, students saw the behind-the-scenes aspects of the cruise line industry through meetings, tours, and class discussions. Exposure to several different nationalities and cultures, both on the ship and on port, assisted in creating a unique, comprehensive learning experience for students.

While touring the youth activities area, the group ran into Illinois State alumna Jackie Aul ’15, who recently began her first contract with the Disney Cruise Line. It was both a “small world” experience and an opportunity to answer questions about challenges and rewarding moments, day-to-day life working in youth activities, and her journey toward choosing to work on a cruise ship.

“Taking this class was a great decision!” said Becca Krzyszkowski, a recreation administration graduate student and program participant. “I enjoyed Disney’s outstanding customer service. Every aspect of the cruise was a show—going to dinner, attending a character showing, meeting the cruise director, playing trivia, singing karaoke and even just while exploring the ship. Each Disney employee genuinely wanted to get to know you and give you the full Disney Cruise Line experience! Travelling with other students that share the same passion for recreation, travel and tourism is an experience that nobody should miss!”

After returning from the trip, students worked together in groups to develop presentations to show other classes and campus groups. These presentations provided a glimpse of what the trip was about, what students learned, and also served as a promotional tool to encourage interested students to seek out further information on this rare (and amazing!) opportunity.