Educational Cruises to Exotic Locales : Members of AARP can tour from Antarctica to Vietnam and get seminars aboard intimate ships.

A worldwide series of nine educational cruises is offered by the American Assn. of Retired Persons' Travel Experience program, operated by American Express.

"Travel and Learn Cruise Tours" will take AARP members (age 50 and over) to such destinations as Antarctica, Vietnam, the Aegean Sea and the Baltic Sea on seminar-at-sea cruises lasting 14-37 days. Tour departures begin in December and continue through September, 1993. There will be only one sailing of each itinerary.

Three small cruise ships will be used for the tours: the Illiria, taking a maximum of 135 passengers, and the Aurora I and II, twin yacht-like liners taking 80 passengers each.

An important part of each cruise will be seminars at sea, with lectures and informal discussions on the culture, history and ecology of places to be visited. Participants will also meet local citizens on shore excursions, including business, labor and other leaders.

Travelers seeking a less structured, more active program will have opportunities for hiking, cycling and snorkeling during shore stops.

Among the notable tours:

* "Voyage to Vietnam," Dec. 23-Jan. 7, 1993. This 16-day escorted cruise/tour on the Aurora I costs $6,110-$7,610 per person, double occupancy, depending on choice of cabin (all are outside). There's a $300 discount for reservations made by Aug. 15.

Price includes air fare from Los Angeles to Singapore and return from Hong Kong, with overnights and sightseeing in both cities; a 12-night cruise with stops in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang and Haiphong, and a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. Meals on board ship include gala Christmas and New Year's parties.

* A 15-day Antarctic cruise/ tour, Feb. 17-March 3. Included are round-trip air from Miami to Buenos Aires, three nights in the Argentine capital with sightseeing, and a nine-day cruise on the Illiria. The cruise crosses the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Shore excursions via Zodiac rafts will explore various islands and skirt glaciers, icebergs and rugged coastline.

Prices begin at $6,395 per person for an inside stateroom for four to $9,295 per person for an outside double. A few suites and single rooms are also available at higher rates. There's a $250 discount for reservations made by Aug. 15.

* "Age of Discovery," Dec. 3-Jan. 8, 1993. This 37-day trip begins in Seville, Spain, cruises along the coast of West Africa, then continues to South America. There are stops at Recife, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay, and Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina.

* "Panama Canal/Copper Canyon," April 3-18, 1993. This 16-day escorted cruise tour leaves Panama and heads up the west coast of Central America to Mexico, with stops including Acapulco, Ixtapa, Manzanillo and Cabo San Lucas. A ground tour by rail and motor coach winds through Mexico's Copper Canyon to El Paso, Tex.

Other AARP educational cruise tours:

* "Heroic Shores," a 13-day excursion from Lisbon to London, visiting World War II sites.

* "Classical World of the Aegean," 16 days from Athens to Istanbul, Turkey.

* "Western Mediterranean," 14 days from Barcelona, Spain, to Rome.

* "Baltic Sea," 14 days from Amsterdam to Copenhagen via Stockholm; Helsinki, Finland, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

* "Passage to East Asia," 16 days from Seoul to Hagi, Japan; Shanghai and Taipei, Taiwan, ending in Hong Kong.

Unlike other AARP Travel Experience packages, these cruises must be booked directly through AARP's cruise office.

For more information and a 32-page "Learning for All Seasons" brochure with full details, call (800) 745-4567 or write AARP Travel Experience, P.O. Box 37580, Louisville, Ky. 40233-9895.

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