A five-star learning holiday, from the Maldives to the North Pole

THE FIRST TIME I took a biology class, sat in a drab, windowless lab room at my high school in Phoenix. Last time, last November, I was on a boat in the Indian Ocean as conservation biologist Sol Milne tried to convince me not to worry about swimming next to sharks.

Just when the mercury was starting to drop in Chicago, where I now live, I had walked 9,000 miles and spent all the Marriott Bonvoy points and airline miles I could to meet a friend at the 100-villa Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands for five days of sun and cerulean seas. What I didn’t expect was a crash course in marine ecology. The resort, which opened last June on a man-made archipelago, is one of the hosts of the Environmental Ambassadors program, developed by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society and offered at a handful of Ritz resorts. -Carlton. Activities vary by resort, many of which are aimed at children, but they all share an educational goal. At the Ritz-Carlton Maldives, the program includes free lectures by Dr. Sol (as he is called) on the marine life of the Indian Ocean, as well as outdoor excursions at an additional cost. You can sign up for a snorkeling trip with Dr. Sol (for $150 per person) or a snorkeling excursion with a naturalist and “dive butler” (from around $130 per person). On some dive trips, clients strategically plant 3D printed coral around the atoll in an effort to seed a new reef.

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After attending two of Dr. Sol’s lively lectures at the dive center, I joined the biologist and a dozen other hotel guests for a half-day snorkeling excursion. Dr Sol spent an hour boat ride to the disembarkation point to tell us about the devastating bleaching event that hit the Maldives reef in 2016. An unfortunate combination of rising sea temperatures, Ocean acidification and a terrible El Niño year caused the coral to expel its algae, rendering these exoskeletons barren and white. The fish, lacking nutrients, had to find food elsewhere or perish. In 2019, the Maldives Coral Institute launched a reef restoration project in some of the country’s marine protected areas. Dr Sol told us that the efforts seem to be paying off and the reef is coming back to life.

A villa at the Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands.


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The Ritz Carlton Maldives

I’ve always been intimidated by the ocean and more than a little scared of what’s beneath the surface. But when we finally put on our flippers and jumped off the boat, I was so busy looking for all the creatures Dr. Sol had mentioned over the past few days that my initial fear dissipated. There was the grouper, the cretin of the reef, which controls the population. I saw a cleaner wrasse, one of the doctors of the sea, removing parasites from the flesh of other fish. I cruised around the coral looking for mossy undertones above the bare patches. I held my breath and dove deep for sea cucumbers and sponges, which soak up sea toxins just like Chicago’s waste management picks up my urban trash. I even looked for blacktip sharks, which occupy Suite C of the reef, rampaging through the weak (by eating them, you know). Sharks, I learned, have survived at least four major extinctions. They predate trees.

After decades of reluctant snorkeling, I suddenly became addicted to not just see more, but to learn more, which I now realize is perhaps the real value of a vacation. learning. Five days at a fancy resort might not be enough to pass AP Bio, but I can think of worse places to study. (Room rates start at $1,500 a night)

A diving excursion with the Ritz-Carlton Maldives.


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The Ritz Carlton Maldives

Five Star Excursions

To bring home more than a tan from a water-related retreat, consider these new immersive programs offered by resorts and cruises.

At the Kokomo Island resort, guests participate in reforestation projects.


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Kokomo Private Island

Kokomo Island, Fiji

On this private island appeal, circled by the Great Astrolabe Reef, guests join marine biologists on excursions and snorkeling trips to help transplant live coral from seven nearby nurseries into a growing reef. They can also help with the resort’s mangrove reforestation project. From $1,995 per night, including all meals, spa treatment and scuba diving

Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort, French Polynesia

With its thatched roofs on stilts and its hillside bungalows, Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort is located off Motu To’opua, a small islet near Bora Bora. The resort’s resident marine biologist, Alice Carpentier, conducts research on manta rays as part of the Manta Trust program. Since June 2021, Ms. Carpentier has been taking guests of all ages on half-day excursions to see resident mantas making stops in the coral gardens around the island where fish “cleanse” them of parasites, as she shares details about each individual’s behavior, personality, and potential.Room rates start at $830 a night; excursion, from $150 per person

The Amanyara children’s camp.


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A man

Amanyara, Turks and Caicos Islands

In partnership with the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami, this Caribbean chic appeal recently launched a camp for children ages 5-14. The Science Explorers and Environmental Keepers (SEEK) program focuses on coastal conservation and reef rescue and includes guided excursions like kayaking along the reef and through the mangroves in search of invasive species. Room rates start at $3,100 a night; day camp starting at $95 per day per child

Ponant Cruises, Antarctica

The luxury electric hybrid polar ship Commander Charcot launched in November, making trips to the North Pole. Passengers can work with a team of scientists to collect data on water temperature, salinity and the health of marine life. Sixteen-day itineraries are scheduled to depart on July 8, July 23, August 7 and August 22. From $40,730 per person

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