Students cruise to receive credit

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Students cruise to receive credit

Erika Ward

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Students at Western Illinois University have the opportunity once again to study abroad in January on a Disney cruise ship.

in 2012, Associate Professor Minsun Doh and Assistant Professor Rachel Smith created a study abroad course specifically geared toward recreation park and tourism administration (RPTA) majors to go on a Disney cruise line.

“We really looked at cruise lines,” Smith said. “Cruises were growing. It’s become a multi-billion dollar business.  If you look at the number of jobs that are produced in the cruise line industry, they are huge.”

Doh and Smith, who are both in charge of this program, found multiple areas of the cruise industry that could be taught through this study abroad course.

“It’s a fun experience; students like it,” Doh said.  “At the same time we go over the academic aspect of this class.  It is a course.  We go through the facilities and operational aspects of the cruise ship and also the marketing, and we discuss different issues related to the industry.”

Doh and Smith saw cruises as an opportunity to create a hands-on experience for not only RPTA majors, but to a broad array of majors.

“We saw a definite tie-in for the tourism major within our program,” Smith said.  “There’s an overlap for a lot of majors on campus.”

The first time this course was offered, students traveled to Nassau, Bahamas in January of 2013.  The destination, as well as the length of the cruise, changes each time the course is available depending on what the Disney cruise line is offering at the time.  Each cruise makes a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

“Cruise ships are really floating cities,” Smith said. “There are so many aspects that go into it.  You’ve got the security, the food and beverage, recreation, tourism, housing, there’s environmental issues, risk management, youth services, destination management, there’s a lot to look at.”

Troy Miller, an RPTA major, attended the study abroad course in 2015 when the destination was to Cozumel, Mexico. Miller said he enjoyed being on land and learning about the culture of the location.

“They use stereotypes of us to get us to buy their products,” he said.

Miller also said that he would love to do a similar course again.

“If someone is interested in emphasizing in tourism then take this course,” Miller said.  “It teaches about different cultures. The travel industry is becoming a huge market.”

The destination and length of the next cruise has yet to be announced by Disney.  Recruitment is set to begin in the fall of this year. Interest meetings will be held in the spring of 2016, and the application due date for the next course is in April 2016.

All majors are eligible to apply for this course. As with all study abroad courses, students wishing to apply must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and have at least 12 completed credit hours. Transfer students are also eligible to apply as long as the requirements are still met.

Students can earn either two or three credit hours toward their undergraduate or graduate programs. 

“We really believe in the hands-on learning experience, so we really like that there’s a classroom component to learning behind the scenes,” Smith said.  “Then, being able to go on a cruise in January adds a bonus.”

For any questions, contact Doh at or  Smith at The course is only available every other year.