Anturus Explorer Academy – Celebrity Cruises kids’ club
When do we stop asking questions? My daughter is endlessly curious about everything – what holds pavements down, how long the sun will last for, what a bioluminescent octopus really is, where lava comes from. How the world works, basically.
It’s the kind of fascination which has driven scientists, innovators, explorers for centuries: what does make that apple fall, can you really climb that mountain, exactly how does the human body work? And kids seem to have it naturally.
So the idea of activities which help answer a few of those many (many) questions, a way to learn that’s so fun you barely realise it’s educational is always going to be a winner. At least, that’s what I thought when I first heard about the Anturus Explorer Academy on board Celebrity Cruises, part of their kids’ club offering which focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).
But what’s theory unless you can test it out? Which is what saw my inquisitive five-year-old and me heading down to Southampton to board Celebrity Silhouette for the day.
Part of the regular Camp At Sea programme, which like most cruise ship kids’ clubs is split into different age groups, it’s aimed mainly at three to 12-year-olds. There’s also a separate teen area on board, as well as limited access to part of the kids’ club area for younger kids with their parents during the cruise.
And like their other activities – over 100 on a 14-day cruise to ensure no two days at sea are ever the same – Anturus Explorer Academy can be adapted for the different groups, aged three to five (if potty trained), six to nine and 10 to 12.
But that is where the similarity to most kids’ clubs ends. It’s all about provoking curiosity rather than heavy-handed education, says Huw James, founder of Anturus (which means ‘adventurous’ in Welsh) who developed the programme.
For him, the kids are mini explorers – and quite literal explorers, cruising around the world on itineraries which might take them to glaciers in Alaska or through the reefs of the Caribbean – with the workshops offering them the opportunity to learn.
If you’re picturing a classroom-style scenario, it couldn’t be further from the truth. To show a few different types of activity kids might get to try, Huw starts off with a science show – which sees me standing at the front, having volunteered to eat an insect. Well, you should try everything once, right?
Nothing weird about it for many people around the world, and given the nutritional and environmental advantages, maybe we should all be snacking on mealworms, crickets and the odd locust – the latter has my name on. It’s best to pull the wings off first, apparently, and once I nibble it, it’s not that bad, tasting vaguely like a roasted peanut. I eat about a peanut sized amount though before claiming the high protein content has already filled me up.
Then there’s Minnie’s favourite, volcano-inspired fun, from puffing smoke rings to discovering just how impressively an Alka Seltzer in a small container can explode (only try this at home if you’ve got safety goggles…). Or the chance to see how wind and rain cools the body down using a thermal imaging camera, an air blower and two very enthusiastic volunteers squirting their poncho-clad victim with spray bottles.
We whirl from ocean to jungle to mountain and glacier, via ice, lava, see-through fish and tarantulas. Then for the real test. Inspired by the ship we’re currently on, it’s time to answer the question; how do things float?
Along the way, I finally discover the difference between a ship and a boat – a ship can launch a boat, but a boat can’t launch a ship. You’re never too old to learn!
Armed with a small tank of water, a rubber duck, fruit and a couple of bowling balls, the kids (and I) discover that there are a few surprises when it comes to what floats. Who knew a melon would bob happily around but a pear plummets to the bottom? The kids – eight of them, all primary school age, including Minnie – are practically jumping out of their seats by now, chanting “sink sink sink” and cheering when others stay afloat.
Which only leaves one thing: to make their own boat and see if that floats. Armed with paper plates, bowls and cups, a ration of tape and colouring pencils, they split into groups and start excitedly cutting, sticking and decorating. The concentration is ferocious and I’m most intrigued that each team is making something very different from the same materials.
My daughter, who’s struck up a firm new friendship with six-year-old Athena from What The Redhead Said, is determined theirs will be the most impressive – even if they have to downgrade their original five-storey idea.
The ‘Colossal Leopard’ as she is named, is easily the biggest craft with two pencil flagpoles, each with a specially designed flag and extra supplies of tape (acquired by answering the question ‘what is the fluffiest animal in the world’ – correct answers are variously given as llama, lion and rainbow fluffy unicorn).
Along the way, they declare themselves the new owners of Venus. Well, why not?
The moment of truth comes when all the creations are taken to the Jacuzzi on the pool deck. And those decorative masts prove the Colossal Leopard’s undoing, as it promptly falls over onto its side. It does float though… until the Jacuzzi jets are turned on, at least.
Another contender, named ‘The World’, survives the storm conditions best and is declared the winner. Points for style and sheer ambition to my daughter and Athena though…
By this point, I find myself slightly regretting the fact I’m not five again, although I can join in at home as the backpack we get to take away contains a gadget to make a whirlpool from a couple of plastic bottles, instructions for a bug hotel and beads which swell up in water, among other things.
I suspect that with activities including competitions for the fastest paper aeroplane, creating weather monitoring stations or wind-powered cars, making a compass, designing a flag, not to mention scavenger hunts and quizzes, Minnie might disappear into the kids’ club for an entire cruise given the chance.
On the new Celebrity Edge, there’s even an Explorer Corner planned, where kids can use computers and books to discover just which whale they spotted off the side of the ship or which fish they snorkelled past in the Caribbean. Eventually that should be added throughout the fleet, with Anturus Explorer Academy on board all 12 ships (13 once Edge launches), except for Galapagos cruises.
Each year, around 75,000 children take part in the kids’ club activities; the smaller size of the ships compared to sister company Royal Caribbean (which might have 2,500 kids on a single cruise) means you can get more hands on too, while smaller groups make it easier to adapt to what the kids – and youth staff – are most interested in.
And it’s a perfect fit with the people who choose to cruise with Celebrity, says Huw. “Enrichment is such a big part of what they do, you always feel they want their cruisers to go off more enriched than they go on. What we want to provide is the opportunity to explore and learn if they so wish.”
Minnie, who is busily trying to make an ‘underwater tornado’, needs no further encouragement.
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Disclosure: My day on board was courtesy of Celebrity Cruises – all opinions and decisions to eat locusts are my own.
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