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WIU Department of Recreation, Park and Administration students (and WIU RPTA Assistant Professor Rachel Smith) pictured during their 2015 Disney Cruise course, "Introduction to the Cruise Industry." Left side, L to R: Melissa Kolb (Plainfield, IL); Victoria Zamora (Varna, IL); Miranda Hutchens (Jerseyville, IL); and (back row) Alexandrea Hines (Canton, IL). Right side, L to R: Chelsea Wolfe (Urbana, IL); Rachel Smith; Liz Lindstrom (Aurora, IL); and (back row) Troy Miller (Sterling, IL).
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RPTA Disney Cruise Course Shows Students Behind-the-Scenes, Hands-On Work in Cruise Industry

February 13, 2015

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MACOMB, IL — Students who have had the opportunity to engage in experiential learning activities often come away with a deeper understanding of the topic about which they are learning. So, more than two years ago, when Western Illinois University Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA) faculty members were designing a course to teach Western students about the cruise-ship industry, it made sense for them to come up with, and implement, a plan to enable students to experience a behind-the-scenes look.

In 2012 and in early 2013, RPTA Associate Professor Minsun Doh and Assistant Professor Rachel Smith did just that. In January 2013, they provided 16 students with an experiential learning opportunity by taking them on a Disney Cruise in the Caribbean. It was the first time Western's Office of Study Abroad offered this particular study abroad program.

In early January of this year, the course, "Introduction to the Cruise Industry" (RPTA 450S), was again offered at WIU, and Doh and Smith once again led the hands-on learning experience for seven students. Smith said the course will be offered again in Fall 2016 and is open to students in any undergraduate major or graduate-degree program. The course has learning outcomes geared toward almost any major, she added.

Melissa Kolb (Plainfield, IL), a senior RPTA major who was in this year's Disney Cruise study abroad course—which docked in Cozumel, Mexico, as one of the ports of call—said she was interested in the course because she hopes to work as an event manager, possibly on a cruise ship, when she graduates.

"I learned more throughout this course than I was ever expecting, and the hands-on learning—we were able to experience by seeing everything that we learned in class then put into practice on the ship—was when I learned the most," Kolb said. "I would definitely recommend this class to anyone interested in the travel industry. Even if you are not interested in that industry, it is an amazing experience."

According to Smith, this type of course enables students to learn by seeing (taking the tours), listening and talking (to instructors, guest speakers, tourists and local residents) and feeling (experiencing the excursions and programs on board) how the cruise is run first hand.

"With crew members from over 50 countries, cruising is an ideal study abroad experience. You can learn about the cruise line industry, experience Disney, explore exciting ports like the Bahamas and Cozumel and meet people from all over the world," she added.

For Troy Miller (Sterling, IL), a junior majoring in RPTA and minoring in hospitality management, the course gave him the opportunity to learn about the cruise industry, travel abroad and experience different foods and cultures.

"The best learning experience I had during the cruise was learning and observing how each day the staff accommodated and satisfied the guests' needs," he said. "Once I graduate, I will be able to apply the knowledge I gained toward creating a quality standard for my employees."

For Alexandrea Hines (Canton, IL), a senior RPTA major, experiencing the Disney Cruise with her classmates was not her first cruise on the high seas. But, she noted, she had a different experience from the one she took with her family a couple of years ago.

"In this course, I learned how much actually goes into getting ready for a cruise—everything the crew has to do to prepare to depart, as well as the work they have while the ship is traveling," she explained. "I also definitely learned how to interact with people from different cultures, which is very helpful for any job in any field."

According to Smith, to prepare the students for the cruise, they attended four pre-travel class meetings in November and December last year, as well as one post-course meeting in January.

For more information about the Fall 2016 Disney Cruise course, contact Smith at or Doh at

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